Since its opening in 1977, secret garden books has been a vital part of the Seattle bookseller community. Founded by children’s book author Nancy White Carlstrom in its original location across from the Green Lake Park wading pool, Secret Garden was one of the few bookstores in the country to carry only children’s books.
From the start, “it was a beloved bookstore,” says Christy McDanold, current owner of Secret Garden. Seattle kids immediately fell in love with Secret Garden. From the click-clack of the mortarless brick floor to the thousands of colorful picture books to the young staff dedicated to sharing fun and educational children’s literature, a trip to the shop was downright magical – a rare destination just for kids .
McDanold knew Secret Garden because she had worked with children her entire adult life — she ran childcare programs for the YMCA and ran a citywide tutoring program through from the Central Area Youth Association – but nothing quite fit her until she saw it. Secret Garden was for sale. With financial help from her mother, McDanold bought the store on April 26, 1995. “It was one of the most exciting times of my life,” she says.
McDanold moved the storefront to Ballard, first to Northwest 15th Avenue and then, on April 1, 2000, to its current location at 2214 NW Market St. This latest move, McDanold explains, is when Secret Garden “became a full-service bookstore,” expanding its stock to offer a wide range of adult books — though it still has the most robust children’s section in town.
Step into Secret Garden today and you’ll see little reminders of its 45-year history everywhere. At the front of the store, the click-clack of the brick floor carried from the store’s original location serves as an “aural hallmark” and a watercolor of the Green Lake storefront hangs from the cash register. You’ll also see handwritten staff recommendations on the store shelves, written by the Secret Garden staff of seven enthusiastic booksellers.
“The store has a long history of hiring students through work-study programs,” says McDanold. (One of the shop’s longtime employees, Becky, started out in that program and never left Secret Garden.) But McDanold is particularly impressed with her current team’s passion for constantly keeping up with the best new titles. . On Tuesdays, when new releases arrive, “there are always half a dozen or 10 stalls ready to come out with these books. They are just amazing readers, my staff.
So what do Ballard adults read? “The neighborhood has rejuvenated. People in their 20s and 30s are a big growth area in Ballard,” says McDanold. These young people are why science fiction has been “a really significant area of growth for us” in recent years. Secret Garden also recently hired a bookseller specializing in romance novels, and he single-handedly sparked customer interest in the genre, “so now we have a romance novel section that’s doing pretty well. .”
“Literary non-fiction has always done very well for us, and paperback has always done very well as well,” McDanold says, “but 2021 has just been a very, very, very good year for fiction. Last year we sold more hardcover novels than we’ve ever sold before – we blew up our old records.
Prior to the pandemic, Secret Garden operated a network of book fairs at local public and private schools, offering a wide selection of children’s books and authors to Seattle-area children of all ages. “The book fair allowed us to offer a much richer selection of children’s books than we would otherwise be able to offer, knowing that school librarians were also going to buy that selection,” McDanold says.
Secret Garden is working to bring book fairs back to schools once COVID-19 restrictions allow, but rebuilding that network will be difficult. “The school librarians were really demoralized,” McDanold says. “Seattle cut all of its librarians a few years ago on part-time, and they’re expected to do the same job as before.”
She hopes Secret Garden will be back in schools soon, to inspire a love of reading in a new generation of young Seattle residents. Kids who used to visit Secret Garden come back to the store all the time now – as parents and grandparents introducing a new generation of readers to the store, as students who participated in the Young Reader Society at looking for an adult novel to read while visiting their parents on vacation and as authors bringing their own books to the world.
Hopefully this year, to mark the store’s 45th anniversary, Secret Garden’s author event calendar will pick up again. Generations of beloved children’s book authors have made pilgrimages to Secret Garden, perhaps most notably the first author in the store’s Ballard location: Madeleine L’Engle, author of “A Wrinkle in Time.” “She sat in the oldest of our two rocking chairs and people knelt at her feet as she read. It was just amazing,” McDanold says.
A reading by a non-fiction author for children Ellen Levin was particularly memorable: “She had the kids in the palm of her hand,” McDanold recalls. “One of the stories she told was about watching a farmer help a cow give birth to a calf. She said it so well! The children were all disgusted and they loved it.
“I know at least one kid from that group ended up becoming a writer,” McDanold says. “It was just a powerful lesson in what you can do when you put creative people in front of kids.”
What do Secret Garden booksellers read?
“I just finished reading”an italian summer‘, announces the owner of Secret Garden Books, Christy McDanold. Rebecca Serle’s new novel about a grieving young woman who visits the charming seaside Italian village that her late mother loved in her youth, is “so much fun, it’s just going to be a great summer read”.
“Black White“, Tana Hoban’s deceptively simple baby book, “is just perfect for the new baby,” says McDanold. Developing eyes are drawn to the book’s striking, high-contrast compositions, helping infants recognize patterns and focus on objects. “I’m a new grandma and I got to try it on my granddaughter and she really responded.”
McDanold says Secret Garden bookseller Mary ‘just read and loved’The phrase‘” by Louise Erdrich, a novel set in the Twin Cities that reflects on “the killing of George Floyd and the pandemic, so it’s very immediate”. Mary promises that “you’ll be cheering on” Tookie, the bookseller at the center of the ‘story.
Andrew, one of Secret Garden’s new booksellers, loves the young adult novel”golden boysby Phil Stamper – the story of four young gay boys on the eve of a summer that will send them in new directions. He also recommends Michelle Schusterman’s mid-level novel”My half otterabout a pup and baby otter who form a friendship in the aftermath of an oil spill in Puget Sound. Andrew recommends the book for ages 8-12 and raves about its “Disney-movie heart and charm”.