Haringey is one of the most culturally diverse boroughs in the whole of London. The challenge for independent bookseller, The Big Green Bookshop, is to try and cater for all those different people, including those from under 5s to teens. How do they do it? Co-owner Simon Key explains.
Wood Green High Road is always busy. Wood Green underground is at one end, Turnpike Lane at the other; it’s lined with shops big and small as well as market stalls, and it teems with people. Half way down the High Road by the phone shop you’ll see our blackboard directing you to The Big Green Bookshop, 10 yards down a side road. We’ve been there for four years exactly (apologies to those people who still come in to ask where the internet café’s gone).
We absolutely need to be a part of the community, and we run loads and loads of events in local schools. There are 75 primary schools in Haringey and we’re dealing with 64 of them. We’ve probably taken authors into 75% of those now. We run about 100 school visits a year. This year’s World Book Day was particularly mad: we visited 14 different schools in the week with some of our favourite authors – Guy Bass, Ciaran Murtagh, Fiona Dunbar, Keren David, Miriam Halahmy, Tamsyn Murray and Ivan Brett. I’m chuffed because every visit went well – the kids loved it, the authors loved it and we sold lots of books. Ivan Brett visited every class in the school he visited, and got a real pop star reception, kids shouting, girls screaming, the lot! He’s already booked up to come back.
Books to children in care
Haringey Council have been really supportive ever since we opened, and they approached us about a scheme to get books to children in care. After discussions with them we’ve set up the Big Green Envelope. Every term we come up with a theme – it was the environment/self sufficiency this term, it’s the Olympics next time – and I’ll present a selection of books that fit in with it. The council’s children in care education team choose one book for each year group and this gets sent out to each child in care in a special package. Other items in their parcel include a quiz, something that relates to the book – eg we sent a wind up torch with the self-sufficiency pack, they’ll get a union jack next time – and quite often they’ll get a signed letter from the author of their book too. This is a fantastic scheme and I’m really pleased to be involved in it. Kids in care don’t tend to have much that’s theirs, and the feedback we’ve had shows how much they love the fact that the parcel comes addressed to them.
We run Stories and Song sessions in the shop for the under fives every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My colleague Tim West reads the stories and leads choruses of The Wheels on the Bus on his guitar. The group’s current favourite story is Shark in the Dark by Nick Sharratt – it’s amazing how many of our customers can (and do) recite it to us now, and it’s currently one of our bestselling picture books, though about to be over taken I think by The Diabolical Mr Tiddles by Tom McLaughlin and Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen who visited the shop recently.
We run a monthly children’s book group too and have just selected next month’s book. We wanted a crime novel because the date coincides with National Crime Fiction Week so we’ll be reading Mean Streets –The Chicago Caper by Graham Marks. Graham is one of our favourite authors, he lives locally and I know that he’ll come along to the session, which makes it even more exciting for the members (though it doesn’t affect their views on the books I have to say!).
As an independent bookshop we do lots more hand-selling than the chains, so our top books always tend to be our own personal favourites. I’m a big fan of Sarah Matthias and we probably sell more copies of her books, The Riddle of the Poisoned Monk and the Tom Fletcher series, than any other bookshop in the country. Sam Enthoven is another favourite and an author we do lots of work with. We always have copies of his books on our shelves and The Black Tattoo is always in our top ten. The Mr Gum books are top sellers for us too, Tim is a big Andy Stanton fan.
We always listen to our customers’ recommendations too of course, and we’re always willing to give things a go. This morning we got an email from a customer telling us about the book of poems his six-year-old daughter wrote for her grandparents. He’d published it using print on demand and has been selling copies via Amazon. Would we take some for the bookshop? ‘Feel free to tell me to bog off,’ he’d added. In fact we’ve told him to ‘Bog on’, and it will be on our local interest shelf next week.
The Big Green Bookshop, Unit 1, Brampton Park Road, Wood Green, London N22 6BG; tel: 020 8881 6767; www.biggreenbookshop.com