This is part of a series looking at how children’s bookstores are responding to the needs of their communities at a time when most stores are closed to the public because of the pandemic.

Bookstores may be closed for browsing, but a number of children’s booksellers have found ways to sell and give away books to promote literacy despite social distancing, canceled author tours, and other roadblocks caused by the pandemic.

“We’re a community hub,” said Maureen Palacios, owner of 54-year-old Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, Calif., who is determined to be there for area schools. Pre-Covid-19, she brought authors to schools and provided books, or book club selections, for students. Now she is finding new ways to get books to home-bound kids who prefer to read a physical book rather than a PDF. “We’ll do whatever we can to help,” Palacios said, “because we’re an essential part of what the schools are doing.”

Although her commitment to getting kids books hasn’t wavered, Palacios said that the logistics of organizing large-scale contactless book pickups while keeping her daughter, Jessica Palacios, and herself safe—the rest of the staff is sheltering in place with pay—has kept her awake at night. “We have to protect the community and ourselves. It’s kind of like when the airlines say, ‘Put on your mask before your child’s mask.’ ”

Last week, to ensure everyone’s safety when 300 kids and their families picked up copies of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Penguin) and The Giver by Lois Lowry (HMH) at the store, Palacios placed hash marks on the sidewalk in six-foot intervals and asked families to place their payment, exact change only, in the store’s mail slot. Smaller classroom pick-ups for The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz (Sourcebooks), whom Palacios took on a school visit in the fall, and for Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue (Candlewick), have been a little less stressful.

“I’m trying to figure out things in a new way,” Palacios said, an apt description of bookselling in the age of coronavirus. “We’re giving it the biggest try we can. And hopefully we’ll turn back to the joy and laughter of live, in-person events, which drives our business.” For now though, she encourages customers to email requests or call on Facetime so that Jessica can walk them through the shelves to make their selections.

Shane Gottwals, founder of Gottwals Books with four stores in Georgia and Walls of Books, a national franchising operation, wanted to build on an annual large-scale book giveaway that his store launched in July 2017 when it donated close to 8,300 copies of Julie Danneberg’s First Day Jitters (Charlesbridge) to area schools—one for every student entering first grade in Bib, Houston, and Peach counties. Last week, Gottwals organized a slightly smaller 3,000-copy giveaway for older students via contactless drive-through pickups at three locations for the young readers’ adaptation of Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (Puffin) in conjunction with the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce reading initiative. The giveaway is part of a virtual book club that Gottwals will lead about the book. “The reaction has been positive,” Gottwals told PW. “Folks need some shining lights in the news to be juxtaposed against the coronavirus.”

One advantage that Gottwals has had in putting together an event of this scale so quickly is that he already had the books in his warehouse, because he is constantly on the lookout for remainder titles straight from the publisher. He had always intended to donate the books. “[A book giveaway] just brings us together and fulfills our purpose: to promote literacy and learning,” he said. Going forward, Gottwals is considering making the giveaway to older students an annual event—and he plans to do one for adults.

The Country Book Shop in Southern Pines, N.C., in conjunction with a local nonprofit founded by the store’s children’s book department manager, Angie Tally, AIMS (Authors in Moore Schools), organized a book giveaway to sixth graders at four middle schools in Richmond County. They distributed 550 copies of bestselling adult author Randy Wayne White’s first book for kids, Fins: A Sharks Incorporated Novel (Roaring Brook), in White’s hometown. To make a donation of this size happen, White paid for 440 books, and the bookstore and Aims donated the additional 110 copies.

The books were originally intended to be given away in classrooms, where a video of White talking about himself, his characters, his connection to the area, and his work with sharks was going to be shown. “When the coronavirus crisis closed the schools, we quickly put a new plan in place to get these books in the hands of kids,” said bookstore manager and adult book buyer Kimberly Daniels Taws, who initially contacted White at Winter Institute in Baltimore. To get the books to students once schools were closed, the county put out a robocall to sixth-grade families to pick up books. Those in rural areas who couldn’t get to school to do so had their copies delivered on buses bringing meals.

A children’s author also helped Mike and Hilary Gustafson, owners of Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich., contribute to the community, but in their case the bookselling community as a whole. When the coronavirus forced them to close their store, they didn’t think that they had enough cash reserves to reopen. So the Gustafsons launched a $100,000 GoFundMe campaign on March 23. The response was so strong that within 48 hours they had raised the full amount that they needed for rent, utilities, payroll, liabilities and publishers, and to have enough cash on-hand when they reopen.

So when author-illustrator Philip Stead, who frequently launches his books at the store, offered to give them a piece of art from his new book, an adaptation of the Charlotte Zolotow classic In My Garden (Holiday House/Porter), for the fundraiser, they asked him if they could raffle it for Binc to help other booksellers affected by the pandemic instead. On April 4, the raffle for “Summer Garden” took place as part of the store’s first virtual author event. Customers who chose to pay a registration fee to hear Stead speak were automatically entered. The store raised $1,200 from the 100 digital event attendees. “It was a wonderful evening,” Mike Gustafson said. “Nice to know despite these times there is still beauty to be found.”

As for additional virtual events, the store is about to launch “Brunch with a Bookseller.” Customers can tune in for book recommendations. “We may target parents looking for book recommendations first, and then explore ways to create content for kids,” Gustafson said.

To see our previous article in the series, “Bookselling in the Age of Covid-19: How Bookstores Are Connecting with Customers,” click here.