From the Shop Floor: Children's Bookshop

We are pleased to present the first in a regular monthly series highlighting the work, expertise and enthusiasm of some of the greatest children’s booksellers of New Zealand. To start things with style, we have The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington.

The shop front 

The Children’s Bookshop began when John McIntyre had a kidney transplant in January 1992 and decided to do something creative with this new lease of life. He had toyed with the idea of a bookshop for a few years but, after hearing a motivational speaker on Radio New Zealand talk about realising your dreams, decided to start a bookshop devoted to children’s literature. The shop opened on 31 August, 1992 and celebrated its 25th birthday in 2017. Sadly, John died in June, just a couple of months before the quarter-century milestone, but the shop carries on with John’s wife Ruth and her extremely able team of young, passionate booksellers.

What are you recommending this month?

There are lots of wonderful New Zealand titles just published: The New Zealand Wars by Philippa Werry (New Holland); The Anzac Violin by Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton (Scholastic); I Am Jellyfish by Ruth Paul (Penguin); Rain Fall by Ella West (Allen & Unwin); and Catch Me When You Fall by Eileen Merriman (Penguin).

We love some overseas titles, too: Poor Little Rabbit by Jorg Muhle (Gecko); Parvana: The Graphic Novel by Deborah Ellis (Allen & Unwin); The 1,000-Year-Old Boy by Ross Welford (HarperCollins); and I am Thunder by Muhammad Khan (Macmillan).

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

We are really looking forward to Barbara’s Else’s Go Girl (Penguin Random House), the New Zealand equivalent of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, which is due in April and looks fabulous.

We will be hosting the launch on February 28th of Fleur Beale’s wonderful new novel Lyla (Allen & Unwin), set during the Christchurch earthquake. It is part of a series called Through My Eyes: Natural Disaster Zones.

Wildboy (Penguin), a picture book about Brando Yelavich, who trekked around the coast of New Zealand, is due in April.

And the latest in the My NZ Story series: Dawn Raid by Pauline Smith (Scholastic), set in the 1970s during the police raids on homes looking for Polynesian overstayers.

And of course Andy Griffiths’ The 105-Storey Treehouse (Macmillan) in July!

What do you wish was selling better?

Lighthearted romantic comedy fiction for teens. So under-rated! We find they are often rejected in favour of “sick lit” and dystopias these days.

Superheroes or staff? Ruth in red and Sasha on the right.

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

Ruth – A few years ago I checked to see if a teenage boy by the YA stand was happy browsing or wanted any help. He delighted me by asking for recommendations for books that would make him think and contained emotional content. He didn’t want a fast and furious adventure story or a fantasy novel. He settled on The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine, a richly layered tale of a number of tenants who live in one house and the many secrets they hold.I thought it was terribly brave of him to admit to enjoying such books. So many boys and young men would never reveal those thoughts, even if they did prefer character-driven novels.

Sasha – This has happened too many times to refer to a single incident, but when I recommend a book to a customer who may be somewhat sceptical, only to have them come back a few days or weeks later, BURNING to have the rest of the series! Ottoline is a frequent series this happens with.

Another really special time was when I recommended Frances Hardinge to a young lad, and he was so thrilled by her books they actually managed to arrange a real-life meetup through Twitter, and were able to have some very serious discussions about volcanoes together.

What do you wish publishers would publish?

We have asked three or four publishers over a period of ten years for a fiction series, laced with facts and illustrations, about a mixed rugby team and the joys and trials they face. It should be humorous and aimed at the 8 to 11-year-old age group. It could be similar in style to the Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley.

We would like to see more picture books and junior fiction that features the New Zealand way of life, customs and settings woven into the story, such as Awatea’s Treasure. There are plenty of picture books on Matariki and Māori myths but few that deal with other aspects such as tikanga and Maori perspectives. We recognise there are several such books at middle level by Des Hunt and the My NZ Story series.

Another series similar to Percy Jackson about mythical heroes would be great.

More reprints of New Zealand books, especially Margaret Mahy’s vast backlog. We’re pleased that reprints of Kate De Goldi’s YA novels Closed, Stranger; Love, Charlie Mike and Sanctuary are coming in March.

We would love to see more realistic family settings, especially in picture books, that show sole parent families, mum at work etc being presented as normal everyday life, without those “issues” being the focus of the story.

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

A few years ago we ran short Sunday morning writing workshops for adults writing for children and for young writers too. We hope to reinstate them, probably during the winter months.

We take pride in building relationships with our bookshop community. Most customers come back because they trust our judgment if they want recommendations for certain age groups.

Saturdays always have a festive air – many people are on the way to a birthday party and stop by us first. We help them choose the present and offer a complimentary gift wrapping service too, topped with ribbon. It’s lovely to be regarded as a one-stop shop.

The Children’s Bookshop

Shop 26, Kilbirnie Plaza, Kilbirnie, Wellington

Tel: (04) 387 3905