MILWAUKEE — "Hey neighbor, we'll see you soon," reads a sign outside the soon-to-not-be-empty storefront at 5312 W. Vilet St. in Milwaukee.
The brick building is the future home of Rooted MKE, a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) centered children’s bookstore, tutoring hub and makers space.
"There's usually just a small section that's dedicated to books that represent children of color," said Rooted MKE owner Ashley Valentine about why she wanted to open up her own bookstore. "I wanted to make sure that my kids had a place where they could go that they knew they weren't just represented in a small space, but that the space was completely dedicated to them and showcasing a wide range of stories."
Valentine is a former Milwaukee Public School teacher and has a background in special education and literacy. Her hope is to bring diverse books into more homes.
"You don't have to be a person of color to be able to experience a story that's about a character of color," Valentine said. "However, you make books your favorite in your households, books of color should also be a part of those titles."
An easy place to access diverse titles is also important. According to 2019 research from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at UW Madison, just 11.9% of main characters in children's books are Black/African, 8.7% of main characters are Asian/Asian American, 5.3% are Latinx and 1% are Native/First Nations.
Along with a diverse selection of books, there will also be tutoring available and a space for kids and families to get creative.
In the makers space, Valentine said, "Kids can come in and pick out a skill that they want to work on related to the book. They can come over to the makers space and then be able to create something that helps them to work on the comprehension strategies or more broadly look at an idea or theme presented in the book and then create something of their own to take home with them. It allows (kids) to use their hands and think creatively and innovatively while also tying together some of the literacy skills that are introduced."
Tutoring through Rooted MKE is already happening, so far with a focus on reading and math.
The bookstore is still in the works, but is scheduled for a January opening.
For updates on the opening of the store, as well as to learn more about the tutoring program, you can follow Rooted MKE on Facebook.