In-person author events return to Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul

Elizabeth Spadaccini
Megan Maynor signs a copy of her new childrens book, Henry at Home.Elizabeth Spadaccini

ST. PAUL, MN — On a humid, 93-degree July evening, in front of an audience of kids and their parents at Red Balloon Bookshop, local author Megan Maynor launched her latest children’s book, Henry at Home.

Angela Whited, event coordinator for the bookshop, introduced Maynor, to a round of applause, then pointed out the cooler of ice water to her right and sat down to listen to the story. Before the event on Tuesday July 27, Whited noted that this was the St. Paul shop’s first in-person author event since the COVID-19 shutdown, and that everyone involved was excited to be back.

The partnership between Maynor and local bookstores like Red Balloon is, according to Maynor, an important one. In creating content for a very young demographic — Maynor writes picture books — a common obstacle is spreading the word. Maynor said bookstores help bridge that initial gap between author and audience.

“They really do support local authors and local illustrators by carrying our books, helping hand-sell them and doing stuff like this, where they’re opening up their space to me to do a book launch.” said Maynor.

After a year without events like the launch, Whited joked that in preparing for it she scrambled to pull together what she needed for something that wasn’t virtual.

“This is our first in person event since March 2020. I’ve been bumbling around like, ‘I think I need chairs, I think I need a trash can, what do I do?’” said Whited.

Red Balloon was able to host virtual storytimes last year, but Whited said the pandemic presented a unique obstacle for bookstores and authors like Maynor:

“What kinds of success people can have really depends on how old the kids are. It’s harder to drive sales for picture books, virtually.” said Whited.

In-person author events matter most for younger children, because while teenage readers might be able to find out about a new book online or through social media, children reading picture books like Henry at Home can’t.

That same young demographic was in attendance on Red Balloons patio on July 27, joined by Maynor’s family. The book, illustrated by Alea Marley, is about the experience of a younger sibling when their older sibling heads off to school for the first time. Maynor mentioned her personal connection to the plot — the book is based on when her eldest daughter went off to kindergarten, and her younger son didn’t want to be left behind.
Henry at Home cookies, for the book launch.Elizabeth Spadaccini

As the event drew to a close, Maynor’s daughter brought out a tray of sugar cookies with icing spelling out the book’s title. Whited announced that Red Balloon was staying open an additional hour, with Henry at Home available for purchase inside. Maynor stuck around to sign copies, take pictures and answer questions (she said the latter is her favorite part of these events).

Maynor said her career as an author was one that didn’t drastically change because of the pandemic – she was already writing from home before that was the only option – but she did miss launches like the one for Henry at Home, and the interactions that stem out of them. Over time she said she’s personally been able to form connections with Red Balloon and its staff. The July 27 event, Maynor said, felt like it marked the importance of those ties.

“Hopefully it’s a community relationship that benefits everybody. I love working with them, they’ve always been so generous with me, supporting my work and making room for me – sometimes physically – for me to come in, share a book and connect with some people.” said Maynor.

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I bounce between Madison, WI and Minneapolis, MN, and I'm partial to reporting on education, the arts and entertainment, but I'm open to pursuing any worthwhile story. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May of 2021, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Spanish, and currently work at UW's Communications department as their video intern!

Madison, WI

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