Once Upon a Time….

Once Upon a Time….

Recent events have led us to think about our story, about why we formed Bookwagon. There is much you may know, but there is a lot to it that is unique to us and our initiative.

It started during a talk I attended by Simon Coley and Albert  Tucker of Karma Cola. After a successful career in advertising, Simon started a Fair Trade initiative importing Samoan bananas to New Zealand. He recognised a latent demand for ‘healthy, organic products‘. Simon wanted to expand this initiative into something that was ‘good for the growers, land and consumers‘. With some experience of the soft drinks’ industry he looked at cola. There, he discovered that despite consumers across the world drinking 1.8 billion cola drinks annually, NONE of these drinks contained any cola. From there, he made a connection with Albert Tucker, social entrepreneur and Fair Trade leader. Through contacts with cola farmers in Sierra Leone, Albert negotiated a deal to supply cola nuts, in turn for the development of a Foundation into which a share of the profits of the sale of each Karma Cola product returns to support the infrastructure of these farmers. This initiative has been extended to lemon farmers in Sicily, ginger farmers in Sri Lanka. 

Simon and Albert said, ‘This is a great story. It propels us as consumers, It benefits people.’ They urged the audience to tell their story.

I heard the story of Katherine Rundell this week. Katherine Rundell is an outstanding author. The publishing director of Bloomsbury UK introduced this writer by saying, ‘In 25 or 50 years time, children will still be reading her books and talking about her.‘ Philip Pullman said, ‘Katherine Rundell knocks the rest of us off the page.‘ Not only is she an outstanding author of award winning children’s books- One Christmas WishRooftoppersThe Wolf Wilder– but Katherine Rundell actually lives her words; her books are her story! Like Sophie, the main character of ‘Rooftoppers‘, Katherine Rundell is a trapeze artist, walking the roofs of All Souls College where she is a Fellow.. Like Feo, the heroine of ‘The Wolf Wilder’, Katherine Rundell has worked with wolves. With prize money won for ‘The Wolf Wilder‘ Katherine explored the Amazon, determined to experience the setting of her Amazonian stranded characters and fly a plane, as in The Explorer. 

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to listen to a discussion about picture book making by Oliver Jeffers and Sir Quentin Blake. Now I am looking forward to being in an audience for Oliver Jeffers’ UK launch of his latest title, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth.  Every new book by Oliver Jeffers is a celebration. His works are unique. They are personal, and prompted by his questions, experiences and experiments.Oliver Jeffers is orange juice with the taste and vigour.  We live his story through his work, which is why, like the motivation behind Karma Cola,  the books of Katherine Rundell, his product is so real- Oliver Jeffers On Explaining the World to His Son.

Our Bookwagon story needs to be retold. After a specialised training in children’s literature and reading strategies, I enjoyed a long and fulfilling teaching career. I recognised that the decline of libraries, the threat to independent bookselling, and changes to education were affecting reading. Parents and teachers did not know about books in the same way. The same books were being recommended repeatedly- Blyton, Donaldson, Simon, Dahl, Walliams, Rowling…. It was like children’s literature was only punctuated by another ‘trend’ be it Peppa Pig or The Hunger Games or Frozen.

Through my experience, and with my enthusiasm, I felt compelled to form a bookshop that offered ‘healthy, organic products‘,i.e.,  a wide range of books, information about books, suggestions and recommendations.

Luckily, I was joined by a similarly inspired reader, in my husband, Mr Bookwagon, who had total faith in my vision and resolve. We wanted to open a bookshop that had a huge geographical range too, so, at first, we decided to work, physically within the London and Home Counties area, offering staffed, personalised book fairs with benefits to the event holders, bringing writers into schools, offering and supplying quality titles for curriculum and/or library/ school.

We wanted a wider reach to parents, teachers, libraries and schools, so decided that we would take the risk of creating an online bookshop. Bookwagon is the only independent online children’s bookseller in Britain. We sell quality children’s books. We read every book we sell. We love our readers and aim to support their reading needs and appetites by offering a huge range of great titles. We love personal contact and recommendations. We love to introduce authors who may not be so well known, so we don’t sell titles that can be sold more cheaply by other, bigger suppliers. We love our relationship with so many writers, but most of all with our readers. We love finding books to match a reader’s need.

This is a great story. It propels us as consumers. It benefits people. ‘That’s our Bookwagon story, and it’s a great one. What’s more, it’s only just beginning. 

A wholesome and necessary thing*

A wholesome and necessary thing*

Mr Bookwagon and I have been reading up a storm. Super Thursday, October 5th, was followed by a slightly less super Thursday (12th) and, this week, a slip of a slightly super Thursday; the Bookwagon trolley is full of ‘must read’ new books.

I had the good fortune to teach last week in a school that necessitated a 45 minute drive each morning and evening. I began to relax into the journey, and look forward to the changing scenery. Many years of darkening mornings, misted windscreens and a packed seasonal work and home schedule had me dreading autumn.  However, with a change of career, something has lifted. It’s aligned to a year where our only travelling has been within Britain. I’ve been reminded of the awe I felt when I first came to this country, when my sister-in-law’s generous parents insisted upon and supported my explorations- particularly South-West England, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Sussex, Kent and Wales. I was dumbstruck by the beauty of these areas, and again, when I travelled north, Suffolk, Shropshire, Cumbria and to Scotland.

Mr Bookwagon took delivery of ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton). As a keen British birder, Mr Bookwagon was offered the first opportunity to read the book, although I had heard the ‘buzz’ about it, read Jackie Morris’s blog, heard its writer, academician Robert Macfarlane, explain its initiative on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

Jackie Morris had been contacted by Robert Macfarlane to make a children’s book offering meanings and images for twenty words from the natural world erased from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. They were considered no longer relevant, no longer within ‘the current frequency of words in daily language of children‘.

The result, The Lost Words , is one of the most wonderful books I have ever encountered. It is breath-taking. From its lush gold lustred pages, to proud A3 stature, this book is a monument. It defies a categorisation; it is not a children’s book, a natural book, a poetry book, a picture book – it is a testimony to all that is free, awesome and wild in our world.

Together, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris have created a brave book composed of swirling verse, with each of the twenty subjects announced as an illustrative acrostic containing tear-jerking, spring sampling language. So a conker is announced as a ‘cabinet maker, could you craft me a conker?‘ An ‘i’ included in magpie is- ‘interrupt, interject, intercept, intervene!’ A kingfisher is declared a ‘the colour giver, fire bringer, flame flicker, river’s quiver.

Each creature or object is announced in a declarative illustration of its name’s letters, before a glorious page of illustrative text alongside a single portrait image. To conclude each entry is a double page painting. It is almost like the most luscious dessert Versailles could contemplate.

Bramble, bluebell- Lost in the depths, drowned in the blue’, an ‘air eating’ weasel, a shape shifting, heart stopping otter, newts who are ‘kings of the pond, lions of the duckweed, dragons of the water’.

I am alight with this book, this treasure trove of magic, yet…. it follows a week of teaching, a week of outdoor shoes, padded overcoats, jumpers, fleeces, holding hands in safe columns, of children who have never picked up feathers for ‘fear of touching dirt.’ They are not exceptional. A National Trust survey in 2016 discovered that while 96% of parents thought ‘it important that children had a connection with nature and playing outdoors was important‘, children play outside for just over four hours a week, compared to their parents’ 8.2 hours. A poll last year, sponsored by Unilever, undertaken by Sir Ken Robinson, discovered that 1/10 children play in wild spaces only, that 3/4 of British children spend less time outside than prison inmates – ‘many children don’t get to be outdoors in a natural environment in any regular or meaningful way.‘ United Nations’ guidelines insist that prisoners require at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily, yet just 74% of children spend less than an hour outdoors every day. Meanwhile, we have warnings that severe Vitamin D deficiency in this country, caused by an absence of natural light, is increasing noticeably.

I recognise that Britain’s weather, about which there is so much conjecture and derisory comment, alongside its equally tempestuous political climate, can make a dash abroad feel a necessity, but, to quote a New Zealand jingle from my childhood, ‘Don’t leave home till you’ve seen the country.‘ It would  sadden me when Year 6 children on a school journey, were dumbfounded to discover the sights and spectacle of Somerset or the Isle of Wight on our annual pilgrimages; some had never ventured out of London, yet had travelled business class to Florida, Mauritius or Dubai.

It doesn’t have to be a big journey to the country. Our towns and cities are full of countryside, places to explore, get dirty, have an adventure, make discoveries and get close to nature. While the Forest School initiative is a superb inclusion in the curriculum, and cycling is a healthy pursuit, neither are constant or even frequent, while a good dig in the garden, outdoor chores, a seasonal walk, a pond dip, a little bird spotting or natural collecting, are timeless, free and a forever plaster. ‘Children don’t have enough idle time to think on things. There is too much frenzy, too much scheduled activity‘- said children’s laureate, and mother, Lauren Child, last week.

I am in awed gratitude to Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris for their magnum opus. It is a work of great wealth, worth and quality. It merits a place in every home and school. It’s message meanwhile, of the wonder of our outdoors and the respect and attention it merits, must be realised.

“The Lost Words” is available from Bookwagon with a new delivery charge of £1.25 only

*It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility’– Rachel Carson, ‘The Sense of Wonder

‘Always buy British!’- Dark Age awaits!

Defender of the Realm Dark Age 

Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

Defender of the Realm was a breath of hoof-hitting fresh air. I counted the days until the release of ‘Dark Age’, the second of the series. I read it in one go, only drawn away for a little research in support of the book’s incidental history and geography (rather like Alfie’s GCSE revision).

From the Houses of Parliament, to Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, Wimbledon, Suffolk farm lands, Thames swans, London buses, York’s Jorvik Viking museum, Britain is celebrated and visited unlike any other children’s book I’ve read.

To do this, within a fast paced, brilliantly written, action adventure book shows truly skilful writing! 

I love the padding out of Alfie’s character; we know he is vulnerable and sensitive, but we see the future king emerging, albeit with an over-dazzled 18-second royal handshake. I love Hayley’s impatience; her bravery, decisiveness and determined loyalty to those she values.

The Black Dragon returns, but Alfie understands more about him, and less about Brian, supposed loyal defender, and even less about his twin brother, Richard. As Defender, he is joined by the mysterious Red Robe and a Hogatrolla, in support of his quest to keep the long dead Vikings at bay.

I cannot recommend this title more. Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler accelerate the pace, build a hero fit for our times- complex and empathetic- while tapping into a relevant world-wide conflict of duty over success. ‘Dark Age’ is assured, rollicking, meaningful story writing. It’s time to click the spurs and come on board! You’re in for a read that is pure GULL!- (‘gold, in Old Norse). Bronnie https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/defender-realm-dark-age/

Watch this space (Mr Mole!)

It is really interesting to learn about the backgrounds and motivations of writers and illustrators. I became more aware of Jarvis when I looked over his most recent title, ‘Mrs Mole I’m Home!’ (Walker) and was prompted to share it, for it made me laugh so much. 

Jarvis is Peter Jarvis, one time bingo caller, bouncy castle painter, record sleeve designer and animation director. He appeared at this year’s Barnes Literature Festival, where he delighted his audience with stories and nonsense..

Jarvis received acclaim for his debut picture book, ‘Lazy Dave’ (Harper Collins), overdue a paperback print run. His second book, the hilarious, ‘Alan’s Big Scary Teeth’ (Walker) https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/alans-big-scary-teeth/ was part of the 2016 BookStart pack, offered to all preschoolers aged 3-4. It drew the attention of the V & A illustration awards’ committee resulting in Jarvis being one of three picture book makers in the shortlist to win this prestigious award in 2017. Other nominees were Benji Davis for ‘Storm Whale in Winter’ (Simon and Schuster) and Ana and Elena Balbusso for ‘Twelfth Night’ (The Folio Society). Previous winners of the V & A illustration award that recognises the very best in picture book illustration, include Laura Carlin https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/a-world-of-your-own/, Sara Fanelli, Posy Simmonds and Sir Quentin Blake.

Like  many creative people, Jarvis has taken a route of discovery toward his picture book making that has included varying experiences and people and developed his curiosity and vision.  Initially, he undertook illustrations for writers such as Jeanne Willis, https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/sticky-ends/, before creating his own picture books.

Jarvis says that he aims to ‘bring a person touch to his books.’ He wants to ‘see what his books can do, including being kept and loved as little treasures’. His aims are evident in what he creates, for they are quality, memorable picture books that ignite a reader’s emotions. Jarvis doesn’t repeat what has gone before, or look for a safe option, but makes something new, that he enjoys and wants to share with his reader. Bookwagon is pleased to stock titles by Jarvis, and looks forward to sharing more of his wonderful picture books in the future. https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/mrs-mole-im-home/

Newsflash!:- Jarvis is the 2017 winner of the V & A Book Illustrator of the year! https://www.vam.ac.uk/b/villa-2017/book-illustration

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

‘Are you sure?’ an acquaintance enquired when I had told her of Bookwagon’s commitment to recommend only good books to readers from babyhood to young adulthood. Maybe it seems a tall order, but I am motivated to find, share and sell the best books according to the needs of each specific reading ‘band’.

Young adult, or in Bookwagon speak ‘Challenges’, pose the biggest ‘challenge’. This stream can appear isolated like an Eel Pie Island, between children’s and adult’s books. In both areas are wonderful titles that cross over and satisfy the reader. Then again, there are certain titles that hit the young adult reader spot succinctly. We aim to find and sell these at Bookwagon.

I have just finished reading ‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber and Faber) and assert we’ve another title that will leave a lasting, positive impression on our young adult readership. 

The four adolescent narrators- Hank, Ruth, Dora and Alyce- tell their stories over a period in the late 1950’s- 60’s when Alaska was newly admitted to the United States. They have their own obstacles to work through, from abusive and/ or absent parents, running away, conflicting opportunities, to identity. Like the Fairbanks setting, its mid- 20th century timeframe, places, events, people and routines are different, real and fascinating.

There is no sense that ‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ exploits this genre, something I fear most in this age range, for there is compelling authenticity, pride and strength in the author’s storytelling. I liked each of the characters and their understudy families and friends. As Brexit Britain triggers Article 50, the aftermath of the Alaskan secession seemed particularly relevant to me, as the residents and native peoples awaited an adjustment to their lives. There was a sense that the narrators felt powerless, but the course of the story ignited an understanding that each of them was able to stand up to their fears, uncertainties and oppression in order to move forward- ‘It’s hard to think about the river thawing when it’s still forty below. But when spring finally does come, it rushes in like a band of robbers.’

This is a tremendous, satisfying, long-lasting story that I recommend to any young adult or adult reader without exception. I look forward to Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s next title, details of which she will not, superstitiously, share. Her debut, already shortlisted for both the 2017 UKLA and CILIP Carnegie Awards, is outstanding. Bronnie 

It’s award season

Like many, I enjoy the acting awards’ seasons. We’ve seen a number of the nominated films for 2017, but have a few more to view-‘Moonlight’ is top of that list.

It’s award season in the world of children’s books also. We’ve read and reviewed a number of the titles included amongst the prizes and long lists announced recently, and shall have our favourites on sale through the Bookwagon site.

So what are the awards, how are the titles chosen and voted for?

Henrietta Branford and Wendy Boase enjoyed short, ground breaking writing and editing careers, together and separately, creating wonderful titles, like the ‘Dimanche Diller’ series, and.founding Walker Children’s Books. Editor and critic Julia Eccleshare and Authors’ Aloud founder Anne Marley, decided to create an award to remember the two. The Branford Boase award, is given to new writers, editors and their publishers, considered to offer the most promise in a nomination year. Past winners include Horatio Clare, Dave Shelton, Siobhan Dowd, Frances Hardinge and Meg Rosoff. This year’s long list was announced this week:- http://www.branfordboaseaward.org.uk/BBA_Current/BBA_Long_List.html

A competition for young writers is held alongside the Branford Boase awards, in which entrants below the age of 19, are invited to complete a story started by a known, named author. Winners have the opportunity to attend the presentation of the Branford Boase award. Further details of this competition are announced to coincide with the release of the shortlisted titles, authors, editors and publishers.

Last week saw the long list of titles for the Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Award revealed. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie resolved that should he ever attain wealth, he would use it to ‘establish free libraries.’ Around the world more than 2800 libraries benefited from Carnegie’s pledge. Half of Britain’s libraries have their foundations in Carnegie’s generosity. In turn, a writing medal in his name was created in 1936. This year will be the 80th year of its presentation. Like the Kate Greenaway award, it is judged by librarians representing the different areas of Great Britain. Carnegie Medal winners include Anne Fine, Gillian Cross, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Ness and Philip Reeve.

The Kate Greenaway award enters its 60th year in 2017. It was established in memory of the popular, highly influential children’s illustrator and designer. Previous winners of this medal include children’s laureates Sir Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, and Shirley Hughes and Raymond Briggs.


This year’s proceedings, despite the portent of anniversaries, is tinged with controversy as there are no BAME nominees amongst the list. It does seem bizarre, considering the range of talent and choice offered.

Raymond Briggs in turn, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement award by Book Trust last week, in a ceremony presided over by current children’s laureate, Chris Riddell. Raymond Briggs, is best known for works such as ‘The Snowman’, ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’, ‘Jim and the Beanstalk’, and ‘Ethel and Ernest’ (set just up the road from where I lived when I moved first to London). I hope many of you caught the televisation of the last title, that documents so empathically and poignantly, the 20th century lives of Raymond Briggs’ parents. https://youtu.be/JXDlEw5u8u8

Finally, the Federation of Children’s Books, which works in local and national areas to support reading in schools, unveiled its nominees for its books of the year. These titles, within three age grouped areas, are voted for entirely by children:- http://www.fcbg.org.uk/childrens-book-award-2017-shortlist-announcement/

We will keep you posted on the nominations and the awards. Meanwhile, I’m off to dust off the spangles for my stretch down the red carpet at next week’s Academy Awards. If only….. Bronnie 

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