The stairway to the Goodnight Moon room at The Blue Marble serves as a portal to a simpler, more magical time most of us recall as childhood. The local Fort Thomas children’s bookstore this month celebrates 33 years providing literature for children of all ages and interests. There’s no need for the walls to talk here; the story hangs from each wall and sits waiting upon each shelf.
Drawings featuring children’s lit all-stars from Clifford the Big Red Dog to Where the Wild Things Are and Arthur smile welcomingly from the stairway’s walls, yielding gracious notes from the illustrators to store owners Peter and Tina Moore.
The Goodnight Moon room includes an illustration from the 65-year-old bedtime story brought to life. There’s a bedside table and cot made up in the corner, with plush bunnies waiting to be cradled in a child’s arms. A red-orange, flame-shaped pillow rests in the fireplace, and cartoonish yellow and green striped curtains hang from the windows. It’s a quiet setting where children can sit in bed, read the story and point out each image from the pictures in a sort of “I Spy” game.
The shop’s first floor holds rooms and rooms and shelves upon shelves of children’s literature, while the rest of the bookstore’s second level serves as the Moores’ home. The environment is incredibly personal and family-oriented. Free of electronic toys and advertisements competing for children’s attention, the shop is just a comfortable learning environment meant to cater to children in search of a good, old-fashioned book.
Peter runs the store, and he frequently interrupts our discussion to greet a customer and offer assistance. This organic image is no accident; The Blue Marble’s education-centered environment is a product of years of founder Tina Moore’s dedication and expertise.
“It was basically a one-room operation,” Peter says of the store’s humble beginnings. “We got shelving from an old grocery store that’s out of business, and we covered it with materials and carpeting and got books in there and went to town.”
Tina’s ambitious nature did The Blue Marble well in its early years; she computerized her inventory and kept a mailing list of more than 6,000 recipients.
Tina’s time as owner and operator was cut short after 25 years, however, when she suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak.
“It was devastating, obviously,” Peter says, choking back emotion.
Peter and Tina’s passion for children’s literature has molded a bookstore unlike any competitor. They have created a remarkable literary sanctuary that, for a variety of reasons, stands apart from the typical Barnes & Noble.
For instance, the couple has met, housed and fed a parade of prominent authors and illustrators during their 33 years in business. Authors include Mo Willems, Lois Lowry, Tony DiTerlizzi, Christopher Paul Curtis and Kadir Nelson. Chris Van Allsburg, Patricia Polacco and Loren Long are just a few noteworthy illustrators on the list. An entire wall in the Goodnight Moon room shelves books from each author and illustrator that has passed through the shop.
“And for the most part, we’re unique in terms of when we bring an author in, we do entertain them, so they can sit down and talk books with us,” Peter says. “Because whoever’s on the staff and is able to come join us for dinner knows children’s books.”
It’s also customary for the owners to provide a home-cooked meal for guests.
In addition to food and conversation, The Blue Marble assists with book tours, setting up school visits for traveling authors and illustrators. As a result, there won’t be a ton of prominent visitors this summer; children’s book creators tend to make their rounds when school is in session. Author Gary Schmidt, a two-time Newbury Honor recipient, will be the next guest, in November.
“The value for us is that I can now talk about who is Mo Willems. I’ve met him, I’ve talked with him, I’ve had dinner with him,” Peter says.
Authors who visit chains are often put in a corner somewhere, he says, and employees might not always be aware that the guest is present.
In addition to their hospitality and famous friends, The Blue Marble stands out because the hand-picked staff has so much passion for the literature they carry and for sharing their knowledge. Most of the books in the store have been read or reviewed by at least one staff member.
“I have a very professional staff, probably the most professionally trained staff of any bookstore in the country,” Peter says.
The team includes two librarians with master’s degrees and an assortment of active and retired educators.
The Blue Marble’s staff has an active reach in their community, as well. They host a monthly Bookaholics meeting for children’s book specialists, parents, teachers, writers and librarians. They also participate in the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Children’s Literature Festival and the McConnell Conference.
Despite a lack of significant profit, Peter plans to continue running the store far into the future. When asked what keeps him going despite the fact that he’s retired, his voice cracks with devotion.
“Getting the right book into the child’s
hand. That’s what makes it worth doing,” he says. “It’s very simple, but
you have to know a variety of books, and you have to be able to take a
very minimal sort of description of a child and find something that will
capture their fancy. To have (parents) come back and say, ‘My child
loved that book.’ That’s what keeps you going.”