An exciting new children’s book project has just launched in SE London, bordering Kent. It’s the first ever UK Wendy’s House and it’s located in Orpington Library. Alexandra Strick explains.
A Wendy’s House is a fabric tent containing a collection of carefully chosen books for children to discover. As well as representing an irresistible new nook for young visitors to investigate in the library, it also provides a quiet corner, a peaceful sanctuary in which to explore a book or two. This is lovely for any child and of particular value for children who struggle with noise, lights or crowds.
This simple but effective model has been developed by Jo Williams, based on an idea I had. The project has been devised in memory of much-loved children’s book author, editor and founder of the Bookstart programme, Wendy Cooling, who died in 2020.
A team of local infant schoolchildren armed with Sharpie pens enthusiastically decorated the Orpington Library Wendy’s House with help from Alex Strick and Jo Williams. By popular demand, children’s book illustrator Steve Antony was then invited to complete the design with a stunning ‘Rainbowsaurus’, before officially opening the tent to the public.
Jo Williams had successfully launched the first two Wendy’s Houses in India and Borneo respectively (reflecting Wendy’s love of travel), before bringing one to a UK venue. We now hope to encourage other venues to adopt the model.
The idea is that a Wendy’s House can be used flexibly by libraries and other suitable settings, to support their work in supporting an early love of books. It’s a very low-cost concept, a pop-up and pop-in tent that can be personalised locally, to suit the venue’s needs and wishes. A small collection of books is arranged for each tent and whilst the exact contents can vary, they always include some books edited by or written by Wendy.
It’s surely something Wendy would have approved of, a fitting tribute to her belief in finding innovative ways to support books and reading for all. Plus of course it’s a way to help keep Wendy Cooling’s memory alive. Although of course anyone who had the pleasure of meeting her will agree that Wendy was not someone you would forget. She was a larger-than-life character with a mischievous glint in her eye, infinite supplies of anecdotes, infectious enthusiasm and an astounding knowledge of children’s books.
The first UK tent is already proving a hit and Bromley Libraries’ Jenny Hawke plans for it to be in daily use in the children’s library space, as well as being regularly transported into their ‘sensory room’ for activities supporting children with additional needs.
The ideal would now be to see Wendy’s Houses popping up in many different areas. This inaugural UK tent was installed thanks to a kind donation, but further funding will need to be secured to enable the project to be rolled out on a larger scale. In the meantime the team behind the project are calling out to any parties interested in sponsoring more such Wendy’s Houses, whether nationally, regionally or individually. Jo and Alex are also happy to hear from any local libraries who have the resource or sponsorship to enable the installation of a Wendy’s House.
Orpington Library is run by GLL under the brand name ‘Better’. As a charitable social enterprise, the organisation’s ethos is to reinvest in local communities and this project is an important part of that commitment.