Independent bookshops have been able to make “huge” improvements thanks to writer James Patterson’s “generous” and “forward-thinking” initiative which has awarded more than £500,000 in grants to some 272 indie retailers.
Patterson (pictured with some of the grant recipients) was recently presented with the Booksellers Association Outstanding Contribution to the Book Trade Award by BA chief executive Tim Godfray at the British Book Industry Awards for his work in “bringing attention to the important contributions of independent bookshops” and “inspiring children to become lifelong readers”.
His grants have enabled indie bookshops to engage with customers and promote reading in a variety of ways. A grant awarded to The Book Fayre in Lincolnshire enabled it to purchase carpet tiles and cushions for children to “relax and enjoy reading” on, and also to run “lively, mad” interactive toddler reading sessions with a local theatre company. Kathryn Fairs, director of the shop, told The Bookseller: “Patterson should be applauded for such a forward-thinking initiative. It has been an immense privilege to be involved with this scheme, and it has enabled us to feature in the local press and TV, all of which has been invaluable to promote the shop and, more importantly, to engage with our littlest readers.”
Fairs added that the grant helped the shop become more involved with the local community. “We live in a rural area with little and infrequent public transport, so our toddler reading sessions have been enthusiastically attended,” she said. “We have noticed that the children have become totally engaged with books and associate reading with fun rather than a perceived chore.”
Peter Donaldson, owner of Red Lion Books in Colchester, was among the booksellers who recently attended a celebratory reception with the author. He said: “Hearing Patterson [speak at the reception], it was clear that he is committed to doing what he can to keep books and reading firmly in the lives of children because he knows the part they can play in giving a bright future to youngsters. His amazing generosity has made a real difference to hundreds of bookshops, both in the US and here in the UK.”
Two Patterson grants have made a “huge difference” to the shop’s children’s section, which has a new brand identity, The Little Red Lion Children’s Bookshop (right). Donaldson added: “What has been interesting is that, as these projects have gone ahead, it has lifted not just the children’s area but the whole shop. To be able to make improvements that we have wanted to do for a long time, but have found hard to justify the expense of, is wonderful. It has lifted the morale of everyone involved in the shop.”
Wenlock Books in Shropshire has used the grant money to run a poetry summer school and a variety of events. Anna Dreda, owner of the shop, said her team was “delighted” to be awarded the money and that the initiative was a “really positive practical approach to supporting indie bookshops”. She added: “We were so thrilled. The money has enabled us to develop work we had already started, but instead of having to ask for favours, we were able to be professional, offering fees, and getting the very best for our children’s groups.” She added that the money had made a “huge” difference to the shop’s ability to reach children and encourage them to read, with the shop able to extend its outreach and properly resource its activities as a result.
Janet Stewart, manager of Gerrards Cross Bookshop, agreed that the initiative has made a “significant” difference to bookshops and their ability to better cater for children: “[Patterson’s] generosity and passion for children’s literacy and reading for enjoyment has made a big difference to a great many children. As recipients of his generosity, we feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to spread the love of books and reading.”
Stewart and her team used the money to take authors into schools where the children “have very few possessions of their own” and, with added support from publishers, gave each child in the school a book to take home. Author Mo O’Hara spent a day at one of the shop’s local schools, “enthralling” pupils with her presentation and then personalising 200 books.
The shop is also developing its children’s section by moving it from the back of the store to the front and creating a “light, bright” area in which to host story-times. Stewart added: “We recently entertained two Year One classes of 30 for a very lively, raucous story-time, something we could not have done before the grant was awarded.
“The money has made a significant difference to all those children we’ve been able to reach with the benefit of the grant, and I’m sure the effects will continue It’s a big ‘Thank you’ from us for helping us to spread our passion and love of reading to those whose circumstances are such that books have not been a part of their lives.”