Children’s bookshops face difficult times. With a market dominated by the rise of Kindles, Kobos and Apps as well as massive, suicidal discounting from Amazon, supermarkets and high street chains, why on earth do determined booklovers in Huddersfield still seek out The Children’s Bookshop? Owner Sonia Benster explains.
The Children’s Bookshop is not on the high street, but tucked away with butchers and bakers in Lindley, a suburb of Huddersfield. Instead of advertising, we prefer ‘word of mouth’ recommendations. Our website is still being developed! Rarely do we discount. Despite the protestations of our accountant, we keep an inordinate amount of books ready to be browsed on our shelves.
And yet – we have been selling books to young people, parents, teachers and schools since 1975 so we must be doing something right. Now we are welcoming the children and grandchildren of our first customers.
However, much has changed in over thirty years. Picture books have become more sophisticated, with strong designs reflecting each illustrator’s individual style. We are much more likely to be asked for a book by the name of the illustrator/author, rather than by the title so all the established favourites are stocked – the Ahlbergs, Shirley Hughes, Anthony Browne, alongside new outstanding talents such as Emily Gravett, Tim Hopgood, Nicola Killen and Ann Bonwill.
To make selection easy, we shelve rather eccentrically by interest so ‘Bedtime’, ‘Monsters’ and ‘Rabbits’ can be found quickly. There is also a section where children’s names feature in the title – useful for birthday presents.
Nowadays, young people decide for themselves what they will or will not read. No longer is adult influence paramount. Computer games, TV etc do seem to have reduced attention spans –hence the current popularity of script writers and journalists turned children’s authors. Boys particularly, become addicted to fast-paced plots laced with cliff-hangers. Think Anthony Horowitz, Eoin Colfer, Derek Landy, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Jacqueline Wilson.
Other writers such as Steve Cole, Darren Shan and Tom Palmer have captured readers in the security of lengthy series. These, and the ubiquitous trilogies are consistent and give reassurance. Few children are reading risk takers; they know what they like – and they like what they know. Hence the popularity and availability of well established names. Once, they too were ‘debut’ writers. We love to talent spot new authors and persuade our regular readers to try something different.
This week, we watched a 13-year-old examine, then re-examine the intriguing cover of Flip by Martyn Bedford. The vinyl jacket demands to be turned this way and that – then opened and read.
Another first time writer is Gill Lewis with Sky Hawk, a story of ospreys nesting and the boy and girl who try to protect them. We recommend this moving book which conceals a totally unexpected twist, by suggesting readers let us know if they are surprised by the way events turn out. This has led to lots of feedback.
Reading is a solitary pleasure. However, for many children, sharing views, interaction and discussion enhances interest – that is why author visits are essential. Debi Gliori has just entranced KS1 groups with the detail behind her new picture book The Scariest Thing of All. Jacqueline Wilson will talk to adults and teenagers this half term on the publication of Sapphire Battersea after a dinner to celebrate 40 years of our local book group. In December, Nicholas Allan will be back to sign again – 20 years on from the first publication of Jesus’ Christmas Party.
Our search for the best possible children’s books goes on, so we can continue to bring together readers and books in perfect partnership. Hopefully, reports of the demise of the independent specialist bookshop have been greatly exaggerated!
The Children’s Bookshop, Huddersfield, W. Yorkshire HD3 3JF.
Tel: 01484 658 013