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Our bookshop of the month is the very special Norfolk Children’s Book Centre run by Marilyn Brocklehurst, former librarian turned bookshop owner. We were first introduced to them when we attended this year’s UKLA Awards in Cardiff as they powered the bookshop there. We are featuring this highly thought of and completely unique bookshop to complement our updated Lovereading4kids site which will shortly be revealed. I haven’t visited the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre yet, however as well as gathering a rather large TBR (to be read) pile, I am now gathering a BTV (bookshops to visit) list, and this will undoubtedly be at the top.
Our bookshop came about completely by accident!
In 1978 I moved from working in branch children’s libraries in London Boroughs to Norfolk with my husband. I became Children’s and Schools’ Librarian in beautiful Norwich and had a wonderful time working in the Central Library, in branch libraries and in schools. Librarianship suited me so well - sharing enthusiasm for children’s books with children and parents, and supporting teachers as they encouraged children on their reading journey.
A spell of maternity leave in 1984 suddenly found me at home in rural North Norfolk meeting new parents who were eager to discover the importance of reading aloud to their children. They appreciated the range of wonderful books I began to introduce them to.
Coincidentally a librarian friend had been in touch. She had created a little children’s bookshop in an out-house of her farmhouse and after three or four years she was wanting to return to work. She was a college librarian - not a children’s librarian - and suggested that my passion for supporting young readers might benefit from having some books available. How could I refuse!
Four boxes of books and a van was all that I acquired, but my husband's observation ‘you’ll never stop at four boxes’ proved correct and within weeks a spare room was full, piles were accruing all over the house and I was having such fun!
Within months word had got round and teachers were calling in! Finally my wonderful husband took matters into his own hands and suggested that we build a proper bookshop in the garden. So we did! By 1986 we were open to the public and our reputation had spread. Despite being situated down a track with grass growing down the middle we were sought out by enthusiasts who are even to this day visiting us, but now with their grandchildren!
Currently we have a team of nine enthusiasts working with us, some of whom have been with me since the beginning. We travel across the country supporting conferences, and since the demise of many Schools’ Library Services I am called upon by schools needing libraries installing or reinvigorating. We provide bookfairs for Norfolk Schools, as well as advice and guidance for children, parents and teachers. We have a stock of around 60,000 children’s books. Every visitor is personally welcomed and offered refreshments and any support they need.
Unique, welcoming, addictive!
Over the years we have seen many reinventions of the curriculum, marvelling as teachers take each change of direction in their stride. We have seen the threat of e-readers and kindles subside as children turn their back on reading gadgets. We have seen publishers producing more beautiful books, emphasising the delight to be found in handling books, and discovering wonders within the pages
It’s not just the welcoming and knowledgeable bookshop team that makes us special. We recognise the importance of back-list titles and ensure the range on our shelves includes a wide range of old favourites as well as new titles. Thanks to my husband’s interest in renewable energy the bookshop is powered almost completely by solar energy and we have won an award for being ‘green'.
My favourite part of the bookshop is the decoration. The walls are covered with messages from authors who have visited over the years. Michael Foreman, Tony Ross, Nicholas Allan, Chris Riddell, and many others have provided illustrations, while Susan Cooper, Brian Jacques, Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Andy Stanton, Anthony Horowitz, William Nicholson and many others have written messages. My absolute favourite is a pair of horses frisking over the doorway, one drawn by K. M. Peyton and the other by Meg Rosoff after a spectacular joint author event on pony stories!
When I’m away from home I always try to drop into any independent bookshops I’m passing - it’s good to keep up with like-minded enthusiasts! I also enjoy visiting chaotic second hand bookshops, and spend many hours delving through collections, especially looking for wonderful old children’s books. If I’m on holiday I love a random collection of discarded books on a hotel bookshelf - discoveries might be classic texts, biographies of long forgotten celebrities/sportsmen/politicians, and often some of those books I always meant to read over the years. That’s the secret about books. They are full of delectable surprises.
We love to show our visitors books they might not otherwise have seen - beautiful books like Jackie Morris’s and Robert MacFarlane’s Lost Words, or Nicola Davies and Petr Horacek’s wonderful First Book of Animals. Children also need introducing to brilliant authors like Piers Torday, Katherine Rundell, S. F. Said and many more they may not have come across. It’s a real delight to introduce an eight year old to Andy Stanton’s ridiculous Mr Gum series for the first time.
How to find us! We are in a field between Aylsham and Cromer, just off the A140 in North Norfolk. Our post-code - NR11 7HB - is unique to us, so thank goodness for sat-navs!