Colorado Author Nicole Magistro Sets Sail for Read Island

Colorado Author Nicole Magistro Sets Sail for Read Island
Nicole Magistro
Nicole Magistro wasn’t the first person to own The Bookworm in Edwards, and since selling the store in 2020, she won’t be the last. But during her fifteen-year tenure, the business expanded into one of the cultural centers of the Vail Valley. What had started in 1996 as a converted van that traveled between coffee shops to sell books to “down-valley” readers became an award-winning, 3,000-plus-square-foot home to books and those who love them. And that includes a big section of books for children, the group Magistro focuses on in Read Island.

As you might guess, it's a book about the importance of books, reading and all that the act of reading can offer. But it's more than that, too. We caught up with Magistro before she and illustrator Alice Feagan team up to launch the book at a couple of local venues this week to talk about Read Island.

Westword: You're bringing your book live and in person to a couple of local bookstores. What do you have in mind for those storytime events?

Nicole Magistro: In short, stories, songs and an art activity! In addition to narrating Read Island, I’ll share several other favorite books that toddlers love. Waking Dragons, by Jane Yolen and Derek Anderson, is a crowd favorite: Did you know that dragons eat waffles for breakfast? This time of year, Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman’s Bear Says Thanks is an interactive and sweet story about friendship and recognizing that we all bring different things — tangible and intangible — to Thanksgiving gatherings.

From my time as a bookseller, I also have a tool kit of sing-along songs to get kids shaking their sillies out and clapping their hands. Alice leads a drawing demonstration, showing kids how they can break down a character into shapes and letters to draw more easily. And then if there's time, we have a craft where kids can make their own fox character to take home.

Speaking of your experience as a bookseller, what does it feel like to be on the other end of the process of getting books into hands?

Bookstores are like home to me, and so I just don’t ever feel uncomfortable in one. I walk into a store and can feel connected to every section; at first glance, I get a read on the staff vibe, how the buyer curates the selection, and how current the store is. My experience running the Bookworm made me extremely picky about what I could stock, and so as a writer, I challenged myself and my team — including the illustrator, editors, designers and printer — to make an absolutely excellent book that deserved a spot on the shelf right next to award winners and classics. Shelf space comes at a great premium — there are more books published than ever before — and so I feel honored when a store decides to stock Read Island.

Sounds like your history with the Bookworm had a positive effect on your current writing. How did you get into the bookselling game initially?

I moved to the Vail Valley in 2002 as a working writer, and I got a part-time job at the bookstore to connect with people in the community who cared about books, literacy, education and culture. What I didn’t know then — I was just 23 — was that I would find a real career in the book business. Every time I attended a bookselling event, I would return with new energy and ideas for growing our tiny little 650-square-foot shop. Over fifteen years, I was able to expand the store, start and operate a full-service cafe, and earn the Bookworm a reputation as one of the best bookstores in Colorado. It was majorly fulfilling!

But I always wanted to return to writing. Despite many attempts, I learned that I just could not do both. I’m too much of an all-in kind of person. After that, I set my sights on living in a community with an amazing bookstore. It became much easier then to pass along the legacy and let a new and competent owner/ operator take it to the next level.
click to enlarge READ ISLAND LLC
Read Island LLC
So how did the idea for Read Island come about? How is it connected to the real Read Island in the Discovery Islands?

My family has been visiting the real Read Island since the mid-1990s; it was always very cute when someone would comment about how appropriate the place name was — you know, a bookstore owner visits a place called Read Island? Honestly, the symbolism was lost on me for a very long time. But the lightbulb moment happened during the pandemic, when my son and I were doing a lot of meditation together to chill out. I mean, the pressure on all of us in the summer of 2020 was nuts! As it turns out, we were both “visiting” our favorite place in the world. I had known I wanted to write a book for kids that celebrated reading but didn’t take place in a bookstore or library. And then suddenly the images came to me: an adventure to a magical island made of books.

The visuals in the book really back up that magical feeling. Alice Feagan's illustrations are fascinating in the way they employ an almost collage-like effect on some pages, combining the text of other books into the art.

Alice uses a cut-collage style in all of her work. She sketches on paper, then moves the files over to create a digital version with layers and layers of colors, textures and images. In the early stages of design, the art director said she wanted to see books on every page, that the pictures had to express a passion for all books, lots of books. Alice went back and started to work with that idea. She researched books in the public domain — primarily classic children’s stories. And in the final version, we ended up with more than twenty different titles that range from The Odyssey to Jack and the Beanstalk.

It’s a great subtle touch, the inclusion of snips of other stories in your own. It’s almost subliminal.

I love the effect that including classic children’s stories in the illustration has had on older children and parents, especially. They get something new every time they read the book, and they don’t grow bored with the book if they are asked to read it again and again.

In a similar vein, what are the messages of the book that you want your readers to take away from the experience?

The power of imagination through meditation. It’s a way for kids to experience creativity and new places, even when they're stuck at home or in a situation they don’t like. I think my parents would have called it daydreaming, but today we know so much more about training the mind to be resilient and develop positive pathways.

Most personally, some kids will find solace and friends in books that they read. Those characters and situations, the emotions on the page, they are never far away. And like the best friends, they pick up right where you left off.

Nicole Magistro will host a storytime launch of
Read Island at 10 a.m. Saturday, November 13, at Tattered Cover Park Meadows.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen