Interview with Marcia Kaplan, owner of Whale of a Tale, an independent bookstore

Hope comes for children and books in unexpected places….

Back in December, I had the opportunity to attend a book event featuring Denise Fleming, the distinguished picture book author and illustrator from my hometown in Toledo, OH. Learning the art of pulp painting was reason enough to drive down from Troy, MI, but another surprise awaited me when I arrived.

I knew the event would be held at someone’s home in Sylvania, OH, but I didn’t realize this person’s home would also be a bookstore.  When I arrived, I met Marcia Kaplan, who was not only a very welcoming host but also the owner of this in-home bookstore called Whale of a Tale.

Whale of a Tale

I marveled at how someone could open up their home for such an event. Bookshelves full of children’s books and topped with special displays lined the walls. I wondered how someone could put together such a professional display for one evening. Imagine my surprise to learn that I was standing in an actual bookstore inside someone’s home.

With the state of independent bookstores and books in general, I was eager to talk to Marcia about her unique venture. As you know, I’ve worked as a children’s librarian, so I’m always a champion of connecting books to children. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a middle grade novel about bullying. When I learned Marcia was also involved in supporting Ohio’s anti-bullying policy in schools, I knew I had to interview her for my blog.

AK:  What is your career background? Have you always sold books?  I also read that you worked for Reading Railroad before starting your own business. Is that a bookstore? Describe that experience and how it shaped your interest in books.

MK:  My career background was a B.S. in Dietetics. But I had small children at home and a wonderful little bookshop opened in our area. We practically lived there the first year they were opened. The owner had hired a really cranky salesperson and I asked if I could work part-time. She didn’t want to make the same mistake again, so I was temporarily hired to work for a couple of weeks while she sent friends in to see how I worked out.
Well I went from part-time to full-time to manager. For twenty-five blissful years, I worked at the Reading Railroad: A Children’s Bookshop.

AK:  What made you decide to start your own bookstore from your home?

MK:  The owner [of Reading Railroad], a very talented artist, decided she wanted to devote her time to her art. She sold the store and then I helped run it for a year for the new owners. Unfortunately, I wasn’t what she wanted and I found I was in need of employment. Living in a small town, there weren’t very many book options open to me. One of my book representatives said I could probably just do this from home. So Whale of a Tale was born.

AK:  What unique challenges do you face? What has been the biggest reward?

MK:  I don’t know if you realize what it entails to have a children’s bookstore. You read all the time, not during working hours, but nights, weekends, during lunch, etc. Then you sort through a lot of books to get to the good ones. That means dealing with a lot of publishers.
A lot of parents and children depend on you to make suggestions on every topic. Finding the right book for a child who is reluctant to read is one of the best rewards. I love when that child comes back and says, ‘That was the best book I ever read. Could you recommend another?”
Unfortunately, I lost a child when she was seventeen. A lot of people started coming and asking me what books to give to a child that has lost a friend, parent or grandparent. Trying to find the right book in that situation is a challenge, but there are a number that are thoughtfully written.

AK:  What do you think is the future of the independent bookstore and bookstores in general?

MK:  I still don’t know what will happen to independent bookstores. As long as parents promote reading in their homes and monitor what their children are reading I think independents will survive. It is becoming an electronic age, but being able to hold a book in your hands is priceless. We need books to stimulate children’s minds. [Children need to be able to] sit on a parent’s lap and share a story. Those things are so important. You can’t get that from an app.

AK:  You mentioned working with schools. How did you connect with Sylvania schools and in what way do you serve them?

MK:  I have worked with a number of schools. I do book-talks for teachers, parents and classrooms. I help find books that match the curriculum that is being taught. Teachers don’t have time to search for that one topic. That is where I come in.

AK:  You created a newsletter that serves as a resource for books about bullying. Who is it for and why did you create it?

MK:  When I created my bullying newsletter the state of Ohio had just required the teachers to implement [a unit on bullying] into the classroom. I thought it would be helpful for the teachers. There have been a number of books that have been written on the topic since my newsletter came out.

AK:  Which book from your list do you recommend or like most and why?

MK:  One of my favorite authors is Trudy Ludwig. Her book, My Secret Bully, really hits the mark. For younger kids, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is wonderful. Kevin Henkes is also a great writer. But I like most of the books in the newsletter for one reason or another. They all deal with a different form of bullying; no one book will hit all the topics.

AK:  You mentioned that Ohio has a requirement to teach about bullying. Do you think this is an effective way for schools to deal with the bullying issue? What other ways can schools and the community in general get involved?

MK:  I have struggled with your question in light of the school shooting. I think the problems can’t be resolved solely at school. Parents have the responsibility to make sure their children are brought up with core values. You can’t expect a teacher to undo what their students are taught at home in just six hours a day. When we were kids, if a child did something wrong another parent would correct it if they saw the incident. Now parents aren’t around to even witness the incident or don’t want to get involved.

AK:  Are all of the books mentioned in your bullying newsletter available for purchase at your in-home bookstore? Does the discount still apply? Can people purchase from you if they live outside the Sylvania, OH area?

MK:  The books are available to order. I don’t always have them in stock, but can get them quickly. Teachers and librarians always get a 20 percent discount. First-time parents and grandparents also get a discount. I will mail any books anywhere. There is a cost for postage. I also accept purchase orders.

AK:  Your newsletter focuses on bullying books for younger children. Upon request, you recommended a novel for older children called The Revealers. What is it about and for what ages is it targeted? Can it be purchased at your bookstore?

MK:  The Revealers  by Doug Wilhelm was purchased by a school system in Indiana for all their middle school children to read. Having a good book to discuss can really make a difference. When a young boy starts being bullied and doesn’t know how to cope, he calls on another kid who has been bullied. A girl gets involved with them and they start an email campaign. Then other kids start saying it is happening to them, too. This makes the kids realize they are not alone.

Another book I just love that isn’t included in the newsletter is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Auggie was born with a facial deformity and he has been homeschooled up until fifth grade. But his parents want him to try going to a regular school. Three students are supposed to meet him before school starts and give him a tour. Auggie knows who is genuine and who is not. This book will make everyone rethink how we should treat those who are different from us. I am hoping this gets a Newbery Award. Then children would be assigned to read it and it might just make a difference.

On a lighter note, I sell books for infants up through high school. I read almost everything and can let you know if the book is age appropriate. I give recommendations all the time, to parents, etc. Call anytime or email if you have a question. 419-461-BOOK Whale of a Tale

For a copy of the newsletter, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
Whale of a Tale
6732 Worth Ave
Sylvania, Ohio 43560

Hours are by appointment and the hours are very flexible to meet your needs.

Facing It

brush pen on sketch paper

brush pen on sketch paper

So this is another experimental piece.  I’m testing out my new set of brush pens.  I have several traditional Japanese colors, but I chose to stick with black for this.  Actually, I was planning to use my new calligraphy pens, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the ink flowing.  I guess that is what happens when you buy something with directions written in a language you can’t yet read 😉

While watching a TV show (and yes, avoiding studio time), I was struck by both the features and the feelings being expressed by this woman in this moment.  The great thing about Netflix is that you can pause your subject, freezing it for all eternity…or at least until you finish your on-the-spot drawing 😉

What I’m quickly learning is that these brush pens are pretty unforgiving.  You can’t hide weak lines or erase like with pencil.  Shading is also a challenge.  Just like the brain painting I did of the hands holding the apple, there was a point in this piece where I really thought about giving up.  It didn’t seem to look like anything but a bunch of dark, squiggly lines.

I don’t know why I actually persisted.  Maybe I was up for a challenge.  Maybe I was just too proud to give up.  I don’t know what it was…but I couldn’t let it go.  I finished it.  And sometimes that is all we can do.  Face our fears on the page, work through them, and get to the finish line.  What waits for us there is always a surprise.  What we see isn’t half bad.  It might even be somewhat recognizable, if we look carefully enough.  We might catch a glimpse of ourselves.  We’re a work in progress.  That’s living.  And that’s art.

Where Is the Post?

blue calligraphy ink with chopsticks

Want to find out what this drawing relates to?  Check out my guest post, entitled “Horseplay,” on Katherine Carver’s photography blog.

Letting Go

My friend just sent me a link to an article called “The ‘Busy’ Trap.”  It reminded me of a wonderful speech I heard at the SCBWI conference in LA last summer given by one of my favorite new authors,  Deborah Underwood.  She wrote the amazing picture book, The Quiet Book.  It is no surprise that her essay was all about the power of quiet and how it can actually motivate us to write more by thinking and working less.  This may not be the ideal for a procrastinator like myself.  On the other hand, sometimes we reach a “stuck point” in our writing where we can’t seem to go any further.  What then?

I have actually been at this “stuck point” for a while now, hence the procrastination.  Sure, I’ve been working on art projects and writing this blog, so I’m technically not doing nothing.  But I’ve only dabbled with the novel.  I haven’t really delved back in, even though that is exactly what I need to do.  I’ve been avoiding it because I’m scared to face it.  I’m actually scared to find my voice on the page.  Maybe I’m afraid of what I’ll actually find if I do.  Part of me thinks I just don’t have the answer.  But guess what?  That turned out not to be true, either.

On the airplane to Japan, I started stressing about how to approach the novel revision at this point.  A 10 hour flight can really make you think!  I was trying to force myself to come up with answers about who my character really is and what she wants and how she will find it.  Needless to say, the more I pushed, the less I figured out.  I actually didn’t solve anything.  Then I tried something I hadn’t.  I just “let it go.”  First I studied Japanese, but then I decided to let that go, too.  How much more would I learn in a few short hours?  Then I watched movies the rest of the time.  And slept.  I even played Tetris on my new iphone.  When I got to Japan, I spent time with family, shopped, visited some amazing shrines and temples, ate a ton of food, and took a few good walks despite the cold weather.  I didn’t think about the novel at all.

Here’s the surprise.  On the trip back, my mind was waiting for me once again, but this time with answers.  Unexpected ones.  Just ideas mainly.  Experiments.  But I felt hopeful.

Once again I have the chance to play with words.  All by letting go.  Funny, my horoscope said the same thing.  But I kind of rolled my eyes when I saw it.  After all, who wants to practice letting go?  It makes you feel like you’re letting go of your dream.  But trust me, you aren’t.  You’re giving it space to play.  To dance.  And when the time is right, you will rejoin it in that dance.  And it will be spectacular.  But only if you have the courage to let it be, first.  Thanks Beatles 😉

“When I find myself in times of trouble,  Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be…”

Ringing in 2013!

I just returned from a trip to Japan to visit my in-laws. I feel like this country is my second home, mostly because of the kindness of my husband’s family. One of the new year traditions in Japan is to go to the shrine and ring a very large bell. I don’t usually post photos of myself, but I thought this one would be an appropriate way to highlight my enthusiasm for 2013.


Ringing in year 2013 at a Japanese shrine!

I had the usual end of year feelings of an artist. Had I accomplished enough? Was it good? Was I truly meant to be an artist? Confirmation came in unexpected places. One of which was having the pleasure of drawing with my 5-year-old nephew. I was the only one he allowed to draw on his cardboard house with him. What an honor! Of course I drew my signature frog for him 😉

I had also brought a small sketch book with me to Japan, promising myself I would draw while there.  Then on one of the final nights we all went to dinner together to surprise my husband’s mother for her birthday.  I ended up sketching a picture of a borzoi, my mother-in-law’s favorite dog, for her as a gift. She was moved to tears by it, which warmed my heart like nothing else.

I realized what my focus must always be: #1 inspiring children #2 sharing my art with others

Thus far my goals for 2013 are this: to find my voice in my writing and to find my style in my art

How do I plan to get inspired? My husband gave me some inktense pencils as a Christmas gift. I also brought home some great new art tools from Japan including calligraphy pens, brush pens, and colored calligraphy ink. I can’t wait to start experimenting with them!

What are your goals for the new year?  What inspires you about 2013?  Please share!