Interview by Marsha Casper Cook
From the moment I first discovered the MagicBeans online bookstore, I immediately understood the importance of what Leat Regwan is doing. Her unique approach to selling books provides families with access to diverse, inclusive children’s books while amplifying the impact of customers’ purchases to truly make a difference in the world.
MagicBeans Bookstore gives children the chance to experience books that break the mold and cover many of the important topics in today’s world. When customers choose to buy books from MagicBeans, their purchase not only gives a child the gift of literacy but also supports independently published authors and illustrators who focus on celebrating diversity, culture and independence. In addition, for every book purchased MagicBeans donates a brand-new book to a child in need.
Leat Regwan’s model of bookselling impacts both the education of children and the world of publishing, and not surprisingly, she is an incredibly interesting and very charitable person. After just one conversation with her, I knew she was someone who would succeed in helping to make the world a better place.
When you were growing up, how important was reading?
My parents immigrated to the United States from Israel when I was only three years old. They barely spoke a word of English, so when I was in kindergarten, we were all learning to read at the same time, really. I loved when my parents would read bedtime stories to me in Hebrew, and as I learned to read, I would read books in English to them at bedtime. While I was in elementary school, I especially loved reading books by Judy Blume and “The Babysitters Club” series – I thought they were so cool! Reading was always something I enjoyed doing and was never something that was pushed on us by our parents.
How different was your childhood from your children’s childhood?
Wow! If my kids only realized how lucky and blessed, they are. I didn’t have a quarter of the things they have now – iPads, Playstations, Nintendo Switch – all the games and toys imaginable.
We grew up in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. My sister, brother and I shared a bunk bed in one room, and we all shared one bathroom. There was really no money for anything but necessities. When we went to the market with my mom, we knew we were not to ask her for anything, because we could only afford what was on the list. Yet, my parents probably would have said that we didn’t realize how lucky and blessed we were, either.
I feel that every generation comes with its set of blessings and challenges. My childhood was easier, carefree, less stressful and safer, and more innocent than that of this generation. That’s mostly due to the internet, social media and the “instant gratification” that children today are encompassed with.
My children are still young, but I am already seeing major differences. When I was growing up and wanted a certain game or toy or anything, I had to wait for a birthday or holiday or save up my own money and really learn the art of patience. My fouryear-old tells me to “order it on Amazon,” because he knows it will come the same day or next day at the latest! As much as we try as parents to not fall into those traps, more often than not, we do.
Growing up we basically rode our bikes out all day with friends and when the sun started to set, we would have to hurry home for dinner. We didn’t have iPhones or iPads or so many distractions like kids today have. We actually had to talk to our friends, not text or message online, we didn’t have to worry about “likes” or “followers” or anything like that. If you liked someone in school, you would send them a note; it was that simple.
When did you decide to start MagicBeans Bookstore?
My husband and I decided to start it back in 2018 when he self-published his first children’s book, The Adventures of Pugley Bear. We realized that it was a whole different ball game to market the book and knew that there were many other authors that are going through the same thing. We wanted to create a home for Indie authors and also provide diverse books for children.
How important are independently published books in today’s marketplace?
They are very important, especially in today’s world. Indie authors are less restricted, so they can self-publish about topics that usually traditional publishers shy away from. We don’t live in a cookie-cutter world. We live in a world where we have to really celebrate differences and diversity. There are children that live in homes with two dads or two moms, divorced parents or children that have disabilities or speak different languages and come from different cultures. We need more diverse books so that ALL children can see themselves in books and know that they are celebrated and validated.
How has your idea of supporting diverse, independent authors and Illustrators changed the way your readers see the world.
I believe that it has opened their eyes a bit more. More and more authors are self-publishing now because they have a story they want to share and don’t want to jump through the hoops of traditional publishing. We want schools and home libraries to be able to have all kinds of books on their shelves that are ageappropriate, of course. But we really believe that a strong foundation of reading starts from home and when children can relate to a book and see their own story in a book. That’s what makes them not only want to read but love it as well.
What advice would you offer to new and seasoned authors deciding on what topics need to be part of the education and development programs in school systems around the world and in the United States.
I would tell authors to think “outside the box” and look at the world we live in now. It is not the same world we grew up in as kids. There are so many important topics and issues that kids are facing that must be addressed.
That being said, when it comes to children and school systems it’s a very fine line that you have to be careful about crossing, because unfortunately we are still dealing with “politics” in everything. I would just honestly say, put yourself in the shoes of the child’s age range you’re targeting and look at what’s important in their world. Many kids today are dealing with some sort of bullying, depression, stressful environments, anxiety, different living arrangements, racism, the loss of a loved one, learning online, isolation, the effects of the pandemic and the list goes on.
These might seem like heavy topics, but when you are writing children’s books there is always a way to incorporate those important messages in a fun and light way and usually authors and illustrators are great at doing that! We still need those fun adventurous books, of course! But we also do need to see more diversity as well.
What has been the most difficult part of your journey?
The most difficult part if you can believe it is getting schools, hospitals, etc., to accept Independently published books being donated to them. Unfortunately, some institutions don’t accept books because of certain topics, or simply because the book was not published with a major publisher. It’s really hard to believe especially when you are literally giving new books away.
However, in the last year or so we partnered with an amazing non-profit organization: RIFSoCal stands for Reading is Fundamental of Southern
California and is one of the largest reading organizations in the country. They donate thousands of traditionally published books to over 800 schools in underserved communities. They LOVE the mission of MagicBeans and spreading Independent diverse books for ALL children. So now with our help, these children are also able to receive our indie books and realize that if they have a story to tell one day, they can do it too!
What has been the easiest and most successful part of your decision to start MagicBeans Bookstore?
Starting something is never easy, there is always hard work involved. However, starting MagicBeans was an easy decision by far. Not only are we helping indie authors and illustrators get their books out there for more eyes to see and read but also, we are providing new books that are signed and dedicated by the author to a child that typically doesn’t have many or any books at home. Imagine being at school one day and YOU get to choose your own books to take home with you for free, you open it up and you see the actual author signed a great message to you the reader. How would you feel? Some of these kids have really hard lives and this is just our way of making it a little bit better. To me that’s a win-win.
What specific causes does MagicBeans support?
We support Independence, Literacy and Giving Back. We believe in the importance of having a voice and being able to share your story, no matter where you come from. If you are a creative person and believe you have an important story to share and a dream to publish a book, then you should be able to. We value literacy and believe that the foundation of everything starts from learning how to read. The stats of illiteracy in this country are staggering and lead to drug use, homelessness, imprisonment and more. It is something that we don’t talk about enough, but one in five adults in the United States have low literacy skills or can’t read at all. To me, that is just unacceptable and something that needs to be majorly addressed. If we can fix this, it will lead to the antidote of so many other issues.
Have you reached the goal you set out to achieve?
It is definitely an ongoing mission and goal. I don’t know that we will ever completely achieve it until our literacy rates begin to climb and every child will have a home library full of books to read, but we are getting there one book at a time and as long as it takes, we will continue to pursue our mission of Independence, Literacy and Giving Back.
How can others help your mission?
I believe that everyone can do a small part in every child’s life. For parents or teachers of young readers, they have to be more open to Independent books and read more books about diverse topics and issues to create inclusivity among all children. The authors and illustrators have already been so giving and charitable with donating copies of their books, we really could not be around today without their help and we are forever grateful to them.
The other thing we can do as parents, educators and readers ourselves is just make sure that our children have books at home that they love to read. As a mother of three kids myself, I know the struggles parents face today of getting their kids off devices and getting them to read. Even though the struggle is real, we must never forget the importance of reading and books and the whole world that it opens up for our children and their future.
Thank you for allowing me to share some of the magic in MagicBeans with your readers. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of your magazine.
Leat Regwan MagicBeans Bookstore Founder