“Once upon a time, most families in books looked like this: One daddy. One mommy. One little boy. One little girl. One dog. And one cat. But in real life, families come in all shapes and sizes.”
That’s how “The Great Big Book of Families” by Mary Hoffman begins.
The belief that we should all be able to see characters like ourselves in books inspired Stories Like Me, a children’s bookstore opening this week in Greenfield.
Stories are a crucial part of how we learn about the world and seeing life through the eyes of others is how we learn about empathy. And while that is important for everyone, for kids from underrepresented groups, it is critical to find stories with characters who reflect families like theirs.
But those can be difficult to find, which is why Stories Like Me was created.
“If you were to go into a regular bookstore, you would find books that have representation, but it would be a bit like a treasure hunt,” says Helen Campbell, owner of Stories Like Me. “When you walk in here, for example, if you have a child who is neurodiverse, you will be able to see an entire table of stories that reflect their experience. Not books about being autistic (although there will be some of those, to build empathy), but books where the main character is a detective who just happens to have autism. It’s a detective story first.”
There are curated collections devoted to (but not limited to) Black Lives Matter, disability and neurodiversity representation, pride (LGBTQ+) and Asian & Pacific Islander and Indigenous authors. There is also a section called Cinderella Stories — a theme that cuts across time and culture — featuring titles such as “Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story” to “Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella.”
“We frequently have people come into the store or pop-up and tear up,” says Campbell. “They are seeing reflections of themselves in the books that we carry — sometimes for the first time as adults. Lots of folks tell us that they wish they had seen books like ours when they were younger.”
Stories Like Me is located in a former doctor’s office on a busy corner in Greenfield. Near the back is a room for young adult books, while picture books for younger children are featured at the front.
The shop is expected to open on Thursday, Oct. 27, or Friday, Oct. 28, depending on construction. Much has been done to renovate the space, including building wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.
“I was looking for a place to rent, and was finding these beautiful places in nice neighborhoods — but either the entrance would not be accessible, or the bathrooms wouldn’t be accessible,” says Campbell. “Our mission is that all kids should be able to see themselves in a story. All kids means all kids. So with the help of Bridgeway Capital, instead of trying to rent something, we bought the building.”