A new online bookshop specialising in children’s titles with BAME characters has launched.
The shop, called Happy To B ME, was set up by Katie Wells, who was “frustrated” by her difficulties in finding representative books for her own children.
“We realised that, particularly in the UK, there was very little provision within bookshops (be them physical or online) for children of colour to wade deep into bookshelves full of titles written and illustrated intentionally for and about them,” she said. “It is an amazing feeling and one everyone remembers when, as a child, you find stories which 'speak' to you. I wanted my children to have access to as many titles as possible, which would be likely to 'speak' to them - characters who resemble and would inspire them, stories they can relate to, and celebration of their heritage and culture - all in one place.”
Happy To B ME sells books for children and teenagers of all ages, from board books to YA, and stock includes fiction, non-fiction, colouring books and poetry.
Wells said some of her favourite titles in the shop are The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin USA) and Mixed by Arree Chung (Macmillan Children's Books), and she is looking forward to Yuyi Morales’ Dreamers (Holiday House Inc), which is out in January. Publishers still need to do more, however, to produce books with BAME characters where the story is not focused around the fact they are BAME, she said.
“Often when characters are BAME, a story seems to focus around hair, skin, acceptance, difference. This is entirely appropriate and these books have an established place on our bookshelf, but what we see little of are genuine storybooks which just 'happen' to have a BAME main character. I think there is great opportunity for normalising BAME characters within fiction, which would give an important message to BAME and non-BAME readers about the value of everyone.”
Happy To B ME launched this month and so far the feedback has been “fantastic” from customers and publishers, said Wells, who is planning on branching out into selling titles at literary festivals and events. “We are very open to feedback and ideas as to where we need to go next. We really want the bookshop to act as a resource to meet a need. So if we haven’t quite met the need or the need changes, we will do.”
Wells is running the shop with her husband. She also works part-time at Bookollective, a creative agency that offers authors and editors help with publicity, marketing, editing and cover design.