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Meet the Newark Woman Behind GoGo Books, a Mobile Children's Bookstore

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Kate Keeper began her career as a nurse, but her love for books led her to create mobile book store GoGo Books./Photo by Joe del Tufo

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The worlds of Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables and the Berenstain Bears collide in a most unlikely spot: GoGo Books, a former Frito-Lay truck turned mobile bookstore. Here, with the flick of the wrist, one might find oneself exploring Neverland or the illustrated world of Hogwarts, with nary a sign of orange-tinged fingerprints in sight.

The comfortable, whimsical confines of GoGo Books travel the state of Delaware and surrounding parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is the brainchild of Hockessin native Kate Keeper. The 27-year-old debuted her unique shop in April and has been growing a steady following ever since.

It’s no wonder, as she’s curated a bibliophile’s paradise in a cute, compact space. Oak floors, white shelves and a ceiling—complete with recessed lighting—make the truck feel more like an airy, if cozy, personal library. Adding to the inviting aesthetic are bright pops of color in the form of pink brushstroke wallpaper and a glittery chandelier. A cushioned bench topped with throw pillows makes for a perfect spot to flip through pages. And then there are the books. Both sides of the truck interior are lined with neat bookshelves equipped with small hooks to tether everything in place when on the move.

The Instagram-worthy aesthetic of the truck—custom-fitted by New Castle’s John Berl of Custom Concessions—is a far cry from Keeper’s former life in scrubs. The University of Delaware grad began her career as a registered nurse, earning a degree from Delaware Technical Community College.

Keeper, a Hockessin native, debuted her unique shop in April./Joe del Tufo

Despite loving the work, Keeper wasn’t fulfilled and found herself burned out from the grueling hours. “I wanted to be creative, to read, to have more life,” she recalls. After stints as a labor and delivery nurse at Union Hospital and the Birth Center in Elkton, Maryland, she knew it was time for a change.

“I could never really nail down what I wanted to do. I’m a Libra, so I’m very fickle,” she jokes. Despite her longtime love of reading, fostered by her parents, and prods from her mom to become a librarian, Keeper hadn’t foreseen that road for herself—at least until she and her husband attended a friend’s wedding in Brooklyn, New York, when everything snapped into focus.

While there, Keeper visited Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab, which she’d been following on social media. “It was story time, and all these kids and their parents and nannies [were there], and it was just so joyful,” recalls Keeper, who now lives in Newark. “I didn’t want to leave.”

Sitting outside the bookstore, it became clear to Keeper’s husband, Sam, that she should open her own bookstore. “We knew a brick-and-mortar was not going to be an option,” she says. Sam suggested a creative mobile version, and GoGo Books was born. Exactly one year after the idea first occurred, Keeper threw open the doors of her tricked-out truck.

She’s chosen to focus exclusively on children’s and teen literature. Some 2,500 volumes line the shelves, ranging from early childhood-friendly reads like “The Amazing Animal Atlas” to thicker tomes like “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and Harry Potter, a nod to which can also be seen on Keeper’s wrist, which is emblazoned with a Deathly Hallows tattoo.

GoGo Books is a former Frito-Lay truck turned mobile bookstore./Joe del Tufo

“It’s part of my vision to have as many books as possible so everyone can find something that matches their interest,” she says. That’s evident in the carefully categorized books, arranged by interest and tagged with hand-lettered signs ranging from “Animals” to “America” to “Graphic Novels” to “S.T.E.M.”

Keeper describes her process of selection as “painstaking,” spending six to eight months determining her initial inventory. The result is a vast array of options, from new finds to classics.

“I have lots of different kinds of people featured on my truck. I want any person to come on and be able to find themselves in a book,” says Keeper. To make each book feel even more unique, she keeps just one copy on the truck. “You’ll find a book you didn’t even know you wanted because you’d never seen it before,” she adds.

Scattered throughout the truck are rattles in the shape of Delaware, hair clips, wooden toys and necklaces. Magnet toys also help entertain little ones when GoGo Books sets up shop in beer gardens, like The Creamery in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

“It’s a great location, it’s beautiful and it fits my aesthetic,” Keeper says. In addition to regular Creamery visits in the six or so months that she’s been open, she has set up shop at area breweries, swimming pools and festivals.

Keeper makes sure even her youngest customers have something that appeals to them./Joe del Tufo

In such places, Keeper extends her footprint by setting up the exterior with additional shelves of books, plants, a large rug and a floral chair, plus the occasional table for crafts. It’s her goal to have consistent programming going forward, including story time and sing-alongs, plus a regular visiting schedule at spots throughout Delaware.

While GoGo Books has gained a loyal following, Keeper concedes that some people are still unsure of the concept. “It’s so novel,” says Keeper. “My biggest barrier is getting people to understand it.”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Barbara Ley, a Newark resident and University of Delaware professor who first visited GoGo Books with her two sons when it was at The Creamery. “I was amazed at the whole layout, the decorations on the outside, the interior and the work that was done from an aesthetic standpoint, but also how much content was in the store.” Ley’s sons enjoyed it, too. “They thought it was really cool. We were in the truck for a while, just browsing books,” she adds, noting her younger son did artwork on one of the tables outside.

Beyond its mobility, GoGo Books is something of an enigma. Over the past decade, major bookstores have struggled, but independent booksellers are making a comeback—and Keeper is proof of that. According to NPR, there was a 35 percent increase in indie book retailers from 2009 through 2015. “I still feel really confident that the book truck is very lucrative, and it’s a necessary thing,” she says. “We don’t have [many] indie bookstores around here.”

Visit gogobooktruck.com for more information.

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