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SHE HAD HER BOOKS, SHE HAD HER JOY

By: Ellen Kamaras



Kelly Jemal Massry, founder of the independent bookstore Kelly’s Collections, explains the roots of her great passion for books.

 “My mom read out loud to me when I was very small, and kept reading out loud to me even when I started elementary school. She spent many, many hours reading to me and she would take me to buy books constantly.”

Kelly is the owner of a bookselling business, a certified reading specialist, and formerly a creative writing teacher and Associate Editor of our own Community Magazine. Shehas had a long love affair with books. As a child, Kelly ranked books and ice cream on the same level. Today, that still holds true! 

When asked to describe herself, Kelly chose the words “disciplined,” “driven,” “loyal,” and “grateful.” Her sense of gratitude was evident in every topic we discussed. She owes so much to her parents, who supported her educational pursuits both financially and emotionally. Kelly credits her mother, Sherry Lynn, with reading to her and bringing her to bookstores to refill her stash of books. Kelly’s father, Lawrence, taught Kelly and her siblings, both the boys and the girls, the importance of being financially independent.

Kelly has been married to Morris Massry for 10 years, and calls him a “wonderful and supportive husband.” The two were newly married while Kelly was attending graduate school for writing. Kelly and Morris became the parents of a small baby by the time she went back for a second Master’s degree. Kelly did her field work during the day and attended classes at night, sometimes not arriving home until 10:00 PM. Through it all, Morris was an incredible support, often helping Kelly with school-related projects well into the morning.

Kelly believes strongly in the importance of setting a good example for her daughters, Francine, 8, and Sherry Lynn, 4.  Both girls are very proud of their working mother and love being junior booksellers. Francine is already thinking of possible businesses she would like to start when she gets older!

THE LAUNCH OF KELLY’S COLLECTIONS, LLC

The seed forKelly’s Collections was planted in 2013 when Kelly’s nephew, Lawrence, was born. Because Kelly had such an extensive knowledge of children’s books, her mother asked her to go online and purchase classic board books for the baby. Kelly’s sister-in-law, Amy, loved the collection and said, “You’re so good at this, pairing books with kids. You could sell books! Why don’t you?”

With that, Kelly became a curator of books. That’s right, a curator. For Kelly does not just sell books, she carefully and lovingly selects them, customizing each collection to her customers.

Bookselling comes naturally to Kelly, building perfectly upon her background as a former employee at a book store. Her very first job at the age of 16 was running the Children’s Department of the New Jersey Barnes and Noble. Can you imagine anyone better suited to recommend books for your child, grandchild, or yourself?

Initially, Kelly’s Collections sold only children’s books. But soon adult books were added, so that parents could buy books for themselves after shopping for their children. Kelly’s business model is built around “the book bundle.” Bundles are compiled by age and gender, occasion, theme, or reading level. This is extra helpful when parents know their child’s reading level, as Kelly organizes her collection in a way that allows her to easily find the right book for any child. 

As the books span all ages, a baby boy bundle may include books for the infant as well as for each of his siblings. Birthday gifts for school-age children are also a common request. Kelly has also put together bundles for children recovering from illness or going away to summer camp. Other bundles are perfect for grandmothers looking to spoil their grandchildren with books, or set up a small library of classics for when the grandchildren visit. This summer, Kelly purchased the required reading books mandated by many of our yeshivot, making shopping a breeze for parents.

Kelly has accounts with all the major publishers, including Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Harper Collins, and Simon and Schuster. She’s also signed on with some smaller publishers, including Hachai, a publisher of Jewish storybooks. Kelly operates her business from her home in Brooklyn, transferring her inventory to Deal in the summer. In Brooklyn, Kelly’s Collections is housed in a big, beautiful room filled with bookshelves. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and people often come in and browse for hours.  Time after time, Kelly’s personal touch keeps customers coming back.

KELLY’S ROOTS and CAREER PATH

Kelly, 33, grew up in Brooklyn and spends summers in Deal, NJ. She attended Magen David Yeshivah and graduated from Barnard College with a major in English and minors in Creative Writing and Political Science.

An aspiring writer, Kelly took every creative writing course she could while at school. She loved the classes, where the students would critique each other’s stories in a cozy and encouraging atmosphere. After graduation, Kelly enrolled in Sarah Lawrence College(SLC) and received a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Nonfiction. At SLC, Kelly started writing a memoir about her life. She wrote what she calls, “75 polished pages,” but she abandoned writing the memoir once it got too personal to publish.

The summer following college graduation Kelly married Morris Massry, whom she met in March of 2007.

In March of 2009, Kelly was hired as a writer for Community Magazine,becoming Associate Editor seven years later. “I think that books taught me how to write,” she says. “There's a sort of musicality to good writing, and when you read enough, you develop your own internal rhythm.”

When her daughter Francine was six months old, the energetic and driven Kelly registered at Bank Street College to pursue a degree in Literacy and Education. Her goal was to become a certified reading specialist. “It was an intense three-year program,” Kelly says, “but it was also wonderful, because the school was right next door to Bank Street Bookstore, which sold children’s books. I would visit there twice a week and buy my daughter a book each time!”

Kelly’s fieldwork took place at the Brooklyn New School,where she shadowed Becky Eaton, a remarkable reading specialist.  Kelly observed Becky in session after session, as Becky worked with struggling readers. Kelly made duplicates of all of Becky’s teaching materials, striving to be the best in her new career.

Year after year, Kelly develops her literacy skills, as she tutors struggling readers privately after school. For her, the most rewarding part is seeing the self-confidence of her students skyrocket as she continues meeting with them.  Kelly is certified to work with students from kindergarten through sixth grade. She specializes in first grade emergent literacy. During her students’ very first session, she assesses them to see where their gaps are. And then Kelly proceeds with games, targeted phonics instruction, and “always, always, guided reading of a book that’s on their reading level.” 

Sinceher tutoring sessions take place after school, Kelly was also able to accept a job teaching creative writing at Magen David Yeshivah High School. Kelly taught for two years, enjoying her students’ growth and development. She advised her students, “If you want to be writers, you have to be readers first.”

When Kelly was offered the role of Associate Editor at Community,she gave up her teaching position. At one point, Kelly was tutoring, teaching, running Kelly’s Collections, and editing Community simultaneously – and let’s not forget being a wife and a mother to two young girls!

Finally, finding it all too much to juggle, Kelly resigned as Associate Editor of Community after completing work on the August 2017 issue. She now intends to focus solely on building her bookstore and improving her tutoring practice.

KELLY’S GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS

While her two daughters are most definitely her pride and joy, Kelly’s Collections is Kelly’s most meaningful career achievement. She has been so gratified by its success over the past two years.

Kelly is proud of her whole trajectory, though – doing so many different things throughout her life and doing them as best she could. This includes utilizing the many degrees her parents helped her earn, allowing her to follow her own drumbeat.

Do what you love,”Kelly advises young people. “Your passion will come through and be appreciated. Do the research and the planning, and show continuous commitment.”

Many satisfied parents are grateful to Kelly for the services she provides to struggling readers and voracious readers alike. Follow Kelly’s Collections on Instagram @keliteracy.To order a bundle of books, call her at 917-596-6330.

 

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).