Q&A with... Melissa Thorkilsen, the children’s department manager at Elm Street Books
NEW CANAAN — Growing up an only child and living “all over the place,” including locales such as the Caribbean island of Antigua and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, Melissa Thorkilsen relied on children’s books for a source of constant wonder.
It’s no surprise then to see the 58-year old exhibit that same passion as the manager of children’s literature at Elm Street Books where she has been for the past six years.
Q: How did you start here at Elm Street Books?
A: I had worked for a book fair company several years ago and I did a couple of things in between, worked for a photographer and then some event planning work in New York City. I also worked at People Magazine for 10 years.
A friend of mine, Laura Schroff, had written a book called “An Invisible Thread” and I came in to Elm Street Books and spoke to the general manager regarding a book signing for her. I was looking for a job and then she offered to interview me and so I got a job and my friend had her book signing. I have been here for almost six years.
Q: What did you do at People Magazine?
A: I was on the business and marketing side. I was the event manager for People magazine, so I worked for Time Inc. for 10 years. I started off working in public relations right out of college.
I was given a phenomenal budget to spend money and promote the magazine. I was there through the 80s and early part of the 90s. I was involved in two different events with Princess Diana. I flew all over the country for business trips and it was super fun.
Q: How did New Canaan come into the picture?
A: I have lived here for about 22 years.
New Canaan came into the picture because I was living and working in New York City. I met my husband and we were going to have a baby so we decided to move to the suburbs. It was a beautiful town with a great school system. My sons are now 20 and 21 and it was a great place to raise kids — they went through the entire school system.
Both my husband and I have New England roots; he actually grew up in Westport for some time. I spent a lot of time with my father’s side of the family — they’re Martha’s Vineyard residents and a lot of my childhood was spent there. I’m a New Englander at heart, though I grew up in Pennsylvania, Mexico, Florida and California.
Q: How old were you during these travels?
A: I had an eccentric mother and stepfather. We would get a car in the 1960s and drive down to Mexico. We lived in small villages where no Americans were. I spent some time in San Miguel de Allende, and all these travels started when I was 2 years old and it was just my life.
I eventually went into boarding school because I was so tired of being yanked out of school — My stepfather had a restless soul.
We lived in Bermuda, then Antigua. I was born in Ithaca, N.Y. and then we moved to California, then Florida, then Pennsylvania. I grew up all over the place.
Part of the reason of moving to New Canaan was that I really wanted to raise kids in one place, in a town like this which is very family friendly. New Canaan has such a New-England feel to it and I just found over the years how people rise up together and help each other. I feel like it’s quite a special place.
Q: What’s it like to have books remain an important part of your life?
A: As the manager of the children’s department, I buy all the children and young adult books for the store. I was an only child so I’m a lifelong reader. I’ve always loved kids books and I worked for a book fair company for three years. It was so nice to go back to children’s books — they’re extraordinary.
It’s an incredible genre. We have a town of readers. I love working with the children, with the parents, and I love selling children’s books.