Bookstore focuses on younger readers Literature: The owner of the Children's Book Store is working to pass a love of reading to younger generations.


October 18, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IF THERE ARE MUSES who watch over children, they must sleep over at JoAnn Fruchtman's Children's Book Store.

When she set up shop 20 years ago in South Baltimore, Fruchtman had read every book on the shelves. After a move uptown to Harborplace and then way uptown to Roland Park, Fruchtman's store at 737 Deepdene Road is much bigger but no less crowded.

The proprietor says she and her employees have read every author represented in a store stocked floor to ceiling with marvelous children's literature.

Fruchtman is a purist. She got into the business, she says, because she is a former teacher with an "interest" in art, and text and art are inseparable in much of children's literature. She resisted changing the name of her shop to something cute, like "Book Those Kids," and she refuses to sell popular series such as R. L. Stine's "Goosebumps."

"I just don't think they're very well written, and, frankly, I don't have room for them," says the owner of the city's only children's bookstore. "It's not that good readers don't read those books, but they soon tire of them. Children's literature is so rich and so stimulating these days that we use every square inch for what's good. Passing good literature on to children is why I'm in business, and now I'm doing it for a second generation."

Fruchtman's shop has survived two decades in a business increasingly dominated by chain mega-stores. She's done it by concentrating on service.

"We want to greet everyone who walks through the door," says Fruchtman, 54. "If it's children accompanied by a parent, I try to talk to the children first. I'll ask them, 'What was the last book you read?' That tells me where they are.

"I'll ask them if they want to read something more challenging."

Drawn from two decades of purveying books to Baltimore kids, here are some of Fruchtman's views on children and reading:

On reading to children. "It's the most important thing a parent can do, and it's never too early. The best readers are children who have been read to. Twenty minutes a day is the minimum. It's also never too late. It's sad that so many teachers think children are too old to be read to after the fourth or fifth grade.

"Don't stop reading to children after they become proficient readers themselves. When you read to kids instead of telling them to go turn on the TV, you're delivering a message. You're saying, 'This is important. It's important to your life and to mine.' "

On teaching toddlers to read. "Forget flash cards and sounding out words when kids are very young. Let them have a good time with literature and literary activities. They'll learn to read, believe me, and at some point after they've learned to read, they'll explode. They'll want to read everything in sight."

On children's books and adult books. "A well-produced children's book is far superior. It's because every word is essential. There aren't that many words in a lot of children's books, so they have to be so carefully chosen. Having said that, I can hand you any number of children's books that you would find riveting as an adult."

On the classics. "It's a thrill to have grandmothers buying the same books for their grandchildren that they bought for their children at my store 20 years ago, books like [Maurice Sendak's] 'Where the Wild Things Are.' We carry them all -- Kipling, 'The Red Badge of Courage,' Sherlock Holmes, 'Charlotte's Web.' But there are books on the shelves now you've never heard of that are on their way to becoming classics. These are rich times in children's literature."

On poetry. "We have a whole section of poetry. I think it's very important for children to read poetry." Look at how much of classic children's literature is in poetic form, Fruchtman advises: from nursery rhymes to "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" and Dr. Seuss.

On her store's all-time best-seller. "It's probably 'Goodnight Moon,' by Margaret Wise Brown. It went from being a very popular picture book to a paperback, and it's now a hard book. We call hard books 'chewable.' "

On fantasy. "The very best readers are usually heavy readers of fantasy. It broadens them. It puts them in another world. We push fantasy."

The Children's Book Store is a popular stop on authors' and illustrators' book tours. From noon to 1: 15 today, the store will play host to Leo and Diane Dillon, a couple whose 40th book, "To Every Thing There Is a Season," embellishes the famous verses from Ecclesiastes in a variety of art styles.

Highlandtown Elementary is starting school library

They'll be celebrating at Highlandtown Fall Fest today, and they'll also be celebrating the beginnings of a school library at Highlandtown Elementary No. 237.

Since we reported here last month that No. 237, at 231 S. Eaton St., had no books and no library to house them, the school has received $1,000 in cash donations, about 1,000 books, a brand new book cart and several computers, said Maria Brooks, president of the Parent-Teacher Organization.

"We're on our way," says Brooks, "and we want to thank some very generous and wonderful people."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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