Sometimes, my husband and I regale each other with bad dates. He once met a woman who excused herself from the table for a comfort break, but headed to the door, never to return. (I can only think he’d told her about the Parrot Society.)

My date arrived at our appointed destination covered in pigeon poo; he’d had the misfortune to have been caught en route. That wasn’t the worst part; he’d forgotten to wear socks. It was November.

Reading a book is a bit like dating – looking for that attraction, that ‘hook’ that draws you in. Where do we go for that opportunity to choose the best options – ‘Bring’em on down!’ Cilla would call on a Saturday night. 

Public libraries should be our first ports of call. However, cuts to the service have seen £25million erased from the annual library budget, 8000 jobs culled, and library usage fallen by 30% in Britain. Community libraries have some protection in America, and my home country, New Zealand. However, because of demands on the books and authors I wanted to read, when I lived in New Zealand, I was frequently very frustrated. To make matters worse, there was one major book chain in New Zealand, that was compromised by stationery, add-ons and staff who did not know one book from another. There were the best sellers, the certainties, linked to previously successful titles and authors, or blockbuster movies or series. Does it sound familiar?

When I arrived in Britain, I discovered independent bookshops. My favourites remain the same as they ever were, with a name change:- ‘Daunt Books’, Marylebone and ‘The Alligator’s Mouth’, Richmond (once, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’.) To enter these havens and find books like jewels, that were unique, considered, different, special, wonderful, and staffed by real readers…. I felt like I had discovered the Koh-i-noor diamond! 

This week (June 24th- July 1st) Britain celebrates Independent Book Week. You may have looked through your weekend newspapers’ features on recommended titles.

Bookwagon is the new kid on the block. Moving on a step from my favoured bookshops, we stock only books that we have read and loved. I do love some of the bestsellers (including the  ‘Harry Potter’ series) but these are known, familiar, and stocked and restocked. There are other books and sometimes better books, other authors, and so many better authors, that I am desperate to introduce, who deserve their works to be read, enjoyed and shared.

To that end, in Independent Book Week, looking toward the summer, I have compiled a discreet booklist of titles that I recommend to you, as you consider your children’s reading needs and interests. My greatest pleasure, beyond Radiohead at Glastonbury, or finding my climbing rose has flowered in its first year (!) is recommending books to children. In our three weeks of operation, it has been a Cilla-style pleasure to match books to readers, contemplating their needs and likes, and hoping for a ‘blind date’ match. Please feel free to call or email for suggestions.

For now, a few recommendations:-

For the Very Young:-
(Baby) – ‘Before & After’ by Jean Jullien– for babies to return to, compare, for the humour, for the strong, simple pictorial context;
Can I Come Too?’ by Brian Patten– the journey, the assembled travellers, their comparison, the context demands reading for meaning beyond text, for repetition that supports early reading cues;
Zim Zam Zoom’ by James Carter, illustrated by Nicola Colton – for repetition, colour, word play, word building, rhyme, use of inspired pictorial context  to support the poetry

For Independent Readers, (readers building their momentum and reading diligence):-
(Series) – ‘The Fairy Detective Agency‘ by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts – for humour, for setting, for word play, for strong and inferred characterisations, for problem solving, for language excellence, to support reading empathy and inference;
Mostly Mary’/ ‘All Mary‘ by Gwynedd Rae and Clara Vulliamy – an ideal read aloud for the summer, for the stories are chapter sized, the characters clearly compared and defined, the problems demand consideration, the setting different and interesting, the language is of high quality.

For this group, and Confident Readers:-
Caleb’s Cab’ by Sally and Sylvain Chomet – for complex settings and fascinating, difficult characterisations, for ‘visual’ storytelling in that you can ‘see’ the story as you read/ listen to it, for problem solving, for high quality writing
The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof‘ by Annie M.G. Schmidt – for something unique, empathic, for problem solving, for piquing curiosity, resolution, determination, with high quality language .

As bedtime stories during the summer, I recommend Jane Ray’s compendia. Do you recall the age of annuals? Those that had collections of stories, poetry, articles, recipes, introductions to classic stories? –  (It’s how I was introduced to ‘Mansfield Park’ aged 8!).  In a similar way, Jane Ray has reprised this example in her outstanding tales’collections:-
The Lion and the Unicorn and Other Hairy Tales,
The Emperor’s Nightingales and Other Feathery Tales‘,
The Little Mermaid and Other Fishy Tales
Each story or poem is one specially chosen for its relevance to the chosen theme. Included are traditional tales from different cultures, classic stories, myths, legends, parables, poetry and fables, beautifully and memorably presented. These books are to be read aloud, independently, repeatedly, and to be treasured within the family.

Christopher Edge’s books have been a revelatory and emotional discovery (ask my hairdresser who had to mop up my tears as I concluded’ The Jamie Drake Equation’)
Christopher Edge’s emotional intelligence is highly tuned, as is evident in The Jamie Drake Equation and ‘The Many Worlds of Albie Bright’. So is his respect for his readers’ intelligence, and his quest to find answers and possibilities to satisfy his writing curiosity. These are high end, demanding, wonderful books, ideal for confident readers, or to be read and shared at bedtime with this group, or younger, less confident readers.

Confident readers would love The Defender of the Realm’ by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler. This and its sequel, ‘Dark Realm’ are captivating, pacy, historically referenced, relevant and superb. I have been recommending them since fortunately finding the first title.
The Witch’s Boy‘  by Kelly Barnhill is unflinching, stylish, compelling and has the reader drawn in so closely so as to almost feel Ned’s pain and choices. This writer is outstanding. We look forward to introducing our readers to her latest award-winning title, in paperback, in the autumn.
No home should be without a copy of ‘The Silver Donkey’ by Sonya Hartnett. It is a classic tale, with story within story, empathy, warmth and meaning.

For Young Adults, suggested summer reads would include:-
The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, set somewhere so remote and rejected,full of longing and hurt, rather like the main characters. This is meaningful, respectful, real and beautiful writing;
An Island of Our Own’ by Sally Nicholls, in which the lead character offers the sort of ‘gung ho’ determination that most readers, including this book seller’ would love to possess. Despite every obstacle, from washing machine breakdowns, to outgrown shoes, and absent parents, she shows the sort of resilience and loyalty that is palpable.

I wonder how new host of ‘Blind Date’, Paul O’Grady will fare. I wish him well. Hopefully, as a book matchmaker, I have offered our readers something that suggests,  ‘pick me’. Happy Independent Bookshop Week. If you do buy a book this week, make sure it is from someone who cares about readers and loves books! If you need advice, or suggestions, I am at the end of a keyboard and telephone. Bronnie 

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