Porchlight Book Company is proud to be a woman-owned company. Here in Milwaukee, we’re also lucky to be in company with a growing number of fellow woman-owned bookstores. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re proud to highlight these community change-makers.
5312 W Vliet St, Milwaukee, WI 53208
Open Thursdays and Fridays (12pm – 5pm) and Saturdays (10am – 4pm)
Ashley Valentine opened the doors to Rooted MKE in March 2022 with a mission to provide “a dream oasis for Black and Brown youth of Milwaukee.” Valentine curates titles for young readers featuring BIPOC authors and characters, and as a former educator with Milwaukee Public Schools, she also offers workshops and author read-along events for youth from ages 3 to 14.
Photo courtesy of Rooted MKE.
How did your bookselling journey begin?
Prior to joining the bookselling world, I was an educator and STEM Manager. The seed of being a bookseller and literacy curator was planted when as a teacher, I had to independently seek out resources for my students that reflected the makeup of my classroom. I am extremely passionate about literacy and storytelling and found that when I was able to spotlight Black and Brown characters, my students made connections to the text, were more engaged and enthusiastic about reading and taking risks and we were able to have such rich dialogue about the title.
Teaching is a difficult job and though teachers often work tirelessly and wear many hats, students' outcomes don't always reflect the tremendous effort and time invested in their advancement. I knew that there had to be another way for me to reach and serve my community and the concept of a bookstore and literacy support space was born.
The bookstore officially opened in March 2022. I didn't come from a bookselling background so the learning curve has been steep but I have enjoyed the community building aspect of the work.
What are your favorite aspects of being a bookseller?
Curating our in-store collection is my absolute favorite part of the work. I love watching youth and their families come into the store and light up! Families often talk about how great it is to be able to come into a space that spotlights Black and Brown characters and how they wish they had similar opportunities to experience BIPOC literacy when they were growing up.
I also love meeting kids who don't consider themselves readers and being able to support them in finding a book that they are excited to try.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a bookseller?
Bookselling as a profession has been especially challenging for me coming from an education and nonprofit background. I now fully understand why so many bookstores have cafe or food based models and have larger footprints. Volume in sales is critical to keeping a store alive and thriving. Programming is also pivotal to a bookstore.
When I started, it was just me and my ambitious dreams. A bookstore has to have a team to support and be able to make meaningful connections with community and community partners.
What’s one book you’d like to recommend to readers right now?
What a tough question! Right now, I am excited about Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh. It's a YA title about a black teen girl who is examining her family history and trauma to create a different path and life for herself. It helped to ground me and I think it can be a powerful read for teens.
I couldn't stop at one! My favorite picture book right now is You Be Mommy by Karla Clark. My life is so full, this simple book allows me to see my own struggles with juggling a business and family are seen and felt by others. It also is the perfect snuggle book at bedtime and allows me to begin to teach my toddlers about empathy in a way that they can understand.
Photo courtesy of Rooted MKE.
Support Rooted MKE by shopping in-person, on their website, or via their Bookshop.org storefront. You can also support their tutoring and literacy programming by becoming a monthly donor at RootedMKE.com.