Stories Like Me defies book bans with store full of LGBTQ narratives for kids and teens | Pittsburgh City Paper

Stories Like Me defies book bans with store full of LGBTQ narratives for kids and teens

A new independent bookseller in Greenfield promises to confirm the various experiences of young readers.

click to enlarge Stories Like Me defies book bans with store full of LGBTQ narratives for kids and teens
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Helen Campbell at Stories Like Me

Helen Campbell has strong feelings about the current effort to ban LGBTQ books from library shelves, as parenting groups and state legislatures have swept in to attack everything from youth-focused trans narratives to drag story times.

“When you remove the stories of our LGBTQIA+ individuals from the shelves of libraries and schools, you are making a statement to the queer community that your story doesn’t matter, you don’t exist here,” she tells Pittsburgh City Paper.

As if by fate, Campbell had already started countering this movement years ago by developing Stories Like Me, a book shop aimed at confirming the experiences of children and teens who identify as LGBTQ, as well as those who are neurodivergent or have a disability. And that’s only scratching the surface.

“We have books that reflect diverse family structures, race, ethnicity, traditions, and so much more,” says Campbell. “Books that include poverty and being unhoused, books that include foster children, books that have stories where the leads are on the autism spectrum.”

The concept has now taken a brick-and-mortar store in Greenfield. Stories Like Me had a soft opening in November 2022, followed by a big grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony on Feb. 25.

Stories Like Me customers will find a large selection of books, from board and picture books for little ones, to graphic novels and young adult titles. Campbell says the shop features a “permanent Pride table” as well as temporary displays based on “what we’re celebrating or highlighting,” such as Women’s History Month.

In the short time since its debut, Campbell says the response to the store has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“We have people who are so grateful we’re here,” Campbell continues. “We have people who tear up when they see books that reflect their life experiences for the first time. We have everyone from tweens looking for books about identity, to adults who love a YA novel, to parents looking to have a diverse bookshelf at home. We have folks who make specific requests regarding race, ethnicity, family structure, and it’s our mission to be able to find stories for everyone.”

The idea for Stories Like Me first took root during a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training in 2017, where Campbell says she “learned of the importance of books” and “over the course of the next few years figured out how to make a difference through books.”

“It was a combination of personal journey and education” she adds.

She then called her children, Elsie Campbell and Imogen Campbell Hendricks, who were both at college at the time. They suggested that she “open a store in which DEI was the focus and where all families and kids could see themselves in stories.”

click to enlarge Stories Like Me defies book bans with store full of LGBTQ narratives for kids and teens
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Stories Like Me book shop

Campbell says Elsie and Imogen now serve as co-owners who are “invested in the business both financially and with their time.”

“I'm the majority owner but they're both in the business,” she adds.

For a certified project manager who worked in the education nonprofit space for many years, the venture was fairly new territory for Campbell.

“The only time I worked directly with books was as a summer job when I was 17 at a library book supply company in my small town in the north of England,” Campbell says. “I loved it.”

Campbell stressed that the “criteria for opening the space was quite specific.”

“I wanted a place that would be in the city, accessible by public transportation, and not in the immediate vicinity of any other indie bookstores, and that would be a safe and comfortable place for anyone using a mobility device,” she says.

She worked with Bridgeway Capital, a local firm that offers flexible loans and other assistance to help small businesses, who suggested she buy a space instead of renting. Campbell looked at properties in a variety of neighborhoods, including Point Breeze, Wilkinsburg, Larimer, Homewood, and Homestead, before settling on Greenfield.

“When this space became available, I met with my architect and we looked at the possibilities,” she says. “It was a wonderful neighborhood, with lots of families. The entrance was already accessible and I could make large restrooms as part of the remodel. It was easy to arrive by bus, and has an apartment above to help with the economics.”

Campbell then generated interest in the upcoming business by hosting pop-ups at places like the Alternate Histories Studio, which is also located in Greenfield.

Now that Stories Like Me has settled into a permanent location, its existence defies the current movement to remove certain books from shelves. While libraries struggle to withstand the growing tide of ignorance and bigotry, independent booksellers like Stories Like Me can at least fill the gap by offering a place where readers of all ages can feel seen.

Of the book bans, Campbell says, “This is unconscionable and we, along with many other indie bookstores, are committed to keeping books on our shelves that will act as mirrors and windows for the queer community. We are a safe space, we are queer owned, and will stand against any attempts to erase the stories of marginalized people.”

Stories Like Me. 4381 Murray Ave., Greenfield.

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