Helping readers uncover good stories

Kirsten Cappy ’92The advent of e-readers has revolutionized how people read. In seconds, readers can have a new book in hand. What has not changed is the fact that they have to know that a book exists before they can want it. “In the end, the challenge still is, how does a reader find that story or author in the first place?” says book marketing consultant Kirsten Cappy ’92.

Cappy has made it her business to focus on this question and come up with innovative answers over and over again as she works to help put interesting literature in the hands of children and educators through her company, Curious City. Located in Portland, Maine, Curious City primarily seeks to get good books read and used. The aim is to create and inspire curious children while supporting the admirable work of authors and illustrators, she says.

“I know from my own reading life that a story can grow our curiosity, sense of the world, and sense of ourselves in ways that no other experience can,” says Cappy, who majored in anthropology at Wheaton. “My work at Curious City is about creating instances where those critical connections between a child and a book have the opportunity to happen.

“I try to create projects or campaigns that are as compelling as the authors’ work. I admire authors of children’s books because not only are they working at their own craft, they also are creating stories and engaging informational texts that help children grow into empathic, creative, problem-solving citizens.”

Cappy, who works with her business partner, husband Mark Mattos, has a client base of about 30 authors, illustrators and publishers. Her outreach projects for them typically include interactive, direct-to-reader marketing plans and materials. Just one example: In 2011, she helped the author of a teen novel that deals with social injustice build momentum for her book by partnering with educators nationwide. Collaboratively, they created a national curriculum that engages middle school and high school students around storytelling, social justice and comic books.

In addition to running Curious City, she selects books for children and builds engagement materials for parents for a privately funded program in Maine called Raising Readers. The program’s mission is to raise the educational levels of the entire state of Maine. Each child in the state is given a dozen books from birth to age five. Now in its 11th year, the program has given out more than 1.6 million books.

She also shared her expertise with Laura Donovan ’12 during the student’s internship at Curious City last summer. Donovan met Cappy when she visited campus as part of a Major Connections in Anthropology event presented by the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services in February 2011.

Cappy, who spent many years working in the book industry before starting her company in 2003, says her anthropology major has helped her a great deal in understanding readers and appreciating the significance of advocating for children’s literature with a broader goal in mind.

“Anthropology taught me to see the world as connected by relationships and rituals and to see our maturation as individuals as the negotiation of and absorption of those connections. My work is very much rooted in my devotion to story and how story leads us to mature with empathy, curiosity and a global sense. Children’s books are the most significant storytelling tradition in our culture, so that’s where I hope I can make a real impact on our future culture.”