Parrot street book club is a fantastic book club for children that send carefully chosen books every month with a fun activity pack. We had a video call to meet up with Sarah and Emily, the founders, and were lucky enough to ask them some questions.
The interview was done virtually in April 2020 during lockdown.
Q: How did you think of the idea to make a book club for children?
Emily: ‘It all started when Sarah and I were having coffee on our local high street, dreaming about what it would be like to own a bookshop. However, we never thought that it was going to work for us. We’d read a few articles about family book clubs and we loved giving book recommendations. That is how it all came along.’
Q: How long have you been working together?
Sarah: ‘We met in school when we were about eleven but we only properly started working together three years ago and we launched the business around two years ago.’
Q: When and why did you come up with the idea of adding activity packs to the books you choose?
Emily: ‘Well, we liked the idea of a family book club where people could do things with their children. We also love a nice joke or a funny fact. We tried out lots of different things until we found the right fit. Also, we wanted people to have something to think and talk about.’
Sarah: ‘We were also very keen that people talk about the books we send.’
Q: Why did you decide on birds for the age sections and the name of the club?
Sarah : ‘We thought very long about this and in the end we decided on Parrot Street book club because parrots are chatty and very sociable. That is what we wanted the people who get our books to be like. Parrot’s are also very clever and we wanted our subscribers to feel like they were absorbing knowledge. Calling it Street made it feel like a community. We decided on birds for the sections because we didn’t want to have strict age groups as sometimes, when you are choosing a book, you feel like reading one for younger children but sometimes you want something a bit more challenging.’
Q: How many subscribers does Parrot Street Book Club have?
Sarah: ‘Well, it is going up all the time. We probably have a few hundred now. Since the lockdown, our numbers have gone up very quickly.’
Q: Do you have any subscribers abroad?
Sarah: ‘Yes, we have a few subscribers in North America and in Canada.’
Q: Did you enjoy reading when you were our age?
Emily: ‘YES! Definitely, I think we both really loved reading. I remember that I used to go to the library and take as many books as you were allowed. Then I’d read a chapter of one, then a chapter of the other. My mother could never understand me. I have a daughter who is the same, she is always reading a few books at once which makes her a lot like me when I was younger.’
Q: What were your favourite books when you were our age?
Sarah: ‘We get asked that question a lot! Even though I was probably a little older than you, one of my favourites was definitely Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and I still really enjoy it. Another book I really loved and loved reading with my children was 101 Dalmatians which is again a book I’d go back to and reread.’
Emily: ‘I think I was a very big Roald Dahl fan, I especially liked Matilda and The witches even though I did find it quite scary. Another series I remember is the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary about a girl and her family.’
Q: Were you part of a book club when you were our age?
Sarah : ‘No, they didn’t really exist. But I used to get books through the post. I’d flick through the catalogue and when I found a book that looked interesting to me we’d buy it across the phone but it wasn’t a book club as such. That’s how I bought Matilda when it was first published and I remember being really excited that there was a new Roald Dahl book coming out.’
Q: Where do you get all your books from?
Sarah: ‘We work with lots of publishers* directly. They send us lots of different samples of books to test and see which ones we like and when we’ve chosen one we buy them directly from them.’
Q: How do you choose the books we are given every month?
Sarah: ‘Well that is the fun part because we get to read lots of books. We test them by reading at least the first few first chapters or so and then narrow down to the ones we think are suitable until we have only the book you get sent left. But it’s quite easy because we are looking for variety and books that will work for both genders.’
Q: Do you test the books with children?
Sarah: ‘We test them with our own children. I have two boys that are 8 and 10 and Emily has got 3 girls who are 8, 6 and 3. They are a really good way for us to test the reaction the books are going to get in all age categories and both genders as well. So that is really helpful.’
Q: Do you manage to find interesting books every month; are they always really recent books?
Sarah: ‘We get sent lots of samples. We are quite spoiled for choice as there are lots and lots of children’s books published every month. You don’t hear about that many because they don’t all get a lot of advertising but there are lots and lots out there every month. We talk to publishers regularly to hear about the new books. We do choose quite recent books, yes.’
Q: How do you come up with ideas to make the activity packs for the books?
Emily: ‘As we are reading the books, both of us take notes and it is quite funny, it becomes a sort of habit and when I am reading a book for myself in the evening I always think I should take notes but I don’t. So we make notes as we go through of ideas for our readers that we come up with. We are always thinking of facts and jokes, a drawing or colouring activity and we always have our eyes peeled for any food because as you know we like to include a recipe.’
Q: We read that children are reading less and less, what do you think about it? What can we do about it?
Sarah: ‘You’re right, children are reading a lot less than they were a few years around even less than when we were children.
I think it is a great shame, I mean you are obviously book lovers and you know how much pleasure you can get out of reading books and there are lots of other benefits as well. Practising your critical thinking skill, improving your vocabulary and practising your social interaction. So children that are not reading are missing out on all of that. But there are lots of really good programmes that are trying to encourage children to read more and more.’
Q: Do you think we should read the books before we watch the movie?
Both: ‘YES! (laugh)
Sarah: ‘It is a very different experience isn’t it? If you watch the movie, when you read the book you react to it differently don’t you? And I think you miss out a little bit on the surprises that you get in the book.’
Emily: ‘And you are flexing your imagination more. So I definitely think of the book first.’
Q: What is your favourite children’s author at the moment?
Sarah: ‘Oh that is such a good question. So some children's authors that I really love at the moment include Piers Torday, Katherine Rundell, Sharna Jackson and Onjali Q. Rauf.’
Q: You choose to send paper books by post. What do you think about eBooks and audiobooks?
Emily: ‘We think there is something quite magical about holding a book in your hands and I think children really get a lot from the physical experience of reading, not just hearing the words. So that’s why we send the paper copies. But I think audio books are fantastic as well, when you’re listening to something it sort of almost allows your brain to go to a different place because you’re not having to concentrate on reading the words, you’re just listening and enjoying.’
Q: What do you think makes a good children’s book?
Sarah: ‘Oh that is such a good question! A really good character that you can relate to, that you can feel really involved with. Also some action, there needs to be something happening that hooks you in.
Emily: ‘Maybe books that are a bit different and that extra magic comes when you find something you are not at all expecting.’
Q: And what about adult books? What would you advise me if I wanted to offer a book to one of my parents?
Sarah: ‘With children, they read a lot more variety of books and are really very open to it. But as we get older we tend to get a little narrow in what we choose because we know what we like and keep going back to it. And I think more adults should do what you do and read a broader variety of genres. So when you go to get a book for your parents choose something totally different to what they would normally read.’
Thank you so much Sarah and Emily for your time; it was great fun talking to you.
Check out Parrot Street’s website and blog and if you are a real bookworm like us, maybe subscribe as well!
* Publishers = They prepare books before they are publicly available.