This week's Bookshop Blurb has been written by headteacher and picturebook aficionado, Karl Duke. It's a beautiful piece about a children's bookshop that clearly plays an important role in Karl's life. He's definitely worth a follow on Twitter (@KarlDuke8) as he delivers a steady stream of fantastic book recommendations. Thank you Karl.
The Rabbit Hole
To reach a reading wonderland you really do need to visit The Rabbit Hole in the North Lincolnshire market town of Brigg. Hidden amongst its well-trodden streets, this shop of wonders nestles comfortably, like a Cheshire Cat on a tree branch, amongst the local shops and close to the old market square. And once discovered, its grin can be seen for miles.
Before entering you can feel your heart race, possibly like Alice felt before clambering into the rabbit hole. For any book lover you know that feeling of anticipation: it’s not catching the white rabbit that is your aim, but getting your hands on another quality book. Perhaps the racing heart is prompted by the many temptations that will face you, like a key on a three-legged table, a ‘drink-me’ miniature potion or a small ‘eat me’ cake that tempted Carroll’s heroine.
As a collector of children’s books those temptations are very hard to resist.
The windows display recent publications, thought provoking imagery linked to historical events or artwork produced by children. Falling further into The Rabbit Hole mirrors Alice’s fall. It is difficult to stop yourself at each shelf, at each display, at each section. Books swim around you, some close by, some out of reach for now, but in the end you land, gather yourself and are drawn to the bookshelves of dark wood cabinets and bookshelves embellished by words and illustrations from every corner of the globe. But, where to go first?
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.
“Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” was his response.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
Taking the Cheshire cat’s advice, you may start your adventure by drifting left to the picture book section which includes a wide range of books with a moral or message. This positioning is intentional; our proprietors are passionate about providing opportunities for children to learn about past and present struggles, about diversity and people overcoming adversity. There’s always a hidden gem in there – a book which will make adults and children reflect: a perfect assembly or worship book. It is what I call their Reflection Section.
Moving along, there’s a lovely range of books taking us back to our childhood, including board books for our first readers; for many this will be the start of their reading journey. There’s the traditional and the new but all aimed to enthral. The gallery of picture books then continues; it is here you may find modern classics by Shaun Tan, Aaron Becker or Jon Klassen.
Across the floor (about the length of a table suitable for a Mad-Hatter’s Tea party away) is a great selection of chapter books – distinctly lacking in celebrity, for which I give them great credit – and often promoting authors who support schools in the local area. Here, you may find a Tom Palmer, an Onjali Rauf or a Chris Riddell in amongst classic literature (you may even find one called Alice in Wonderland) and chapter books aimed at younger readers.
The Rabbit Hole’s non-fiction section continues to grow and grow, and the quality mirrors what many believe is a golden-age of writing and design in this genre; the temptation here is never less than great. Small independent publishers increasingly have a significant say in this section and the range stretches across an island display often concentrating on historical, geographical and scientific texts.
Climbing a couple of steps, you can get lost in the small but perfectly formed section of books for adults, decorated with framed illustrations from the novel which provides the shop’s inspiration. Amongst many well-known authors, there is a real emphasis on the promotion of local writers and this can be seen in many of the choices available.
Like a white rabbit you may sniff out the ‘once-loved’ room at the back of the shop. Here, you will find gems for children and grown-ups, all reasonably priced with a superb mix of the old, new and sometimes the very new. You almost need to be the size of a shrunken Alice to scramble through a gap under the stairs to find the children’s books, but that, in all honesty, is part of the fun for our young readers. And for this particular adult.
The final hidden surprise for any visitor is for those who love the sound of vinyl and music memorabilia. Take the time to climb the staircase above the ‘once-loved’ and emerge into a cavern of classics. Music is always playing providing the soundtrack to a slow peruse of records from the past.
The proprietor’s Nick and Mel have created a miniature emporium, a place that seems to change your mood as you step from the grey-paved street into its glowing warmth. The warmth not only comes from the design of the shop - the way that the bookshelves surround you and entice you in with their vibrant colour and positioning - but from Nick and Mel themselves. I have been lucky to develop a lovely friendship with them over the last couple of years and now, even when I venture in again for another browse, they greet yes, but allow time to wander and wonder; they know my habits now, they know I will spend time searching for the new or perhaps reconsider an option which I put to the side on a previous visit. I’ve witnessed first-hand their care for young children who are beginning their reading journey and have created reading groups to further engage and excite. I’ve observed their kindness and thought for the older generations who are looking for that particular read which will allow them to sink into the chair and explore.
Everyone is a special guest at their tea party.
A sign of a successful bookshop is one that makes you ‘curiouser and curiouser’ and, unlike the white rabbit who is always in a hurry, you are never in a rush to leave.
For me, that’s The Rabbit Hole.