From the Shop Floor: The Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore

The Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore is an online bookstore that exclusively sells children’s and YA books by New Zealand authors and illustrators. It’s run by New Zealand author Kate Gordon-Smith, who writes junior fiction adventures and mysteries.

Give us a one-paragraph history of your shop.

The Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore started as an idea in August 2020 and was launched by November that year. The idea grew from my own experience as an indie author and discovering how challenging it is to have other book retailers stock my book. After all, they have a whole world of books to choose from. I figured other Kiwi authors probably had similar struggles, so what if there were a bookstore that featured only New Zealand authors? With the help of a WooCommerce expert, I jumped in and created the online bookstore. I love stocking indie authors’ books and am always growing my backlist of New Zealand publishers’ titles every month as funds allow. Having started with seven Kiwi authors and about 50 books, I added the 500th title to the bookstore yesterday. Having taken a punt on the whole idea simply because I believed in it has thankfully paid off—loads of customers tell me that they like our exclusive Kiwi focus, and our sales continue to grow.

The Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore stock in Kate’s home office

What are you recommending this month?

I never stop recommending the Explore and Discover series by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud. I adore Ned’s illustrations and think all his books are stunning. They’re incredible resources about our natural world. 

All of James Russell’s books are highly recommended.

Other regular recommendations are the illustrated chapter books like Donovan Bixley’s Flying Furballs series and the Jason Mason stories by Jason Gunn and his brother Andrew. As readers want longer stories while still enjoying some illustrations, I always recommend the Super Weirdos series by Mt Maunganui author Mr Mac (Andrew McDonald), which are hilarious and very popular.

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

I try not to get caught up in the ‘new release’ cycle too much because there are always new books coming out and I don’t have the physical space or funds to stock everything. I try to focus on building a steady backlist, author by author, because it’s not always about new books but finding new readers for excellent, existing titles. Also, because I’m receptive to indie-published titles, I always have new submissions to review and add to the store if the book meets my standards.

Having said that, there are two new releases from mainstream publishers that I’m looking forward to. The first is Koro’s Star by Claire Aramatuku, published by Scholastic, which has just come out. I love Claire’s writing in her earlier Loopy Lucy space travel series, and I’m sure this is going to be a cracking read.

Secondly, like everyone else, I’m quite sure I’m going to adore The Grimmelings by Rachael King, published by Allen & Unwin. My copies haven’t arrived yet, but I can’t wait!

What do you wish was selling better?

Gee, it’s a hard road selling YA paperbacks! Are our 13- to 15-year-olds reading only in eBook form? In which case, I need to work out how to sell and deliver downloadable eBooks—which is entirely possible, I just haven’t looked into it. Or are our teens not reading fiction at all? In which case, I don’t know what to do with the 50-odd teen titles that I have in stock…

What’s a nice story you have about matching a book to a customer/reader?

Just the other day, a parent ordered all of the books in the Flying Furballs stories, saying they were so happy they’d finally found a book their son loves and that there is an entire series!

What kind of books would you like to see from Kiwi authors? 

I’d love to keep seeing more diverse books, with characters who are LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse, or multiracial, to better reflect real-life Aotearoa. 

I value all the authors involved in the Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore, but when you look at our ‘Meet the Authors’ page, gee, a lot of us are white, middle-aged women—and it’s not to say these women aren’t writing awesome stories, because they are! But how do we encourage a wider range of New Zealanders to write for our children and teens? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have authors from a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds writing fantastic and authentic Kiwi stories for our younger readers to enjoy?

It’s fantastic to see so much enthusiasm for local kids’ books—something that sure wasn’t around when I was a young reader

What unique challenges or opportunities do you face in your business?

There are some obvious disadvantages in being an online bookseller—I don’t get to talk with customers face-to-face, and they can’t pick up books to look inside them. 

So, I put in the extra effort to add relevant reviews and personal comments to each book’s listing. I’m so grateful to have several awesome online review sources to draw from such as Adele Broadbent’s What Book Next, Maria Gill and her team at Kids Books NZ, the great reviewers at NZ Booklovers, plus, of course, the reviews on The Sapling. 

Where I can, I add interior pages and sample chapters for people to browse through as part of their book-buying decisions. Our bookstore’s social media channels also share reviews and videos of interior spreads—I really must do more of those!

Creating other material to draw more people to the bookstore is an ongoing process. I love including interviews and blogs from the authors I represent on our website and holding giveaways and other competitions. 

Kate Gordon-Smith holding up her new book Maddison McQueen and the Cupcake Mystery

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about things you care about, events you have planned, new initiatives, complaints, compliments, anything?

I’m always thinking of new things I could do with the bookstore—maybe a loyalty programme, video book reviews, more author interviews, should I get set up to sell at local markets? You’ve always got to weigh up the time you put in versus the likely benefits. Right now, the Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore is not my main source of income, and I do struggle to prioritise the best things to help the bookstore’s sales versus what might be fun to do. 

There are loads of other booksellers, authors and publishers who are passionate about New Zealand children’s books. It’s fantastic to see so much enthusiasm for local kids’ books—something that sure wasn’t around when I was a young reader in the ‘70s. One thing I’d love to see is a New Zealand children’s book week or month as a national initiative to connect all this awesome mahi and celebrate these books. Maybe that’s something I can work on around writing my next book and my other regular-paying writing…

I think your store is wonderful and special. I love the fact it is full of books written and illustrated by New Zealanders. A fantastic idea.

Customer feedback

At the end of the day, as a book retailer, what really matters is what book buyers think. I love getting emails from the many grandparents who buy books from me for their grandchildren and it’s particularly special to get customer feedback like this: “I think your store is wonderful and special. I love the fact it is full of books written and illustrated by New Zealanders. A fantastic idea. Something I have wanted to see for a very long time. Thank you for all you do.”

Comments like these continue to feed my passion for supporting New Zealand authors and illustrators, and I hope I can keep doing that for many years to come.

You can find The Kiwi Kids’ Bookstore on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn.