Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Great American Book Tour Week 8: Installment 1

“INCIPIAT TUMULTUS SAEVUS.” Or, as the Latin phrase etched large in the floor of the world famous Wild Rumpus children’s bookstore in Minneapolis translates, “let the wild rumpus start.” The “wild rumpus,” of course, comes from Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. In Minneapolis, that would be at Collette Morgan’s bookstore, whose most knowledgeable staff includes a free ranging Seebright hen, two chinchillas, a pair of ferrets, and a coal-black lizard from Mali named Spike. Not to mention several Manx cats, one of which, a big yellow tom named Lemony Snicket has been retired to the store’s basement during business hours since discovering – as Collette put it – that “if you wanted to get rid of toddlers, just bite them in the face.”
This store is a paradise for kids and grownups alike. Recently, Collette held in-store horseshoeing and sheep-shearing exhibitions with a live horse and sheep. There’s a haunted house featuring scary books, a dungeon inhabited by two brown-and-white rats, a large selection of Young Adult books – “We don’t condescend to teenagers so they come here in droves” – and kids racing everywhere so that you literally have to be careful not to step on them.
Collette whose all-time favorite book is The Once and Future King, hosts a grown-ups’ reading group called “The Remedial Book Club for Immature Adults.” They read children’s books exclusively, and recently finished The Wind in the Willows, my own personal favorite book for kids of all ages.
What inspired Collette to open the Wild Rumpus? Eighteen years ago, she was working as a children’s book buyer for an indie going out of business. She had a choice: “Buy the store’s children’s books and open my own store or ‘go to work for a chain.’ And here she was, here we were, with Spike the Lizard, Lemony Snicket, and thousands upon thousands of the best children’s books in the whole wide world. Maybe, I thought as I drove across the Mississippi to St. Paul, there’s a better place to take your kids for an hour or two than the children’s section of your local bookstore or library. I can’t imagine one, though.

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