Harriet Scott Chessman is the author of three novels, including the #1 Book Sense Pick Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, and Someone Not Really Her Mother, hailed as one of the Best Books of 2004 by The San Francisco Chronicle and as a Good Morning America Read This! choice. Her fiction has been described as “lyrical and moving,” “entrancing,” and “powerful.” About Lydia Cassatt, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “Chessman, like Lydia Cassatt, has allowed herself to inhabit another’s world with grace and humility.”
Harriet lives in Palo Alto, CA, with her family, and has written a new novel, as yet unpublished, The Beauty of Ordinary Things; she is now immersed in her fifth, about Edgar Degas.
In this essay, she introduces us to Linden Tree Children’s Recordings and Books. Read on to learn about the origins of the store’s name, a change for Linden Tree, and the many reasons that customers return again and again – for 25 years! (Photo of Harriet Scott Chessman courtesy of the author)
On a quiet corner of State Street in the pretty town of Los Altos, California, sits one of the happiest places I’ve ever known. Bustling, cheerful, brightly lit, filled with well-selected music, books, and toys with an international touch, Linden Tree Children’s Recordings & Books welcomes you from the moment you walk across the threshold.
On my first visit, seven years ago, I was new to California. Walking into Linden Tree, one of only three children’s bookstores in the Bay Area, I instantly felt at home, and each time I visit (and I visit as often as I can), this sense of home grows stronger. I’m sure children have a sense of this too, because the store is extraordinarily friendly, the staff kind, energetic, and generous with their time. Do you need just the right book or music cd for a certain child? No problem. Have you been searching for a baby gift? Toys for car travel? Try this! Songs by Raffi and other music for children? Have a listen! A book on raising a teenager? Something for a child who loves to draw? You’re in luck!
It’s rare to find a group of people on a bookstore staff who care so much about helping each customer, and who work so beautifully together as a team. And who smile! Aah! I am not surprised to discover, on the store’s web site, that the staff includes, in addition to the brilliant Store Manager Lynn Ratliff, “students, teachers, librarians, storytellers and children’s literature experts and enthusiasts.”
The store’s layout is friendly too. Quite quickly, you discover the clear sections amid the bustle: here are picture books; here are board books; a luscious array of small, well-chosen, highly useable toys for travel and home; a Klutz area; a craft area; a whole shelf of excellent books for grown-ups; music recordings; a rich selection of books about child-rearing; how-to craft and art books; and beautiful stuffed animals and puppets placed charmingly throughout.
More? In addition to its presentations by children’s authors and illustrators, the store holds a summer concert series for children. All of these events take place in a courtyard, so that the store can continue to welcome customers, and the music and presentations can proceed in their own space. The owners, Linda and Dennis Ronberg (the LINda and DENnis of LINDEN Tree), have always been major supporters (and discoverers) of singers like Raffi and Charlotte Diamond, since they started out twenty-five years ago in a home business focusing on children’s music. The Ronbergs now raise money from children’s concerts for Music for Minors, a non-profit group devoted to training docents to teach music in schools.
This is, in short, a store that fulfills its vision of a nurturing and welcoming place for children, helping to instill in them a love for music and reading. Just the other day, after browsing among the YA shelves for my youngest child, now fifteen, I walked over to one of my favorite sections, on myths from around the world; as I glanced down one short aisle, I saw a girl of about seven, sitting quietly in a chair with a book open on her lap. The store was filled with the chatter of children and grown-ups, the sounds of “May I help you find something?” and “Oh, here’s the book I was looking for!” This home-like, cheerful, welcoming, and peaceful atmosphere is just what it takes to encourage a child to sit down like this and become wrapped up in the enchantment of a book.
The news this summer – gulp – is that the owners of this delightful, important store are about to retire, and hope to sell the business. I’m hopeful too – ardently hopeful – that Linden Tree will have the chance to continue. Quite a few people, Dennis Ronberg says, have come forward with interest in buying the store.
May there be new owners, and may they take to heart what Linden Tree says on its website: “It makes our day complete when we know we have put the right book in the hands of a child.”