Children’s Book World in Haverford is a special place for children and parents
By Rebecca Shaw
A man and his wife walk into Children’s Book World, an independent bookstore in Haverford, Pennsylvania. They want to buy their granddaughter the initial Eloise, a series about a little girl who lives in the Plaza hotel in New York that was first published in 1955.
Smiles spread across the faces of the booksellers working at the store. One bookseller, Leslie, walks immediately towards the picture-book section of the store. She pulls out all the Eloise picture books she can find from the bookshelves.
“Well I found Eloise in Paris and Eloise Takes A Bath,” she says handing the books to the couple. “But I’m sure we have the original—I saw it the other day, give me two seconds, I’m going to look in the back.”
Julie, another bookseller, stands behind the cash register counter. She begins talking to the couple.
“Eloise was my favorite book as a child. Your granddaughter is going to love it. Such a great story.”
“You don’t think it’s too juvenile,” the man asks. “ My granddaughter is a genius.”
“No, it’s not juvenile at all. I can read it to you, when Leslie comes back.” says Julie.
“Found it!” says Leslie.
“Ok, you’re sure it’s not below her reading level? My granddaughter is going to a school for gifted students in New York City. She’s a beauty too,” he says as he shows Leslie and Julie a picture of his granddaughter.
“ Eloise!” says Bookseller Sara, running out from the storage room. She grabs the book from Leslie and starts to read out loud from it.
“Well, you just witnessed a public dramatic reading of Eloise.” Julie says laughing, as she gift-wraps the book for the couple. “Your granddaughter is going to love it.”
Every employee at Children’s Book World strives to place the perfect book in the hands of the perfect child.
In order to achieve this goal, all employees working at Children’s Book World are required to read every single book that comes into the store.
Children’s Book World owner, Hannah Schwartz along with her daughter, the store manager Heather Schwartz, attribute this requirement as one reason for the store’s longevity and success.
“When people shop here, they want our recommendations of what books their children would like,” explained Heather Schwartz. “We try hard to talk to the children to help find out what they enjoy reading, and then find books that match their interests. For instance, someone may need a book for a book report. If the child likes mysteries, we show him or her the mystery books available at the store and we discuss those books with the child. We sell books that fit the needs of every child.”
Before opening Children’s Book World in 1989, the owner, Hannah Swartz, worked as the children’s book-buyer for a decade. She was the book-buyer for the children’s section of an independent general bookstore called The Book House in Ardmore, Pennsylvania’s Suburban Square.
With the support of her family, Hannah Schwartz decided to open her own independent bookstore specifically for children. Heather Schwartz, who recently graduated college in 1989, helped her mother with the store for a few years. She then left the store to start a family and to open her own crafts supplies store in Ardmore’s Suburban Square.
Today, nearly 23 years after opening the store, Children’s Book World remains one of the few independent bookstores in the Main Line area.
“There used to be about six independent bookstores in the Main Line area that no longer exist,” said Heather Schwartz. “Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer of us left in this area.”
According to Heather Schwartz and her mother, there are about four independent bookstores, outside of Children’s Book World left in the Main Line area, including The Reader’s Forum in Wayne, Pennsylvania. According to the mother, any bookstore that is owned by one person, known as a proprietor or an owner of a business, rather than a corporation is classified as an independent bookstore.
Heather Schwartz returned to work as the manager of Children’s Book World seven years ago. About eight booksellers, outside the mother-daughter management team, work at the store.
Due to her experience as a book-buyer, the owner, Hannah Schwartz, knew to buy books from competent, credible publishers such as HarperCollins. She also understood the importance of reading the books and being selective when buying books from those publishers.
“You have to have a love of reading, and a love of business, or running this type of store doesn’t work,” explained Hannah Schwartz. “We are fortunate because of our customer loyalty. Our customers tend to be well-educated people who love reading and want their kids to develop a love of reading.”
According to the owner, many of the original customers from 1989 continue to come to the store. She predicts the college-age customers, who were babies and children when the store opened, will be bringing their own children to the store in a few years.
“Mommy, I see dinosaurs! Look! Dinosaurs!”
A two-year-old girl toddles towards her mother, holding a picture book with dinosaurs on the cover.
The owner comes out of the storage room. She goes to a corner and brings out a box full of books shaped like trucks and cars. She brings the box to the little girl.
“ We have some fun toy books in this box. Do you want to play with them?”
The little girl turns her attention to the books in the box. She picks up a book shaped like a truck, goes to the corner, pretending the book is an actual truck.
With her daughter busy, the mother turns her attention to her nine-year-old son. She and her son talk to the bookseller behind the cash register counter, Julie Summerfield.
The son wants to read a chapter-book full of action and adventure. This is the first official chapter book he will read.
Summerfield suggests the Percy Jackson series, a fantasy series about a young boy who is half mortal and half Greek God.
“So this book is almost 400 pages, when should I start reading books that are 800 pages long?” asks the son flipping through the book.
“Since this is book is your first chapter book, you should start off with a 400 page book and work your way up,” says Summerfield.
“Ok, I just don’t want this series to go out of business, before I’m done reading it,” says the son.
“Oh don’t worry, this series will not be going out of business any time soon,” says Summerfield laughing. “ They even made a movie based on the books.”
“Oh ok,” says the son. He looks at Darth Paper Strikes Back origami book display next to the cash register counter. “Do you know who the next Star Wars character will be in the newest Darth Paper book? I liked Yoda.”
“They won’t tell us,” says Summerfield throwing her hands up in exasperation. “Yoda was great. I’m kinda hoping it will be Han Solo.”
“ Yeah, Han Solo’s cool too,” says the son. He takes the bag with the book from Summerfield.
“Thanks,” says the mother. “Come on sweetie.”
The little girl runs to her mother and grabs her hand. The family leaves the store.
Summerfield has worked at Children’s Book World for three months. This isn’t her first experience working in a bookstore. Before this job, she was the manager of the Haverford College Bookstore.
According to Summerfield, the only real difference between her new job at Children’s Book World and working at Haverford College was the fact that she mostly sold textbooks rather than children’s books.
Summerfield adjusted well when transitioning from a college-level general bookstore to a children’s bookstore, because of her love of children’s books.
“My favorite part of this job [at Children’s Book World] is discovering all the new children books that have published since I was a child,” said Summerfield with a smile. “I also like working with like-minded gals, who love selling books.”
Other booksellers heard about Children’s Book World through their children. Bookseller Leslie Stone stayed home for several years taking care of her now teenaged children. She learned about Children’s Book World three years ago, when she helped run a book fair for her child’s school.
Working at Children’s Book World was an ideal job for Stone, due to the flexible hours and her passion for books.
“I love to read just about anything: newspapers, books; particularly young adult fiction and historical fiction. I don’t like TV,” explained Stone. “I don’t like computers. I don’t like clicking on videos when trying to find news on the Internet. I just want to read.”
According to Stone, one of her favorite parts about the job is when the store hosts events, especially book signings and author readings.
Since 2008, when Stone started working at the store, she has meet children writers such as baseball player Cal Ripkin Jr., Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling, and actress and singer Julie Andrews.
“Julie Andrews came once, it was great. It was like having Fraulein Maria from The Sound of Music in our store. Even though she’s known for her movie and singing career, she has written a lot. She compiled an anthology of children’s poetry with her daughter, and wrote great children stories such as Mandy and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles”
According to the owner, publishers connect Children’s Book World with authors.
“We get big name authors, like Julie Andrews or J.K. Rowling, the same as anybody else,” explained Hannah Schwartz, smiling. “ The publishers ask us if we want them to come to our store. We say, yes we’ll take them.”
A grandmother enters the store searching for a book for a newborn baby.
Bookseller Janet Bortnick helps the grandmother navigate her way through the store. Bortnick explains to the customer that the store has a baby section, an older sibling section, and a parenting section.
Bortnick shows the grandmother a book entitled Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
“Babies love to look at the faces of other babies,” says Bortnick, showing the grandmother the pictures in the book. “The author, Mem Fox, has said in interviews that she wrote this story on an airplane ride home, after running a parenting workshop and signing books in Boston. When Mem Fox thought about the conference on the plane, all she could remember were the chubby little finger and toes of the babies.”
Mem Fox also wrote about what inspired her to write Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes on her official website. On her website, Fox stated that when workshop participants “ bent over the desk to hand me their books, I played with their children, and the babies they were holding seemed to come from all four corners of the earth. Some had chubby brown fingers; some had little black faces; some had fat little pink toes, and no hair at all, while others had dead straight black hair that stood all round their heads. All of them melted my heart.”
The grandmother takes the book from Bortnick and looks at its back cover.
“Good, it’s only $16.99 ; I don’t want to spend more than 25 dollars. I will probably take it, but I just want a few minutes alone.”
“Take your time.”
A few minutes later, after re-reading the Mem Fox book, the grandmother buys it.
Bortnick shopped at Children’s Book World as a parent long before working there starting in 2009. She started working at the store, after her youngest child began middle school.
“It’s hard to narrow down my favorite things about working in this store. The job of selling books is good, but the store itself is what makes it special,” said Bortnick. “ I remember how my oldest child, who’s now 21, sat in the corner for hours reading books. Now I see other children happily reading at this store on a daily basis—that’s truly my favorite part of working here.”