Michelle Peters has always collected children’s books that celebrated differences.
An avid reader, mum-of-three and children’s play expert, it was clear to her that many of the stories young people were given to read had nothing in their plots or characters for them to relate to.
But it wasn’t until lockdown brought Michelle’s wedding and event creche business Bluey and Baloo to a dramatic halt that, it dawned on her that there might be a market for children’s books that showed life in all its diversity.
Each book was carefully chosen to reflect the diversity we celebrate in our world, including neurodiversity, gender diversity, LGBTQ and cultural breadth.
Michelle’s masters degree in children’s play – as well as her time running creches and volunteering as a leader at Fifth Bebington Brownies – taught her that diversity in culture helps young people feel included in society, builds confidence and self worth, and provides role models who are brought to life on the pages of the books they see every day.
“So many books just have the same old lazy stereotypes, generally told by white, older gentlemen who don’t know children at all,” Michelle explains.
“Books allow us to see through other people’s eyes in a very easy way, in an empathetic way. An autistic character written by an autistic author is a great eye opener to everyone.
“I spent a lot of time with children without their adults present, and they are so much more imaginative and open to different life experiences than they are often given credit for,” she says.
“We stock books that are written by people that are alive today, because we’re not all white middle class or upper class boarding girls, or boys. We might live in council estates. We might be disabled. Our families might not look like traditional families.
“If children don’t see anything they can relate to, can we be surprised when they stop reading?”
Home for Bear Hunt books is Bebington’s old Co-op building - and it’s an especially lively space when the shop holds events.
“Some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met are authors,” Michelle says. “Honestly, they’re gorgeous. If only their sales reflected their loveliness.
“It’s frustrating that a celebrity’s name on something will prompt lots of sales and unless parents see books that are a bit more imaginative they aren’t necessarily ready to take a chance on somebody they haven’t heard of.”
The Bebington community has embraced Bear Hunt Books, and its location means there are plenty of customers who pop in regularly.
“Bebington is a great place to live and to have a business,” says Michelle.
“There’s lots of people here that work in Liverpool, and a lot of people I speak to came here because it was cheaper to buy a house, compared with say, Aigburth, on the other side of the water.
“It’s kind of on a par with Bebington, and in terms of schools and countryside, it has so much more to offer. Once people come here, they never want to leave.”
A large part of Michelle’s research takes place online: “Quite a lot of it is Twitter sharing. People share information about their book, and you try your best to keep your eyes open, to find out about new books.
“Hopefully people will let us know, by tagging us. Obviously, I don’t know everything, but the independent book community is brilliant and very collaborative, and we are learning all the time.
“I came here back in 2001. I was studying at the University of Liverpool and living in Chester, commuting on the train with a one year old. It was full on, to say the least, and I started looking at moving somewhere closer, still on the train line, with a creative community and great schools.”
Bebington ticked every box. “I used to drive a big white van, when I was running the event creche,” says Michelle.
“It was very full-on, and I was this glamorous girl that went to the Hillbark Hotel, but I’m much more at home in my little bookshop, sitting on the floor and running our events.”
The growth of independent businesses along Wirral’s Left Bank is also a big draw for Michelle: “I love Bulwark Games, the board game shop, and the new Prost Bottle Shop, both in Bebington, and then there’s North Shore Coffee in Bromborough, and Liberty Bell in Birkenhead.
“It feels like there’s a really strong independent scene growing here, and we are really proud to be part of it.”
Bear Hunt Books
Unit 1, 2A Church Road, Bebington, CH63 7PH