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For the kids

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Where I grew up outside New York City, there was no children’s bookstore. Children’s books were crowded into a corner of our local stationery shop beyond the greeting cards, and many of them were out of reach on the high shelves. All the same, going there was an adventure. I could find exciting tales that weren’t in the public library, either because the most interesting volumes were often out on loan, or because the librarian didn’t approve of them. The Wizard of Oz, for example, was rejected as ”too popular” — a phrase that

In those days all books were wonderful. The brightly colored ribbons of their spines were like a row of candy bars, each of a new and delicious flavor. And, unlike a Milky Way or an Oh Henry!, they would last forever.

Today I still feel the same thrill of anticipation when I enter either of the Eeyore’s children’s bookstores in New York City. Here all the shelves are within reach, and it is adult literature that is squeezed into a corner. Here you can find the newest volume of a mystery series, a stuffed Wild Thing, a serious book about dinosaurs or space travel, or a lavishly illustrated edition of your favorite fairy tale.

What’s equally important, the staff never seems eager to get you to the cash register and out of the shop. If asked, they’re informative; if not, they leave even the youngest customers alone to browse. This is important, because if a book buyer of any age is harried from counter to counter with shrill cries of ”Can I help you?” she or he is apt to depart without discovering unsuspected treasures.

”Eeyore’s?” some people say. ”That’s an odd name for a children’s bookstore. Why not call it after Pooh or Piglet or even Tigger?” But to me the choice seems perfect. If anyone in A.A. Milne’s famous books is a natural reader, it is Eeyore. He has time and patience; he lives in a lonely corner of the forest and is often in low spirits. He needs books to distract him from his chronic gloom and show him new worlds.

Most children have Eeyore days, just as they have Pooh and Piglet and Tigger days — that is one reason Milne’s tales are classics. And even as an adult, on an Eeyore day, I can cheer myself up by going into Eeyore’s bookstore.

— Alison Lurie is the author of Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups, a book about children’s literature.

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