The iPad has its time and place in keeping little ones entertained, but there’s nothing more special than cozying up with a good book before bedtime. We were lucky enough to chat with Hannah Shatzen, author of one of our absolute favorite books, Bodega Baby, and self-proclaimed “professional aunt,” about her origins as a writer, her top NYC spots, and her foolproof children’s gifts ideas.
Hi, Hannah! Can you first share a bit about your background?
I grew up in Miami, FL and then moved to Northern Virginia as a teenager. I went to UVA and really maximized my time there – I was president of my sorority, a UVA cheerleader and was in a secret society. I majored in marketing, management and advertising within the McIntire School of Commerce. UVA was such a wonderful foundation for me educationally, and I think my time there really honed in my desire to be entrepreneurial. After college, I spent a couple of years in DC working in tech at places like NetApp and Amazon. Ultimately, I settled down in NYC where I’ve been for the past eight years, now working at Google. After passing the eight-year mark, I can finally call myself a proud New Yorker with an undeniably heavy Miami/Latin feeling in my soul. (I like to think these two influences led me to eventually write Bodega Baby).
You’re obviously a children’s author, so we have to know—what were your favorite books growing up?
There are two that really stand out to me and by that I mean I can transport back to my childhood bedroom in Miami and actually see my mom reading to me. The first is The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Dinosaur Bone by Stan and Jan Berenstain and the second is The Napping House by Audrey Wood. I have two older sisters, so bedtime was a contact sport. But what I remember most from my childhood is how fun bedtime was in large part due to the stories we read. In The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Dinosaur Bone, there is a line that we basically turned into a song, complete with choreography, that we would scream out in unison and jump on the bed every time we read it together. Moments in books like that influenced many pieces when I wrote Bodega Baby – I’ve heard from so many of my customers that their kids love to shout out the line, “I THINK I’M GONNA POP!” It reminds me of our Dinosaur Bone dance and makes me so happy. On the other side of the coin, I loved The Napping House because of how serene yet silly it was. I remember getting lost in the illustrations. That story taught me the importance that illustrations play in a child’s mind, which was another huge influence on Bodega Baby.
Did you always want to be an author, or did it happen sort of organically? When and how did the inspiration for Bodega Baby strike? Did you feel that there was a void in the world of children’s books that needed to be filled?
I think I have always been a good storyteller – everyone in my family is. So I knew I always wanted to write a book at some point in my life, but I never knew when inspiration would strike and I never thought it’d be a children's book. I am the youngest of three sisters and an aunt to a niece and three nephews, so I was constantly perusing the shelves of children's books for them. I realized that beyond the classics, I just wanted to see a really sweet sentimental book to share the magic of NYC. And I truly couldn’t find that. So I decided to write it myself.
Like so many writers, I was inspired by living in New York. I understood how central your neighborhood bodega is to your everyday life, and it was then that I realized this was exactly what I wanted to write about. Living in New York is hard. We rely on unique comforts in this city, one of which is having your corner bodega that you can call your own. I’ve lived in four different neighborhoods in the time I’ve been in New York, and I’ve had my bodega in each neighborhood. So I knew that element could be the nucleus of the story.
From the start, the story had so much personal meaning. Bodegas have a Puerto Rican origin story, and my grandma is Puerto Rican. If you read about New York in the early to mid 20th century, the bodega is associated with that first generation of entrepreneurs from Puerto Rico, who arrived in Manhattan after World War II. And I fell in love of the idea of hopeful, hard working people coming to New York to pursue a dream. So I wrote about my love of New York while paying homage to the hard-working men and women keeping the lights on at our loyal bodegas. She never owned a bodega, but it still feels like a nod to my Nanna and our Puerto Rican heritage. It ignited the meaning behind the project and the story flowed out of me pretty naturally after that.
An excerpt from Bodega Baby
What was the most challenging part of authoring Bodega Baby and getting it out into the world?
The entire process took two years, and the biggest piece that challenged me was organizing all of the elements of running a legitimate business behind the actual book itself – the website build, paying taxes, getting a trademark, etc. It made me feel really accomplished to learn all of those new skills associated with the project, beyond just the creative.
You refer to yourself as a “professional aunt,” a title a lot of readers probably identify with. What are the most rewarding aspects of this role?
It is the ultimate “test drive.” I love being able to come into my niece and nephews lives, play with them, spoil them, talk to them about school and their friends, and just watch them grow into these dynamic people with their own interests and skills. And because I am not their parent, they actually think I am cool, something kids of my own one day probably won’t think (lol). It’s just fun. The rewarding aspects are limitless.
What’s your go-to bodega order?
Everything bagel toasted. Chive cream cheese. Bacon. Tomato. Onion. Hal’s Sparkling water. Iced coffee, black.
What are your favorite foolproof gifts for kids?
Bodega Baby of course. It makes the perfect gift for expectant parents, grandparents, teachers, or any person with young children. And each order comes with a cute sticker of our wily bodega cat! Follow us @bodegababybooks to get all the latest content and news from our store!
And along with a copy of my book, I just lean into whatever the kid is obsessed with at the moment. Paw patrol? I’m getting them the coolest Paw Patrol water bottle ever. Elsa? Here is a full Elsa costume to wear around the house. Legos? Unicorns? Star Wars? Barbie? We are leaning all the way in.
NYC is Danrie’s hometown, but it’s also where Bodega Baby takes place. Any favorite NYC spots?
My favorite spots are ever changing, but right now I’ve been really into the restaurant scene. I’ve been having a really good time at The Nines, and recently had an amazing meal at L’Artusi. And despite chatting about children’s books today, I’m switching into adult mode and I’mg going to tell you that I keep having the BEST martinis at Commerce Inn and Bar Pisselino. But the best nights are the spontaneous nights where you peek through a window, get sucked in by the ambiance, walk-in and have the best meal of your life. That’s the magic of NYC. Talent abounds.