Lifelong friends combine passion for reading, launch online book business amid pandemic

MILWAUKEE -- If you need a pick-me-up, there are a collection of feel-good stories at

It's a place to celebrate the good.

One freshly-picked story from the site features some good friends, an online business, and a mission to get parents and kids the books they love.

In the last three months, reading is something kids have turned to more than usual.

But starting a business during a pandemic? It's something Rebecca Hougard and her lifelong friend and former babysitter, Amanda Seppanen felt was the next step in their journey.

"What better time to supply affordable books to people when they can't go to bookstores and they can't shop," said Seppanen.

This passion for books dates back quite some time in their friendship.

Rebecca Hougard

"Amanda always loved books she would come and babysit us and I feel like that’s where my love of reading started," said Hougard.

Their online book store is named Azora Books and so far, they have 1,500 individual titles and expect to double that by the end of summer.

"Our customers are primarily parents, grandparents, and teachers," said Seppanen . "A lot of teachers, which is great because Rebecca and I are both educators."

Azora Books started with an adoption fundraiser for Micah, Amanda's adopted son.

Amanda Seppanen and her son, Micah

"So far, I'm close to paying $30,000 for the adoption," said Seppanen. "Micah will be 2 in September and I still have $7,000 of open invoices and then I get to chip away at the adoption-related debt."

"Everything about this is really for Micah and also to bring awareness to causes that we really care about, like literacy and adoption," said Seppanen . "A lot of people don’t recognize how expensive the process is and how quickly it can snowball if you encounter any delays or challenge along the way."

"What sets us apart from everyone else is that we have this purpose and yes, we have a strategic business model, but were all heart," said Seppanen.

"Rebecca and I have a special connection ourselves and I appreciate that relationship, but what she means to Micah is just really incredible and I’m so grateful for that," said Seppanen.

"For us, Azora Books is kind of like the fulfillment of so many hopeful things, because I can hear Rebecca and Micah playing right now and I think the same games that I played with her as a child, she’s playing with him and I could have never imagined that," said Seppanen.

Amanda, Rebecca, and Micah are constantly looking for new books and also take book donations, which in turn, can become possible sales on their website.

The new and used children's books sold can be shipped throughout the U.S. and with a $35 purchase, free local delivery is available.