When Bunnie Hillard was raising her children, she found herself in the same representational bind over and over: “I had a really hard time finding more than one or two books with Black main characters. I know other families of color have had the same experience.” She’s definitely not alone; University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 11.6 percent of children’s books were about Black main characters in 2019. Beyond that, of course, there’s the distribution question — for a bookstore to stock all 11.6 percent of these books is rare, often under the misconception that these stories don’t sell.
Enter Brave + Kind. Based in Decatur, Georgia, the flourishing bookshop boasts an intentionally diverse set of children’s books. Bunnie, as owner-founder and shopgirl, sees diverse children’s literature as “not a niche, but as an important and integral part of our home libraries and our world.” Her community and the wider public seemed to agree; Brave + Kind has shipped to all 50 states during the pandemic, and even beyond the US border. Prior to the pandemic, Brave + Kind served not only as a space for finding a new book to read, but as an events and community space where families could attend story time in other languages, participate in book clubs, and learn about writing from guest teachers. Reflecting on the shifts that took place due to Coronavirus, Bunnie laments, “I really do miss in person story time at the bookshop. Saturday Mornings with a bunch of kids and parents all crisscross applesauce on the floor curious and excited.”
Brave + Kind founder and owner, Bunnie Hillard
Still, she’s managed to create community through online events, interacting with patrons on Facebook and expanding the store’s web options. They closed their doors on March 13, 2020, but have managed to continue online story time, and to feature books through Facebook posts and other digital tools. This community-building can be seen in action on the Brave + Kind Facebook page; when Bunnie posted an educational workbook that her kids were using, several parents commented and requested that she order them the same workbook for their own children. This personal touch and willingness to use their access to find the materials their community wants makes Brave +Kind stand out from the noise of the online book business.
Another advantage that Brave + Kind offers over larger online retailers is thoughtful and community-oriented curation. Currently featured on their website is a baby bundle that includes 4–8 books and a rattle or teether. They also offer subscription services for a range of ages, and for teachers looking to build out their classroom libraries. If patrons are based in Decatur, parcels are dropped off right at their doorstep, and their orders have kept the shop busy.
The range occasionally expands beyond children’s books — recently, Brave + Kind has featured Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land, Audre Lorde’s work, and Ibram X. Kendi’s work in their “A Few Adult Things” section. They’re looking forward to stocking National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s picture book, which is available for pre-order on the site. Overall, the curated selection is geared toward helping everybody “do better as human beings.” This is the ethos of the store — to be brave, and to be kind. To create community, and to teach. Bunnie tops off her store’s philosophy with, “I truly believe some of life’s most important lessons can be learned in the pages of children’s books. That includes what you believe about others and what you believe about yourself.”
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