Playground of the Mind

TOYS, GAMES, CONCERTS, OR LOW SHELVER? ONE MOTHER MUSES ON THE SECRETS OF A GOOD CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE

A GREAT BOOKSTORE tantalizes with the sense of endless pos-sibilities, Within the pages of its many volumes may lie great adventure, the challenge of ideas, the beauty of the language at its best. Cross the equator with Mark Twain, time-travel to turn-of-the-century New York, meditate on the whiteness of the whale. Bookstores offer the promise of expanding the mind, one volume at a time.

This is what 1 always believed. Then I became a mom.

The mother of a young child looks at bookstores in a different way. I developed a new way of thinking, evaluating children’s bookstores according to a series of strict criteria, all of which were largely pragmatic. In order of importance, they were:

1. Is it a kids-only kind of place’ The first thing parents learn about taking their kids places is that their little darlings bother other people, especially adults who are trying to think.

2. Is the space somewhat contained? Children run. Children hide. A small store reduces the chance for misplaced children. If a child wants to check out the bathroom, it’s there. No labyrinth of browsers and bookshelves to maneuver through.

3. Is there a well-defined play area? Keeps kids amused while you browse. Other people’s toys are always more fun.

4. Can I count on scheduled events? Concerts, plays, puppet shows, and storytimes equal tree entertainmen

5. Will my child actually be able to reach the bookshelve As I was developing this new theory, I began to develop a special fondness for The Enchanted Forest on East Mockingbird, which not only met my 5-point test, but did it better than most places. This is definitely kids’ territory. Green carpet, faux trees, and sky-blue walls create the feeling of a giant stage and are an invitation to play. The ;play area itself, which doubles as an actual stage for performances, is defined by an entire wall of green chalkboard that makes even the least artistic grown-up remember the childhood yearning to draw. In the course of the years my son, and then my daughter, grav-itated toward this area, where they pulled wooden trains along an elaborate set of tracks and snuggled with a wonderfully large and soft Paddington bear. On Saturdays, we attended Winnie-the-Pooh parties, Wild Things puppet shows, and Eddie Coker concerts.

Time passed. Our last visit to The Fotrest was somewhat different. My son, now 5, headed toward the bookshelves instead of the play area. He found hooks about’ bugs, dinosaurs, lizards, and apes. He found volumes about stars, planets, dragons, and bars. He found a seemingly endless supply of games and projects that would teach him about the world He-wanted buy everything, and be didn’t want to leave.

As 1 dragged him out of the store, I realized what had changed. My son had begun to sense the possibilities that lie along the shelves.

I’m rethinking my criteria and placing at the top of my list a new question: Is this a store that celebrates the joy of reading great books ? After ail, a good children’s bookstore is just that; A good bookstore.

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