Andrea Reece writes…
Perched on the top of Muswell Hill in north London is the tiny Children’s Bookshop. Less than 600 square feet, it must be one of the country’s smallest. It is also, thanks to the extraordinary women who have run it during its 35 years, one of the very best bookshops anywhere in the world.
After a career teaching in Adult Education specialising in English as a Second Language and literacy, Lesley Agnew took over the Children’s Bookshop from Helen Paiba in 1994, running it until her death this summer.
A visit to the shop as customer, author or publisher was always a pleasure. Fiercely intelligent and enormously well-read, Lesley was as generous with her knowledge as she was with her time, always ready to help her customers find the right book, always ready to sit on prize panels or contribute to industry debates, always ready to organise author signings and events. What’s more she did all these things with a touch of humour, kindness and a certain gentle irony.
If Lesley was appreciated by her customers then she was loved by the many authors she worked with and helped. Certain always that, with Lesley at the helm, a book signing in the Children’s Bookshop would be a pleasure, authors queued up to visit. Michael Morpurgo has visited the shop for a signing session almost every single year for the past 15 years. Other names in the visitors’ book include Shirley Hughes, Allan Ahlberg, Anne Fine, Helen Oxenbury and Philip Pullman. As Jane Ray says, ‘Lesley was endlessly supportive of authors and illustrators and passionate about getting the right book into the hands of the right child’; in Jacqueline Wilson’s words, ‘Lesley always made you feel special’.
Lesley’s daughter Kate Agnew is now in charge of the Children’s Bookshop and the shop will continue as a centre of excellence in children’s literature. For everyone who knew Lesley a visit will always bring back memories of her, her warmth, humour, knowledge and endless enthusiasm.