By Chioma Ince
Bookshops, especially independent bookshops, are agents of community activism. They act as hubs where people can find solace, joy and reassurance. To some, bookshops are a safe space you can go to when you are feeling lonely, lost or upset. To others, they are a gateway to a world of adventure. To me, bookshops are nurturing spaces for happiness, since reading to me is an act of self-care.
This is why I believe places like Roundtable Books and Moon Lane Ink are important in creating loving, accessible and inviting homes for children. They are spaces where families can feel comfortable and confident while finding the perfect book to enjoy together.
A trip to Moon Lane Ink
Earlier this year, the Pathways mentees had the pleasure of attending the Retail Perspectives Professional Development Day where we learned about the current sales landscape of the children’s publishing industry. The day was kick-started by Meryl Halls, managing director at the Booksellers Association (BA). Meryl told us about the wonderful history and work the BA has continued to do for the past 125 years. We then had the chance to sit down and hear from independent bookshops such as Village Books and Pickled Pepper Books.
During the course of the day, we took a trip to Moon Lane Ink. The visit was a treat for my eyes, heart and mind. After walking across the zebra crossing at Stanstead Road, we entered a cosy and beautifully curated shop. We were given the freedom to explore every corner of the store. This small space with bright blue walls was overflowing with Pathways mentees excitedly rustling through an incredible collection of books.
As I looked through Moon Lane Ink’s book collection, I felt seen and heard. I was thrilled to see the burst of representation filling the shelves. Of course I couldn’t help but buy a few books – Jamela’s Dress by Niki Daly and Indian Tales a Barefoot Collection by Shenaaz Nanji and Christopher Corr.
Jamela’s Dress by Niki Daly and Indian Tales: A Barefoot Collection by Shenaaz Nanji and Christopher Corr
Every story belongs in a bookshelf
During the visit, I struck up a conversation with Meera, the store manager. Chatting to her made me feel deeply inspired. I learnt that as a bookshop, Moon Lane Ink believed that it is important to understand and represent the community it served. This idea resonated with me.
I believe that we all benefit from reading about the experiences of people and communities other than our own – that is how we become global citizens. However, many children’s books that feature or are narrated by BAME characters fail to understand that representation is not about unique race narratives.
It is about letting people be diverse in their narratives. Sadly, many children’s books today silence and alienate the experience of BAME readers. Instead of normalising our realities, we often find the same old racialised visual and linguistic stereotypes playing out in print.
Instead, I want to see more stories like Zanib Mian’s Planet Omar that don’t treat BAME characters like they are trapped by the stigmas and oppressive classification of their race.
Books that matter: broadening perspectives and normalising presence
Following the Retail Perspectives session, we dove into the Representing Diversity Professional Development Day. This was held at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), led by CLPE’s Farrah Sarroukh and Indigo Williams from Book Trust.
Over the course of the day, we discussed the value of reflecting realities in children’s literature and the importance of ensuring all children can see themselves in the curriculum. Farrah and Indigo’s empowering words reminded me how essential an illustrator’s role is in ensuring all children can see themselves in the books they read. I learned that activism can be found and carried out in many ways.
During the day at CLPE we were all invited to put our mark on the walls at CLPE, alongside acclaimed authors and illustrators. Here’s a picture of my colourful mark (in pink and blue), sitting right next to drawings by the amazing Dapo Adeola and Sarah Mclntyre.
Learning just how white and racially segregated the landscape of publishing and children’s literature is was disheartening at first. Yet, it evoked a passion in me to join the fight to make the stories we read more inclusive. “Activism in children’s books” is a phrase I didn’t know about before the first two Pathways Professional Development Days, but it has become something I hold at the heart of my work and strive to champion – whether it is through my work as an illustrator, or as a supporter of an independent bookshop.
Chioma Ince is a freelance Illustrator from South London who is interested in exploring themes of politics, identity and most importantly creating and bringing to life vibrant and playful narratives. Having recently graduated from The Glasgow School of Art, Chioma continues to expand the use of collage in her practice. She enjoys the interdisciplinary element of design and is currently exploring new creative modes of communication and storytelling.
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