James Patterson — one of the most popular authors in the world — is taking a page from the book of Dolly Levi, who famously said, “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”
Last year, the bestselling thriller writer announced plans to distribute grants to help independent bookstores, and this week the first checks went out to almost 60 stores around the country: more than $250,000 in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $15,000. Patterson has said he will give away $1 million before he’s done.
One of those lucky stores is The Children’s Bookstore in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore.
JoAnn Fruchtman, a former artist and teacher, has owned the small store for 35 years. She was stunned by the boldness and generosity of Patterson’s plan.
“I’ve met a lot of authors,” she said, “and a lot of authors have supported indie bookstores, for sure, but this is really amazing.”
She never formally applied for a grant. She just wrote Patterson a letter back in November “commending him for doing what he’s doing.”
In her letter, Fruchtman also described the history of her store and its efforts to help Baltimore City public schools. For the past 15 years, she’s been raising money from the community so that teachers can apply for grants to pay for books to use in their classroom. “So, for example, if a high school class is doing a unit on World War II,” she explains, “they can get copies of ‘Night,’ by Elie Wiesel. And then the kids get to keep the books.” Through this program, The Children’s Bookstore has given away tens of thousands of books.
Obviously, Patterson was impressed, though Fruchtman says she does not yet know the size of the grant her store has received.
Fruchtman gives the credit to the people she works with. “My staff is fabulous,” she says. “They all read. They all love literature. They all love to recommend books. The success of the store has to do with the fact that we’re just totally devoted to our kids — and getting them excited about books.