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Sister act: The story of The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop

Co-owner Mary Wadsworth tells the story of The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Auckland, New Zealand.

In 1965 Dorothy Butler established the bookshop that my sister Helen and I now own. For several years the shop was based in Dorothy’s own house on Auckland’s North Shore, and the shop has been in its present location in the central suburb of Ponsonby since 1985. An Auckland institution, the shop is fondly remembered by many of our customers as a place they loved visting when they were children. Until recently, we were the only specialist children’s bookshop in Auckland, and we try to carry a comprehensive and stimulating selection of books. We also stock toys, puzzles and games.

Although we didn’t know Dorothy Butler personally, she sounds like a formidable person. She was a firm advocate of the importance of reading to children from a very young age and wrote books such as Babies Need Books, which, unfortunately, is no longer in print. Dorothy was also a very strong supporter of New Zealand authors, believing in the importance of children seeing their world reflected in the stories they read and have read to them. Along with her own writing projects and running a bookshop, she and her husband, Roy, managed to bring up eight children—something we find absolutely awe-inspiring!

Dorothy sold the shop in 1990 and it transitioned through a number of owners until we purchased the business in 2015. Helen and I had only been in the book business for three years at that stage, having come from backgrounds in engineering and English for Speakers of Other Languages teaching. Children’s literature was something we were both passionate about from our own reading in our earlier years, and then from discovering new authors and stories when our own children came along, so it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up and we took the plunge.

We have made a number of changes in the last three years. The first was a complete revamp of the old shop logo and branding material. We’re really pleased with the result. Another significant change was the refit and redecoration we did earlier this year. To reduce costs, we relinquished the lease on the separate office space we had been using and built a much smaller office space within the shop. Repainting was a necessity as nothing had been done to the shop interior for about 15 years. We also took the opportunity to re-organise the space and design our own counter. We completed the refit in a hectic and stressful 10-day period but it has made a huge difference to the look and feel of the space.

Our events program is getting more and more crowded. We have regular author events, usually in the form of book launches, and we have access to an outside paved courtyard area at the back of the shop, which we use for larger events. Last year our biggest event was for the beloved Lynley Dodd’s new book, Scarface Claw, Hold Tight (Puffin)—masses of toddlers and their parents crowded the courtyard. The other great excitement last year was having Jessica Townsend in the shop for NZ Bookshop Day. Nevermoor (Lothian) was our biggest selling book for 2017. We have recently instigated a YA book club, which meets every six to eight weeks, and this is growing in popularity. Our school customers are very important to us and we enjoy having book fairs at local schools. We’ve started holding ‘Book Buzz’ events specifically for teachers and school librarians where we have guest speakers—we have author Kate De Goldi coming next month. We also run an annual bookmark competition for children: they submit their designs for a bookmark and we select three (from different age groups) to get professionally printed and be our shop bookmarks for the year.

We still have many ideas for growing our presence not only in our local community but also in the wider book and children’s literature community in New Zealand. Bookselling will no doubt always have its challenges but the satisfaction of getting a great book into the hands of a young—and sometimes reluctant—reader, and then hearing that they’ve really enjoyed it, will continue to inspire us!

The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop top 10 bestsellers over the last two months

  • The 104-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths, illus by Terry Denton, Pan)
  • The World’s Worst Children 3 (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
  • Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women (Barbara Else, Puffin) (NZ author)
  • Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (Lynley Dodd, Picture Puffin) (NZ author)
  • The Wonky Donkey (Craig Smith, illus by Katz Cowley, Scholastic NZ) (NZ authors)
  • Granny McFlitter the Champion Knitter (Heather Haylock, illus by Lael Chisholm, Picture Puffin) (NZ authors)
  • Lord of the Fleas: Dog Man Book 5 (Dave Pilkey, Scholastic)
  • Guinness World Records 2019 (Guinness World Records)
  • An Unfamiliar Place: The Dragon Defenders Book 3 (James Russell, Dragon Brothers Books) (NZ author)
  • Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different (Ben Brooks, Quercus).


Category: Bookseller’s diary Features Junior