Book lovers will be hard-pressed to pass by La Librairie des Enfants without stopping. Everything from the charming red storefront with it’s quaint, old-fashioned sign, to the stacks of books in the window display, makes this new UES store a reader’s paradise.
In December, the family-friendly neighborhood of Carnegie Hill welcomed La Librairie des Enfants, a long-time brainchild of Franco-Algerian expat Lynda Ouhenia.
“My children grew up in New York, and I had trouble finding books in French for them,” Ouhenia recalls. A few months ago, she found a local space to rent and seized the opportunity. “I chased the estate agent for four months until he relented!” A friend introduced Ouhenia to Matthieu Eveillard, the Bretagne-based librarian who would become her buyer and business partner. Eveillard shared Ouhenia’s passion for books, and love of adventure.
The royal blue walls of the bookstore are mapped and stacked by age group. Teens will find a treasure trove of Japanese Manga and Fantasy, both hugely popular genres in France. Parents will be glad to scour some French literature classics to satisfy educational and nostalgic purposes. Young readers will enjoy an embarrassment of riches; from nonfiction, to comics to picture books, and future readers will love the interactive sound books that until have been gifts sent from France. At the back of the store, La Librairie des Enfants offers a library collection with monthly or yearly subscription packages.
“The hardest part was logistics; coordinating imports from French publishers, figuring out shipping costs,” Ouhenia explains. Avid and particular readers, she and Eveillard rigorously review each and every book before stocking it on the shelves. It’s the same for the play department, which is also carefully curated with partners’ favorites. French expats will be delighted to find “Les Jouets Libres” (“Free Toys”), a beloved French brand 100% that produces coloring posters of cities, and other creative activities.
Deeper into the store, a comfortable carpet, tables and miniature chairs welcome children and their parents for “Petites Histoires” (“Little Stories”). These lively, 45-minute readings, songs and play activities take place every weekday morning, with plans in place for weekend mornings also. Storytime activities are divided by age group, from 18 months to eight years. “Each week, we read stories on different themes, most often following different seasons,” says Eveillard. While the readings are in French, American kids won’t be left out. Story-telling is performed in a way that can be understood by–and interactive for– non-francophones. Besides, English books are also on sale. “We realized that the neighborhood parents also come in,” Ouhenia says.
Her latest project for the bookstore? Puppet theater. “Growing up I was enchanted by the plays of Guignol at the Luxembourg gardens,” Ouhenia admits, “I want to share that experience with the children here!”