Sure, you’ll find the Harry Potter series at City of Asylum Bookstore @ Alphabet City, but the children’s section is filled with about 1,800 other titles – from board books and graphic novels – highlighting under-represented and diverse voices.
“We have translated kids books from all over the world,” says Jen Kraar, children’s book buyer for the North Side shop. “Topics range from yoga to feminism to LGBTQ issues and social justice. It’s a bit more eclectic than what you’d find at Barnes & Noble.”
Kids help make those all-important selections.
Kraar recently assembled a Young Readers Advisory Board to help her line the shelves. The board helps the shop offer titles based on the interests of real kids. Sales revenue helps support City of Asylum, a nonprofit committed to promoting freedom of expression.
Formed last fall, the board is comprised of 11 kids from across Allegheny County who range in age from 9 to 12 years. Each participant receives advance reading copies (or ARCS) of middle-grade books to review. Once a month, the group convenes at City of Asylum to discuss literature and hone their critiquing skills through mock interviews and educational games.
Members are invited to review as many books as they can read, but they aren’t forced to finish what they don’t enjoy. So far, they’ve poured over about 30 books. Their reviews are posted online to help other kids make book-buying choices.
Brittney Knotts, a graduate student in the University of Pittsburgh’s English Literature program, helps facilitate the meetings and gets the kids thinking critically about the texts they’ve read.
For 11-year-old Quincy Sauter, a fifth-grader at Falk Laboratory School, the board allows her to explore different genres outside of her fave mystery, fantasy and adventure tomes.
“I get to read books I probably never would’ve read otherwise,” she says. “And I get to help other kids hear a fellow kid’s opinion.”
So far, Quincy’s favorite work has been Gillian McDunn’s “Caterpillar Summer,” the story of two siblings and their unforgettable summer on Gingerbread Island.
Kids who are interested in joining can fill out an application at the North Side store.
“It’s a community,” says Kraar, who formerly served as librarian at Winchester-Thurston School in Shadyside. “The whole idea of City of Asylum is to give under-represented people a voice. Kids are under-represented.”