I was lucky enough to attend The Bookseller Children’s Conference this year and one of the talks I found particularly interesting was Steven Pryse ,co-owner of Pickled Pepper Books, chair of the Bookseller Association’s Children’s Bookselling Group and all round book and community enthusiast. Pryse discussed how small independent bookshops have been coping with the changes to the independent bookshop scene caused by Covid-19.
Pickled Pepper Books is based in Crouch End, North London and serves not only as a Children’s bookshop but also as a community hub that hosts a range of events, and (pre-pandemic) even had its own café. Even just scrolling through their website you can see why this bookshop is loved by its community. Pickled Pepper Books offers a range of interesting and diverse children’s books you might not see in a chain bookshop. However, as Pryse highlighted, bookshops were not considered an essential business and therefore were unable to open during the several lockdowns over the last year and a half. For many this meant that books were purchased from large online retailers to go alongside home schooling and for entertainment.
Pickled Pepper Books took this on their chin and took the bookshops to the streets, doing kerbside pickups, delivering books and even participating in the book fairies; an organisation that supports the public in ‘hiding’ used books for someone else to find. Pryse mentions how important the actual experience of receiving and buying books is for both children and adults and how eager parents are to have these experiences with their children. For a child this experience could be simply walking into a bookshop which is child friendly, being able to physically handle books, and go home with a new book that they will love. For a parent this could be being able to grab a quick coffee or tea whilst having the comfort of knowing that your child is in a safe and nurturing environment that welcomes curiosity and questions.
This made me consider how important and magical in person shopping experiences are for children. They don’t get the enjoyments from hours of scrolling through a bookseller’s website or filtering through their favourite genres to find their favourite authors. All they have is the sensory experience of picking up the books and flicking through it. Engagement is key for children, hence so many books are brightly coloured and textured, which adds to the story and experience. However this doesn’t come across online as effectively as it does in stores, which once again shows how children and parents are missing out on not being able to visit bookshops.
The Booksellers Children’s Conference (particularly Pryse’s talk) really showed that Children’s books are more than just however long they take to read. They are the time children spend picking out a book that excites them, they are the thoughts and conversations that come from them and more importantly they are shaping how the younger generation see the world. It’s so informative to see this from the point of view of an independent bookseller and how they are working hard to enhance the experiences children have with reading.
Pickled Pepper Books online bookshop: https://www.pickledpepperbooks.co.uk/
The book fairies: https://ibelieveinbookfairies.com/