Jennifer Robson: Bookstores as part of children’s memories

Earlier this week I had the honour of making an appearance at Munro’s Books in Victoria, which is one of the most welcoming and beautiful independent bookstores I’ve ever visited. My son was with me for the West Coast leg of my book tour, and since we were a few minutes early for my talk at Munro’s I set him loose in the children’s section. It’s no exaggeration to say that he was utterly entranced. As I watched him—to be honest, it was a welcome diversion from some mild stage fright I was experiencing—I suddenly  remembered my own magical visit to a bookstore when I was only a little younger than my son is now.

In 1976 my family was living in Oxford, England, while my father was on sabbatical from his teaching position at Trent University. That Christmas, my sister was given a pop-up edition of Puss in Boots, with so many flaps and fold-out scenes that it required ribbon ties to keep it shut. As I was nearly seven, her elder by two years, I was instead given a book voucher from Blackwell’s Children’s Bookshop. To my parents’ consternation I burst into tears at the sight of it. Why had I only been given a piece of paper when Katie had received what was clearly the best book ever?

My mother patiently explained that the voucher would allow me to go to the shop and pick out any book I wanted, but I wasn’t sold on the idea. It was only when she took me to Blackwell’s after the holidays, and I was set loose in the shop, that I realized what a splendid gift I’d received. It took me ages to settle on my Christmas book: a children’s history of the world that I read and read and all but memorized.

Blackwell’s came into my life again when I returned to Oxford as a graduate student. It, together with innumerable smaller bookshops that line the side streets of town, was my haunt whenever I needed a break from the chilly quiet of the Bodleian’s reading rooms, and when I returned to Canada I needed an entire trunk to hold the books I’d bought.

When my husband and I moved to the west end of Toronto almost fifteen years ago, independent bookshops were becoming thin on the ground, and I began to wonder if my children would be destined to grow up in a neighbourhood barren of bookstores. But then, slowly and wonderfully, the tide began to turn. Today there are half a dozen independent bookstores only a walk or short drive away from my home, and my children know that while I will invariably refuse a visit to the candy emporium or toy store I will never say no to a trip to the nearest independent bookshop.

In this I know I’m not alone. I know there are many Canadians who cherish their local bookstores and want to see them thrive and grow. I know we want those bookstores to figure prominently in our children’s memories. This April 30, please join me in visiting your favourite independent bookstore—and if you have children in your life, please bring them, too. It’s never too early to teach them to love a visit to the bookshop.

(c) 2016 Jennifer Robson


Jennifer Robson is the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over, and Moonlight Over Paris.  She holds a doctorate from Antony's College, University of Oxford.  She lives in Toronto with her husband and their two children.Earlier this week I had the honour of making an appearance at Munro’s Books in Victoria, which is one of the most welcoming and beautiful independent bookstores I’ve ever visited.