Archives for category: Book Related Posts

I have been selling books for over 20 years with Waterstones. They say I have become an ‘Expert’ in Children’s books. A title that really means very little to me.

What does, I have recently realised, are my customers and more importantly my younger customers, especially those that I influenced enough for them to begin to enjoy books.

It is what they say and do that matters.

The following, in no order what so ever, stand out for me when I look back over the last two decades. This is not in any way a comprehensive list – just some of the highlights that I have so enjoyed over the years.

Thank you.

The author and teacher who introduced me with such pride to his husband.

The bright enthusiastic girl who so loved her reserved books on Vikings, & gave me a cuddle.

The boy who lost his Lego mini-figure and was so overcome when I ‘felt’ the packets and found a new one; wrapping his arms around my neck, his legs, around my waist.

The girl whose father claimed she ‘would never finish anything’, and wouldn’t buy her the kit; who fired her finished Leonardo da Vinci catapult down the store a week or so later.

My regulars who return asking for more books for their children, who seem to have suddenly begun to have the reading bug.

‘My’ Russian customer, his wide grin, and unpronounceable name.

The American who wanted to take home the next unpublished Harry Potter in his suitcase. ‘You have some hidden in the back.’

The mother who came to say she had seen the film, A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness) after reading my post, and was so moved by it.

My Dorset customer, passionate about all things Persian, who bought around a thousand pounds worth of books from me, almost on a monthly basis, who has now become a friend.

The owls I arranged to visit Harrods at the penultimate Harry Potter event.

The queen,

yes the queen,

who bought a copy of the

picture book Tadpole’s Promise for her husband.

The Sussex House event with Linda Davies, and her longbow; celebrating Longbow Girl.

Sgt. from Sussex House, quiet, kindly, wonderful, but with such authority.

Selling almost 1,000 pounds of The Undrowned Child (Michelle Lovric) in Harrods.

The man who bought a copy of The Undrowned Child even though he only wanted a book on accounting.

The man who bought another copy, when he had just come in to buy an English version of the Koran.

The Sussex boy, ‘Hop-a-long’ who came to an event in a shopping trolley.

The small boy who came to say he had broken a plastic stand.

The father who apologised for his ‘feral children’.

The teachers who have become such good friends.

The elderly couple who bought their Christmas books for their family every year in Harrods – the list of their relatives, ages and details neatly inscribed on the cardboard taken from a cereal packet.

The Sussex House boys.

The lady who insisted on double bagging her books, and wanted copies ‘not touched’ by human hands, and has now become a rather extraordinary friend.

The various children who have returned to tell me how much they have enjoyed the last book I sold them.

The Sussex boys from Sussex House and how they have welcomed me into their school.

The boy with autism, who made friends with me.

The customers who ‘followed’ me from Harrods to Finchley Road O2 . Every winter one elderly couple travelling to the store; a very different environment for them. Just because I happened to work there now.

The Sussex events in store, a high light, initially a very reserved author Lynn Reid Banks and her phenomenal rendition of The Green Eye of the Yellow God by Milton Hayes.

The hopeful father who came to buy a book for his child, aged 7, but didn’t know what he was interested in. Only to admit after we had gone through several titles, that the boy was just seven weeks old.

Being taken to see the play Private Peaceful with Sussex House.

The little girl with downs syndrome who suddenly left her carer and came and stroked my arm.

The Sussex House boys’ response to an event with bottles of smells to inhale – a truly raucous event.

Maya Leonard celebrating Beetle Boy with an event in store and her brilliant Ballroom Event with Sussex House.

The man who came and bought all the Biggles books we had in stock – just because I admitted that perhaps they weren’t particularly politically correct and why.

The customers who have asked for a suggestion for one or two books, who have left with a pile tucked under their arms and bags in their hands and grins upon their faces with excited children ‘at foot’.

Lastly, the mother who came to thank me and tell me of her dyslexic son, who after advice from me, started with Barrington Stoke and was introduced to good stories.

Who recently returned home to talk to his mother about the book he was reading.

She was so pleased.

‘…his lower lip was quivering…he could hardly get his words out,’

she said,

‘…he was so involved in the book…’

to find he was reading The Northern Lights (Philip Pullman).

It is the people that have made this job a joy – who have made me grin, laugh and become involved. The books are another joy, but that is perhaps for another time.

This time is to say thank you – I wouldn’t be doing this job if it weren’t for you making that connection.

Thank you.

Something I have noticed recently is a tendency for publishers of children’s books to combine punctuation marks.

So far it is limited to their combining the question mark, with an exclamation.

It is as though the editors of these books believe the reader is unable to ascertain that the character is expressing themselves with surprise or not.

I am finding this irritating new strain of ‘punctuation’ more of a distraction than a useful additional indicator for my reading. So much so I am beginning to metaphorically put those books published with this new editing gimmick in my mental bin of ‘Candy Floss’ reading; books for children, that should only be read as often as they have candy floss.

Not very often.

I feel that it is used where the editors are not sure themselves – which is strange, and I have never heard of anyone wondering about whether a character has asked a question with surprise, or have only just exclaimed with a question. The context of the sentence usually indicates which it is.

In my view this is an unnecessary piece of entanglement in a language which seems to confuse people enough when they are asked to punctuate properly – so that they can clearly communicate.

Mr Brown would not have been pleased if I had started to pepper my writing with such a union. I think he would have marked my essay down with an acerbic comment and a neat exclamation point to finish.

I hope it isn’t an indication of worse things to come.

Punctuation is important and shouldn’t be abused.

A woman, without her man is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

I am so pleased to announce – Peter Bunzl the author of Cogheart is coming on Saturday 13th of August to Waterstone’s Finchley Road O2 (NW3 6LU) to talk about the book. He will also instruct and help customers to make their own zoetrope – which they will then be able to take home with them at the end of the event. This looks to be one of our best events – do come and visit, purchase a signed copy and take home an amazing optical gadget too…

I’m so excited about this one…



6-img_1329I have used this blog to promote good writing and I try to ensure that I give an accurate indication of the age groups that may enjoy them.

Often they are new, stories that I have had the pleasure to enjoy before publication. I hope that this is something that gives some guidance and help.

Children’s books, or books for young readers are generally grouped by age. This is not a perfect solution to the problem of suitability and reading ability. Some Children’s Interest age is older than their actual, and some are younger. It is though a good starting point.

I have refused to sell a book that is not suitable to a child at the till (an eight-year-old wanting the complete Hunger Games trilogy, comes to mind),


usually by suggesting something different. I have also referred a choice made by young readers to the parents or the person about to pay for the books, and more often than not have been asked to suggest something a little more suitable.

Most books published for young readers up to 12 years or so are fine, there may be some with a more serious plot line, but they are generally presented and edited in such a way that the story is acceptable.

Those marked for teenage or young adult can and often deal with these subjects in a punchier and direct way. There are also stories dealing with much darker subjects.  Which is why I have been known to refer younger readers to their ‘responsible adult’ for want of a better phrase…

Some 11 year olds are a little younger than their reading age. Some have reading ages that are the same – which is always a pleasure.


Then there are some 11 year olds, who are mentally 14 or 15 – going on 30; their Interest age is substantially greater than their actual age.

Children are growing up fast now. That may be a cliché – however, I think it is true. They are exposed to subject matter on the Internet, and often in their own lives that I certainly wasn’t aware of at their age. Or if I was, it was only on the periphery of my life. This doesn’t mean though that there shouldn’t be some sensible acknowledgement of the types of books that there are out there. It also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be written – though some subjects are (in my opinion) really are only suitable for adults.

There have been subjects covered in teenage books that have concerned me as a bookseller. One was about prostitution. That one, surprisingly is a very good story. It wasn’t gratuitous at all. The main character worked for a madam, who was running a very efficient and practical ‘house of ill repute’. When the madam dies at the end of the book our heroine has the opportunity to take on the job – a job she is well acquainted with. She knows the tricks of the trade, which girls are lazy and which young lass should work in a circus. Sadly, she chooses a job as a secretary. The only criticism I had of the story. There was no reason for her to do so – she was a very ably experienced and knowledgeable candidate for working the brothel (further, she knew the girls), but had no knowledge of working in an office. I felt that the suggestion that the job in the brothel, though highly suitable for her and her circumstances had been deemed politically incorrect – and so she went off to the city to have a rather prosaic and I suspect, rather less interesting life. If I could remember the title I would review volume – for young adults. It is not suitable for younger readers, and I would make that abundantly clear. Sadly, I never succeeded in selling this to anyone – as soon as I mentioned the word prostitution to my adult customers, they would balk and ask for something else…

Another was about parent-child abuse. That one, I have to admit I never offered to customers in the store where I worked. The plot had nothing to recommend it. It was unpleasant and unnecessary and fundamentally the characters within the story had no hope. There was nothing to recommend it.

Two days ago I picked up a proof of a book written by Mal Peet (who died in March 2015), that had been completed by Meg Rosoff. I had heard about Mal Peet from colleagues who had enjoyed his books and was interested to read this one, and in my usual way, started without reading the blurb.The English is wonderful, Mal Peet had a lovely use of language. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the book.

Initially the story tells of a young black orphan taken from his orphanage in England and sent to Canada to one run by priests. On arrival he is given his first ever hot bath. He is given good food, clothing, and the work in and around the orphanage is wholesome and educational. Things are generally looking positive.

There are indications though that things are not as they seem. I found myself finding these small seeds of disquiet and hoping that things were not going to go down the route, that I feared they might. I reached page 58 or so. I stopped then, and I went to my manager, who encouraged me to continue (sometimes, it is true, you need to continue with a plot), which I did.

To page 61 / 62 when I took it back to him and gave it to him to try. He too was astonished – the scenes described are graphic, and unpleasant. The book is not a teenage book, or for that matter one for young adults. After all, when do you become a young adult? Surely that should be when you reach 18 – though that might not be your Interest age even then.

I am not able to give you the title of the book; I left the proof in the office as I don’t know of anyone to whom I would want to pass it onto and certainly didn’t want to continue to read it. I won’t be suggesting it as a book for my niece, either, who is without doubt becoming a ‘young adult’.

The system of sorting books into age groups isn’t just about reading ability – it is also about content and suitability. Children who read ahead of themselves may find that they do not understand the nuances of the writing; why certain behaviour and situations are emotionally charged, wrong or why they are wonderful. Also they often don’t read the books that are written for their age group, and are likely never to go back to them, and so miss out on some glorious writing. It is particularly difficult when they are making their own choices, which are sometimes coloured and influenced by media and friends who are not as caring about what they read.

I have been asked how parents and those who are responsible for making sure that books that are read by children are ‘good’ – by that they usually mean, well written, with an engaging and interesting plot, that are suitable for their reading age and ability

There is only one way I know of to do this, and that is by reading the books as well.

Not everyone has the time to do this though, and I hope that in some way my blog helps those who are short on time to choose something that is ‘good’.

If you are remotely concerned about the books your child, whatever age he or she may be, is reading, then talk to them about what the book is about. Ask open questions about what happens in the book, the decisions the characters make and ask them how the book makes them feel. If they are un happy, or unsure, then it is perhaps one that needs to either be put down for a later date, or be discarded altogether.

I am I suppose a bibliophile. I love books – not just reading, I like a ‘real’ book. I don’t have a Kindle because of that, (and a few other reasons that I won’t go into here), as I like the feel and often the very smell of a book. I like the fact that the battery will never run out, and if I am unlucky enough to leave it on the tube, then I can probably buy another without having to pay a large amount of money. Nor do I have to give any details to the shop from which I purchase it. I can pay cash and disappear through the bookshelves, never to be seen again, if I so desire.

Sadly, though modern books often smell of a peculiar plastic. They are often published on ‘art paper’. Sometimes they re-issue books that I have known before, with the same text, but with an artist’s rendition that is nothing like that I grew up with, or particularly like.

Sometimes too ‘they’ decide there is no longer a market for a book, and the title is no longer available and it goes Out of Print, and I cannot simply order it either from work or at home. There are also titles that have been long Out of Print. That I couldn’t, with all good consciousness expect to be In Print. Books for example about the taboos and vintana of Madagascar that were originally printed in Norway in 1960

ruud-taboo-front1I don’t think there are many people looking for that title, and yet it is one that I very much wanted to read.

So, what do we do about those books that have recently been delegated as no longer wanted by the  reading public, or that were published so long ago and are too esoteric a subject for modern publishers to think of reprinting?

You can of course go to book fairs, and search their shelves. I go to one once a month and enjoy searching the shelves and sometimes find things I have been wanting to read. At other times a trip to a fair can mean that there is a new title I’d like to read, if only I could afford it. Often though I can’t find the book I want, though sometimes there might be a small run of the series I would like, but it is the wrong edition. Or more frustratingly I can’t afford it and have to just take the opportunity to look carefully through it and know that one day, perhaps, I might be an owner of such a volume.

vialibriSo, if I know what I want, and have the title and author I will sometimes resort to using the search engine viaLibri

Without going into too much detail, the site searches bookshop data bases for the title and author along with any other specifications that you put in and often in a few moments comes back with a list of stores that have a copy. These volumes are second-hand or even antiquarian and are often rare. Each entry has details of its condition, cost and location. This last is important because of postage charges, which can severely increase the total cost of a book purchased in this fashion and also how long it will take to reach you.

Amongst other things you can specify the title, author, part title, whether you want a dust jacket, a first edition or a copy that has no ISBN assigned to it.  You also need to tick the box that designates the currency in which the price will be given.

Retailers that use the search engine include Amazon, and a company called ABE which is part of Amazon too, and depending on your views you may purchase books from them through viaLibri, or directly from the Amazon site.  Biblio are another group of booksellers advertising their stock through viaLibri and seem to be honest and their prices reasonable.

viaLibri is a very useful tool, however, it is not as much fun as searching through shelves in a book fair and suddenly coming across a book that is wanted; whether I knew I wanted it before I entered the book fair,

or not…







Barrington Stoke is a publisher of thin octavo volumes specifically designed to help young people who have dyslexia to gain a love of reading. The books are written by authors who are already known in the publishing world, and include people like Michael Morpurgo, Philip Reeve, David Almond, Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Kevin Brooks, and Meg Rosoff to name just a very few.

Not only are the books slim, they are printed on off white paper, which prevents glare, and the typeface is such as to make it easy to read. They edit the text too so that as much as possible there is a reduced likelihood of words of a similar type being used in the same paragraph.

Lastly, (and possibly more importantly), the subject matter and plots are interesting and they seem to try to cover as many interests as possible.

To that end they have two indicators on the books – an Interest Age and a Reading Age – usually noted just beside the bar code.


The Interest Age, is the age of the reader – after all someone aged 5-8 is probably not going to be interested in something written for a teenager or young adult. The reverse is also true. So the Interest Age gives an indication of the type of age group for which the book has been written.

The Reading Age, however, gives an indication of the reading ability. So you may have someone who has an Interest Age of 12 or 13, but a Reading age of 7 or 8 and with the help of the codes on the back of the books you can fine tune the books that are purchased for them – so that they are both interesting and are suitable for their ability.

I am regularly astounded by the number of parents’, carers and others who are looking after young readers with dyslexia who are not made aware of this publisher. There is nothing like actually enjoying and finishing a book to encourage you to try another.

I am also beginning to suggest these books for some of my customers who have children who are just not interested at all. Not necessarily because they have dyslexia, but just because they haven’t experienced the joy of really enjoying a book and are becoming even more unwilling to try as they begin to come under pressure from their school and adults around them to at least ‘…finish one book!’

So I thought I would publish a post about it, to make people aware of this wonderful and thoughtful publisher.

The Internet site for Barrington Stoke is and is easily navigable – do take a look at the site, it may well be the start of a love affair with reading, and I sometimes think there is nothing quite like the pleasure of reading a good book.

Which on consideration, is quite astonishing.

I started to read aged 8, but that’s another story….


I suppose I first knew about Arthur Rackham from an edition of Wind in the Willows that was published with his illustrations. His willow trees are unique and are really distinctive. The details in his pictures are extraordinary and I have always liked them as a result. As I have grown older I have come across more and now enjoy his fantasy pictures, the fairies with spiders and their webs and of course witches with their various familiars…there is a streak of darkness throughout most of them which makes them fascinating to look at – there is always something you haven’t noticed before. Born, Wikipedia says, in 1869
he died in
1939 and seems to have been a prolific illustrator – with a very individual style that has become very sort after. I buy second-hand and antiquarian books on various subjects (children’s books, natural history and falconry books, when I can afford them) and one of the greatest irritations I find when going around the book fairs is the cost of early editions of books published with his illustrations. If it has a Rackham, it seems you can increase the price exponentially – and so I have some modern reprints that often have poor quality paper and are not as well designed. When truly I’d like to buy a good quality print and hang it up – I must look into seeing if there are any reasonably sized pictures I can purchase off the Internet.

It is odd how the illustrators of your youth become the ‘right’ illustrator for a book. I grew up with Wind in the Willows illustrated by Rackham and by EH Shephard. – both editions are gorgeous and for some reason I am happy with and enjoy both.
This is unusual for me – usually I like books to be illustrated by the original illustrator and it is rare for me to like newer versions. I’m not sure of the two, who illustrated this classic first, but it is of no matter.

I do find thought that I have this problem with Paddington (Michael Bond) – not the bear of the film, but the younger abridged picture books, illustrated by R W Alley. 

They are nice enough, but they are not Paddington to me – and I don’t understand why it was necessary to illustrate these with a new artist’s work (however good), when Peggy Fortnum’s illustrations are sufficient and are in fact illustrations of Paddington and not some  bear attempting to stand in for him. Further more they are perfect. How can you not buy the original book and have this sort of picture on your bookshelves?

For that matter I feel the abridged books in themselves are not really necessary. Why not introduce the books and Paddington a little later, when the originals can be appreciated in all their glory? There is a plethora of picture books out there actually written for the younger age group and it seems a pity to change something that is nigh on perfect, if not actually so. My colleague at work would protest that there must be some later editions of titles with new illustrators that I must like. If so, I think they must be books I was introduced to at a later, possibly less impressionable age… Peter Rabbit,
and the World of Peter Rabbit are only Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy Bunnies etc, if illustrated by Beatrix Potter. ‘They have, of course, produced a number of television spin-offs. Though why it was necessary for the books to be put on television, I’m not sure. I am sure they are very nice, as far as they go and other people have illustrated the continued tales of Peter Rabbit – but however similar or not, they are not quite the thing – if you understand me, but that is just my opinion.

A substantial part of this was written some while ago. I thought, however it might be of interest to any of you who are not members of the Private Library Association, who kindly published it with illustrations in their quarterly magazine (Autumn 2010).

On re-reading this, I find that things have moved on a little. I have changed branches and no longer work in Harrods. A sad change as the store was unique in its challenges and its pleasures and I still miss it, some two years later.

I have added a few references to titles that I have enjoyed since I wrote this, and have taken the liberty of indicating this were necessary by adjusting the script to italic and placing these more recent thoughts in brackets.

I have also adjusted the odd bit of language that wasn’t quite right.

I hope you enjoy my musings…


I am one of those people who are lucky enough to legally deal in the drug on which they are hooked. I have been selling children’s books for some years now, originally I sold and bought them in Hatchard’s under the care of Mr Joy, more recently at Waterstone’s in Harrods.

It is an expensive game. I should by rights be purchasing books that I need, perhaps buying the odd volume for a holiday read. I should not be buying them for the pure joy of having, owning and loving the pop up of Oliver Jeffers’

The Incredible Book-Eating Boy.

I introduce customers with whom I make contact to ‘friends’ of mine. As though we have met accidentally as we wander around the book department in Harrods. The pleasure of ownership and of introducing two prospective friends are similar. For me a good sale (by that I mean one where I know the reader has just bought a book I know they will love), is just as good as a good buy, though very different.

It is why I do my job.

There are people who just collect books for the pleasure of purchasing the full set. An expensive addiction should your daughter start on the Rainbow Series, at present with over 100 titles in print. These are bound in covers that are glossy with bright colours and they have the added attraction of the possibility of finding your name on the spine.

There are customers who try to encourage their daughters to try and sample something else. Which can be difficult, especially if there is no thought to just diluting the series with another book. A little bit of the Rainbow mixed with a book to be read to the recipient. Perhaps The Wickedest Witch by Martin Howard, with its witches’ stockings spine.  If that is too much, there is always Olga da Polga by Michael Bond.

There are others who just want a good story. A really good story, something that will make them worry about the characters if they have to stop for school, or because their parent’s will insist on a reasonable amount of sleep each night.

Others want, need or demand pictures – often large and with as much detail as possible. Some would like thin books or short books where the pages number only double figures. Some would enjoy reading, but for various reasons find it harder than others to just sit down and read. Some would prefer to have books read to them and aren’t really interested to learn for themselves. Others start their reading lives with bath and board books.

Bath books for the youngest potential collector have very little text and most lie flat in the bath. It must be a disappointment to have your book about a frog, lie flat down under the waves somewhere near the plug, when obviously it should float and the frog should rest serenely in the centre.

There is a publisher who is aware that though a bath book is a book, with pages, they are also, for our younger budding collector someone to take to the bath and they should float. Upright.

I know of two such titles that have been weighted in the bottom so that the pirate ship and the duckling float erect, and don’t sink beneath the waves to lie languishing with the seaweed-flannel and the pebble like shampoo top.

Pram and cloth books are practical purchase on the whole, though some do have an attraction all their own. Usually when the characters and illustrations are taken from well-established books

Board books are a glorious introduction to the wonders of the page. Almost

multi-purpose; good for looking at, chewing and throwing out of a pushchair.

Parents who remember them from their own youth buy board books that have turned into ‘classics’ – The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other titles by Eric Carle and Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo are examples of this.

Some are sold in several formats, bath, board, noisy, and picture books.

The Gruffalo and the rest of the Julia Donaldson books, seem to sell in all formats – her name almost a guarantee of sales.

I must admit that the Gruffalo is as good as some titles by other authors, but being a ‘known picture book author’ does not in my opinion mean that your latest book will be as good as the best you have produced in the past. The classics will always sell, and are remembered with great affection.

It is always, however a good idea to read the book, appreciate the language, the story, the illustrations, and the twists. Some that have lasted may not be right, just now, and the new book by a good author may just have missed the unexplainable ‘it’.

Chris Wormell’s books include some lovely fables and an alphabet book (Mice, Morals and Monkey Business & The New Alphabet of Animals) in board book form – with absolutely fantastic linocuts both bold and beautiful.

Cliff Wright’s bear books are beautiful examples of an artist whose work has not yet received the full recognition they deserve. They really are superb books with gorgeous watercolours.

Two of my favourite authors of picture books and board books are Jeanne Willis and Emily Gravett.

Jeanne Willis wrote the first picture book that I ever came across that has no saccharine or sugar in the book at all.

The Tadpole’s Promise, is illustrated beautifully by Tony Ross, and is a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions. So much so at least one of my colleagues won’t sell it. The book has life, romance, broken promises and the food chain.  The story revolves around a tadpole and a caterpillar and everyone should read it. The book needs to be ‘hand sold’ to have a chance of a sale, and to the right sort of customer is almost invariably a hit, causing gasps and laughter. To the wrong type of person, only the gasps are similar.

It can be purchased from the Waterstone’s at Harrods straight off the shelf. I try to make sure we are never out of stock. I will be very happy to reserve copies.

Other picture books by Jeanne Willis include Who’s in the Loo? Brilliantly rhyming with a large selection of weird and wonderful creatures, and a fun use of language. It is a must read for people of a certain age.

Big Bad Bun, again illustrated by Tony Ross is a lovely reflection of childhood, and school reports. It really should be available with a small rabbit wearing a ‘Hell Bunnies’ jacket as a special edition and it would repay the expense of production with ease.

Emily Gravett wrote Wolves a few years ago. She illustrates all her books beautifully and in this there is a superb image of an oblivious rabbit walking along the back of a wolf, with fleas and ticks bouncing around him. This is another book with a possibly tragic finale. There is a disclaimer, though, and an alternative ending which should satisfy the faint hearted. It should be noted, however, that the last page shows Mr Rabbit’s front door and the post waiting to be opened, which indicates that he hasn’t been home for some time….

Odd Egg is another of Emily’s books not to be missed and once again it’s the illustrations that meant that I had to have it.

Her book Spells, really should be purchased in hardback. It’s about a frog, looking for a princess and love of his life – who finds a book of spells. The book is fantastically illustrated throughout showing the results of his various enchantments.

The picture of a prince, with the tattoo of his mother is, quite frankly, wonderful.

I have mentioned Oliver Jeffers already. His watercolours and tales are of a different type all together. Beautifully produced in hardback with dust jackets and a pleasure to handle and have.

Lost and Found was animated a few years ago and the short film showing the work that he puts into his illustrations gives some idea as to why they are so popular and are so beautiful.

My collection of picture books was started when my father introduced me to The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, The Peacock Party, and The Ship’s Cat, all illustrated by Alan Aldridge. The Tyger Voyage, illustrated by Nicola Bayley, is one of the earliest books I was given and I have a special edition of her illustrated edition of The Jungle Book. I was also encouraged to look for Joan Walsh Anglund books, always with the necessity of their condition being as near perfect as I could find. Though my small collection of The Brave Cowboy books, purchased whenever I find them, and treasured for their bi-coloured illustrations, cannot be said to be anywhere near in mint condition.

I have always wanted a good collection of Arthur Rackham, however the exorbitant prices charged for even late reprints has prohibited this. I had some of the Orlando (Kathleen Hale), books as a child, and have kept and loved them. Though they are sadly not quite in the condition they should be. More recently I have kept an eye out for good copies and where price allows I have bought titles I haven’t already got and second copies for those more worn than they might be.

This could become a just a list of gloriously illustrated stories for children, so I suppose I should call a halt having mentioned just a few.

Picture books seem to be collected by adults, rather than children, unless they have already been genetically infected with this collecting affliction at an early age.

Often they are purchased at book events with the request that the author and or illustrator sign them. I think, on the whole, though these bought by fans, rather than the trade are often bought more for the love of the book, the writer and the illustrators’ work, rather than for the monetary value they may gain in the future. Mine certainly are.

The first ‘chapter books’ are to my mind a bit of a mixed bunch. This is the point at which publishers can hope to have a series bought by young readers. The Rainbow Fairies and The Beast Quest books while not stretching their reading, have a place, if that is all that will be read, though there is the danger that the whole series has to be bought, (irrespective of whether the reader is able to read more challenging and more interesting titles). This can cause distress to the purchasers (if parents) and then to the recipients. There are a number of good authors, however that are bought and collected that are superbly produced for this age group.

Marcus Sedgwick, an author who has become a well-known name for older readers has produced the first few volumes of the Raven Mysteries, the first of which is called Flood and Fang. Originally published in a hardback edition, this has funny illustrations throughout the books with the raven flying through from page to page. Sadly it seems the hardback of Flood and Fang is no longer available since the paperback edition has been published. A great pity, as they would sell very well as a set for collectors.

Chris Riddell, another author who has written a substantial series for older readers as well as picture books has now produced three volumes of a series set around Ottoline a determined young heroine.  Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, Ottoline Goes to School and most recently Ottoline goes to Sea are illustrated with his fantastic line drawings, which are full of detail. In Ottoline goes to Sea there are hidden pictures within the obvious illustrations, only spotted if the free special lenses are used. These have not so far, been published in paperback and I hope never will be.

(He has recently published Goth Girl another book bound beautifully, with superb illustrations, end papers to die for (decorated with silver skulls and cross bones) and all the pages are edged in a beautiful glowing purple. The story itself is glorious, a ghost story with many literary allusions to be savoured and loved.)

Paddington, and Olga da Polga, both written by Michael Bond sell very well, though Olga is less well known than Paddington. Peggy Fortnum illustrated the original Paddington books and it is interesting that many customers will buy these in preference to the younger picture books as they don’t feel that the new illustrations is ‘…really Paddington’, though it has to be said that many do buy the new picture books for younger readers. The publishers did do a 50th anniversary edition of the original Paddington – will coloured Peggy Fortnum illustrations – absolutely superb. With an audio of Stephen Fry’s reciting the book too, all for just under £15. Obviously I have a copy.

Madame Pamplemousse and her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher was another hardback illustrated first of a new series. It was a slim volume, with lots of illustrations sprinkled throughout the book and had a lovely dust jacket.

Sadly they went on and published the book in paperback, and it lost some of its charm. Once again, you can no longer buy the hardback.

The Tom Trueheart series is another that is followed, and asked for. The charm of Ian Beck’s shadow illustrations is often a great attraction. The hardbacks, which are a lovely size, with their distinctive covers are appreciated.  The paperbacks have been well produced too, so though the hardbacks do have something extra, the paperbacks are not so detrimental.

Older children’s books are collected for the pleasure of obtaining the complete set and following the adventures through from book to book.

Enid Blyton still has a following with the Famous Five, the Naughtiest Girl and of course the Secret Seven collections always somewhere in the basket.

With a little bit of encouragement they can be introduced to John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice books. Brilliant adventure that can’t be put down.

As always it is a question of talking to the reader, and listening to what they say. Horse related fiction traditionally sells to young ladies, however if there is a long pause when you offer Blind Beauty (K.M. Peyton), its worth checking whether they are actually someone who enjoys equine related interests, especially if you haven’t discussed it with them before. It is worth remembering too that what is stated at the beginning of a discussion can be changed by the end. Sometimes young customers feel they should enjoy all genres you offer. Almost out of a misplaced form of politeness. This is to be discouraged and I am often heard to say something on the lines of

‘Don’t say you like something you don’t. Otherwise you will go home with something you don’t like….’

A badly designed book will not have the appeal of a good one. A good cover, with well-printed text and illustrations, page numbers and margins laid out correctly does have a positive result.

One book, Day of the Assassins by Johnny O’Brien was sent to me I thought, as a proof. It had no dust jacket, the boards that looked reconstituted, (as though they were pulped and then reshaped), the silver paint that covered half of it came off on my hands and the bullet holes only went through the boards – and didn’t seem to go anywhere from there. The paper on which the book was printed was horrible and the page numbers were so low down they looked as though they were about to fall off the page. When the book came in to stock, things hadn’t changed. The fact that it didn’t have a dust jacket wasn’t a problem – it just made the rest of the very poor production really obvious. The story however, was brilliant.

When I talked to the publisher’s representative she said they knew but had wanted to get the title out. It was a great pity, and I told her that both the publishing house and the author would have done better to stop it, redesign, reprint and rebind. The paperback I am glad to say has a much better cover with maps on the inside and folded edges and is much easier to sell as a result.

Two books that have sold well for different reasons are Shamanka by Jeanne Willis (now sadly out of print) and The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric. Shamanka is a magical tale in more ways than one and pulls the reader into a tale of witch doctors, adventure, magic and an orang-utan. The Undrowned Child is relatively easy for me to sell. Most, if not all the customers within Harrods have been to Venice, or if not, want to go in the near future. I now ask every customer with whom I have any discussion about books of any variety, whether they have been and this opens up the opportunity to tell them about the book.

I have sold it to people buying books for a five year old, a gentleman who came in for the Koran, someone who had just returned from Venice, to people who had been, but have never taken their partners. These Venice-virgins if I may, complain that this is a place they have always wanted to go, and their partners know. Some claim to have taken lovers to Paris, and ask whether that would do. This often bemuses me and I encourage them to buy the book, as it is a lovely introduction to the city, its waters and its lives and then, to go to Venice.

I have had three customers who didn’t immediately go, ‘Yes of course, I love Venice, when asked.’ Two complained that it smelt, though only one admitted that it was so bad he didn’t like Venice as a result. One couple stated it was too full of people and that ‘…gondolas wobble….’ You can’t win all the time and something about leading horses to water comes to mind.

The cover of The Undrowned Child is suitably watery and Venetian in feel and this contributes to the sales. There is to be a series of books about Teodora, and I am sure that there are collectors out there waiting for The Mourning Emporium, the second in the sequence.

Robert Muchamore, Anthony Horowitz, and Charlie Higson have very large followings. All of them are mainly bought in sequence and are collections as a result, but not for the joy of ownership in the true book collectors’ way, more for as a result of where the tale will take the reader. Though it is true that some readers go on to read everything by an author.

Philip Pullman has of course sold his Dark Materials trilogy in various editions, along with the additional small ‘Lyra’ volumes. Some of the editions are illustrated wonderfully by John Lawrence, which makes another positive point for me when discussing the books. Design and illustrations matter.

Other authors are collected, not because of their series, but because their books are just plain good. I know that if I read a Kevin Brooks title, it will be brilliant, though possibly not as good as the first I ever read; Black Rabbit Summer, which is frankly superb.

John Lawrence also recently illustrated an edition of Treasure Island.  His pictures really suit the book and are brilliantly atmospheric. I often sell that with the comment that everyone should have their own copy of Treasure Island, and why not a copy with the best illustrations available?

There is an immense pleasure in meeting & speaking to their authors and to treasure the books that they have signed for you. They become very precious and valued for that reason. I remember once meeting Chris Riddell when he came and was signing and doing requested drawings in ‘his’ edition of Don Quixote – I asked him if he would be kind enough to draw a lion in one of the books for me – a perfect sketch he did in a matter of seconds – and the book is now carefully preserved on my shelf.

A signed book and bought without the author being present is good, but to meet them in the flesh is remarkably pleasing.

The secondary search for books signed by authors by fans has driven the prices ever higher for those found in the second-hand market. Sadly it has resulted in extortionate prices being asked for signed books that were sold the previous week at the retail recommended price. Which can mean that a true fan cannot afford to purchase one. I suppose it is market forces and that value is as always relative.

There is an added embellishment to this. Authors are asked to ‘sign, line and date’ books, in the belief that this will add value. Why the inscription of the first line should increase a book’s value is a strange belief. I haven’t looked into this and whether one just signed is less valuable than one with the first line and the date of the inscription is more valuable. I can’t really believe it does.

Non-fiction books are not so often collected, however one is purchased regularly in Harrods because of its design and beauty. Zoo-ology by Joelle Jolivet is a large format book with glorious illustrations of animals in it. The notes in the back are full of interesting facts and the whole thing is a fantastic volume.

Smaller reference and activity books are collected mainly by boys: The Horrible History Series, the I Spy books and more recently the Where’s Wally? books along with books attached to films, but these seem to be short term and not kept and loved in quite the same way.

Other books that are purchased to be collected include the wonderful pop-up volumes especially in the last few years the Mathew Reinhart & Robert Sabuda books. Their special editions retail at £100 – and are probably worth the money if you are hoping to make a profit at a later stage. Though it seems most people, just want to buy them, because they are so fantastic, and the specials are limited, signed and have an extra pop-up.

Some are mechanically not so inventive, and really are really little more complex tab books. Oliver Jeffers’ pop-up of The Incredible Book-Eating Boy mentioned above, and Mini Grey’s illustrated volume of Hilaire Belloc’s Jim are examples that come to mind.

The page where Belloc narrates:

Now, just imagine how it feels

When first your toes and then your heels,

And then by gradual degrees,

Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,

Are slowly eaten, bit-by-bit.

No wonder Jim detested it!

is illustrated with a drop down flap, which for some reason really makes this passage come alive in all its gory detail. Flap books often become a sort of lesser pop-up enjoyed no less because of the simplicity of their design and are collected and loved just as much as the more complicated and visually astonishing volumes.

Lastly, the only other type of books that I have collected (and sold with great success and pleasure) are those with sound – Maurice Pledger’s Sounds of the Wilds series, are landscape pop-ups with alternate pages of information and pop-ups. The recordings are accurate; owls hoot, whales call along with other diverse creatures’ noises with superb clarity.

The other noisy book I have is Eric Carle’s Very Quiet Cricket. As always with Eric Carle, it is superbly illustrated, and has in addition a lovely noisy end.

Most of noisy books now have a facility to change the battery, a vast improvement on the old designs.

Good book design for children is as essential as it is for adults. The Biggles books (W.E. Johns) are wonderful, full of adventure and facts. They fall down because the text is small and printed in a small block on a small page, without good-sized margins. This can and does put off potential lovers of these and it can be difficult for me to sell them. Especially to those boys who aren’t interested or need lines well spaced for easier reading.

(James Holland’s two Duty Calls volumes can often be offered in place of Biggles, along with Dan Smith’s My Friend the Enemy – both authors have been published in good-sized paperbacks and their stories are full of drama and adrenaline and are avidly consumed by small boys.)

The well-printed page, properly set out with margins that are adequate if not good, along with good paper make a difference. Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase are reproduced from an edition that had been, I think over inked, with the result that the text is almost blotchy and the pictures are obviously missing a lot of the detail. Children learn to appreciate good design if it is given to them. Chris Riddell’s Ottoline books (and now Goth Girl) sell essentially because of their superb illustrations and the design of the books. They are small hardbacks, with bright covers with Chris’ illustrations on the cover and have a gold or silver embellishment along the hinge of the spine.  What more could you want?

A book should not come apart in a child’s hands. I was once given a copy of a book about the Magic Roundabout and was greatly disappointed to have it fall apart in my hands. If glue must be used, it really must be strong enough to hold a book together, but be supple enough for the pages to turn; otherwise letters to publishers from unhappy young customers are the result.

Dad, of course spent some time in pulling the book together again and so the publisher’s offer to mend the book was superfluous. Anyway it was much too late.

Many years ago he gave me two tips amongst the many others parents give their children.  These two though, I have followed and may be of interest to those potential and even already addicted collectors.

When buying books or Netsuke, or anything else that is likely involve a good amount of money, mentally think about what you would be happy to give before you put your hands on it and find out the price. That way you don’t buy from immediate emotion, and later regret it. His last piece of advice about this was – Always buy for the pleasure it gives you now, not for the monetary value it may have in the future.

Finally there are a couple of books I would like to purchase, but haven’t yet, as it seems an indication of even further collapse into the book of addiction. Two lift-the-flap books published by Usborne for younger children (I really do feel that I am possibly too old for these) Castles and my favourite Pirates. These have buttons that correspond to pictures and flaps in the books.

One button shows a small graphic of a pirate firing two hand pistols, and really cannot be beaten.

Press it and there are a couple of loud bangs, followed by a very brief pause and than a satisfying, clear, loud and very positive cry of agony.

June 2013

Pakka is now nearly ten years old and still demands a walk first thing in the morning. I suppose our relationship is a little different from the usual cat and owner bond. From her earliest days going out I have walked with her, and now we walk together almost daily – usually very early (to avoid dogs) and return home about an hour later. That is unless I am on an early shift for work, when the walk might be shorter, or giImageven up altogether.

She doesn’t walk on a lead, and would be most annoyed should I attempt to restrict her movements. Should I stop for any reason, she will halt too, and will sometimes sit down to wait for me. Other times I will wait for her as she investigates the long grass, tall trees, rabbit holes, foxes, or the bramble bushes on the common.

She will come if I call or ring a small falconry bell I have, when I return from work in the evening and she is out – often running up the garden. She will call if she needs me to wait for her when we are out together, and will use me as a lookout post; running up my legs and torso to stand on my shoulders to gaze out over the common. She is a cat with attitude. She is a hunter, as all cats are, and she will often bring home small creatures and release them. Over the years I have spent many hours moving furniture around the house to enable me to recapture and then release something small and furry or feathery, back onto the common or the riverbank. She chases foxes, other cats and dogs, when she can, which can be an embarrassment, but on the whole we understand each other.

In the daytime she can go in and out as she pleases, however at night I keep her in; for her safety and also to ensure that she doesn’t hunt through the night.

I work for a large book chain and spend a large amount of my time selling books to children. Usually I sell them to young people between the ages of five and twelve and thirteen – for younger customers I usually deal with their parents, and many older customers have clear ideas about what they need and don’t feel the need to have advice of any sort. Not to say that doesn’t happen, however it is more rare.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of persuading someone to read, especially if they have been brought into the store and the comment has been made that he or she ‘doesn’t read’ – an assertion made almost always with a finality; that they never will.

I’m afraid that I often dispute that and will often ask the ‘responsible adult’ who has come in with them to go and shop in the adult end of the store, while I talk to the young boy or girl who has come in.

Part of the success I have with this is that I read the books and so I’m able to give more enthusiasm to the review of the book I am suggesting. There is nothing worse than being told baldly that

‘It’s a very good book. I loved it when I was a child…’

That means very little…and I enjoy introducing good books that I love to my young friends in the store – and it is really like introducing two friends of mine who don’t know one another, one is a young boy or girl and the other, just happens to be an extremely good book.

This blog will I hope be about Pakka and our lives living together and about books too. Some of which may be antiquarian (or at least second hand) and others will be modern, usually children’s books.

Every month I try to go to the PBFA (Provincial Book Fair Association) book fair at the National Hotel, near Russell Square with my father – he collects privately printed books, whilst I collect falconry volumes when I can afford them, books on natural history and of course books written and illustrated for children.

The June PBFA book fair was much more busy than usual and we had to wait to get close to the stalls, but other than that it was a very good fair.

Years ago I acquired through a friend of Dad’s a copy of The Mirror of Hawks – loose from its boards; it is a Japanese volume originally published in 1870, or there about, with wonderful wood engravings of falconry. I had my copy rebound and have kept it safe ever since.

Then a few years later, I came across a photocopy of the book, in green boards and purchased it at the fair for a very reasonable price; it is still inscribed with what I paid, under £10.00 – so a double enjoyment over a lovely falconry book.

In the June fair, I came across the photocopied book – marked at £50, and then the original, as mine, at £100 – quite astonishing – and to find both at the fair was really very odd indeed.

I sell copies of Ferdinand the Bull (Leaf) at work for about £6.50 and found yesterday a copy (its true a hardback first edition) marked at £400 – it was in mint condition and was published, I think in 1935/6 – but it still seemed a lot when compared to 12 volumes of a natural history series, complete in brown leather that I fell in love with

–        Ward, Samuel: A modern System of Natural History. Containing accurate descriptions and faithful histories of animals, vegetables, and minerals. Together with their Properties and Various uses in medicine mechanics and manufacture etc. 1775-6


£75 for each volume in comparison with £400 seems quite reasonable…and it was another 160 years older. The wood engravings were lovely and the text was inaccurate, but full of certainty…gorgeous.

Still I left it with the bookseller to go back to Suffolk. Looking on Via Libri our Internet site we use for books, I find the volumes sold separately ranging from £12 each through to around £60…so maybe it was a reasonable set.

More successfully I recently received a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk from Bloomsbury via work. I was particularly chuffed that it is signed both by the author and the illustrator – Chris Riddell, which made up a little for my missing out on Samuel Ward’s set of books. It is a fun book – particularly for those young readers whose father lies to them regularly – as mine has done. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are as usual superb.

On an early morning walk recently the morning was cold, windy and grey – clouds making the sky darker than it might have been at four in the morning. Pakka spent some time bouncing around in the long grass and sticking her head down rabbit holes. She then bolted to her favourite tree, which is enormous, though I have never found out its type, however, it has a good selection of branches that go up from about ten foot at regular intervals and she loves to go up and up and call when she is really small, looking down on me beneath. Usually she scrambles down to the lowest branch and then leaps to my shoulder.

On that morning she came down to that branch and then got the wind in her tail and leapt onto a branch that is about 3 foot in length that sticks almost vertically up from the join of the bottom branch and stops abruptly – I think it once had some tree surgery done on it rather badly.

She missed the top, did a spectacular spin in the air over her back and was about to come crashing down the trunk, when she saved herself by sticking all her claws out and halted. Hanging down the short branch, back to the bark, attached mainly by her front claws. She managed to scramble back up onto the stump and then dropped down onto the branch below, where she had a quick wash.

At that point I insisted she return home with me and we walked back, she with her tail in the air and behaving as though nothing untoward had happened at all…

I hope to write an entry once a month, more if I can – so I hope to have another episode for you in July.