Bookseller spotlight: Michael from The Little Bookroom
What’s the first book that you remember having an impact on you?
I have early memories of Richard Scarry, specifically Tinker and Tanker as well as the audio book of The Muddle Headed Wombat on long family car trips. But I think the first story world that really captured me was Narnia. My parents would read it to my four brothers and I as we did the washing up as that was how my Grandfather read it to my Mum. My favourite was always The Magician’s Nephew. Something about the serenity and possibility of the Wood Between The Worlds, as well as the powerful feminine vigour of Jadis had a strong impact on me.
Who were some of your favourite authors as a child?
I was obsessed with the Teen Power Inc by Emily Rodda. I also was heavily into the Usbourne Puzzle Adventure Series. Exciting narratives with mysteries and puzzles to solve? YES PLEASE!
How long have you been working at your bookstore? Can you tell us about the store and the community it serves?
I’ve been at The Little Bookroom for almost three years. We’re situated in Melbourne’s Inner North and have a very loyal customer base but we also draw customers from all over the country. Especially with our new subscription services we launched during lockdown, people are gifting books left right and centre. But that's the thing about being the oldest children's bookshop in the world, people have come to rely on us for staples and range, and love coming to us from all over to discover fantastic new books. It's just that those who live in our local area are luckiest because they get to enjoy all we have to offer with such ease.
What drew to you becoming a bookseller?
I stumbled into it at the age of eighteen fleeing hospitality, and have never looked back.
What did an average day look like for you pre-COVID? And post-COVID?
Pre-COVID? Was there such a time? If I can cast my mind back, my days were full of emails, and school orders, and serving customers, and receiving stock, and trying to find time to do a return from time to time, and book clubs (in store! With people and hot chips!) and events (in store! With people and cake!).
COVID flipped that a bit. It took the people away, but did not stop their hunger for books! (Or cake, I’m assuming – my survey of 1 was very enlightening) We did a 180 and turned into an online retailer overnight, offering free delivery to local suburbs and all of a sudden our shop became more warehouse than showroom. And the phone RANG OFF THE HOOK! We only have the one line (as most stores would) and it was not uncommon there for a while to spend a solid 6 or so hours literally doing nothing but answering the phone and helping people out that way, the delightful beep beep of call waiting sound-tracking your conversation the majority of the time.
Of all the changes, it’s the phone that nearly broke me. But we persevered, we did everything we could to help people and they responded so beautifully. So, all my work continued, with a lot more admin involved, a lot of work to make our website as user-friendly as we possibly could (We’ve just launched a brand new website for our 60th Birthday thanks to Jin & Co! Check it out: www.littlebookroom.com.au) and staying on top of emails as best as one can.
What’s the best part about being a bookseller?
The books. But not just the books, being able to share the ones you love with people – EVERY DAY – and get paid for it. It’s Nerd Heaven. And as a children’s bookseller, it’s even better, because Kids books are the best and so much more fun so basically it’s the best job ever. How many other people can say their customers literally scream with excitement as they discover the next book in their favourite series – right there in the shop – as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. (Which it is. My field study on myself proves it as natural.)
Any memorable customer interactions?
I’ll admit I still find it a little strange when people I’ve never met say, “Oh, you’re Michael, right? I follow you on Instagram.” But in a kinda nice way when they tell you that they love your book recommendations and then buy everything you suggest for them.
What advice would you give someone wanting to work in bookselling?
Learn how to gift wrap a book. Not only will it be SO handy to be able to do quickly and well with all the constant gift wrapping you need to do, but it’s also a good way to get your foot in the door. Outside of that, read a lot. Showing you have a good knowledge of what’s out there and a passion for books is how to best endear yourself to a bookshop owner.
Who are some of your favourite Australian authors?
Margo Lanagan takes that crown. I’m just floored by her writing. I also love Shaun Tan, Vikki Wakefield, Helena Fox, Alison Evans, Shivaun Plozza, Marlee Jane Ward, Emily Rodda (as previously Mentioned), Lili Wilkinson, and I could go on, but we don’t have all day (the phones are ringing!) And I need to save some for the next question.
Do you have any favourite UQP titles?
How can we follow your bookstore online?
And just recently I’ve started an Insta account of my own discoveries and recommendations from the shop: @little_book_man.