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Barnes & Noble Booksellers
5130 E. Broadway Blvd.
7325 N. La Cholla Blvd.
READERS' PICK: If your little one likes trains or Madeleine or books with watercolors of brown rabbits dressed like little old Englishmen, there's a good chance you'll find the book you're looking for at Barnes & Noble. The kids' sections at both locations are bright and welcoming, decorated with blonde wood furniture with kid-pleasing Pooh stencils. We admit that whenever we think of the children's section of the dearly departed Haunted Bookshop, with its fabulous underground reading cave for kids, we break into a tearful rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U." That said, Barnes & Noble's children's books sections are kid magnets our readers obviously applaud, with little chairs and tables at which wee readers can preview the merchandise: board books, picture books, age-specific fiction and children's non-fiction. The staff is helpful, and will order a book for you if they don't have it in stock. Barnes & Noble also offers lots of companion sets--children's books boxed with coordinating merchandise, from Angelina Ballerina and Curious George dolls to Pooh socks.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Mall culture inhabits us. Even in the realm of book browsing, that most solitary and esoteric of pursuits, we're sidled with the proliferation of megastores: well stocked, well lit, well discounted, well scrubbed and, well...just not our cup of tea.
Like a worn pair of Levi's or Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," The Book Mark, 5001 E. Speedway Blvd., is that comfy old pal you keep coming back to. The great news for us long-in-the-tooth boomers with kids is that they have a great children's section as well.
There are all the usual suspects, from the Hardy Boys to Goodnight Moon, as well as a large science fiction/fantasy section. You can get a beautiful bound edition of Lord of the Rings or pick up a signed copy of local author Susan Lowell's Southwestern retakes on classic fables (say, The Three Javelinas).
The Book Mark, unlike its McBookstore competitors, is slightly musty and dusty in the corners. In other words, it smells like a bookstore is supposed to. Better yet, the slightly chaotic and overstuffed racks often mean sifting through other volumes to find the one you might be looking for. Emphasis on might, because once bookhounds succumb to the tactile pleasure of shelf-browsing, who knows what else they'll find.
So instead of having to act amused in a kids store with books while you listen to the 14th repetition of "B-I-N-G-O," while away the time in a quiet corner of the Book Mark, leaving your comfortably ensconced child to kick back with Tin Tin in Tibet.
CLUE IN: Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave., stocks the kinds of children's literature you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Sure, they still have the usual Dr. Suess and Maurice Sendak offerings, but they also have sections devoted to bilingual and Southwestern books. And, for kids facing pretty grown-up challenges early on, Antigone's carries books for all-ages that help bridge the gaps created by divorce, death and grief. Other sections explain self-esteem, sexuality and body awareness, and non-traditional parenting. (One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads is a sweet take on the increasingly popularized concept of the "rainbow family.")
CLUE IN: About a third of Kid's Center's tight space (1725 N Swan Road) is devoted to books. The toddler section is grouped by type: alphabet books, counting, colors and board books (including multiple copies of the classic Big Red Barn). The back corner is the place to find learning and science, with sections like Insects and Dinosaurs; and it's near here that one can find the 14-by-20-inch "big books." They have three shelves of libros en español, and 36 titles by Dr. Seuss. The books are all conveniently displayed, with new books right up front, covers facing out and picture books alphabetized by title. Also near the front, you'll find books about Native Americans and the Southwest desert. Kid's Center has managed to gather all the books you need for your curious child's literary harvest.