‘Where is Patrick Spotter?’ The Japanese customer looked somewhat annoyed. She had been told that the staff of Heffers Children’s Bookshop in Cambridge were so knowledgeable that they could help with tracking down any book, even if the visitor didn’t know the title or author. We looked at each other in dismay. Was this an author we didn’t know? Then our manager appeared and courteously offered to take the lady round the shop: the first shelf they reached was Young Classics. ‘There!’ shouted the Japanese lady triumphantly. ‘Oh, Beatrix Potter!’ we smiled. She smiled; our reputation was intact and calm returned.
In fact, the atmosphere was usually calm – not unlike that of a public library. Young mothers would come in with their pushchairs, and could frequently be seen curled up on a large cushion in a corner, reading to the pushchair’s occupant. We had an entire room devoted to books for young children with close to 1,000 titles to choose from: multiples of Peter Rabbit and friends, Winnie-the-Pooh in several languages, the Thomas the Tank Engine series, and the wonderful Jolly Postman books by the Ahlbergs. There was a whole bank of board books for tiny fingers, a huge stand of floppy picture books, shelves of pop-ups, poetry and nursery rhymes, tubs of plastic bath books, and a pile of giant picture books that could be opened out flat and crawled over.
It was immensely satisfying to solve other, sometimes arcane conundrums: ‘It’s about three animals going on a trek’ (The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford); ‘A soft toy that was lost, then found again – it has lovely, old-fashioned pictures’ (Dogger, by Shirley Hughes); ‘A teddy bear with a button missing’ (Corduroy, by Don Freeman, a real tearjerker). We knew them because we had read them and loved them, and because they were still in print after many years.
There do seem to be an unconscionable number of bears in books for child
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