Amongst the favourite books I do not really have is The Hueys in The New Jumper. I have loved this title since it was first published. ‘The New Jumper‘ has been read with many children in different venues over the years. Always, their first reaction is incredulity that in following Rupert’s lead, Gillespie, and the other Hueys will extinguish individuality to be the same, all over again.
In support of the Time’s Up movement, female actors (actresses?) were encouraged to wear black to the 2018 Bafta awards. Frances McDormand, in her patterned pink dress was applauded when she explained, ‘I have a little trouble with compliance’. Her individuality stood out without diminishing her solidarity.
I have a little trouble with compliance. I choose to leave my hair curly and do not eat meat. Gary Barlow and ‘Take That’ have never lit my fire. Independent shops offer me greater pleasure to visit than chain stores.
Our visit to Llandeilo in the autumn was a joy for many reasons, not least the preponderance of unique, independent shops. One of my favourites was Eve’s Toy Shop, voted Britain’s best independent toy shop of 2017/18.
There is little shopping choice in my area. Like many, it is populated by an ever decreasing range of big name businesses with ever bigger warehouse stores.
Bookwagon, first imagined, was to be a high street shop. Coincidentally, a children’s bookshop in the area that had opened with much fanfare, closed after little more than six months in operation. This bookseller, in an ideal location, enjoyed a keen clientele and an obligatory cafe. High rents, business costs, customers who browsed with their phones yet bought elsewhere, led to its demise.
Bookwagon is following a unique route. I was motivated by the absence of specialist children’s bookshops. When teaching, I sought knowledgeable advice from professionals in Essex or Norfolk. When shopping for children’s books, I travelled to ‘The Alligator’s Mouth‘ in Richmond. It seemed absurd that so many wonderful schools and devoted families across many areas, should be without informed, independent children’s booksellers. I considered how my own training, knowledge and experience should be employed. In order to survive against the odds, we created a unique, online, independent children’s bookshop, Bookwagon, that might connect with a wide customer base.
Think of a book like a pie
We have been asked why we pitched ourselves against Amazon. We didn’t. Amazon is not a children’s bookshop but a warehouse. It does not have the same sort of overheads and taxes to pay as the majority of British businesses. Amazon’s owner is a billionaire Seattle tech entrepreneur focused on space flight, rather than a children’s bookseller. Through its preponderance of third party sites, Amazon does not pay a fair salary to writers, as explained here:- How authors are deprived of earnings through third party Amazon sales.
Recently, during discussions at a writer’s event we had organised, it was suggested that people prefer to buy children’s books from Amazon because they are ‘cheaper.’ They are not cheaper. Books bought directly from Amazon are priced at the usual retail price. In order to earn free delivery you must subscribe to Amazon Prime, at £7.99 a month. To buy a book more cheaply from Amazon, you must turn to one of its third party sites that decimates a fair reward for the work of writers. Acclaimed children’s writer Jackie Morris explains how the writer- agent-publisher- bookshop payment system works:– Think of a book like a pie
I understand ‘cheap’, I understand ‘costs’. Bookwagon is working very, very hard. We suggest that when customers do not take responsibility for the ‘food chain’ of selection, real choice is threatened.
Schools are offered enormous discounts of up to 60% from annual visits by a couple of well known book fairs. At the same time, I have learned how this offer is often not fulfilled, because the selection is so poor. Many books are dumped. Parents complain about the sticker books and pencil toppers their children return with from such events. I think of landfill mountains of disposable books.
Bookwagon fairs offer specialised choices according to the cohort and venue. We sell books we have read, know and liked only. Our product descriptors on www.bookwagon.co.uk are our own words and opinions based on our reading experience. BBC, Sky and Channel 4 news have reported on the paid reviews posted by Amazon.
We offer a proportion of the books we sell to schools, but not 60%. Our books are ‘forever‘ books that children want to read and keep.
Guest writer, SF Said at a recent Bookwagon school event
When we take writers into schools or to events, the writer profits from the books we sell. We buy the writers’ books from an independent bookshop supplier. We sell them without cutting any returns to the writer. Working this way, we are able to offer schools a selection of the writer’s quality books.
World Book Day
I have seen some exceptional celebrations for World Book Day. At one school children mapped the journey of a character of their choice, through setting, plot and obstacle. At another, children described and created book characters on wooden spoons! While authors harness their huskies as they face the Siberian blasts forecast this week, Bookwagon is packing specially chosen books for fairs and writer visits, snugly and proudly.
Bookwagon has encountered a few very memorable characters in recent reading. Yesterday I finished the multi-award winning The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Ada is an exceptionally resilient major character suffering through disability, neglect and abuse until a lifeline, the wartime evacuation of her younger brother, is thrown to her. I felt lost bereft when I had finished reading this book.
Mr Bookwagon was gripped by Stella’s story in Star by Star. Her determination to force change from the debris of WWI and the granting of votes for women in 1918, is prompted by the loss of her mother to the Spanish flu pandemic.
The Astrid Lindgren award winner A House Without Mirrors proved an emotional read. Thomasine, who ‘weeps silent tears,’ waits in limbo in her dying step-grandmother’s house, with her father and wider family. An accidental discovery during a game forces each member of the household to face their inner truths.
More urgent, impassioned and current are the issues of Jade in the Coretta Scott King award winning Piecing Me Together. This is one of the best YA novels I have read in the past twelve months. Jade is so fully realised and her truths so necessary that they must be known.
Seeking fresh picture book inspiration for younger readers, I chanced upon Baabwaa & Wooliam. Our titular main characters are so fully formed and satisfied in their lives, that the arrival of a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ is taken as an opportunity.
Rather like the message of Sophy Henn’s wonderful Pass it On, Bookwagon strives to share wonderful children’s books, created by so many hard-working writers. In this week of World Book Day we celebrate their work respectfully and responsibly.