Seattle resident Monica Lemoine has been teaching for about 20 years, most recently as a tenured English teacher at Highline Community College. “I remember learning one day that many of my students couldn’t remember the last time they picked up a book for fun,” she says. “The joy of reading had been sucked away from them – it just wasn’t really considered a fun thing to do anymore.”
Lemoine had always found reading joyful. “It can be a stress reliever, it can improve empathy, it can transport you to another time or place,” she says. So she decided to start an after-school book club with her students. She told them they could choose the type of book they wanted to discuss. “It doesn’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning book,” Lemoine recalls telling his students. “It can be a graphic novel, or about video games, or whatever.”
She saw the lights come on in her students’ eyes as the reading group read David Benioff’s coming-of-age adventure about two young Russian soldiers during the siege of Leningrad, “City of Thieves.” . “Everyone loved this book. Absolutely everyone,” recalls Lemoine. “It was the only time I saw 17-year-old boys go into a story.”
The book club became a regular fixture, and Lemoine became addicted to connecting non-readers to the perfect book. “I love teaching,” says Lemoine, but the book club “brought into me this realization that I would like to open a bookstore.”
Lemoine lives in North Seattle and rents in the area are high. She considered different independent bookstore models and started thinking about food trucks. Finally, Lemoine bought a 2014 Ford StarTrans 22-foot-long bus last year from a used shuttle dealership in SeaTac. In the shuttle’s former life, Lemoine thinks it ferried tourists from hotels to the airport and back, but she had a vision for a bookstore on wheels.
Earlier this spring, Lemoine sent the shuttle to NMK Mobile Manufacturers, an Oregon-based company that has built custom food trucks for Seattle institutions like Dick’s Drive-In, Napkin Friends, and Pecos Pit Bar-B-Que. Last month, she drove her new bookstore home. NMK completely wrapped the white shuttle in bright blue vinyl wrap, and the sides, front, and back all feature the Lemoine-designed logo: “Blue Kettle Books: A Bookshop on Wheels.”
For several weeks, Lemoine has been fine-tuning all the finishes, furnishing the shelves with Blue Kettle, creation of the store’s websiteand planning a complete summer program for Seattle’s newest bookstore. On Friday, May 13, Blue Kettle Books will debut at Cairn Brewing in Kenmore from 4:30-8 p.m. The boutique will be making appearances at family events all summer long, including Northwest Folklife, Kirklandia, the Fremont Fair, PrideFest and the Mill Creek Festival.
In the same way that his book club reinvigorated a love of reading among jaded students, Lemoine wants to bring Blue Kettle Books to events and places frequented by people who don’t regularly visit bookstores, providing a point of frictionless entry to the joy of reading. His goal is to find people who don’t have the time or energy to read, then sell them their new favorite book.
What’s most surprising when you first walk into Blue Kettle Books is how cozy and, well, bookstore-like the small space is. Outside the shuttle, Lemoine sets up a few shelves with children’s picture books and puzzles to intrigue would-be sailors and coax them inside. As soon as they enter, customers will find a few high-end greeting cards, stuffed animals, blankets and candies. Lemoine prioritizes American-made accent products, primarily from small businesses and artisans of color.
And then the navigators are surrounded by warm wooden shelves stocked with books for all ages, and a pair of cubbies where little readers can curl up with a picture book. Lemoine has organized adult titles into thematic categories such as “Love Lighter Lit,” where romantic comedies and comedy books go; “Take a Thrill Ride,” for tense literary page-turners; and “Get Hooked,” which is the first episodes of a “binge-worthy” series written by authors like Diana Gabaldon, Jacqueline Winspear, and David Baldacci. It’s a cheerful space that, by an act of alchemy, looks very much like a bookstore and not at all like an airport shuttle.
The average 1,200 square foot bookstore offers around 20,000 titles. Blue Kettle only has enough storage space for 800. “That means I don’t have room for a single bad book,” says Lemoine. As she bought stocks, she sent out a survey to her friends and family asking them to list their “absolute favorite” fiction, non-fiction and children’s titles – the books they would recommend to anyone. the world. She keeps an eye out for reviews and tells everyone she meets about these rare, life-changing books that can appeal to even the most inexperienced reader. “If you knew how much time I spent on each book on those shelves, you’d be amazed,” she says.
Lemoine has big plans for his little bookmobile. She hopes to find several commercial parking lots that will allow Blue Kettle to set up shop regularly during the week, even when she drives the store to area breweries, festivals and farmers’ markets on weekends. She wants to visit schools and organize children’s book fairs. And at some point, Lemoine might open a brick-and-mortar iteration of Blue Kettle, but for now, she’s excited to take her bookstore on the road through North Seattle and the Eastside, looking for people who need to fall in love with reading again.
What’s on the shelves of Blue Kettle Books?
About 40 percent of Blue Kettle Books is dedicated to children’s literature, and many of these books “teach kids really important perspectives on social justice issues and other important topics,” Lemoine says. But “I think it’s also important for kids to laugh, relax and have a story.” She says the 1970s picture book”The giant jam sandwichis the latter – a “truly funny, silly, imaginative, off-the-radar gem for kids”.
Blue Kettle Books divides its books into broad thematic categories, including “Enjoy Deep Reading,” which Lemoine describes as “literary gems, epic sagas, historical fiction, and award-winning books. It might be ‘French braid,’ ‘The dominant story,’ ‘Hamnet,’ ‘The Nickel Boys,’ or ‘Where the Crawdads sing.’ These are books I’ve curated that are deep, layered, long, tasty, slow reads that are also engaging page-turners.
David Benioff’s novel “city of thievesis the World War II page turner that helped Lemoine realize that every non-reader is just waiting for one great book to turn them into a literature lover. “I’m also happy to store it because the good guys in the book are Russian,” which, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, gives the 2008 book a compelling thematic hook. “Reading inspires empathy and humanizes people, and during a time of violence and horror, we really need more,” says Lemoine.