Based in the market town of Retford, North Nottinghamshire, Wonderland Bookshop is exactly what its name suggests — a wonderland of children’s books, presented in irresistible Alice-themed livery, and driven by a passion for helping customers find books that will set them off on magical reading journeys.
In the words of Wonderland Bookshop’s owner, Helen Tamblyn-Saville, “Books are magical, they provide entertainment, they also have the power to educate and challenge thinking”, a statement that chimes with all of us here at LoveReading and LoveReading4Kids. In fact, Wonderland’s ethos has been so successful that Helen opened a second shop in June 2021 — Neverland in Newark.
Read on to discover a true wonderland of books, with huge thanks to Helen for taking the time to share her story, along with tonnes of terrific reading recommendations.
Describe your shop in three words.
Magical, welcoming, unique.
When was your bookshop born? How did it come about?
Wonderland Bookshop was originally known as The Barrister in Wonderland, opening as a second-hand children's bookshop in May 2019 as the little sibling to the bigger second-hand bookshop in town. I had a part time job there and when the owners decided to move on, I took on Wonderland, reopening it under my ownership in November 2019. In April 2021, we rebranded as Wonderland Bookshop. I like to think we really are a Wonderland and I'm always going to be grateful that I had the opportunity to take it on.
Tell us about your journey and the changes you’ve seen (and made) along the way.
As mentioned, I was lucky enough to take on Wonderland in November 2019. I'd always had a secret dream of owning a bookshop and being able to work in one part-time was a lot of fun. I've always been passionate about children's books and I couldn't bear to see Wonderland go.
The shop has changed since I took it over - we retained the amazing decor, but we've got creative with window displays. Where the shop used to be all second hand books, we now stock new children's books, but I do retain a bargain bookcase as I want book ownership to be more accessible. In some ways, we feel like we've outgrown our home and invested in bigger bookcases earlier this year to give people more books - and in June 2021, I managed to open a second shop called Neverland in Newark!
What’s important in a great bookshop? What sets you apart and makes you special?
I think the first thing that makes us really unique is our upside-down tea-party on the ceiling! But on a more serious note, I remember back to when I used to visit Truro Bookshop (sadly now closed) with my mum when I was little, usually after the dentist. It was this AMAZING independent bookshop that was like a tardis - it looked tiny, but when you went inside, it went back and every nook and cranny was stuffed with books. The children's section was up the stairs - and I mean literally up the stairs, with the staircase to the staffroom running alongside the bookcases of children's books. I used to sit on them for ages looking at books, and the staff never minded.
I always think a great bookshop is somewhere you can feel comfortable browsing for hours, or chatting with enthusiastic book lovers. I absolutely love recommending books to our readers and helping them find the right book, but it's equally important that people feel welcome and comfortable browsing. Our decor is like Alice in Wonderland, where there is something to discover everywhere and I want people to enjoy the shop as an experience and leave feeling inspired by books!
What’s your all-time favourite…
a) picture book recommendation?
Questions like this are so hard! I always want to choose more than one favourite. I'm going with Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup - it's so thought provoking and the artwork is stunning.
b) children’s fiction recommendation?
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L. D. Lapinski.
L. D. is incredible at worldbuilding and exploring the magic of suitcase portals is just genius! And I am squeezing in another one here because I love Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean so much. It makes my heart sing with love.
c) Young Adult recommendation?
Boy, Everywhere by A.M. Dassu.
Boy, Everywhere crosses from middle grade to young teen and is simply phenomenal. It was the book that once made me late to open my own shop as I had to know that Sami and his family were going to be okay. Harrowing and full of hope, this is the story of Sami and his family as they flee Syria for Manchester. It really is a book that I can't stop thinking about.
Which books have you been recommending recently?
All of my favourites mentioned above! The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar is one I recommend a lot - a feminist pirate adventure with such beautifully descriptive writing, you can really imagine you're there. Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll, Pages & Co by Anna James, and Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B Alston are more of my favourite go-to books.
I love The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, and for those looking for humour, Jenny Pearson, Sam Copeland, Laura Ellen Anderson, Serena Patel and Bethany Walker are all great writers I love to recommend. Mayhem Mission! by Burhana Islam is another fantastic book for those who love humour, and of course, Loki by Louie Stowell.
Young Adult — Afterlove by Tanya Byrne is one of my favourites. Every Line of You by Naomi Gibson is really different, a sci-fi thriller that I couldn't put down. The Outrage by William Hussey is fantastic, and I can't get enough of Adiba Jaigirdar's writing - Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating has been popular. And for the horror fans, Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw is great!
Looking at picture books, The Littlest Yak by Lu Fraser is a favourite of mine and is always well received by Julia Donaldson fans who enjoy the rhyming couplets. Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola is absolutely fantastic - Rocket is a brilliant character. I always point out How the Stars Came to Be by Poonam Mistry as well - the artwork is exquisite. I could go on. I have so many favourites and I know I've missed books and authors I love!
What’s your favourite area of your bookshop?
I love all of my bookshop! It's too difficult to choose a favourite area but if pushed, I'll say the middle-grade shelves as there are so many books and authors I want to scream about from the rooftops! I love reading the books and making recommendations and hearing what our young readers think.
What are you most proud of?
I find questions like this hard to answer, but I really wanted to create an environment for everyone to enjoy and feel welcome. I love books and I want to share that love with everyone, but I also want the bookshop to be somewhere that teens and young adults can feel they can come and hang out, look at books and chill.
I feel now that we've really embedded ourselves in the community and that we are making a difference. Books are magical, they provide entertainment, they also have the power to educate and challenge thinking.
I often use our windows to make a statement to raise awareness and understanding on issues - and last year, we ran a campaign to get The Invisible by Tom Percival into as many local schools as possible. We did similar with Boy, Everywhere by A.M Dassu towards the end of the year.
Tell us a secret about books.
Revisiting a loved and cherished book is like visiting a much-loved friend.
Apart from your own shop, which other bookshop(s) do you love spending time in?
There aren't really any bookshops close to me, so I don't get to visit others as often as I'd like. But I loved visiting The Children's Bookshop, The Alligator's Mouth and Round Table Books in London. Closer to home, Five Leaves in Nottingham and The Rabbit Hole in Brigg are AWESOME!
What else would you like to share with the LoveReading community?
Thank you for being such a wonderful community of book lovers!
Discover more about the wondrous Wonderland Bookshop:
And find out about more amazing independent bookshops here.