I have been a frequent visitor to the Willesden Bookshop’s website over the years. It’s a veritable honey-pot for anyone looking for “Children’s Books from Around the World”: they stock many books it is difficult to find elsewhere in the UK. On our last trip to London we decided to go to the actual bookshop, where we were overly tempted by the array of books, and met Steve Adams, the owner.
As its name suggests, the bookshop is situated in Willesden, in North West London, which is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in London with upward of 30 languages spoken in its schools. Steve talked about rising to the challenge of finding books that reflect this diversity of culture in modern Britain. As far as publishing goes in the UK, “There’s a great time lag between recognising that diversity and publishers coming out with appropriate books” – with some notable exceptions, namely Frances Lincoln, Tamarind Books and some books from a few of the big publishers like Penguin. There’s an increase in books reflecting contemporary African heritage but it is still difficult to find Asian children in a normal British setting. There are some lovely books like My Mother’s Sari but they do not often step outside the stereotypical view. However, looking out into the wider world, books are starting to appear which show modern Indian cities – and the same with Africa: not just a focus on rural life in these countries but also books showing the modern urban areas.
Click on the pictures to enlarge
The children’s section of the bookshop welcomes young readers under a jungle canopy, with a mouth-watering selection of books, nearly all within reach of young people. On one side there is a display area devoted to Celebrating Black History and at the back are to be found a carousel of books featuring different faith celebrations and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books for the website. They also stock a wide range of dual-language books, with an increasing emphasis on Eastern European languages and culture, and this is reflected too in one of the most recent sections to be added to the website: Poland and Eastern Europe.
The website, which currently trades solely within the UK, caters not only for schools and teachers, but also for a mixture of individual parents across the country who are looking for a wider variety of books than they can find easily more locally. Half of The Willesden Bookshop’s trade is through schools – and indeed, in these challenging times for local, independent bookstores, Steve candidly admits they would not be able to survive without that trade. They have a good relationship with local schools and their teachers – and will do research for them if they’re needing something for a particular topic. At the moment they are looking to introduce a multicultural maths section to their website.
So what caught our eye? Plenty! Here I am holding A Ride on Mother’s Back: A Day of Baby-Carrying Around the World by Emery Bernhard and We Are All Born Free… and here, in no particular order, are what we came away with ( and lots of them will be reappearing as we report back on our PaperTigers Reading Challenge…):
Ice Trap! Shackleton’s Incredible Expedition by Meredith Hooper, illustrated by M.P. Robertson (Frances Lincoln, 2000);
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter (Dragonfly Books, Alfred A. Knopf, 1992);
The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud, illustrated by Erin Susanne Bennett (Candlewick Press, 2007);
Hairy Maclary’s Hat Tricks by Lynley Dodd (Puffin, 2008);
Gandhi by Amy Paston (Dorling Kindersley, 2006);
Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008);
Alphabet Gallery: An AbC of Contemporary Illustrators (Mammoth, Egmont Books 1999, in association with The Dyslexia Institute);
The Worst Children’s Jobs in History by Tony Robinson (Macmillan, 2006).
Just as well we live a long way away! But I can recommend the bookshop – and if you can’t get there in person then do check out the website. Thank you, Steve and staff, for a memorable visit.