Dear Cover to Cover Bookstore,
The first time I stepped through your doors, I was in love.
Well, it's always that way with me and places that house books. Libraries. Bookstores. The spines lined up on the shelves, the scent of the paper, the people who tend to congregate in these spaces. Voracious readers. Aspiring writers. A kid here and there, cross-legged on the floor, lost in a story.
But you were different. You were special.
A store dedicated to children's books. An owner who reads everything, who loves and honors children's literature. I browsed for a year before I talked to her beyond the typical clerk-to-customer conversation. Can you recommend--? If my child loves that, will she like this--?
A year or two more before I told her I reviewed books on my blog. Her eyes lit up and she waved me into a back room. I nearly keeled over from book overload shock. Stack after teetering stack, books scraping the ceiling in high rise towers, books piled up on the floor and spilling out of boxes.
Advanced copies of forthcoming books, she said. She and her assistant couldn't read them all. They needed people to review them. Would I mind doing that for her?
Uh, no. I wouldn't mind!!! I walked out that first time with an armload, feeling like I'd won the lottery.
Somewhere along the way I told her I dreamed of being a published writer. From then on, she always asked how my writing was coming along. When I attended book talks and signings, she introduced me to the authors. When I had a manuscript on submission, she offered to take a look. She liked it, she said. And when the book was released, she threw me a spectacular launch party.
There's a wall in this lovely bookstore, several walls actually, of author and illustrator signatures. All of the people who visited the store in the thirty-five years of its existence. In my pre-pubbed days I used to read the signatures. Jacqueline Woodson. Virginia Hamilton. Kwame Alexander. John Green. Imagine my name up there.
I know, I know, this magical space couldn't go on indefinitely.
This week the owner is retiring. Someone's bought the place--the Cover to Cover name, I should say--because the building itself is closing and reopening somewhere else. The expansive inventory of children's books is being sold. The wall of signatures will be taken down.
Yesterday I browsed the shelves for the last time. I touched the book spines, sat cross-legged on the floor. Lost myself for a few moments in a story. Searched the wall of signatures for familiar names.
Smiled when I found my own.
I realize as I write this letter that it isn't to the bookstore. It's to the owner, Sally Oddi, book lover and children's literature champion, supporter of writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians, and loyal, supportive friend to me and to so many.
Thank you, dear Sally, for creating Cover to Cover.
May this wonderful place live on without you, and may you enjoy your retirement, surrounded by good friends and good books.