Busy teacher Jenny McCann spent her career surrounded by kids in her classroom – yet always dreamed of spending more time with her own children.
Every moment of her life was accounted for with two children, so when she had her third, she realised something had to give.
Having been an English teacher for 15 years, Jenny loved reading and could see the impact it had on a child’s potential.
So, just before the first lockdown, she bravely handed in her notice and set about opening her very own children’s bookshop – The Bear Bookshop on Bearwood High Street.
She has since faced two further lockdowns but the bookshop is now open and forging ahead – with the help of her children Alice, six, Max, four and Leo, 19 months.
They ‘test’ her book selections and talk to customers about their favourite reads.
Listen to Jenny’s tips on how to encourage your child to love reading on the Brummie Mummies podcast on Spotify here or Apple Podcasts here
“I came up with the idea when I was on maternity leave with my third child and launched it during the pandemic,” said Jenny, who lives round the corner from the shop.
“When you say it all together it does sound crazy, even to me!
“But my biggest focus was my children. I’d been teaching for 15 years and I wasn’t unhappy but I felt that everything had got to be so organised with two children and doing my job that I had misgivings as to how it was going to work with three.
“Every moment of my life was accounted for.”
Scrolling through social media whilst doing the night feed with her baby, Jenny stumbled upon a tweet from a mum who had set up an independent bookshop.
“It hit me, I had this visceral feeling that’s what I wanted to do. I just had to persuade my husband it was a good idea,” added Jenny, whose husband is Tim is an operations manager for an engineering company.
Fortunately she did and was set to launch in November 2020 but the plan was stalled by lockdown. She finally opened her doors to families on April 12.
Those years as an English teacher have proved to Jenny just how vital it is for children to make reading a big part of their everyday lives.
“Reading is so huge academically, it affects everything because it’s the foundation of everything they do,” said Jenny, who used to teach at The Phoenix Collegiate in West Bromwich.
“It benefits wellbeing, it’s a great way to relax and unwind, to help you to sleep and switch off.
“I know you can get absorbed in the TV but that’s not as quiet as sitting down with a book, not as reflective.
“Through reading you can be exposed to different cultures, historical events and so much more.”
Her shop had been a bookshop and newsagents before but had been closed and left empty for years.
“We have a really beautiful window painted by an artist which shows bears reading which is really eye-catching before you even step inside,” she said.
“Then downstairs we have baby and toddler picture books, with cushions for mums and kids to sit and read together. I think this is such an important part of the bookshop process.
“Upstairs, there are books for older children, including graphic novels, poetry and non-fiction plus there are toys and games too. I’m putting arts and crafts materials up here in the future.
“We have two open spaces which are great for events and activities.
“And it’s near to Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods and there are some amazing coffee shops nearby so there’s lots of family things to do in the area.”
The best way to find out what’s going on for families in and around Birmingham is to join our Brummie Mummies tribe!
Simply follow our Brummie Mummies Facebook page and sign up to our free Brummie Mummies email newsletter to be kept up to date with all the wonderful events happening for kids and parents across the city.
And you can also download and stream the Brummie Mummies podcast on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Jenny is now running storytime sessions, installing a Tuff Tray table for themed toddler play and a fancy dress costume exchange.
So how does she compete against online giants like Amazon, which seem to sell books for a fraction of their recommended retail prices?
She said: “I can’t compete with Amazon or books you can pick up cheap from supermarkets but something I can provide is books that are a little bit different, stunningly beautiful books you might not have seen or heard about before.
“The books I choose are diverse with characters that represent the different people in the area we live in.
“We offer events and experiences. We have had caterpillars and chrysallis and now have butterflies in nets that we feed with bits of fruit. We’ll have outdoor storytimes too.”
* Are you opening a new shop, cafe or play centre for families? If so, get in touch via our Brummie Mummies Facebook page or email email@example.com
There is also a section of the shop for grown-up books and Jenny runs two book clubs too, one virtual and one where people get to meet up to talk about books they’ve enjoyed.
Her current favourites are Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel.
For Jenny’s kids, it’s fun to be part of mummy’s work.
“My eldest says she’s going to work in the shop when she grows up, she says her younger brother can put the books on the shelves and the youngest can sweep the floor!”
Listen to Jenny’s inspiring story on the Brummie Mummies podcast on Spotify here or Apple Podcasts here
The Brummie Mummies podcast is a Laudable production, brought to you by Brummie Mummies and Birmingham Live.
Be sure to follow our Brummie Mummies Facebook page for lots more family information and fun and, whilst there, sign up to our Brummie Mummies newsletter to make sure you never miss an episode.
Jenny’s tips on how to get your child reading
- I don’t believe in ‘I don’t like reading’ – you’ve just got to find the kind of reading you like. One time for homework, I asked my pupils to tell me something they were interested in. I wrote them each a reply with a book suggestion and in the next library lesson, we went and found them. It doesn’t have to be novels, it can be articles, non-fiction, magazines, graphic novels, poetry, plays. There are so many different things you can do.
- Start really small, just 10 minutes.
- Make it a treat – we like to sit down with books and slices of cake or a plate of biscuits in our house, or in the winter, we sit in front of the fire to read, we make it a cosy and relaxing thing to do.
- Read with your child even if they prefer not to read aloud. Read the same book and talk about what you’ve read.
- Remember a better reader will make a better writer. Once they’ve become more confident in reading, ask them to write notes and letters to send to family and friends.
- Put the subtitles on the TV so they’re encouraged to read along whilst they watch.
- Reading well makes everything a little easier. If you’re good at maths or science but have problems decoding the questions, they everything is harder.
- Only a percentage of students get grades 9, 8 and 7 in their exams – they’re the ones who are reading at home.
- Screen time can be addictive but it can be a tool if used well, be sure to get a good balance between reading, outdoor play and screen time.