Letterbox Library turned 29 this year. An independent children’s bookseller, a workers’ cooperative (in this, the International Year of Cooperatives) and a not-for-profit social enterprise, our survival is something to shout about.
When people ask what Letterbox Library does, we can simply say we are a children’s booksellers but this really doesn’t begin to describe what we do. It would be more accurate to say that we are a specialist children’s book selector. We exist to research, source and provide children’s books which reflect the diverse world we live in– in other words we seek out books which allow children to see themselves and which encourage them to explore & respect lives and worlds ‘different’ from their own.
Back in 1983, Letterbox Library specialised in anti-sexist and multicultural books; 2 single mums ran the co-op from a front room in Hackney with a little catalogue listing all of 16 books! Now, Letterbox Library has evolved and matured into a book selector with a website and catalogue of over 400 titles. We do all we can to ensure that our collection, as much as possible, shows children the incredible diversity of our local and global communities in terms of race, ethnicity, faith, ability, family background and so on.
We also specialise in hard-to-find issue-led titles, such as bereavement, family breakdown, bullying. Just as importantly, we are also passionate about resisting commercial trends; we want instead to offer children real choices in what they read. We have to stay flexible: our communities are forever changing and teachers, parents and carers often phone us with new needs and requests which we try to fill.
We’re delighted to have been invited by Tamarind to blog here. From their earliest days Tamarind have been publishers after our own heart: from their representations of children -who just happen to be Black- enjoying first experiences (losing a first tooth, feeding the ducks!) to their bright contemporary portrayals of Black UK heroes to admire and emulate. Their list is pretty unbeatable and we have happily stocked almost every one of their titles.
It is the work and values of publishers such as Tamarind- and the passion of people such as ourselves- which are starting to change the landscape of UK publishing. Books do now show a world which is a little closer to the world our children actually live in- but there is still some way to go before the choices are as rich as they could be. We need many more books, both realist and fantasy, which just happen to have disabled or BME (Black Minority Ethnic) characters as the stars; we need a few less fairies & knights and many more titles which show girls and boys living beyond the very limiting gender roles society decrees; we need many more lesbian and gay portrayals pitched at primary ages and beyond to counteract the terrible realities of homophobic bullying in schools; we need fewer fiction titles showing ‘Africa’ as a single continent in a perpetual spiral of civil war & famine and rather more titles describing contemporary, complex, even happy (!) lives in specific African countries…
For now, the journey goes on- there are still so many gaps to fill, so many lives to represent, still so many stereotypes to fall by the wayside. When we are further down that road, when children and the adults who take care of them feel we are much further down that road- then, and only then, will Letterbox Library close its business, with a smile!
Follow Letterbox Libraries on Twitter @Letterboxlib
Check out their website – http://www.letterboxlibrary.com/
On Monday we welcomed Michael Williams to Tamarind HQ. The author of Now is the Time for Running is in the UK to celebrate the publication of his book. Here are a few snapshots of his time with us.
During his visit, Michael gave a wonderful speech. He spoke about his life-long ambition to have a book published in the UK. We’re thrilled that we helped him to achieve this goal!
Michael is also here to work on the Cape Town Opera’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. As well as being an author, Michael is the Managing Director of the Cape Town Opera in South Africa. He’s a very busy man indeed! Tonight, members of the Tamarind and Random House Children’s Publishers teams will be watching the production of Porgy and Bess at the London Coliseum with Michael. There will be pictures and news to follow!