Tuesday, 2 July 2013

JUST IMAGINE – Dianne Hofmeyr

Just imagine a shop that has mice running around the floorboards and creeping out of cracks and nibbling around books. Now imagine a shop with a bright blue, straw beach brolly and a deck chair and shells scattered across the sand and fairy lights and blue paper lanterns and pirate chests and fish swimming around the room. Imagine a window that looks like a set for the Venetian Carnival. Imagine a vast white space with Indian patchwork floor cushions and alphabet letters each decorated by a well-known illustrator… if you can conjure up all this, then you've brought to life Nikki Gamble’s Just Imagine in Chelmsford.

Corrina reading pirate stories
Michelle Lovric's 'Mourning Emporium" conjures up Venice. 
Only someone with Nikki’s energy can attract such talented staff who are able to turn a shop into something much more than a shop – who can organise a Great Piratical Rumbustification with stories of the most dastardly deeds and a chance to learn sea shanties and make pirate hats, who can make mermaid’s grottoes and give advice on how to be a mermaid, or how to make a mermaid’s mirror, as well as advice on the best book to buy – all in the cause of celebrating summer! 

Just Imagine is not a shop. It’s not even a bookshop – although there are plenty of books on its shelves. It’s a Children’s University Accredited Learning Destination. If you are a member you can bring along your special passport and get it stamped. But it doesn’t stop there. In that beautifully calm white adjoining room decorated only with letters of the alphabet to get your imagination soaring, Nikki organises a monthly Illustrators’ group, session of workshops for writers, day courses for teachers and librarians and students – all centred around books.

Out and away beyond the confines of the shop, Just Imagine is involved in school Road Shows and Theatre events. I saw boxes and boxes of different Cinderella books waiting to go off to the foyer of a Cinderella pantomime. Why don’t theatres everywhere think of opening their doors to specialist bookshops? And both schools I visited last week were carefully selected as the perfect match for my story-telling sessions. Nothing Nikki or her staff do, is ever done in half measures. Even the teashop I went off to afterwards had cakes the size of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Everything at Just Imagine is executed with robust creativity.

I’ll admit to spending much of my day on the floor. It’s hard to be a convincing lion or elephant in front of Reception classes without grovelling about. And in the shop, it was the only way to capture the mice but also the only way to explore the boxes stacked everywhere and the only way to browse the titles on the shelves right close to the floor – because there’s one thing you want to do when you’re in Just 
Imagine is browse

It's significant that a book which happened to be face out was Herd Boy by Niki Daly. Significant on all levels as Niki has been a good friend for many years but also because the story is so fitting right now. Malusi, a herd boy, keeps his grandfather’s sheep and goats from straying towards the deep 'donga', which is easy to fall into but hard to climb out of. You have to be brave to be a herd boy. Malusi dreams of being more than a herd boy – of owning a dog and becoming president of the country one day. Nelson Mandela makes an appearance in the story reminding us of his courage and bravery and his beginnings as a humble herd boy… especially poignant right now.

Thank you Nikki and Kathleen, Georgia, Tracey, Corrina, Lynne, Emma, Caroline and Mindy for creating such a special world of books at Just Imagine. As Penny Dolan commented in her post yesterday, you have to be brave to be an Independent Bookshop. 


latest picture book: THE MAGIC BOJABI TREE published by Frances Lincoln.


michelle lovric said...

'Robust creativity' is exactly the phrase for Nikki. Having worked with her, I've seen her alchemical processes for transforming one writer's vision into something that meets the imagination of children and teachers. If the word 'awesome' had not been debased, I would use it. You look lovely in your leopardskin, Dianne! And the mouse illustrations had my cats salivating.

Joan Lennon said...


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Michelle it was so lovely to see The Mourning Emporium displayed in the window. Just sorry I caught the glare and the cover doesn't show too well. I meant to take it again later in the day when the sun had moved away.

Sue Purkiss said...

Sounds wonderful... love the sound of 'rumbustification'!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Just Imagine is an amazing place. I had the pleasure of visiting and posting about its opening. Nikki is an amazing champion for children's books and writers. Thanks for this post

Lari Don said...

This looks like the sort of shop I thought only existed in authors' (and readers') imaginations. I'm now trying to work out how I can justify just popping in for a browse, all the way from Edinburgh! Lovely, inspiring post!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thank you everyone. It's worth a visit Lari if you are coming in this direction. I should've mentioned it's closed on Mondays. But of course all of us here in the south are very jealous of you being on the spot for the Edinburgh festival while we all suffer a serious case of Festival envy!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lovely words everyone. And thank you for bringing so much delight into our world with your word crafting. Every day brings a new discovery to thrill, inspire, challenge and enlighten is.