Hipocampo: A Children's Bookstore for Explorers of All Ages

>> Hipocampo Children’s Books is a magical business nestled in the heart of the South Wedge. It is a community space, a learning center, and a safe place— all in the guise of a children’s bookstore. Just as children’s books are not only for children, the store is for people of all ages. Co-owners Pamela Bailie and Henry Padrón started Hipocampo with the belief that books are for everyone. When a child walks into the store and sees titles in their first language it creates a comfort zone and builds confidence. It is a futuristic bookstore in that it does not showcase Eurocentric books but rather celebrates the diversity of this planet. Padrón said that children’s books can teach lessons adults might have missed growing up and Bailie explained that much young adult literature contains the same themes as adult books, though often written in a more accessible way.

Bailie summed up their business in a word: it is their store, meaning it can be whatever they desire, but this is not to say that there is no direction. Their overall mission is to further our human relationships and understanding through celebration of culture, and if an event or activity can fit into this vision, it is fair game. The literature in Hipocampo reflects the diversity of Rochester and the greater region, and with something like 80 languages spoken in the area, it is no small feat. The shelves are lined with books in everything from Spanish, to Haitian Creole, to Farsi. Nigerian American fantasy by authors like Nnedi Okorafor or Tomi Adeyemi is a favorite genre of Bailie’s. Padrón taught dual language kindergarten in Rochester for many years. “The belief [of bilingual education] is that children will learn from each other—learn empathy, learn respect towards each other.”

The different yet rich upbringing of both Padrón and Bailie sheds light on the type of people they are. Padrón recalled his mother, who was able to recite pages and pages of poetry from her memory. He recalled the Uncles who always came around with guitars. He remembers listening to live music from outside of the Bronx salsa club Hippo Campo (just one of the inspirations for the store’s name). Bailie said that in her Turkish/Northern Irish household her mother’s love of folktales from around the world was a great influence. She was only allowed to tear through some softer young adult fiction such as Nancy Drew if she sprinkled in some of the classics as well. The chemistry between the two owners is undeniable, and their success has a great deal to do with their differences.

Some found the idea of opening up a bookstore dubious, but the new and tired adage “print is dead” is disputed here. Bailie believes the balance between books and technology is more balanced than we give credit for. “We have teenagers who come in pull books off the shelf and read. It’s not like it is a choice between a phone and a book.” Padrón had a unique way to phrase it too, “I don’t think print can die. It would be like putting out the sun. Books are multisensory—you smell the book, you feel the book, you hear the pages turn. It is more than looking at characters on a page.” One of Bailie’s fondest memories of the store thus far is from a concert performed by a local Portuguese band—yet another example of how the space can operate outside of its perceived façade. A few classes and events scheduled in the next months include sewing, American Sign Language, and teen photography. There will also be a reoccurring series called Lente Crítico in which people come together and discuss issues that are worth talking about. The first session, starting January 17th at 6:30 PM and will explore the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Story time is at 10:30 AM every Saturday.