What’s Her Story?

Published on 26 February 2017

Bookseller Denise Tan doesn’t let a few stumbling blocks get in her way of bringing enjoyable stories to children.


Photo: Melanie Lee

Denise Tan of children’s book specialist, Closetful of Books, first fell in love with children’s books while working part-time at the now-defunct By the Book at Serene Centre, what she describes as “an odd shop selling secondhand and picture books”.

“There wasn’t much of a crowd there so I was just reading a lot and discovered titles such as Babette Cole’s Mummy Never Told Me and Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance. I was like, ‘What? You can put such exciting stories in picture books?’ ” recalls the affable 29-year-old.

In between graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where she pursued Mass Communication, and entering Nanyang Technological University to study English Literature, she approached the now-defunct Bookaburra (once a popular children’s bookstore) at Forum The Shopping Mall for a part-time job.

“I really wanted to work there and offered to do anything. But I was considered overqualified,” says Tan. Undaunted, she walked down the road to Tanglin Shopping Centre where Select Books was located. She got a job there, and while the store’s focus was mostly on Asian “grown-up” books, Tan appreciated how well-informed her colleagues were and learned from them.

Bookaburra also came back into the picture. While its boss, Cheryle Hum, could not offer Tan a job in the bookstore, there was a newsletter-writer position available. Tan took up the offer and throughout her university years, she worked at Bookaburra and Select. After graduation, she continued to work full-time at Bookaburra until the bookshop had to close.

Tan wanted to continue Hum’s legacy of championing children’s literature in Singapore. In 2013, she and secondary-school friend Kelvin Ng set up Closetful of Books with less than S$10,000.

Today, Closetful of Books also functions as a roaming children’s bookstore — it goes to schools setting up book fairs and occasionally organises author visits and workshops. “Children’s books in Singapore are doing great. There’s a strong community who really enjoy books and are willing to spend money on books for their children,” observes Tan.

She hopes to reach more schools to spread the love of reading, and perhaps even open a little museum on children’s literature where there are free activities for kids. “It’s a dream that’s still quite far away,” says Tan of her museum ambitions. But with characteristic gumption in tow, it’s probably something she will turn to reality.

For more information, visit www.closetfulofbooks.com.

Book Covers: www.closetfulofbooks.com
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