Inspiring Young Readers
Spreading the joys of children’s books : a view from behind the counter
When I was a little girl I used to love ‘playing shop’, organising my various fare and pretending that my toys were my ‘customers’. Now retired with more time on my hands, I have the chance to enjoy the experience all over again, but this time offering real children’s books in exchange for a small donation to The Letterpress Project at various community settings. One of the regular events where I do this is a book stall at Newman University in Birmingham and is aimed at students and staff once every semester.
Part of my pleasure lies in taking all the children’s books out of the boxes and then displaying them in a way that will entice people to come and browse. Despite my creative efforts, I am still genuinely surprised at how relatively few students even register a flicker of interest in the book stall - how could they possibly resist looking at such beautiful books? On the other hand, those that do linger and browse give me the chance to have a good book related chat with them , and usually results in them going away smiling broadly with at least one book to enjoy.
No matter what the age of those who spend time looking, the most common comments relate to feelings of happy nostalgia:
‘Do you remember Elmer? I was crazy about those books!’
‘My little sister loved her Miffy books – I’d forgotten all about them!’
‘Oh my god! All those Jacqueline Wilson books - I read every one!’
I sometimes have to reassure those who seem to feel guilty about even liking children’s books as an adult, which I find rather puzzling. One student told me in a confidential whisper as she bought a beautiful copy of Peter Pan, that ‘It’s not for me but I’m keeping things in a bottom drawer for when I have children one day’. And course I often hear people remarking: ‘I’ve already got enough books already but ...’
‘How can anyone have enough books?’ I am inclined to reply (forgetting that there might be issues of space in some houses). I am sometimes concerned to hear comments like ’My two year old is too young – he just rips up books ...’ and try to offer relevant reassurance and advice about the need for babies to have access to books from day one, even if they take time to learn how to turn the pages etc.
Sometimes I get specific requests for books by concerned parents who are keen to support school related projects. Unsurprisingly, the ones with dinosaur, space and Egyptian themes don’t stay very long on the shelves. Recently I had a more unusual request and was at first stumped when asked ‘Have you got any philosophical books?’ I thought about this for a few moments and came up with a couple of excellent examples that we just happened to have on the stall and that had also been reviewed by The Letterpress Project The Silver Sword by Iain Serrailler and The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. But then I realised that all children’s books offer a particular view of the world and usually explore huge philosophical themes along the way – which is one of the reasons why they are so important.
I wonder whether I should laminate some of these questions and answers and display them on the bookstall next time? Although on second thoughts, perhaps not - after all, it might limit the wealth of subsequent conversations which are part of the joy of the experience.