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Here is an article from a back issue of Slightly Foxed. We do hope you’ll enjoy it. 

Having moved office from Clerkenwell to Hoxton Square, we’ve had just enough time to unpack, find the cafetiere and hang a few pictures before the arrival of the new winter catalogues. Alongside our fourth catalogue for grown-ups we’ve produced our first one for children, and we’re thrilled with these thick cream creations, each one full of irresistible and charming suggestions. The catalogues are available in print and online, and were compiled by the staff at our bookshop, Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road, who will be happy to help source the titles for you.
 
In this month’s Taste of Slightly Foxed, Sheila Rhodes explores the delights of working in a children’s bookshop, an increasingly rare sight on many high streets these days. And should fond memories of childhood reads spur you to the realms of poetic inspiration, we can bring to your attention the National Poetry Competition call for entries, the details of which can be found below. The Royal Society of Literature is also inviting entries to a competition, although theirs is for tickets to see Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper chat about Patrick Leigh Fermor, and entries need not be in verse.
Where is Patrick Spotter?’ The Japanese customer looked somewhat annoyed. She had been told that the staff of Heffers Children’s Bookshop in Cambridge were so knowledgeable that they could help with tracking down any book, even if the visitor didn’t know the title or author. We looked at each other in dismay. Was this an author we didn’t know? Then our manager appeared and courteously offered to take the lady round the shop: the first shelf they reached was Young Classics. ‘There!’ shouted the Japanese lady triumphantly. ‘Oh, Beatrix Potter!’ we smiled. She smiled; our reputation was intact and calm returned.
 
In fact, the atmosphere was usually calm – not unlike that of a public library. Young mothers would come in with their pushchairs, and could frequently be seen curled up on a large cushion in a corner, reading to the pushchair’s occupant. We had an entire room devoted to books for young children with close to 1,000 titles to choose from: multiples of Peter Rabbit and friends, Winnie-the-Pooh in several languages, the Thomas the Tank Engine series, and the wonderful Jolly Postman books by the Ahlbergs. There was a whole bank of board books for tiny fingers, a huge stand of floppy picture books, shelves of pop-ups, poetry and nursery rhymes, tubs of plastic bath books, and a pile of giant picture books that could be opened out flat and crawled over.
 
It was immensely satisfying to solve other, sometimes arcane conundrums: ‘It’s about three animals going on a trek’ (The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford); ‘A soft toy that was lost, then found again – it has lovely, old-fashioned pictures’ (Dogger, by Shirley Hughes); ‘A teddy bear with a button missing’ (Corduroy, by Don Freeman, a real tearjerker). We knew them because we had read them and loved them, and because they were still in print after many years. There do seem to be an unconscionable number of bears in books for children, and one that is sadly out of print was a favourite of my own childhood in the 1950s: The Bear Bus, about a friendly group of teddies with wonderful names such as Orange Pekoe, Velvet Trousers and G. S. Y. Rup. Why do mothers throw out their children’s books just because it seems they have grown out of them? How can they not realize that we might want to read them again one day, even when we’re over 60? – in fact particularly when we’re over 60.
 
Author visits were red-letter days – for us as well as for the groups of local schoolchildren. Philippa Pearce came, as did Michael Morpurgo, James Mayhew, Posy Simmonds (who drew a little sketch for each child who wanted their book signed) and Max Velthuijs, who wrote about a lovable frog called Frog. One of the staff was appointed as escort to each author (a sought-after job), but when Max was expected and our manager was flying out of the door, we asked how we would know him. ‘Oh, all illustrators look like their illustrations’, she said with a dismissive wave – and ten minutes later Frog walked in. Before James Mayhew’s first visit, we were actually sent a publicity photo. On seeing it, one of the girls pleaded to be his escort – and, dear reader, she married him.

Saturdays were fun because it was the busiest day for children to visit, and there was a chance to talk to them and hear about their favourite stories. Sometimes in the summer months we would borrow a costume representing a character from a book for very young children. One of the Saturday girls would climb inside Pingu or Peter Rabbit and parade up and down Trinity Street, to be greeted by joyful squeals and rapturous hugs. I loved the looks of disbelieving delight on customers’ faces when I offered a list of forty Books for Boys; the belief seemed to be that there was nothing for pre-teen boys, and it was wonderful to be rewarded with a grateful smile when you produced a great pile for the customer to choose from. There were comedy thrillers by Anthony Horowitz, adventures by Philip Ridley, books on cricket and football, classics like Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner, and, best of all for the Roald Dahl fan who needed something new, anything and everything by Morris Gleitzman. (Nowadays, for ‘something like Harry Potter’, I’d suggest The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, and the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones.)

We wanted to encourage a love of reading in every child because books offer children a chance to go beyond themselves and their own immediate experience. It was pleasing to be able to recommend stories that were less well-known yet entertaining, like the quirky Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and the hilarious, heart-warming The Dad Library by Dennis Whelehan. Sometimes a child’s worries could be helped a little by reading about a protagonist with a similar problem: an excellent book about bullying is Krindlekrax by Philip Ridley. Two very good books about teenage pregnancy (which would occur less often if they were compulsory reading for all adolescents) are the realistically told Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty, and the positive Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff (‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade’). Death is obviously one of the most difficult subjects, but Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls is extraordinarily uplifting and will make you laugh as well as cry.

We were able to help customers choose the best books with confidence because we were encouraged to read the books ourselves and to write reviews. Sometimes we did this while on duty at the till, but one member of staff, Thomas Taylor, who wished he could make a living by his drawing, always had a pencil in his hand, and he doodled caricatures of the customers with amazing accuracy. Happily, Thomas did achieve success when in 1997 Bloomsbury asked him to submit drawings for a new title it was publishing. When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out, Thomas’s illustrations appeared on the front and back covers. He was philosophical about other artists being commissioned to illustrate subsequent covers, but it is his image of the boy wizard that has become iconic (he himself went on to write and illustrate his own books). Another former art student on the staff was Adrian Reynolds, who was asked by Ian Whybrow to illustrate his book for younger children about another Harry, Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, and his pictures bring the story vividly to life.

As readers of Slightly Foxed know, there is much for adults to enjoy in the world of children’s books. In fact I once thought of instigating a special shelf in the shop, labelled ‘Suitable for Grown-Ups’, but there would be so many – among them picture books by Anthony Browne, who was last year’s Children’s Laureate and in whose Voices in the Park and Piggybook there are new things to discover at every reading.
 
To read with 5–8 year olds, a real treat is The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, enlivened by Edward Gorey’s black-and white illustrations, about a polite little boy surrounded by aloof adults: ‘We don’t shrink in this school.’ And savour with 9–12s the genius wordplay of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (see SF No. 29), about a boy who is bored until he drives his toy car into a magical land where the Princesses Rhyme and Reason are in exile, and his adventures include jumping to Conclusions (an island that disappoints on arrival).
 

Sadly, the shop closed in 2002. Three years earlier Blackwells had bought the Heffers shops, keeping the name, but the rent for the site of the Children’s Bookshop was becoming too expensive. For a few years a large children’s department was kept in the Grafton Centre Heffers, but now that too has closed and space has been made in Heffers’ main shop in Trinity Street, Cambridge, for the children’s books. However, many former staff members still keep in touch with each other, in agreement with Noël Coward’s sentiment that ‘work was more fun than fun’.

It was the camaraderie amongst the staff that made it such a special place. Though our ages ranged from the early twenties to the late fifties, we enjoyed each other’s company and worked in a spirit of relaxed friendliness. Early each day was the time for chat, when we unpacked the three or four big crates of books that had been delivered that morning. All had to be shelved while the shop was reasonably quiet, and it was a good way to learn the stock. It was hard work but relieved by light-hearted gossip, and often by the arrival of the distinctive character from the homeless hostel, with his long grey beard and old brown mac and flat cap. You knew when Mr D. was in the shop because his stentorian voice carried like a fog-horn: ‘ANYTHING ON PIGS?’ he wanted to know. Or, on some visits, ‘ANYTHING ON TRACTION ENGINES?’ We had gently to discourage him from settling down in the most comfortable chair to eat his pungent sandwiches.

Most of our customers were a delight to meet, and we had regulars who visited once or twice a year from America, Canada and Japan. They were as enthusiastic as we were, and told us that Heffers was the epitome of a good children’s bookshop because it held extensive stock with clearly labelled shelves, and – even more important – there was always someone polite, cheerful and knowledgeable available to give advice.

Fortunately, the recommendations we made in the shop live on. The reviews we wrote mounted up, and eventually there were enough to fill a booklet that also included lists of recommended titles for different age groups and quirky line drawings by Thomas. We had it printed, priced it at £1 and sold it in aid of various charities. That was in 1996 . . .


. . . Inspired by Sheila’s Heffers booklet, we have decided to publish a children’s catalogue of our own. Designed as a guide through the huge and glossy world that children’s book publishing has become, the catalogue offers recommendations for new titles and old favourites. The list is arranged thematically to pique interests and encourage further exploration, whether in the company of witches and wizards, wild things and pirates, partying hippos, mischievous cockatoos, or a brief foray into the natural history of ducks. There are picture books and story books, board books and books in verse, and each recommendation comes with a rough guide for the reader’s age. Whether it’s a picture book for little ones, an engaging story for voracious teens or an easily-missed treasure for the person who’s read everything, we think we have a recommendation that might suit.

Please read on for details of how to request your free printed copy of the children’s catalogue, and how to read it online.
 
Sheila Rhodes spent many happy years working in several bookshops, including Stanfords Travel, though she was always somewhat bemused at being paid for her hobby. Now, her heart leaps at the offer of a comfortable chair in a beautiful garden.

Frogs, Books & Bears © Sheila Rhodes, Slightly Foxed Issue 31, Autumn 2011


Bizarre beasts and crazy characters, lolly sticks and skeletons, camper vans and yetis, and much more! To receive your free copy of the Slightly Foxed Children’s Catalogue, please use the button below to email our bookshop and they’ll pop a copy in the post to you. You can also read an online edition of the catalogue and buy the books that it features from our bookshop’s website by clicking the button below.


 

The romance of trains, mobsters and mafiosi, the English countryside, pioneering women travellers, and more besides . . . also out now is our fourth catalogue for grown-ups. We hope it contains something for every taste, and something to suit friends and relations too, as Christmas isn’t far away. To request a printed copy or to read an online edition, please use the buttons below.


 

Slightly Foxed Editions are selling fast and we’re now low on stock of Graham Greene’s memoir, A Sort of Life. Greene once said that writing this memoir of his early years ‘was in the nature of a psychoanalysis. I made a long journey through time and I was one of my characters.’ Certainly the younger self that emerges is as complex and intriguing as any of those he created in his novels.

There can be no more fascinating or illuminating account of what it takes to become a writer.



‘The most amusing book of childhood memories I can remember reading’ was Graham Greene’s
judgement of P. Y. Betts’s memoir, People Who Say Goodbye, another Slightly Foxed Edition that’s fast selling out.

P. Y. Betts is a truly original voice and People Who Say Goodbye is a delight – a powerful evocation of a time and place and an unsenti
-mental account of being a child that has the unmistakable ring of truth.



With a prize that is often seen as a career milestone for emerging and established poets, the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition has been gathering prestige since it was established in 1978.  The judges this year are Vicki Feaver, W.N. Herbert and Nick Laird, who will be reading entries from across the country.

The prizes are: £5,000 for the overall winner, £2,000 for the second, £1,000 for the third, with seven commendations of £100.

The deadline for entries is 31 October, and you can enter online or download an entry form by clicking the link below.


We’re thrilled to announce a few changes to our website. You can now create an account, store address details, view recent orders,  send gift orders to multiple addresses and more,  and we hope it will make things much easier for our customers. Next year we plan to give all Slightly Foxed print subscribers access to the full digital backlist of the magazine through this website and these recent changes are part of the process to make this happen. 

The new website went live last week and we know there is still some fiddling and twiddling to do to make things work perfectly. If you get stuck, or need help, please don’t tear your hair out – we know how irritating it is when things don’t work. Do ring Anna or Galen in the office on 020 7033 0258 (UK) or +44 (0) 20 7033 0258 (overseas) and we’ll happily take your order over the phone.

For our competition this month, The Royal Society of Literature is delighted to offer three pairs of tickets to hear Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron discussing the life and work of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor at the Royal Geographical Society on 24 October.

To enter the draw, please send your name and telephone number to Molly Rosenberg at The Royal Society of Literature (molly@rslit.org) and quote RSL/SF2012.

Highlights from the autumn and winter seasons this year at the RSL include Margaret Atwood on her life and work, Orlando Figes on a Gulag love story, Michael Morpurgo on war, and Rose Tremain in conversation with Andrew O’Hagan. You can listen again to past RSL events, and read selected past RSL Review articles on the RSL website.

Forthcoming events at the RSL:

5 November - Jackie Kay: ‘The V. S. Pritchett Memorial Prize evening’

26 November - Richard Ford: ‘The Hawthornden Anglo-American lecture’

28 November - Margaret Atwood discusses her life and work

Booking is now open. For more information on the above events, visit www.rslit.org, call 0207 845 4676 or e-mail Molly Rosenberg at  molly@rslit.org.

We leave you with this final thought.

‘In the past three years Amazon has generated sales of more than £7.6 billion in the UK without attracting any corporation tax on the profits from those sales’

Independent bookshops, including Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road, do pay corporation tax on profits from sales. Last year our contribution was enough to buy schoolchildren over 2,000 books. With your help we could pay for a librarian too. We’d be delighted if you choose to buy the books featured in our catalogues from Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road or your local independent bookshop.
Copyright © 2012 Slightly Foxed, All rights reserved.