Town Talk Features

Book Smarts: The Novel Neighbor Turns Noble

Odds are if you put together all that you’ve heard about the importance of childhood literacy, you could fill … well, a book. There is no denying how crucial the issue is, especially when socioeconomic barriers limit children’s access to important resources. The Novel Neighbor, an independent bookstore in Webster Groves, knows the power of a good book and is dedicated to sparking the joy of reading in everyone. Now, it is extending its reach with the launch of The Noble Neighbor, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing books and author visits to students in underserved schools.

Owner Holland Saltsman says the inspiration for the organization came from her experience planning author visits at local schools. While the visits themselves are free, she quickly realized that publishers only send authors to schools where the students can afford to buy the books. “We had a couple of authors who specifically wanted to visit underserved schools,” she says. “To do that, we had to find sources to provide books to the students.”

This spring, The Novel Neighbor also hosted the OMG BookFest, a national interactive event aimed at middle school readers, at the Ladue Fifth Grade Center. Part of its role as host was raising $10,000 to ensure every child who attended left with a book. Between this event and seeking underwriting for author visits, Saltsman was becoming well-versed in the business of fundraising. Her idea for creating The Noble Neighbor seemed realistic. So, what was the next step? Consulting a book, naturally. She picked up one about starting a nonprofit, and everything fell into place.

She was granted 501(c)(3) status, and the organization’s sole purpose is to provide author visits and free books to students who otherwise would not get the opportunity. Saltsman notes that both are key to motivating children to read more. “When students meet authors, they are seeing a possibility,” she says. “They learn about the creativity and imagination behind writing, and authors often share stories about their own struggles in school. When students hear about experiences similar to their own, they realize they can succeed as well.” The visits also spark excitement about the authors’ books and increase kids’ motivation to read outside of school.

The nonprofit is just one part of the The Novel Neighbor’s growth. This month is its fifth anniversary. “Our goal was to open an independent bookstore that could serve as a community meeting place,” Saltsman says, adding that the store has been able to do much more. Since it opened, it has helped bring notable authors and public figures to St. Louis, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Recently, Saltsman brought Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants and Dog Man series, to Chaifetz Arena, and more than 5,000 fans attended. “If you had told me five years ago that we would have an event that big, I wouldn’t have believed you,” she says.

To celebrate its anniversary, The Novel Neighbor is hosting fun activities during store hours Sept. 28. Kids can enjoy special crafts, meet some of their favorite storybook characters and dress as their favorite Dav Pilkey characters for a costume contest. For adults, there will be special giveaways, neighborhood-themed cocktails and trivia. “We certainly hope people come to celebrate with us,” Saltsman says. “We’re thankful for the tremendous amount of support the city has shown us. After five years, we’re still growing and looking for more ways to reach the community.”

Pictured at top: Author Margaret Stohl speaks to local students.
Photo courtesy of The Novel Neighbor