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Alex Uhl, owner of A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe, and JK Rowling

Alex Uhl, left, and JK Rowling

A Whale of Tale Children’s Bookshoppe has been a fixture in Orange County since 1989.

The Irvine store gained a following through owner Alex Uhl’s expert book recommendations and author events, drawing publishing stars like JK Rowling, Julie Andrews, Laura and Jenna Bush, and Lemony Snicket.

Since moving to a smaller location three years ago, Uhl has focused on organizing author events at local schools and libraries.

“Whether you inspire one or five children,” she says. “It’s the glow in their eyes when they say ‘They came to my school.’”

What books are kids gobbling up right now?

There are so many books, but the middle grade readers seem to be our best sellers. Lately we’ve been doing well with The Inquisitors Tale by Adam Gidwitz and Pax by Sarah Pennypacker. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown was a good seller for us. We’ve had those authors visit the store, which always helps.

A Whale of a Tale Children's BookshoppeWhat books do you find yourself recommending over and over?

The Mo Willems books are good for early readers. My grandson learned to read with the Elephant and Piggie books. Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins is always a fun one to recommend. The Fancy Nancy books are the top-selling books in the store.

Do you know right away how well a book will do in the store?

Pretty much, especially with picture books. You need something to grab you right off the bat.

What kind of book do you think the industry needs right now?

Given the climate, I think it’s books that give us hope, books on how to be kind. You want strong characters that care about others.

Who was the first big author to sign at your store?

Sometimes we don’t know they will be big authors. Peggy Rathmann, who wrote Officer Buckle and Gloria, signed a bunch of books. Next thing we know she wins the Caldecott.

During JK Rowling’s signing in 1999 or 2000, Robin Preiss Glasser came to help. This was before Fancy Nancy and people didn’t know who she was. That’s what’s great about authors. You never who they are going to become.

First Lady Laura Bush and Alex Uhl, owner of A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe in Irvine, California

Laura Bush and Alex Uhl

What makes a successful author signing?

It’s important to prepare. The audience wants a personal connection to the author and book. Give them something they didn’t know. I’ve seen authors just do a Q and A and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

How do you work with first-time authors?

If the book is good, I’ll do a school event. It’s a good way for them to get noticed and get experience. Last year, I had an author who walked in out of the blue, Jen White. She dropped off an advance copy. So I went home, read the book (Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave) and loved it… She had no experience going to schools and now she’s great at it.

Learn more about A Whale of Tale Children’s Book Shoppe at www.awhaleofatale.com.

Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she is writing– and rewriting– a picture book and a middle grade novel. Find her on Twitter @noterlinda

All photos courtesy of Alex Uhl.