René Kirkpatrick, the newly appointed children’s book buyer/supervisor at University Bookstore in Seattle, has a long and illustrious children’s bookselling career that began in 1978 at the University of Oregon Bookstore. Perhaps best known as the buyer for the now-closed All for Kids Books & Music in Seattle, she was most recently co-owner of Eagle Harbor Book Company on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where she sold both adult and kids’ books.
What do you like most about being back wearing your children’s bookselling hat?
The best thing about being back in the children’s book world is the feeling of hope that comes with reading and selling each book. Almost every children’s book has a positive feeling to it. There is almost always redemption, hope, and a feeling that we are in it together, and together it will be better. I love talking to younger kids about their favorite books. They are so passionate about what they read, and I know that some of the passion for what they are reading now will fuel their dreams in the future. There is such joy in selling children’s books. I want everyone to know that feeling.
Is there a particular children’s age group that you like to read and buy for?
I really love fiction picture books that incorporate science, geography, and history. I recently alphabetized my picture book wall (don’t we all have a picture book wall in our house?) and realized that a lot of them are about specific places and times and the effects those things had on the characters in the book: an ancient farm on a hill, a coal miner and his daughter. I have a lot of books about cows and birds. One of my favorite books is Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman, a book of poetry about the creatures that were able to adapt and live in harsh environments throughout the eons.
Young adult science fiction is my other all-time favorite. I love seeing how we got from here (now) to there (then) – it’s like reading the mythology of us. Some authors are so good at connecting the dots between now and then. It’s fascinating to read how they imagine things will happen.
What are the biggest challenges of being a children’s book buyer/bookseller?
(Besides that which shall not be named?) Getting people to come into stores at all, regardless of age level, is getting harder and harder. It feels as if we have to add experiences or give away things: author events, fundraisers, discounts for bestsellers, story times, teacher discounts, student discounts. Each of those things takes away from actual bookselling. And the costs mount up, taking away from the bottom line at the end of the year. I am hopeful, though, with all the new research about the effects of screens on children’s brains and the effects of reading to your child from birth, we might see an upswing in the buying of kids’ books for the very young – perhaps gaining a whole new generation of readers. I think booksellers are notoriously optimistic about the business. We love what we do and truly want to share the whole reading/discovery/book thing with everyone we meet.
What are a few of the kids’ books are you most excited about that are coming out later this summer or in the fall?
I have been reading so much, just to catch up. I loved Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland, The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach – good for older YA readers, Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet, Kids of Appetite by David Arnold, What Color Is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts. There are so many really good books out there – these are the ones I’ve read just recently. I just started Moo by Sharon Creech, and am in the middle of Looking for Betty MacDonald by Paula Becker (a book for grown-ups, but she wrote kids’ books).