We are pleased to present a regular monthly series highlighting the work, expertise and enthusiasm of some of the greatest children’s booksellers of New Zealand.
Here’s a relative newcomer, Nelson’s très chic VOLUME, which won the coveted title of Nielsen NZ Bookshop of the Year 2018 at the NZ Book Industry Awards (at the same time we, The Sapling, won the Special Industry Award). Winners!
VOLUME in Nelson was opened in November 2016 and is co-owned by Thomas Koed and Stella Chrysostomou. VOLUME is a small independent bookshop with carefully curated stock and high experiential values.
Their children’s book range, like their wider philosophy, is about finding the best, most interesting and beautifully designed and illustrated titles. They read, review, discuss and recommend children’s books on a daily basis to parents, grandparents, teens and keen younger readers. It gives them immense pleasure to see children on return visits purchasing the next in that recommended series.
What are you recommending this month?
The Trilogy of Two (Pushkin) is a vivid, exciting and beautifully illustrated novel from the talented Juman Malouf: a fascinating whirlwind of a tale about identical twins, Sonja and Charlotte, with wondrous musical talents who find themselves in a perilous situation.
Just arrived in, And the Ocean Was Our Sky (Walker) is a gem from Patrick Ness that is a remarkable inversion of and futuristic riff on Moby-Dick, told from the point of view of the whale. Stunningly illustrated by Rovina Cai, it will appeal to children as well as collectors of exceptional children’s books.
Inside the Villains by Clotilde Perrin (Gecko Press) is a gorgeous interactive picture book featuring the best villains of fairy tales – the giant, the witch and the wolf – all complete with exceptional lift-the-flaps revealing the inner workings and hidden goings-on of these most compelling characters. A complete delight for all ages.
What new releases are you looking forward to over the next few months?
We are looking forward to Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc, a new book from the author/illustrator of the charming ‘Mr Postmouse’ books. This will be another heart-warming title from Book Island – a story about friendship and generosity.
Rachael Craw’s The Rift (Walker) is due out in November. Her ‘Spark’ series was a favourite with teens and YA readers of all ages. It’s great to champion a local author, especially one who is so enthusiastic about the YA genre and teen readers.
What do you wish was selling better?
The Wonderling by Mira Bartok (Walker) is a complete delight and a wonderful adventure.
Share a nice story you have about matching a book to a customer/reader!
Sometimes parents can be concerned about what their child is reading, and that goes in both directions – too advanced or not reading at the level of expectation.
We find it rewarding for the child and the parent (and the bookseller) when we take time to ask the right question, and listen to the child – to find out what they like or, even more telling, to watch their reaction when you put a particular book in front of them. You can quickly tell when a child isn’t interested in something. Finding the balance between reassuring the parent and pleasing the young reader is worth the extra time and builds a relationship of trust with child and parent alike.
A lad of about nine was recently in the shop with his mother and wasn’t that keen to get a book. In fact, he was quite sullen about the whole process. His mother had made several suggestions that had been turned down and was becoming a little impatient. Stepping into the conversation casually and talking directly with the boy (the mother cleverly wandered away to look for a book for herself!) about what he liked to read and what games he liked to play slowly built a picture of a kid that liked a good adventure – but nothing too scary. Picking three books off the shelf and suggesting he sit down with them at the table to make a choice (and leaving him to it – not being overbearing) resulted in him finding something that appealed – a classic, Emil and the Detectives!
What do you wish publishers would publish?
Better picture book illustration. New Zealand picture book illustration tends to fall in the range between not-so-bad and bad (of course, there are superb exceptions and exemplars – Gavin Bishop’s Aotearoa is a standout). The stories themselves are often of a reasonable quality, but too often the pictures let them down – too many mediocre, computer-generated illustrations or loud, ‘super-colourful’, cartoon-style options. Children don’t actually respond to that.
It would be great to see a better range of children’s non-fiction. New Zealand non-fiction for children is still firmly rooted in the ‘educational’ style, and this isn’t necessarily what customers are drawn to. There are exceptions of course – Gecko do wonderful translations, and Penguin has taken note of the Rebel Girls success and made it their own: Go Girl! is a great example of considering the trends in the international market to make a standout New Zealand title.
Worst offenders, though, are the books that create a ‘webpage’ look, thinking that an over-busy page with click-like boxes, zany lettering and too many borders will appeal – it doesn’t. So it would be great to see better design and interesting content in our children’s non-fiction. There are many excellent international examples to explore and study; for instance, the Flying Eye, Nobrow, Thames & Hudson and Phaidon children’s books.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
We currently have two active book groups for children: one for nine- and ten-year-olds, and the other for intermediate age. They are both well attended, particularly the older group, which sometimes is so popular that we run out of seats! Each month we choose a topic together – the children’s input is vital (it’s their group). This month, the Intermediate group are discussing works in translation (or set in a country where English is not the first language), and for the younger age group: mystery. The book groups bring kids together who love to read, talk about books and are excited by words and story-telling. Our relationship with our child customers is super-positive – and their parents think the book groups are super too.
Two-year-olds drag their parents in (literally), and teens and children feel comfortable to visit and talk with us about books, share their own writing with us, talk with each other in the bookshop about what they have just read, and make recommendations to each other (we love overhearing this!).
Our reading subscriptions have been a great success. It is so much fun introducing children to new authors and they often tell and share these with their friends and siblings (which has led to more subscriptions!). Teens who have enjoyed a children’s subscription have moved on to an adult subscription, and it is rewarding to introduce these developing readers to the next level of reading.
The best thing about selling children’s books is reading them and becoming a champion of excellent writing for children and teens. We recommend and hand-sell every day and have enjoyed sharing the strange worlds of Heap House, the chills of ‘Lockwood & Co.’, the adventures of Ping in the ‘Dragonkeeper’ books, everything by Katherine Rundell, and so on…
VOLUME: The Space for Books
15 Church Street
Tel: (03) 970 0073
Stella Chrysostomou and Thomas Koed
Stella Chrysostomou and Thomas Koed have between them over 35 years’ experience in the book trade. In late 2016, they opened VOLUME, a small independent bookshop selling interesting fiction, incisive non-fiction and wonderful children’s books in Nelson’s Church Street Bohemian Quarter. They offer weekly newsletters of their reviews, and a monthly reading subscription service. Image by Karolina Jortan.