In 2013 the much-loved Lion & Unicorn children’s bookshop in Richmond closed down. Opened by Roald Dahl in 1977, and with a host of famous authors and illustrators making appearances in the 30+ years that followed, it was a real pillar of its local community and one of the only specialist independent children’s bookshops in the UK. The staff there had an unparalleled knowledge of literature – from picture books to teen fiction – and were ready to make recommendations and inspire a life-long love of books in even the most reluctant reader. I remember going in there ever since I was small, poking around the different corners, and I felt genuinely depressed by the news of its demise.
But, maybe things aren’t so bad – the ex manager of TL&U has just opened a new children’s bookshop, The Alligator’s Mouth, down the road. I’ve got to say, I was a bit surprised by this – surely the crippling rents and competition from the internet, blamed for the death of the old shop, are still just as much a threat now – but here it is, smelling of fresh paint and packed full of an amazing amount of expertly-selected books.
No doubt you could find many of the titles cheaper online, but you never really know which books children will take a shine to until they start turning the pages. It’s a really cute little shop selling so much good stuff – rare and special editions, with whole sections dedicated to specific themes or authors – and you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else the kind of knowledge and advice that these passionate people can offer. Plus they say they can order most books into the shop for the next day, depending on availability.
I figure if Rough Trade can get people to buy records in Brick Lane, this shop can sell books in one of the most literate boroughs in the country. Apparently there are loads of new initiatives in the pipeline. There’s no space for a café (and anyway kids, drinks and books aren’t a great combo), but there are plans underway to continue the legendary in-store events that delighted so many young booklovers for all those years. The shop sells ‘a small selection of toys and stationery’ and there’s scope to add other merchandise, but, as the library at the end of my road turns into flats, I hope it’s enough that this shop simply sells reading.
It’ll take time to build up the history and memories that made the old shop so special, but I’m really excited about this new incarnation, which comes just as my one-year-old has started really loving a story.
Official launch 9 May.