Ken Sanders Rare Books adds a children’s reading room to the Leonardo


After decades in the book business in Utah — first with counterculture icon Cosmic Airplane, and now with his longtime Ken Sanders Rare Books — Ken Sanders said he had no never had a dedicated reading area for children in any of its stores.

So far, that is. While moving Ken Sanders Rare Books to new digs in The Leonardo at 209 E. 500 South in downtown Salt Lake City, 70-year-old Sanders is about to open a children’s reading room on Saturday, September 9. 24.

“We have a pretty good stock here,” Sanders said recently, pointing out the books he admires in the 300-square-foot reading area as construction nears completion. “We have only just started. We will have books for every age group. Young readers will be downstairs on the lower shelves, as young people cannot reach this level. »

Even as Sanders’ team put the finishing touches on, the space was already cozy. It’s housed in the furthest corner space that Sanders shares with the Leonardo’s gift shop. At his old 200 East store — which he had to leave for development — he only had one shelf for children’s books, which makes the prospect of the new space all the more exciting.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Themed carpet in Ken Sanders Rare Books’ new children’s reading room at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

The floor is covered with various custom-cut rugs that Sanders and his team found online. They feature different icons of children’s literature: “Harry Potter”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” among them.

On one wall is a map, which Sanders says is his favorite: Neverland. “It contains all the fairy tale archetypes from around the world and was originally made in 1930,” he said.

Sanders said he plans to add a small table and chairs, along with pillows for the kids to snuggle up on and read, and book-related knick-knacks.

The shelves, which will seem imposing to children, contain new and used books, with such well-known titles as “Goosebumps”, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. There’s a row of “Hardy Boys” mysteries, waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation of young readers.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A shelf of “Hardy Boys” mysteries sits in Ken Sanders Rare Books’ new children’s reading room at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

Libraries symbolize a personal story for Sanders. He designed the shelves in the early 70s and had them built for Cosmic Airplane. When the store went bankrupt, Pat Ortega, owner of The Bookshelf in Ogden, bought the shelves – and 48 years later Sanders bought them back from Ortega’s family.

Another shelf, in the shape of a robot, will present the novelties. An area outside the children’s area will feature books for young adults.

Sanders held a contest to name the children’s section and received a few dozen nominations. The winning entry, he said, was by author Terry Tempest Williams: “Where the Wild Things Are,” from Maurice Sendak’s classic book. Sanders changed the name slightly, to avoid directly scamming Sendak, and the area is therefore called “Where the Wild Things Be”.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A space in the basement of the Leonardo in Salt Lake City, where Ken Sanders plans to showcase his rare books, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

Big dreams, big bet

Sanders has big plans for the Leonardo space. As he showed people the basement, which has lights hanging from the ceiling and unlimited empty space, he talked about where he intended to put his collection of rare books, next to an art gallery and other showcases.

Stopping in front of his many stored boxes, he pulled out a book and began to read aloud. His voice changed and adapted to the different characters and experiences on the pages, and he stopped to share tidbits about backstory and other context.

“Do I have a problem with buying books?” Sanders asked with a shrug, indicating the boxes of books around him. “I don’t know. The most I ever bought was 80,000 books of poetry.

Sanders’ latest attempt at reinvention remains a gamble. A GoFundMe launched for the store in 2020 is still ongoing, having raised $167,000 in pledges so far.

“If I was smart I would just go down a Hobbit hole with my rare books and sell them online for big bucks and forget about the rest,” he said. Indeed, he said he made about $3,000 over Labor Day weekend just from online orders.

“I don’t know where the money will come from, but I never did,” he said. It’s getting a bit exhausting, he said, adding that he wishes he had a “comfortable savings account” to draw on. “But I spend every penny buying books,” he said.

Why Books Are Banned

Now that he’s a grandfather, Sanders said he’s learning more outside of his own rare book specialty. (Rare book collectors, he said, are a “strange breed” of people.)

“What I’ve learned in my 50 years in the business: Every person who walks into your store – customers, staff – brings things. Sometimes negative, but it’s mostly positive,” he said. declared.

The new children’s room, Sanders said, is his way of giving something to Utah’s youngest and most vulnerable — those who, arguably, need it most right now.

“It comes down to the kids,” he said. “It starts with the kids.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A shelf of books labeled “Banned to Utah” at Ken Sanders Rare Books at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

Sanders denounces recent increased efforts to ban books from schools and libraries. In his old space, he had a display of banned books, and he has another version in the new store. And while he doesn’t want his new kids’ space to become “a lightning rod”, he said he hopes it’s a safe place for children to learn and play.

“All parents, all parents, you have the right to choose what your children read,” Sanders said. “I would never object to that. But as soon as you cross the line into saying what other parents and other kids can read, that’s it. It’s finish.

Many banned books, Sanders said, are about “things that white people don’t want us to talk about.”

He highlighted two books in the biography section of his kids’ space: one was about civil rights icon Rosa Parks, the other was “Hidden Figures,” the story of African-American women who figured out the figures from NASA’s first space missions.

“You can find yourself, whatever you are, reflected in children’s literature today,” Sanders said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with this children’s book room: be inclusive, not exclusive.”

Rare Books by Ken Sanders will have a grand opening for its “Where the Wild Things Be” children’s area on Saturday, September 24, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sanders will read excerpts from “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak and “The Rainbow” by Ul De Rico. Goblins. Utah folksinger Kate MacLeod is scheduled to perform. The event is free and each child and young adult will be able to leave with a free book.


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