From the Shop Floor: Children's Room Otago

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 The Children’s Room at the University Book Shop in Dunedin.

A customer checks out the NZ picture book selection

The Children’s Room came about after the crawling eight-month-old son of manager, Phillippa Duffy, almost tripped up an 80-year-old emeritus professor in the middle of the shop. The baby looked up and the professor looked down, with both seeming to think, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was obvious to Duffy that each needed their own space, and children’s books were a potential growth area, so she imagined, then implemented, the creation of The Children’s Room. The University Book Shop itself began in 1945, and moved to its present site (a century-old, two-storey triple-brick confectionery factory) in 1960. It has a proud history with an extensive range and is well-supported by the people of Dunedin, ‘town’ and ‘gown’ alike, as a University-based City of Literature.

Staff of the Children’s Room (from left): Charlotte McKay, Susannah Yeoman, Charlotte Molloy

What are you recommending this month?

We are always looking to match the right book with the right reader at the Children’s Room, so many of recommendations are personal and relate to what the customer has read recently that they enjoyed, or maybe what they are ready to move onto. We do, however, have our current favourites!

Picture book: Charlotte McKay’s favourite at the moment is the quirky yet beautiful The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett.

Young Adult: Best-selling summer reads that stand out are: Philip Pullman’s Book of DustSkinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge; and The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy.

Read-aloud: Charlotte Molloy has just finished reading Joy Cowley’s Snake and Lizard (10th Anniversary ed.) to her seven- and three-year-olds who thoroughly enjoyed it – the multi-layered humour appeals to a wide age range.

Non-fiction: The recent non-fiction text Rebel Voices by Louise Kay Stewart’s beautifully illustrated summary of the history of women’s suffrage must also be mentioned.

What new releases are you looking forward to over the next few months?

If you are after something delightfully offbeat, look out for the junior fiction chapter book The Yark (Gecko) about a monster who eats children, until one day he makes a friend. It is an enticing read – a bit of Where the Wild Things Are-meets-The BFG.

James Russell’s final instalment of The Dragon Defenders series is heavily anticipated by our 8-12 year old readers and will hopefully be on the shelves in May.

We are also looking forward to Barbara Else’s Go Girl, coming out in April.

What do you wish was selling better?

Young Adult fiction is one of the more overlooked sections of the book world. Many YA titles would appeal to adults as well. A good source of trying to understand teens could be the voices and stories of characters in young adult fiction, and reading, of course, would be enjoyable way to do it. Also, never underestimate the classics! The rich and interesting language and the subtle changes in culture over time ignite fabulous discussions.

The YA section

Share a nice story you have about matching a book to a customer/reader!

It’s a great feeling to find just the right title for a customer. Our very special Charlotte McKay has been compared to Nina Redmond (the literary matchmaker in The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan), with her magical ability to find the right book for the right reader!

Charlotte Molloy recently had a German customer in looking for books written by a NZ classic and enduring author, reminiscent of Astrid Lindgren. He was delighted to be introduced to Joy Cowley (who, of course, has recently been shortlisted for the 2018 Hans Christian Andersen Award).

What do you wish publishers would publish?

We would love to see more fiction titles in the junior (6-9 years) and middle fiction (8-12 years) with Māori and Pacifica characters. We are seeing an increasing number of picture books and YA titles coming out with this, which is fabulous, but there are fewer titles available in this middle area. 

Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Our biggest advice to customers is talk to your bookseller! Encourage children to be part of the conversations. We love discussing books and helping to find exactly what customers are looking for.

At the Children’s Room we are very proud of how we partner with other organisations in Dunedin to get ‘book things’ happening! We work with the Otago Literacy Association,  Dunedin Public Libraries, and Otago University, just to name a few. An example is the fabulous ‘Ink Spots and Twisty Plots’ event, incorporating talks and workshops with authors and illustrators, storytelling and craft activities, which we run in partnership with the Dunedin Public libraries celebrating the wonder of children’s books.

We also run storytime sessions in store every Friday and Saturday morning (10.30am) and on Friday afternoons (3.30pm). Charlotte McKay picks a theme for the week and the storytelling is followed by a fun craft activity for the children.

With Dunedin a UNESCO City of Literature, it’s an honour to be an integral part of fostering and promoting literature in our young readers.

The Children’s Room & Bookshop at the University Book Shop

378 Great King St (physical) or PO Box 6060 (postal)

Dunedin North, Dunedin

Tel: (03) 477 6976