At today’s Children’s Book and Author Breakfast, two bookstores will be presented with the 2016 WNBA Pannell Award, which the Women’s National Book Association has given annually since 1983 to two bookstores—one general and one children’s specialty store—that enhance their communities by bringing exceptional creativity to foster a love of reading in their young patrons. This year’s winners are Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., in the general bookstore category, and Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, in the children’s specialty bookstore category.
A jury of five book industry professionals deliberated for weeks before selecting the winners based on creativity, responsiveness to community needs, and an understanding of young readers. Store nominations come from customers, sales reps, store personnel, or anyone who has been impressed with the work of a particular independent bookstore.
Each recipient of the award, which is cosponsored by Penguin Young Readers Group, receives a check for $1,000 and a piece of original art by a children’s book illustrator. Contributing the art for this year’s award are Diane Goode, illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, and Jeff Kinney, creator of the bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Brookline Booksmith opened its doors in 1961 as Paperback Booksmith, with the slogan, “Dedicated to the fine art of browsing.” For more than half a century, the store has served its community with, as stated in the store’s submission to the Pannell award, its “eclectic mix of titles, knowledgeable and helpful staff, and a never-ending schedule of book signings, talks, and readings.” The store’s children’s booksellers, “the Kidsmith team,” are dedicated to hand-selling, and pride themselves in the trust customers put in their judgment.
Brookline Booksmith general manager Dana Brigham emphasizes the importance of staying closely connected to the local community. “We pay attention to our community and people’s responses to what we offer,” she says. “We believe in merchandising so that the store is very user friendly—it’s like a treasure hunt customers navigate, with lots of staff recommendations and display tables. We are involved with community events and partner with schools, nonprofits, and religious organizations. We donate time and money and goods to hundreds of organizations throughout the year. It is very important to us to do everything we can to be a good citizen.”
Brigham calls winning the Pannell Award “an unbelievable honor for our store,” adding, “One of our founder Marshall Smith’s core beliefs was in lifelong learning. Where better to start than in a vibrant and welcoming kids’ section?”
Wild Rumpus Books, founded in 1992 by Collette Morgan and Tom Braun, was praised by the Pannell jurors for its many diversity and inclusionary efforts to serve its entire community. “We make a consistent effort to bring diverse books to the forefront,” says Morgan. “All our employees know that if they are recommending books to customers, they should make sure there is diversity in their selections rather than just recommend the same old standard books. Every display we create represents diversity—we try to cater to everyone. That is front-of-mind for us, at all times.”
As testament to Morgan and her team’s commitment to inclusiveness, the staff worked vigilantly to make Wild Rumpus ADA compliant and accessible to people with disabilities. “We measured out every bit of space in the store to make sure that it was wheelchair friendly,” she explains. “We stopped buying dumps from publishers, to make more room for wheelchairs and strollers, and put a ramp in the front of the store. I’m very proud of our efforts.”
The store (which is also home to a menagerie of live animals—cats, mice, a ferret and chinchilla) has strengthened its connections to the community by eschewing paid advertising, instead donating money to community events. “We’ve made some very strong partners in our community, and we try to keep our events and activities free, so as to include everyone,” she says.
Morgan notes that she is “incredibly thrilled” to win the Pannell Award, having made submissions to the award committee in the past. “We’ve been nominated several times over the years,” she reflects, “but up till now, we’ve been always the bridesmaid and never the bride, so we are honored to be selected for this year’s award.”
Susan Knopf, president and founder of Scout Books & Media and co-chair (with Sally M. Kim, senior marketing manager at Chronicle Books) of the Pannell Award, looks forward to today’s bestowal of the prizes. “For me, personally, presenting the Pannell Award at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast is the highlight of my year,” she says. “It is a great joy to celebrate these bookstores with the entire children’s publishing community.”
This article appeared in the May 13, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.