Gooday and a friendly ‘hello’ from Booka’s newest bookseller! I joined the team at the end of March from what I believed would be a lifelong career in teaching. But as usual, life has its way of throwing curveballs at you when you least expect it.
I qualified as a Primary Teacher, specialising in English, in 2018 and began working in a local primary school. Although I enjoyed teaching all aspects of the curriculum, English and reading quickly became my favourite. We worked on writing projects that had a purpose and inspired thoughtfulness, including whether or not our class should leave the rest of the school (our own version of Brexit) and letters of concern and persuasion to our local MP, about issues in the village.
But above all of that, reading, in particular reading for pleasure or joy, was the most rewarding. Sharing stories, especially listening to stories, should be enjoyed by people of all ages, yet at school seems to be restricted to younger children. We particularly enjoyed The Legend of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre and getting to know Kevin, the fat, flying pony. Large numbers of custard creams, bourbons and pink wafers were consumed in tribute to Kevin, and I dressed up as him for World Book Day that year. Later on in the year, we read The Explorer by Katherine Rundell. This time, we read it as a class, and they could read a page out loud if they wanted to. Children who had initially dreaded reading, were now waving their hands about in the air, struggling to stay in their seats. Around the same time, I was lucky enough to meet Katherine Rundell through a Booka Bookshop event. She described in detail how barbequed tarantula had tasted like prawns, which I relayed to the pupils to be greeted by scrunched noses and grimaces of disgust. Ultimately, we were sharing a story, sharing a love of characters, sharing an experience and I will always cherish those memories.
A few years later, following on from government cuts, experiences in an all-through school (from 4 to 16) and a gruelling pandemic, my thoughts and feelings began to change. COVID-19 hit schools and me, personally, really hard. I am by nature a social butterfly and being restricted to online lessons was tough. Supporting groups of key-workers’ children, helping them to have a sense of normalcy during a time that was anything but, was really rewarding. Alongside this, I began Mrs Kerr Reads, where I would virtually share picture books with children, initially those in my classes, then more widely. It gave me a focus every day, and a routine, which I so desperately needed. But with the beautiful moments, the background squeaking of guinea pigs during an online Maths lesson, the comforting hugs, the creative projects, also came a darker side. Social media seemed to be full of people complaining and berating teachers and school staff, there was too much work, not enough, were teachers really teaching if children needed to be ‘home schooled’? The return to school was filled with uncertainty, rules, barriers, boundaries. My once happy place had become an anxiety-filled nightmare. And slowly this profession that I had loved was ebbing away from me, creativity was discouraged, there was never enough time, never enough staff, a story which I believe is familiar to the majority of the schools in the country. The wonderful camaraderie I had with my colleagues and those little sparks of joy and ‘I get it’ I had with the pupils wasn’t enough to keep the scales balanced. I needed to break free.
‘Experienced Bookseller Wanted’. That’s not me, was my first thought. I have experience, but not of the bookseller variety. I love books, I love reading and when I want to meet someone for coffee, Booka is the first place I suggest. It’s always been a warm, welcoming place, somewhere that I would consider a home from home, or a sanctuary. Despite my lack of bookselling experience, I applied, encouraged by friends and family to pursue my passion, seeing me so unhappy in my current workplace. And the rest, they say, is history.
Working in Booka is completely new for me, and I was thrown into the deep end, having to learn skills that I’d never done before, such as using a till, scanning in books, preparing trays and making coffee (I’m still working on my latte art!). But I have a new group of lovely, supportive colleagues swimming alongside me, showing me what to do with expert patience. No two days are the same (much like teaching), and there are always friendly Oswestrians to greet you with a smile and their regular order. My favourite students have become my favourite customers and teaching Maths has become working out change. I’m also lucky enough to share stories with new groups of children and watch them experience the magic, and make the memories. Becoming a bookseller was the breath of fresh air I needed, and I can’t wait to see where this road will take me.