When Dash was a peanut of a newborn, I propped him up in his boppy each day surrounded by a selection of picture books. I tuck Zora in at night with a kiss, a stuffed animal, and a few dozen board books. I started dragging my children to the Festival of Books every April when they were just mewling babies, although what they really enjoyed was rolling up and down the hills of UCLA and stalking the poor soul in the Clifford suit. Chalk it up to nature, nurture, or neuroticism, but we are now blessed with children who love bookstores, libraries and books. We are also blessed with a few independent bookstores in the area. We decided to visit and re-visit them and report back on their kid-appeal.

We love Every Picture Tells a Story. Residing on Montana Avenue for the last eight years, the 20-year-old bookstore offers a good selection of books, despite a space that seems small compared to their cavernous, big-box competitors. Helmed by husband and wife team Lois Sarkisian and Lee Cohen, Every Picture also features original artwork by children’s illustrators as well as limited edition prints. Their gallery includes work from classics such as Charles Schulz, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak and the Disney Studios, as well as from contemporary artists. Over time, Every Picture’s holdings have “expanded to include fantasy and cartoon art, film art and editorial works, and this past year, comic book art, including Marvel Comics reproductions,” Cohen said. Although much of the artwork is way beyond my budget ($8,000 Cat in the Hat drawing, anyone?), it is fun to visit the store and view the art gracing the walls.

Operating as an art gallery in addition to a bookstore has allowed Every Picture “to survive and to thrive,” Cohen said. He rejects the notion that we live in a Barnes & Noble world. “We focus on the art and books we love and share that with our clientele and trust that they will respond to our passions,” Cohen said.

Every Picture sponsors several author signings throughout the year. In 2009, the store hosted illustrators such as Buzz Aldrin, David Shannon, Werner Herzog, Greg Hildebrandt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stan Lee, Ray Harryhausen, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, and Cornelia Funke. In December, Addison tried to visit with Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, but she couldn’t get anywhere close to the door for all the little princesses spilling onto the sidewalk, trying to get their Fancy Nancys signed. The Christmas walk was nearly as crazy, although that time Addison not only got inside, but even managed to wiggle her way through the crowed to grab a signed Numeroff. Dash and Zora also have a signed “If You Take a Mouse to School” on their bookshelf, courtesy of Every Picture.

Every Picture also partners with the nearby Aero Theater for multimedia experiences. Last year, for example, Every Picture hosted Ray Bradbury while the Aero screened “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” and a panel of super hero comic book illustrators accompanied a showing of “Batman.” Cohen says that Every Picture and the Aero have “a number of events on the drawing boards for the coming year” including tie-ins with the movies “The Lightning Thief” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

Beyond the bookstore, Every Picture also participates in the Festival of Books every year. A founding exhibitor, the store sponsors exhibits of classic and contemporary children’s book illustrations and often consults with the festival on the choice of the year’s featured logo artist. Last April, I bought up every T-shirt, hat, poster and pen I could find with Eric Carle’s caterpillar on it. Someday Dash and Zora will thank me. This year’s featured illustrator is David Shannon of “Oh, David!” fame.

Sarkisian and Cohen have done their part to promote the artistry behind what could cynically be seen as the commercial enterprise of selling books. And it’s easier to advance the cause of “art appreciation” with our kids using the “Cat in the Hat” or one of Sendak’s “Wild Things” instead of a bunch of broken pots or weather-beaten sculpture.

Every Picture Tells a Story is located at 1311-C Montana Ave., www.everypicture.com. The Festival of Books is April 24 and 25. www.latimes.com/extras/festivalofbooks.

Find a calendar with local events, helpful links, and more adventures of Addison, Zora, and Dash at smatoz.blogspot.com.

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