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Pop-up children's bookstore opens in downtown Wheaton

WHEATON – A local mother of two has opened a pop-up bookstore in downtown Wheaton with the hope of providing more educational resources to parents.

“When you have little kids, you look around for good children’s books,” said Cathy Nelson, owner of The Big Red Schoolhouse book shop. “But when you go to a grocery store, you’re confronted with licensed characters with big googly eyes. Those are not books – they have bad writing and don’t teach kids very much.”

According to a 2007 research summary by the National Literacy Trust, studies have shown that children who are read to are more mentally prepared for school, have a better vocabulary, are more emotionally developed and have better mental health and social competence.

Nelson said she hopes her new store at 121 W. Wesley St. can make it easier for parents to find stories and educational opportunities for their children.

“We’ve got the best stories in the world for ages 0 to 12,” she said. “I’m trying to make it easy for busy parents to make the right decisions. The books they’re going to get are proven winners – these are the treasures, these are the keepsakes.”

But The Big Red Schoolhouse will be more than a place where parents can pick up a new book, she said.

Sespite opening less than a month ago, the shop already is holding a weekly multicultural story festival, in which it features readings of folk tales from around the world.

Nelson’s store also hosts an all-ages chess tournament, math nights, near-daily afternoon book readings and a parent forum discussing the policies, theories and realities of 21st century parenting.

In addition, a portion of its profits go to charity – this month, donations will benefit the Blood Water Mission, which funds HIV treatment and clean-water initiatives in Africa.

Paula Barrington, executive director for the Downtown Wheaton Association, said Nelson’s store fits a niche that was sorely lacking in the area and that she hopes it will be able to move to a more permanent location.

“She approached me in the early fall and did a pop-up display at the [Wheaton Fine Wine and Arts] Festival, and the parents just loved her books,” she said.

Nelson said small bookstores like hers are becoming rarer due to the popularity of online retailers such as Amazon. But what they can’t do, she said, is be part of a community.

“Every community should have a bookstore,” she said. “It gives a place for kids to come and play with stories or play chess. That’s so important – if Starbucks can do it, we should be able to. It’s a huge hole in our society. We need to really value childhood.”

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