Hannah Moushabeck, age 25, became children’s department director at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., two years ago. At about the same time she began editing children’s books for Interlink Publishing Group in Northampton, Mass. One year later, she was asked to co-chair the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council.
Given that her father owns Interlink Publishing, her mother is an antiquarian bookseller in Cambridge, England, her uncle owns Booklink Booksellers in Northampton, and her aunt owns Kidlink Books & Toys in Montreal, it doesn’t seem like she had much choice about going into the book business. “When you grow up, you try to get away from the book industry and make some money, but it sucks you back in,” says Moushabeck.
Moushabeck’s efforts to thwart the family “curse” included studying art history in the U.K. and taking classes in mixed media and photography when she returned to the U.S. But then, she took a job as a bookseller for her uncle and used her photography skills to illustrate Café Life London (2012) by Jennie Milsom, part of Interlink’s Café Life series.
Since she began working at the Odyssey, Moushabeck’s father, Michel Moushabeck, has come to rely on her judgment about children’s literature. “There are certain ways to present books, and I know what makes kids run across the room,” says Moushabeck. Many of the submissions that come to Interlink are prepackaged overseas. “Some, I say, ‘No, dad, absolutely not,’” says Moushabeck. Although spelling can be Americanized, she finds that sometimes the content won’t work here. “In other countries, children read picture books until age 12. Here it’s seven,” she says, explaining why some titles are an automatic “no.”
Moushabeck works on three or four children’s books a season for her father’s list, and is particularly proud of her contributions for Ruth Sanderson’s retelling of Cinderella, which came out last fall. At Moushabeck’s urging the book got a full glitter cover in addition to the color illustrations inside. By selling children’s books at the Odyssey she says that she’s learned one thing guaranteed to up a book’s kid appeal: glitter on the front cover. “I became the official ‘glitter’ consultant,” she jokes.
To be an effective editor and bookseller, Moushabeck says, “I put myself in the mind of a child,” says Moushabeck. When planning events at the Odyssey, she asks herself, Why would I come to that? “There has to be something on top of a reading,” she explains.m “An ice cream sundae, glitter, tattoos, a real llama, kittens, or face painting.”
Moushabeck also draws on her experiences as the lone Arab child in most of her classes. That’s one reason why the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign particularly resonated with her. And she willingly accepted a challenge from Eight Cousins bookstore in Falmouth, Mass. to a hand-sell-off to see who could sell more copies of The Great Greene Heist last spring. The Odyssey won. Now the two stores are in the midst of a rematch (#indiesselldiversebooks) over Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher.
As for Moushabeck’s participation in NECBA, she says, “for me, it’s about learning and gathering the knowledge around me. I have access to everybody.” When she runs into a question about bookselling or publishing, she now can call on the collective knowledge of children’s book people across New England. She in turn has helped area booksellers with her own vitality and knowledge and by creating a social media presence for NECBA on both Facebook and Twitter.
With this profile, we launch a monthly feature on frontline children’s booksellers.