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A full program: Jennifer Jackson shares her bookseller’s diary

Paper Bird Children’s Books & Arts is a bookshop, arts centre and culture hub with a wide scope. Director Jennifer Jackson discusses its evolution. 

Paper Bird Children’s Books & Arts opened its doors just over two years ago in Fremantle’s West End. This hub of like-minded stores, including second-hand bookshops, New Edition bookshop, a map and chart shop and a couple of record shops, is a place for browsing and walking the footpaths of grand gold-boom-era streetscapes amid the sound of ship horns and the smell of coffee and brewing beer. 

The Moores Building, which Paper Bird cohabits with the Moores Contemporary Art Gallery, Fremantle Arts Centre residency studios and a funky courtyard café, was the home and warehouse of a gold rush merchant. As with most retail and hospitality businesses in Fremantle, we are open every day.

My vision for Paper Bird has been to establish a dedicated children’s story and art space reflective of this country’s Aboriginal and immigrant traditions of passing down stories to keep cultural heritage alive. It’s a haven for kids to be imaginative and to be inspired by other kids and writers, storytellers and artists. Storytelling, reading and creating their own narratives helps kids build resilience in a messed-up world.

I’ve always loved working with kids through my years as a social worker and as a child psychotherapist in mental health clinics. Running a kids’ bookshop wasn’t something I had in mind when I started this journey with Paper Bird. It developed in response to a community need. It was a logical progression for a story house/arts centre to have a gorgeous bookshop. It reminds me of writer Dave Eggers’ experience with 826 Valencia in San Francisco, which engages kids with mentoring and writing programs and even features an onsite pirate shop! 

I’d never worked in retail, let alone set up or run a bookshop. It’s been daunting and exhausting but it was the right decision for Paper Bird. Paper Bird has been embraced by the local community, and wider WA, and now we have a raft of amazing programs. For me, engagement is all about being relevant and active. Kids have to feel like this is a place for them and it’s going to be fun.

Our most recent initiative was the Woylie Festival, a free story festival dedicated to Aboriginal children’s literature featuring more than 30 Aboriginal storytellers and performers. More than 500 students attended the three-day school program, which was followed by a five-day public program during the Easter long weekend. It was a huge undertaking, but ultimately very successful as a first step in a broader program to connect children in our community with Aboriginal stories, art and literature. The Whadjuk Noongar people, on whose traditional land the festival took place, refer to Fremantle as Walyalup, meaning ‘place of the woylie’. A woylie is a small, endangered marsupial native to Fremantle, and is a fitting emblem for the connection to country and conservation of Indigenous languages and stories that we all need to help pass on to younger generations.

Our other programs and events include:

  • Paper Bird Fellowships, which offer three-month residencies to children’s writers and illustrators.
  • Inkling Arts Space, which offers a wide range of kids’ art classes, and Paper Bird Gallery, which is curated by writer and artist Liliana Stafford, and exhibits work by local illustrators and artists.
  • Story Lab workshops through youth arts organisation Globe Town Project.
  • Speech pathology evnents for early speech development and literacy.
  • Story time and book clubs.
  • School excursions with workshops run by local writers and illustrators.
  • Music classes for preschoolers run by the Music Together program.

The list keeps growing, as does the community of great people involved in Paper Bird, which makes the hard slog of running an independent bookshop so pleasurable. I am blessed with brilliant staff and residents who are warm and love talking to kids. The bookshop business is growing, and our customers’ loyalty and willingness to pay a fraction more for a book is strengthened by their personal experience of the store. Life is crazy-busy but it all seems to fall into place. 

Recent bestsellers at Paper Bird

  • At the Beach, I See (Kamsani Bin Salleh, Magabala)
  • The Big Book of Bugs (Yuval Zommer, Thames & Hudson)
  • Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros (Meg McKinlay, illus by Leila Rudge, Walker Books)
  • Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Jessica Townsend, Lothian)
  • The Hole Story (Kelly Canby, Fremantle Press).


Category: Bookseller’s diary Features