An independent children’s book specialist with shops in Catford and Herne Hill fought off competition from big chains to claim an award earlier this month, writes Alexandra Causer.
Moon Lane Books was crowned Book Retailer of the Year 2021, the first time in the history of The British Book Awards that an independent and children’s book specialist was named Britain’s top bookseller.
Moon Lane Group founder and ex-teacher Tamara Macfarlane, 48, from Lewisham said: “I couldn’t believe it when we won, I was really taken aback.
“I’m so grateful the judges on the panel recognised our work towards equality in children’s books, and that it wasn’t just about how many books have been sold but how they were being sold and who was benefiting from the work going on.
“Creating a rich market and going out to engage with readers in any way possible is exactly what the whole industry needs to be doing, if only for its own for its own survival.”
Mrs MacFarlane founded the Moon Lane Group after having her daughter and struggling to find book shops that solely celebrated children’s books.
She said: “I came at it with my knowledge as a teacher of the barriers between a lot of children and reading in terms of representation. For example, the need for a more diverse range of female role models. It had all become a bit ‘chasing kittens’ and having to be saved by boys.
“I also became increasingly angry about the lack of diversity and representation in there, as most of the students I was teaching just weren’t seeing themselves reflected in the books used in the classroom.”
Statistics from a Centre for Literacy in Primary Education study in 2017 showed that 73 per cent of the school age population in Lewisham are from underrepresented groups, yet less than one per cent of lead characters in children’s books published at this time were from these groups.
Mrs MacFarlane’s business partner Paul Chin, 67, from East Dulwich said: “Having come to England from Jamaica as a young child, I grew up very aware of being unable to see myself in any of the books that we had at my schools or in the library.
“The literature of any given culture shapes the narratives and opinions of the people within it, and to not see a broad range of cultures and experiences reflected in a positive way within the UK’s dominant cultural conversation has allowed stereotypes to thrive, limiting both empathy and social mobility.
“Winning the highest retail award within the book retail industry is a mark of validation, both for the power of innovation within small independent businesses, but also vital recognition of the role that Moon Lane is playing in actively creating clear routes to market for books written and illustrated by people from communities currently under-represented in children’s books.”
Mrs MacFarlane also praised the work of celebrities like footballer Marcus Rashford, whose promotion of reading helps to engage with different audiences of children.
She said: “Whatever is going to get children into books needs to be happening in lots of different directions and that’s what we’re fighting for.
“The whole Moon Lane team works incredibly hard, my business partner Paul Chin is a core part of all of it, and Nicci Rosengarten’s creations of Moon Lane TV and Hip Hop Love Books played a massive part in the award going to us, so it was a big team effort.”
The next Moon Lane event taking place across all three UK book shops will be their Non-Fiction Festival of Fun in the October half-term.
Customers can also visit their shops or check the Moon Lane website and social media accounts for online fun such as celebrity story times, author readings, illustrator draw-alongs and book reviews: https://www.moonlaneink.co.uk/.
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