Meet the bookseller with Kathy Kozlowski
Kathy Kozlowski is a children’s book specialist who has worked in children’s literature for more than 40 years. Here, she shares the changes she’s witnessed in the book industry and which authors she’d invite to a dinner party.
Why did you decide to work in books and what is your favourite part of the job?
It was a light bulb moment during university when I realised that if I worked with children’s books I could forever be in the land of A.A Milne and Walter de la Mare. So I became a children’s librarian until, on my overseas travels, I took a holiday job in the book department of The Army and Navy Stores in Westminster and discovered the fascination of bookselling. (The Army and Navy Stores was a general department store serving officers, and not one that featured books about military strategy and tanks!)
I love the conversations about books every day: the stories, the words, the ideas, the illustrations, the jacket design, the marketing, the display, the sales success or failure. I love the fact that to be a good bookseller you have to be aware of, and buying books ahead of, the trends. I have so enjoyed the mixture of types and ages and interests among bookselling staff – artists, musicians, students, photographers, escaped accountants, playwrights, authors, environmentalists and career booksellers. I’ve worked with them all, and more.
Above all, working as I have done for more than 50 years in children’s books, I have been feeding the imaginations of young minds, giving them the ability to see the world through another’s eyes, to see myriad possibilities of their own lives, and, hopefully, to laugh often. What a privilege!
What is something new you’ve observed in bookselling over the years?
When I started out in the 1960s and 1970s, we children’s librarians and booksellers were thin on the ground and we were more gatekeepers than we are now. Enid Blyton and Biggles were banned in libraries and better bookshops for being too formulaic. We were also beginning to question the books’ sexism and racism, but only just. They reflected how most of us thought really, so the discussion was quite radical! Now a lot more books both for teenagers and younger readers are issues driven so children may be exposed to difficult lives – drugs, alcohol, family violence etc – early on. It’s odd really, we don’t cosset children in their reading as we once did but we are in an age of ‘helicopter parenting’!
One really positive change is how diversity is celebrated. Publishers are more inclined to publish Indigenous authors and other writers representing minority groups. A kid doesn’t have to be white, middle class, straight and able bodied to find their peer in a novel now and that is great.
Tell us about a book that changed the way you think.
Bill Scott’s Boori – published by OUP in 1978 – was the book that woke my interest in Australia’s Indigenous culture. It probably would not be published now as Bill Scott is not Indigenous himself, but I am forever grateful. As it’s no longer in print, my bookselling instincts require I mention one that is available! In my late teens, Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing opened a new and rather seductive way of looking at life to this clergyman’s daughter!
If you were going to host a dinner party with authors who would you invite?
- Salley Vickers
- Amor Towles
- Marilyn Robinson
- Philip Pullman
- Bob Graham (an illustrator, but still counts!)
- Martine Murray
I like to think that though a mixed lot they would very quickly find common tongue and delight in each other’s company.
What books are sitting on your bedside table right now?
- The Skylarks’ War by Hilary Mckay
- Exit West by Moshin Hamid
- Phoebe: A Story by Paula Gooder
- Books That Saved My Life by Michael McGirr
- Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Kathy is also this year’s recipient of the Leila St John Award, which is given out by the Victorian branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). Launched in 1999 and named after a founding member of the Victorian branch of the CBCA, the Leila St John Award is an annual prize for services to children’s literature in Victoria for the previous year.
The award was presented at an event on Tuesday, 19 March.
Pictured (L-R): Angela Crocombe, Kathy Kozlowski and Dani Solomon