Express & Star

How a bookshop owner is helping children to develop a love of reading

Helping youngsters to develop a lasting enjoyment of reading, a love of learning and a sense of wonder is the aim of children’s bookshop owner Jenny McCann.

Former English teacher Jenny McCann outside her bookshop in Bearwood

Three years ago, the former English teacher fulfilled a long-held ambition when she opened Bear Bookshop in Bearwood.

“I always say there are two types of English teachers – those who want to open bookshop and those who want to write a novel. It was my dream to open a bookshop,” says the 42-year-old.

“I was on maternity leave with my third child and I had the space to think about it a bit more.

“I thought it would be great to have a bookshop in Bearwood, there are so many children and schools. Once the idea was in my head, it wouldn’t go away.”

Jenny spoke to other independent business owners for advice and it wasn’t long before she found her ideal premises. The unit in Bearwood Road, which had been empty for a while, immediately caught her eye because of the steps in the centre of the shop floor.

“I would walk past and through the window I could see these steps.

“I could picture doing storytime on the steps. I didn’t look at any other units.

“I knew I wanted to be close to the park and the cafes. It had to be this one,” explains Jenny.

Now storytime takes place at 10.30am every morning on those same steps as well as musical storytime every Friday featuring songs and stories that are perfect for babies and toddlers.

A typical day at Bear Bookshop will start with Jenny setting up the ‘tuff tray’, a themed play area for children.

She will then respond to emails, plan and organise events and liaise with suppliers.

Jenny, whose team includes two part-time members of staff and a volunteer, also spends time researching new children’s book releases to stock her shelves.

Jenny loves choosing the books to stock on her shelves

She loves seeking out books that are a little bit different to what you might find in a chain store, especially books that customers may not have seen or heard about before.

“I love sourcing the books. I talk to book reps, I go by what’s popular or has a buzz around it and I look at reviews and recommendations.

“I have got to know authors’ work so I know that if they bring a new book out, it’s one I want to sell. I look for the best stories and the stories that children can learn the most from. Every children’s book in the shop is a book that I would give to my own children,” she tells Weekend.

She believes independent bookshops provide a personal touch that customers will not find online.

“We can make proper recommendations, because we know all of our books and we get to know our customers and what they like and what they don’t like.

“I also have experience in education and know how important it is for children to develop a habit of reading for pleasure.”

It was important that as well as being a shop where families could browse the shelves for a new favourite book, it was also a welcoming place where they could spend time together.

“I always wanted it to be a welcoming place for children, there’s lots of things for children to do.

“It’s a nice place for children to spend time. I’m a mum of three, I know how hard it is to find places that are welcoming to young children. I’m pleased to be able to provide that space because I think it’s needed,” explains Jenny.

There is a stay and play session every Monday

She is also passionate about ensuring the bookshop is accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial situation.

“People were so excited to have a bookshop but it’s harder now because people’s budgets are lot more squeezed. It’s important that bookshops are available to everyone,” says Jenny, who also sells books for adults.

For Jenny, running her own business has been a learning curve but also a rewarding experience. “It’s not unusual for one or more of my children to be in the shop but that’s what I was thinking it would be like when I wanted to make that change from teaching to having my own business. It’s not any less work but I do have that flexibility.

“I had no retail or business experience. It’s harder than I expected but that might have been me being a bit naive but I think it’s a really hard time to be running a small retail business.

“I’m proud to be part of the community in Bearwood and I’m proud of the community I’ve built around the bookshop,” she explains.

Upcoming events at Bear Bookshop include a visit today (December 2) at 10.30am by author/illustrator team Joey Walter and Ning-Ning Li, who will be reading their new festive story, The Great Christmas Moon Cat and on December 16, at 10.30am, there will be a musical story featuring a string quartet and the classic tale, The Nutcracker.

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