All hands on deck: Inside The Little Bookroom with Michael Earp
Situated in Melbourne’s inner north, The Little Bookroom is Australia’s oldest dedicated children’s bookshop. In his bookseller’s diary, children’s literature specialist Michael Earp reveals how a combination of experience, new ideas and community keeps the shop bustling.
I only joined The Little Bookroom team a bit over a year ago, but it feels like home to me. I’m completely devoted to children’s and young adult literature, so it’s a dream to work at the oldest dedicated children’s bookshop in the country. Working so closely with the owners, Leesa Lambert and her parents, Ian and Lesley, as well as the other staff, makes me feel like I’ve always been part of the family.
Albert Ullin created something quite special when he opened the shop’s doors in 1960. Fifty-nine years later, the Lambert family have been the proud custodians of his legacy for over 10 years. Having worked within the book industry for 17 years, I am able to contribute by drawing on my various experience. My early childhood education degree, my masters in children’s literature, the seven years I worked as a sales rep for Walker Books Australia, not to mention my many years as a children’s specialist bookseller, all help to give me a sense of purpose. To be able to combine in a single job my passion for children’s literature, my desire to bring people together and my compulsion to talk about books is heaven.
The Little Bookroom is a bit of an all-hands-on-deck operation. There’s so much we’re doing, and so much we could be doing, if only we could fit it in. Between seeing reps and buying for the store, serving customers and daily operations, Leesa and I are constantly plotting our next move. The ever-growing calendar of events that we host brings so much bustling life into the shop. This year, our primary school-age book clubs grew so large we had to start a second group for each year level. We now run seven groups with two meetings each, every term. Leesa runs a regular storytime every Thursday, which is quite the destination event, having once been described as ‘cabaret for toddlers’. We often have picture book creators join us to make these extra special.
Rarely a week goes by that we’re not launching a book or two, and our school holiday programs see something on offer almost every day, whether it be a writing or drawing workshop of some kind, or some other engaging author- or illustrator-led event. Last year we launched a night for primary school teachers and librarians called Book Chat. These run once a term and see me whizzing through an enormous stack of books in order to bring a room full of teachers up to speed on the latest releases for their library or classroom. In 2018 we also organised the inaugural Kid’s Book Fest, a day-long festival held at Fitzroy Town Hall jam-packed with authors, illustrators, music and more! It was a huge hit, so we’ll be building on it this year, working with Yarra Libraries to make it even more spectacular.
My life in books doesn’t end when I leave the bookshop. I’m also a writer who needs to fit my writing work around my full-time job. Most weeks my evenings are filled with bookish events, often at other bookshops. I’m a serial attender. Years ago I realised that the only way I was going to achieve anything was if I fought my distaste for mornings and embraced them as likely the only regular time I would have to write. I now get up at 6am every morning and jump right into whatever needs doing, whether it’s working on a manuscript or the mountains of admin that surround a writer. Those two hours are the only thing standing between me and the mayhem of a missed deadline.
My love of bringing people together has spilled into my writer’s life too. I’ve had the immense pleasure and privilege of commissioning and editing a collection of short fiction for young adults by some of Australia’s best queer authors. Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories is released on 1 June by Walker Books Australia and I am so proud of this anthology and the wonderful work of its contributors. Coming full circle, I’ve been able to combine all aspects of my world in a single event. The Little Bookroom will be the bookseller for Kindred’s launch at The Melba Spiegeltent on 29 May. My bookshop family, my Kindred family, my writers’ groups (yes, two of them) and my book clubs (both personal and professional) are all coming together for an enormous celebration. Life has a way of telling you you’re where you’re meant to be.