Q Tales on Moon Lane is an independent bookstore mainly for children, so how does it outstand in so many retailers?
A We were incredibly fortunate to be awarded London’s Best Independent Bookshop and National Children’s Bookseller of the Year at the British Book Awards last year. I think that the awards were in recognition of the amount that we do beyond the basic retail environment. The physical shop is really just the front door to a whole range of other activitie, from a school advisory and supply service, student enterprise days and pop up book fairs, to frequent festivals and author events. We are on a constant mission to find innovative ways to break down the barriers to reading and make it accessible to all children.
Q Bookstore has close relationship with city and community in Britain, but this model is just beginning in China. Please share your experience and suggestions with us.
A A high percentage of our own, and any, independent bookshop business is repeat business. We form long lasting relationships with our customers, and through this we are able to raise the profile and importance of children’s books and their role in child development. The National Literacy Trust research has shown that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio economic status.
The more visible and accessible that children’s books are, the more that they become a part of families’ lives and children’s ability to thrive. This is why constant activity and events around children’s books is so important.
Q These years, e book and audio book are becoming more popular. What kind of effects does digital reading have on physical children’s books?
A It has been really interesting to watch the change in the book market following the growth of e books. In the children’s market, it has had very little impact, except in a positive way; the publishers’ response to the threat of ebooks was to realise that the physical book itself was an object to treasure.
Increasingly, this has led to production values being raised, with books becoming higher quality and more innovative in terms of illustration, design and paper quality. The physical book is tangible in a way that online content is not. It can be held and received and collected. For children, the pleasure involved in the physical book is still very much there.
Q Please share your standards of choosing children’s book from different aspects.
A We do our book selecting as a team at the shop. It is really important that the people on the shop floor, who are recommending the books, are the same people who have chosen them to be stocked on the shelves. This way, the passion for the chosen titles can be conveyed directly to the customer. Our shop bestseller list rarely reflects the national bestsellers, but consistently reflects the titles that are loved by the Tales on Moon Lane team. There is no formula for us when buying books; we have a combined children’s bookselling knowledge of over 80 years, and it often comes down to instinct. If we are going to really promote a particular book, we need to have fallen in love with it. At the other end of the spectrum, we know many of our regular customers’ tastes so well that we will often buy in a new title that we wouldn’t normally stock, specifically because we know that a particular customer will enjoy it. We try to read as many debut authors as possible, so that we can help to grow support for good emerging authors and illustrators, and not just the established authors with big marketing spends behind them. We also try to consistently challenge our own unconscious bias, in order to ensure that we are drawing on books from authors from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible. We want to engage new readers, not just sell more to the converted.
Q Please share the developing conception of Tales on Moon Lane in the next few years.
A We have been so inspired by the brilliant vibrant and diverse mix of people that surround us in London that we have started Moon Lane Ink CIC, a notfor profit business promoting inclusivity in children’s books. As booksellers, we were becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of diverse representation in children’s books. There is a big difference between the narrow range of people represented as characters in books and the reality of people in the world around us. We wanted to find ways to bridge that gap. Moon Lane Ink CIC aims to raise equality in children’s books, equality of representation, equality of access and equality of roles within the publishing industry. We believe that the lack of inclusivity in children’s books is limiting social mobility, integration, and the normalisation of difference needed for people from a wide range of backgrounds to live together with mutual respect and understanding. Our initiatives to address this include a brand new shop (Moon Lane Books) and our PopUp Bookshop Enterprise Days, where primary and secondary school pupils plan, market, budget, select stock and run their own pop up bookshops, allowing the students to become the book experts. Using peer recommendation helps to break down many barriers to reading and, in addition, the enterprise days encourage entrepreneurialism, teamwork and help to develop employability skills. Moon Lane Ink CIC are also delighted to be launching their inclusive school book fairs this September. After years of working with schools and parents trying to source a book range that represents our wonderful multi ethnic UK society, children’s publishers have finally begun to step up. For far too long, the majority of children’s books that were considered ‘diverse’ focused on difference, as though it was an issue. What we and the schools, children and parents that we work with have been looking for are books that celebrate us all equally as humans; fully formed female characters and integrated characters of a wide range of ethnicities living, laughing and playing together, a variety of family set ups, different socio economic backgrounds, and characters with different needs or abilities. Basically, books that reflect our society and our lives.
We arefully curate our integrated book ranges, choosing a selection of books that gives all children a chance to see themselves reflected. We know that this matters, that every child has the right to be a reader. We have watched children seize books that have characters that look like them and refuse to put them down. Parents from all backgrounds have commented on how great it is to see a book range that reflects the whole school population, and teachers have repeatedly told us that parents and children that have previously not engaged with book related activities have bought books at the inclusive book fairs. It is onwards and upwards from here.
As we reach more schools, more and more teachers are recognising that their own class libraries are not as inclusive as they could be, and are welcoming advice on a book range that can help to address that issue. In our unending drive to promote reading for pleasure, we know that it is also vital, alongside the books reflecting our society, that they are also engaging, exciting, inspiring and full of the adventures that children want to go on. This is the challenge, and it is one that we hope we are rising to meet.
The next step will be to set up work experience and paid internships for students wanting to work in publishing, ensuring that it is ‘what you know’ and not ‘who you know’ that earns you this precious opportunity. The more diverse the publishing work force, the more inclusive children’s books will be. To publish books that reflect our local and world population, we need a publishing and bookselling community made up of people from all backgrounds. We only truly know ourselves by knowing others.