Bookshelves Ahoy! In this Fairtales column, children’s literature expert Petra Paoli takes us around the world exploring independent bookstores for children and young adults.
Voyage in Children’s Bookshops Around the World: Italy
From the Alps to Punta Pesce Spada at the southernmost tip of the island of Lampedusa, Italy stretches into the Mediterranean for some 1300 km, made up of 20 regions, each with its own dialects, traditions and cuisine, and each redolent with history, art-filled cities and enchanting villages. Italy’s many specialist bookshops for children and young people range from historic stores with decades of experience – places full of stories and good books, today cultural landmarks in the cities that host them - to the more recent stores, open to innovative projects, where children's literature sits alongside toys and other items that are part of the child’s world of today. In the north-east of this iconic boot, in the beautiful and famous city of Verona, we find Farfilò, a bookshop run by Lucia, who for almost ten years now has managed her bookstore project with a radiant smile and boundless enthusiasm. As its name suggests – in the local dialect “farfilò” means "to have a chat" - the store is first and foremost a meeting place. Physically, it’s like a matryoshka doll, the first room leading surprisingly to another unexpected space in which to meet, exchange views, talk about books, and develop a community around childhood. Books were Lucia’s passion well before she opened her bookstore. She is bursting with ideas that although starting with books, leap off the shelves to explore other areas with the same curiosity, care and attention. But we’ll let her tell us her story! change and her personal story of finding a new profession in books.
When did Farfilò start up? Can you tell us what your initial idea was and whether it has changed along the way?
Farfilò opened in 2012, but it had existed in my head long before that. Still today, it looks very much like I imagined it. Farfilò is made up of two very different rooms. To get to the second innermost room, you have to pass through a large cupboard. It prepares people to be curious and allow themselves to be enchanted. As the books and games are not arranged by age or subject, people are obliged to explore the place, train their eyes. If they’re in any difficulty, my helpers and I are always on hand. In the beginning, there were lots of free spaces, lots of light. So, we were able to transform and adapt the areas for activities and workshops. Today, we try to keep some free space but as we’ve grown and taken in more books and games, it’s become increasingly difficulty. Perhaps that’s the biggest challenge!
What are the professions that have been channelled into the project? What are the specificities of Farfilò?
Before founding Farfilò, I was a librarian for about ten years. I also worked with parenting support units, trying to bring books and stories to the places where girls and boys are born. My primary interest and studies were around the arts, creativity, architecture and especially design. At Farfilò, I also pay great attention to ecological issues. We try to reduce our footprint to a minimum, from the lighting and furniture through to our carrier bags and gift wrapping.
How do you select the books for your shelves?
We work with publishers' catalogues; we don't chase novelty releases. As a small outfit, we can afford to be very choosy, but even then, we have around 2500 titles on our shelves. Our books reflect our idea of childhood. They pay great attention to text, images, graphic design, and printing quality. Our target readership is early childhood with board books, picture- and learning books. We don’t have much narrative and only a few comics. We also have some books in other languages on the shelves here and there.
Your product offering comprises a broad spectrum that goes beyond books to include toys and other items belonging to the child’s world. What were the reasons for this choice?
I created Farfilò to make available a place that offers beauty and attention. Children don’t need a lot of 'things'. They need beautiful things. We select our offering very carefully, especially the games and toys. They must be safe, made with attention and true feeling, offering children a real play experience. And they must also be reasonably priced. At Farfilò, families and children can play, do things, try things out, and take time over their choice.
How does your bookshop fit into Verona’s urban fabric and relate to families, schools, libraries etc.? Can you tell us more about the neighbourhood, Verona, and how Farfilò was received?
We’re a stone's throw from the city's historic centre in one of the oldest neighbourhoods where you still have small shops and craft businesses. We're outside the tourist routes, so people don’t come across us by chance. Those that do come often stay for a long time – which is exactly what we’ve always wanted. The atmosphere here is of a welcoming home, where people meet, chat, breastfeed and share: “fare filò” – as the name says.
This year has created previously unimaginable difficulties, forcing all of us to find new solutions. What strategies did you adopt?
The pandemic made meeting – what we like best – impossible. We found no web-based equivalent for that. We didn’t even start an online shop. Transposing the purchasing experience we have here simply wasn’t possible. So, our sales were made through virtual telephone tours and very long messages and emails, followed by bicycle deliveries and a courier service for greater distances. We maintained contact with customers through the social network, talking about our feelings and fears and trying to maintain dialogue and exchange. In fact, the Farfilò community of customers and friends became even closer knit. Together with illustrators, actors, and writer friends we developed different ways of saying thank you.
How do you see the future?
We come up with new ideas almost every day, and get outside requests all the time. In fact, the difficult thing is choosing where to place your attention and energy. We have many ideas for the future and we’ll put all our enthusiasm into making many of them become a reality.
After 8 years working in a specialist bookstore, ceramist and children’s literature expert Petra Paoli founded Odeon Studio, a cultural space for art and illustration. A researcher, she is also involved in education and training and is a Board member of the Accademia Drosselmeier - School for Bookstore Managers and Literature Study Centre.
She also acts as secretary and board member of Alir, the Associaiton of Independent Children’s Bookstores.