Bookseller spotlight: How Brave is the Wren

Today we’re talking to Jenny Moore, who runs a bookshop with a difference. We’ll let Jenny tell you more…

Claire Storey: Jenny, thanks so much for agreeing to talk to us here at World Kid Lit. Could you tell us a bit about your rather special bookshop?

Jenny Moore: Yes sure, the bookshop is called How Brave Is The Wren and it’s a travelling children’s bookshop; it runs out of a caravan that my husband and I converted, with a lot of help from our lovely friends. I started out specialising in picture books which I love and as my children have grown I’ve started to get a wider selection of chapter books too.

The name came from a record that my husband Ben bought me from a charity shop many moons ago. It turned out that it was made by a bunch of school children in the 1970s and when I launched the shop, a lady got in touch to tell me that she was one of the kids who had made it, which I thought was a great sign!!


CS: Why did you start a travelling bookshop? How and where do you operate?

JM: I started the travelling bookshop in 2015 but the idea came about in 2012/2013, a few years after my daughter was born. I used to co-run an arts organisation which I’d done for 12 years up to that point, which I loved. However, I quickly realised that doing that and having a family was just going to be too tough. So I stepped down from that role and needed to find something new.

I knew that whatever I did needed to be creative, needed to be flexible and to not need a big budget as I didn’t have a lot of money to get going. I can’t remember exactly how it happened but somehow with all those ingredients my brain decided that a travelling bookshop would be the best solution!

I usually go to markets and festivals. My first outing was to Just So Festival which is a great children’s festival, set in beautiful grounds in Cheshire. I’ve continued to do that ever since. I’ve also tried out various markets up and down the country. Ones I particularly love are Frome Market, (although I don’t love the 4.30am wake up time to get there to set up). I also take the caravan to schools as a reading service and just before the pandemic had started to offer an independent book fair for schools.

CS: Has the pandemic affected your business much or changed the way you work?

JM: The pandemic has affected me as, of course, all of the events and markets stopped. I also work part time for a production company so I’ve seen how greatly they’ve been affected. As they say, they were the first to have to close and will be the last to be able to open again, which has been a huge pressure.

For the bookshop though, it meant that for the first time I was actually selling quite a bit more online and I think it forced me to consider how I could offer the same service you get in the caravan, but online. I personally don’t like internet shopping and I prefer selling in person. However, I came up with book bundles, where I select a curated bundle of books specific to a persons request. This to me felt like a good compromise and it seems to have worked out quite well.

In recent weeks I’ve started opening back up again at a regular market in Birmingham and for once, being in one place regularly has been really nice. I’m actually hoping to open up a permanent shop very soon, but would keep the mobile unit going for festivals and school visits, although this is all still in development!


CS: I first came across your magical caravan in a field at the Just So Festival in about 2018. I was so impressed that translated books made up a large part of the books you had on display. Has it been a conscious decision to include translations, and if so why?

JM: I’m not sure that it was a conscious decision, however I think that this comes from the fact that I really love children’s books that are slightly unusual, have quirky characters and a certain style in design. I think that, not all the time, but quite often, these are books that have been written elsewhere in the world. For instance Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are some of my absolute favourites.

I also think that for a while it seemed that older books were more interesting, perhaps the authors / illustrators were given more creative freedom to make crazy books. I’m thinking of all of German creator Tomi Ungerer’s books. I think when I first started I was struck by how few new books there were that seemed as adventurous, aside from some stand out ones. But I’m really glad to say that this trend seems to have changed and currently there are so many amazing children’s books that it’s hard to keep up.

CS: Do you find that people react differently to books if they know they are translated or are customers just on the look-out for good books?

JM: I think people are often surprised to learn that a book has been translated, but when they’re told that I think it adds to their interest perhaps. I can’t say that I’ve noticed anyone have a negative reaction to knowing that a book is translated; it usually, like I say, seems to add to their interest in the book.

CS: Do you have any specialisms or particular passions? 

Inside the caravan: How Brave is the Wren travelling children’s bookshop

JM: I mentioned before that I love picture books. When I first started I wanted to specialise in books that were made by artists or illustrators only. There is a certain tradition of creative people, who have a career elsewhere in the arts, making picture books for instance Saul Bass, Paul Rand, David Hockney.

However focusing on picture books became much too limiting! And as I started to get into researching other books I found so many that I loved. But I definitely have a few that I champion more than others and so become almost “best sellers” I guess. Really I’d say that I’m passionate about books with great stories (chapter or picture books) and aesthetically I love ones with amazing or quirky artwork.

CS: Was there a book or a moment in your life that got you into reading? What was it and why do you think it gave you the spark?

JM: I’ve often thought about this after having children myself. I wasn’t ever a big reader as a kid and for quite some time when I started the shop I had a bit of imposter syndrome, feeling like I was masquerading as someone who knew a lot about literature! But I’ve got over that now.

My real passion as a kid was drawing, which I loved and I do remember books for their pictures. I had this memory of a book where a child makes a den in a bush and she has a tea party in there. I couldn’t remember what the book was or who it was by, but I remembered that bit of it. Then one of our daughters came home from school with a book by Shirley Hughes and I recognised the style of illustration, I went online and looked up all of her books and found one called Sally’s Secret and that was the book from my memory. I bought a copy and keep it on my shelf.

As an adult though, in recent years I’ve really got back into reading, but I’m terrible at choosing books because I’m so led by a good cover, so I really rely on a good friend who has amazing taste in books. I also read a lot of children’s chapter books which people think I do because of my job, but I actually do it because they’re really good and I enjoy them!


CS: I’ve heard you say that one of your favourite books is by Tove Jansson, a Swedish-speaking Finnish author, famous of course for writing The Moomins. When you first discovered it, what was it that drew you in and were you aware at the time that it was a translated book?

JM: Yes, ha ha, I may have mentioned her once or twice before! I absolutely love Tove Jansson, but it’s not just her books; her life was so fascinating. She’s written some really great books for grown-ups too. The Moomins I was introduced to as a kid watching the stop frame animation. I didn’t even know they were books until I was an adult. I like to think that if I’d known about them as a kid I would have loved them, but I do now so that’s OK!

Although it’s hard to choose, Who Will Comfort Toffle (tr. Sophie Hannah) is my favourite children’s book, the story is beautiful but not soppy and every page is a picture you could hang on your wall. The thing that I find most unusual about Tove Jansson’s books is just how many people think that she was a man and that a man created these books. I guess it’s mainly because it’s an unfamiliar name maybe, but it’s very often assumed. I’m very quick to correct them!

CS: As well as running your book shop, I know you are also involved in a new festival, supported by Arts Council England funding. Could you tell us a little about that?

JM: Yes I’ve been planning a festival called Word Play for some time now and its finally almost here, it’s a six-day event, five days delivered at a school in Birmingham and one day online. We’ve had to change things considerably to be able to deliver it inline with Covid-19 safety measures, however some of that’s been very positive. We’ve ended up being able to work with a lot more authors and illustrators and include people not based in the UK. We have some pre-recorded workshops from authors in Indonesia and the USA, plus one live streamed workshop with an author based in New Zealand, which are all things that we possibly wouldn’t have considered before these limitations. 

The public day is 12th June and we have lots of exciting activities lined up including a special Word Play edition of The Accidental Show with James Campbell, a workshop by Knights & Bikes author Gabrielle Kent, Carson Ellis reads her book In The Half Room and demonstrates how to make a half a self portrait, Bristol based arts duo Let’s Make Art have made a workshop based around Laura Carlin’s wonderful book A World of Your Own, and our friends at Flatpack Festival have put together a special selection of short films for kids based on the themes of reading and imagination. It’s all free (there are suggested ticket prices if you can afford it for the two live workshops) so all you have to do is register via the How Brave is the Wren website.

We’ve also worked with Anorak Magazine to put together a Word Play magazine to accompany the programme, with samples of books by authors in the festival and games and activities designed to get children thinking up their own ideas for stories. A PDF version of the magazine will be available to download from my website during the week of the festival 7th-12th June.

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Jenny Moore is the founder of How Brave Is The Wren. Born and bred in Birmingham, a love of art, illustration and design have always played a huge part in her  life. An education in photography matched with a passion for music led her to co-found Capsule and Supersonic Festival in Birmingham, where she was Co-Director for 13 years. The birth of two daughters in 2010 and 2013 led to thoughts of a new career and an ever-growing collection of children’s books. And so How Brave Is The Wren was born.