In this age of iPads and reading tablets, it is very easy to raise our kids on a healthy and varied diet of reading material. There are a lot of advantages to virtual books, lower costs of acquiring and maintaining among the top on the list. But there is something magical about seeing a child holding an actual, physical book between his hands. Maybe it harks back to our own childhood, when the only reading could be done on the printed page, and when we had to learn to, ever so carefully, turn the page and make sure the corners would not be crumpled as our fingers flipped through to the next part of a story. Perhaps it’s the smell and texture of paper that makes it attractive. Call me overdramatic, but I think it signals that all is right with the world.
As a parent of an older child, I know what it’s like to teach a toddler to handle a book. In my son’s early years, there was no such thing as a tablet, and not even chew-proof pages or board books. I had to teach him how to handle his books carefully. Eventually, his favorite books did get crumply-cornered and yellowed from over-use, but I could never bear to part with the really good ones as they reminded me of how much they were loved.
Eventually the old books got passed down to my younger son. Now, I just have to say that my two boys can be polar opposites about some things. Taking care of books being one of those things. And so the books that were previously well-preserved started to deteriorate fairly quickly. I still keep them in plastic bins and they move everywhere with us, those books that are falling apart. When the children are all grown, I will show them what they grew up with, and I’m sure they will remember the excitement of being read to or reading to themselves.
Thankfully, now that my younger son is well beyond the chew-as-you-please stage, he is much better at taking care of books. They both still love to buy and receive books. Perhaps my rule had something to do with nurturing this love as well– in my family, buying a toy is reserved for a milestone such as a birthday, or a special achievement, but books can be bought any day. And over the years, we have bought LOTS of books.
Every time we move, I scout our new city for the best place to buy the boys (and myself) books. We have our favorites in the city, and now for children’s books we also like to go to Star Kids Children’s Bookstore at Europlaza as it is closer to home. We enjoy browsing through the selections, and I am always happy to leaf through pages of children’s books for any age, even those that are way too simple for my kids. I sometimes wish I still had use for them because some of the stories are just so fun and witty. Instead the boys and I flip through them together, have a good laugh, and put them back on the shelf, for another set of toddler fingers to pick up and enjoy. After they have set down their iPad, that is.
Owner Alex Goh shared the Star Kids story with beijingkids.
beijingkids: What made you decide to open a bookshop?
Alex Goh: I was a children’s book distributor in Singapore back in the late ‘90s. In 2004, I was supported by the Singapore government to venture into the China market and was attached to a Chinese publishing house for six months. By 2006, I found a Chinese partner and started the bookstore selling English children’s books. The market need a good English children’s bookstore, run by someone who knows, reads and loves children’s books. We would like this bookstore to be a place where children can discover new titles and authors, buy a real book and experience the true magic of a children’s book.
bjk: How many years the store has been in business. Was it only at Riverville Square before or did you have other locations before that? How long have you been in Europlaza?
AG: The bookstore started in 2006 at Wangjing. We had hoped to attract customers from Sanlitun and Shunyi to come to Wangjing as we felt that Wangjing should be a relatively central location for both sides. We were wrong. We then opened a branch at Riverville Square in 2009 and that is where we started getting real walk-in customers to buy books. After four years at Riverville Square, the landlord decided not to continue our lease as they have plans to turn our bookstore into a dessert shop. Around August 2013, we moved to Euro Plaza.
bjk: You had a book-signing event with author Alex Scarrow in late 2013. Do you plan to have more activities like that one?
AG: Yes we do and we are talking to several publishers to bring more authors in 2014. I’ve also run storytelling sessions at different international schools in China. I do plan to run some reading sessions at the Europlaza shop.
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado