Wild time at Wild Rumpus

Linden Hills bookstore attracts a following for unique story hour

Once upon a time, there was a little bookstore in Linden Hills called the Wild Rumpus. It was a place where nothing ordinary ever happened. But if you’ve been to the Rumpus, then you already know that. From the menagerie of chickens, cats and rats that run the store to the child-size purple door within a door, whimsical and wacky are the rule at the Rumpus.

So it follows that what’s known as “story hour” at any other children’s bookstore is called “Tale Time” at the Wild Rumpus. And true to form, Tale Time is not your ordinary story hour.

While storyteller Krista Barsness reads, she must compete for her audience’s attention with three Silky Bantam chickens, three tail-less Manx cats, two Dumbo rats and every other wonderfully distracting animal at the Rumpus.

“I’m kind of used to having people not listen to me,” Barsness joked.

But despite everything else going on at the Wild Rumpus, Tale Time is wildly popular. On a normal Monday morning, children and their nannies or parents claim seats on the well-worn rug in the back of the store long before Barsness begins to read.

According to Wild Rumpus owner Tom Braun, Tale Time has not always existed. After the store opened 14 years ago, neighbors asked for a story hour. “There was kind of a neighborhood demand for it,” Braun said.

Now, the moniker, “Tale Time,” could be a nod to the tail-less cats who take up residence in the store, but owner Tom Braun admits that the name really came about because, “We thought ‘story hour’ sounded too common and a little lame.”

Stories served with silliness

Barsness never begins Tale Time with a book. Instead, she leads the kids in a song that involves lots of movements like hand clapping and pretend sneezing. After the kids have worked out a bit of energy, she reads the first of five stories. On a recent August day, it was “Move Over, Rover” by Karen Beaumont; illustrations by Jane Dyer. This is the tale of a dog that gets crowded out of his doghouse by every animal in the neighborhood when a thunderstorm strikes.

When Barsness reads, her voice is booming and animated, which is important because she often has to talk over a chorus of cockatiels and the plaintive cooing of Mo the dove.

Throughout the book, Barsness interrupts herself to ask the children questions about what’s happening in the story. When she asks, “What smelly animal got into Rover’s doghouse?” a red-haired boy of about 5 gleefully calls out, “A skunk!”

Asking questions is just one of the tricks that Barsness uses to keep the kids interested in the story. When she finishes a book, it’s time for more singing, dancing and general silliness before the next story begins.

“This age group just can’t sit that long,” Barsness said. “That’s why I like to keep their attention with lots of activity and movement.”

The age group to which Barsness refers is the 2- to 4-year-old set – a group not known for their ability to sit still for a terribly long time. Couple this naturally short attention span with the other distractions at the Rumpus and you’ve got a recipe for wandering minds and wandering children.

“I’m used to having some children who will just get up and leave during the story, but I try to keep them involved,” Barsness said.

Barsness does have some training in getting children interested in reading. She’s currently studying to become a children’s librarian at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.

“Working [at the Wild Rumpus] is a perfect correlation with my studies,” Barsness said. “I love my job.”

The regulars

While 9-month-old Madeline Buss of St. Louis Park is a little younger than Barsness’ target audience, her nanny, Joan Boyle, said Madeline loves coming to Tale Time.

“Even though Madeline is young, it’s great to come here because she loves the singing and interaction. This is very involved and homey. That’s why we like it,” Boyle said.

Nanny Amanda Gleason and 20-month-old Lucy Murray of the Kingfield neighborhood are also Tale Time regulars.

“We come here because we really like the store and because Krista is really animated and fun,” Gleason said.

According to Gleason, they also find new books to enjoy at home when they attend Tale Time. On a recent Monday, they discovered a book called “Market to Market” and decided to buy it. “It’s Lucy’s favorite right now,” Gleason said.

Part of Barsness’ goal when selecting books to read at Tale Time is to introduce her audience to new releases and other stories they may not have heard before. “This gives parents more options for books that they can share with their children,” Barnsess said.

After nearly half an hour of reading stories, singing and dancing, Barsness is getting a little hoarse and the kids are getting a little restless. Parents and nannies start fishing out sippy cups and Cheeerios from diaper bags. However, Barsness has one more trick up her sleeve before it’s time to read the final story. That trick is called the “Hokey Pokey.” While Barsness admits that she used to consider the “Hokey Pokey” cheesey, it’s always a crowd pleaser at Tale Time.

All of the children in the room jump to their feet to put their right hands in, take them out then shake them all about. Even the babies are giggling as their mothers hold them while turning themselves about.

When the “Hokey Pokey” ends, it’s time for one last story, which appropriately is a calm, mellow and short book called “Snuggle Up Sleepy Ones” by Claire Freedman, with illustrations by Tina Macnaughton.

After singing a closing song, the children are free to chase the chickens or torment the cats again while parents and nannies are free to peruse the shelves for the latest children’s books. When children, animals and caregivers have expended their excess energy and/or cash, another romp at the neighborhood bookstore comes to a happy ending. Tale Time in Linden Hills is nothing short of a Š well Š a wild rumpus.