The Children’s Book Shop: A story, an appeal

I’m going to say it directly for all of us– for you, for me, and for authors and editors and publishers and booksellers everywhere:

Right now it’s all awful.

And knowing that I’m lucky doesn’t make it easier to contemplate the misfortunes of others– especially when those others are the people I lean on. And I’m going to be explicit about this one:

My local book shop, The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, is facing tough times and has launched a GoFundMe campaign. This blog wouldn’t be here without that shop. So I’m going to ask for help. Why me, why here, why now? That’s all in the rest of this post, so I’m asking you– don’t scan or move on, please. Read.

You want to know what’s hardest right here, right now, writing this? Keeping it together. If I try to stick to the plot in my head and explain things rationally– it comes out rote and mechanical and rigid. If I let go? Well, I get messy, tearful, and I swear a lot. So bear with me: I’m trying.

Having said thus much, let’s have a flashback to normal times. This spring, my daughter is almost 7 years old. That means that a few months back, sevenish years ago, I started coming regularly to Brookline from Somerville, where I lived at the time. 

Why? Because that’s when I switched obstetricians from someone whose name I don’t even remember to one in Brookline, recommended by a dear, lovely friend. I was newly pregnant, very excited, and very nervous. I was totally overwhelmed by everything and my friend knew I was sort of scared of my obstetrician, so she gently suggested I see someone else. I headed to the doctor in Brookline, although I was still feeling awkward and vulnerable, and on the way I passed by a shop: The Children’s Book Shop. Well, I knew I was on the point of fleeing Brookline, so I swore that if I went through with the appointment and felt OK afterwards, I’d get to visit the shop. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried: the appointment was great, I loved my new doctor, and I basically floated into the shop.

This gives you a sense of who I was at the time: I was extraordinarily vulnerable and sensitive, and the prospect of “hurting my obstetrician’s feelings by switching to someone else” was agony. Finding a children’s book shop, which might be like my beloved Mabel’s Fables back in Toronto, was a sign of hope: it brought me back to my roots. Maybe I could find something nice for the new baby, I thought.

I still remember the first book I bought there: it was the book this blog is named after, The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon. I managed not to cry, but I’m reasonably certain I blurted out my feelings regarding Eleanor Farjeon (a childhood hero of mine), which probably took a while since I have quite a lot of those feelings. I also got a Moomin book, the first of them, which I’d never read before, and the thought that there was a place which dug into my childhood favourites and made more of them (“More Eleanor Farjeon and Moomin books!”) brought stars to my eyes.

Naturally, it became a ritual: I went to Brookline, had my appointment, and got a new book “for the baby.” (Please note: I didn’t get clothes or diapers. I did get books. I’m not saying it made sense, but it was very typical of me.) It wasn’t long before I felt at home there, certainly they knew my taste intuitively, and so, shyly at first, I’d chat, and they’d cheerfully show me new stuff, not just classics. I learned to love Yuyi Morales and Liz Wong as well as Arthur Rackham and Joseph Jacobs.

After the baby came, it was hard to think I had no further reasons to go to Brookline or to the shop. So, feeling slightly awkward about it but also feeling lonely, I went back anyway. “The baby still needs books,” I thought. And after I started the blog, “I need to do research.”

Then something wonderful happened: My daughter grew and we moved to Brookline. Look now, we did not move to Brookline to be closer to the book shop. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t walk that distance as soon as we moved in to prove that “I really am only a ten-minute walk from my favourite book shop!” And since then, I think barely a week’s gone by that I haven’t at least popped my head in.

Until, of course, Covid-19 and the shutdown, which brings us back to the present day.

Let’s be clear about this. Every shop is suffering. Every business is hard-hit. But for a small, independent book shop which caters specifically to kids’ books and has never had much of a web presence (although check out that new, revamped website with links to purchase a gift certificate or buy books through Bookshop!) this sort of closure is particularly terrible.

So here we are. Look, I’ve never been subtle about my feelings regarding independent book shops. I love them. I’ve always, always given full credit to the booksellers who’ve recommended books, and shops where I’ve found them. I love them, all of them, from the bottom of my heart. Nothing, ever, will replace the value of going into a community shop which judiciously selects new and classic books and lays them out for greedy eyes to scan and assess.

So when I got the news today that my lovely book shop was moving from “facing hard times” to “OK the time has come for a fundraiser” I, well. I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t just sad, I was… motivated, shall we say, politely.

Right, normally, you know the drill, this is the moment when I have a pretty scheme laid out with giveaways and proudly declare “I’ll ship the prize anywhere!”

I can’t do that now. I’m not going to risk anyone’s health by making an extra trip to the post office to mail a book out. I didn’t even send my dad the birthday present waiting upstairs for him (sorry, Dad) because now is not the time for additional trips unless it’s more important than a birthday (SORRY, I know it’s important, but I also feel sure you can wait). Right? You get it, I get it, let’s not dwell on it.

So instead, I’m just going to appeal to you like this:

a) Check in on YOUR local shop. OK? Do you want to read your way through this crisis? Try to buy locally, please.

b) If you don’t have a local shop but you’re in the USA, please do consider buying from my shop’s Bookshop page. If you’re in Brookline and don’t know which book you want, but want the book shop to be there when you’re buying again? Please get a gift certificate.

c) If you love this blog, care about me, or just want more reviews of fine children’s lit in this corner of the internet in future: I am asking you to donate here.

I’m going to think of incentives for the future. There will be more reviews and more giveaways, I’m positive. But for now I’m just asking you to give, please. Hang onto your receipt, for sure– if I offer an incentive in future, it may be useful! But for now, I’m just telling my story and asking you, if you can, to help in one of the ways I’ve outlined above.

Do I sound a bit grim today? It’s a grim time, I’m sorry. I’ll try to be back with more books and better cheer. But today– yes, it’s hard.

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