Just a few minutes’ walk from the BART station in downtown Lafayette, tucked away down a side alley lies the latest addition to the town’s burgeoning retail scene. But Bel and Bunna’s Books brands itself more than just a shopping destination. This literary wonderland is somewhere kids can discover their inner bookworm through listening, learning, playing and, of course, reading.

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Bringing Back the Bookstore
Bel McNeil was just one of the many East Bay residents mourning the loss of local bookstores, when she chose to take it as a call to arms. “About a year ago I decided to take a break from working in the corporate world and thought I might get a job at Barnes and Noble. Who then decided to close their Walnut Creek location. Within days of hearing about that I learned that The Storyteller in Lafayette was also closing. That was the signal for me to take the giant leap and open my own children’s bookstore.”
And so Bel and Bunna’s Books was born. Inspired by her love of children’s literature and her fond memories of British bookshops from her own childhood, Bel set about creating a store that was not only a place to shop, but somewhere that children could learn to really love books. Little ones are free to run around and explore or settle down on the rug for storytime, while older children love to drag a beanbag over to the young adults’ shelves and bury their nose in a book.

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A Family Affair
Regular characters in the store include Bel’s sons who can often be found lending their expertise on dinosaur books to curious youngsters. “James, who is 13, will read pretty much anything that is put in front of him. His favorite books so far are the Alex Rider series. Joe, who is 9, is obsessed with the Jedi Academy books and the Diary of Wimpy Kid series,” says Bel.

Local Talents And The Best Of British
There’s plenty on offer for younger kids too. Bel stocks a wide range of children’s literature for all ages, including plenty of classics from the UK alongside American authors. Her favorite recommendations? “Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh are two that spring to mind,” says Bel. “I also have pretty much everything by The Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and Judith Kerr’s Mog The Forgetful Cat books. American authors Mo Willems and Kate DiCamillo both take my breath away and Brandon Mull is another writer I really enjoy.”

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More Than Just Books
But there’s more to the store than meets the eye. There’s a box of legos for children who want to take a break from the books and storytime sessions three times a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:15 a.m. for kids under 5, and on Saturdays at 11 a.m. for all ages. Bel often incorporates different activities into these events, too; when the store first opened children heard stories about gardens and flowers before planting their own seeds outside. Their first sunflower is just starting to bloom just outside the shop.

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Other themed events have included a midnight Harry Potter party for the launch of the latest book. Bringing the community together through her store is obviously really important to Bel, inspired by her own experiences as a child.”In the town I grew up in there was a wonderful children’s bookshop called The Lion and The Unicorn. I remember spending many a happy Saturday morning there as a child,” recalls Bel. “They would keep photos from every event they put on over the years, and each time I returned home and popped in, I would see many of my childhood friends smiling back at me from the wall!”

Something for the Grown-Ups
December 1st is a ‘grown-ups’ only evening, for holiday shopping and socializing. The hidden gem at Bel and Bunna’s is the carefully curated adult’s section at the back of the store, so you too can have a browse while your little one is reading. From beautiful, hardback editions of classics like Shakespeare and Jane Austen to the best of this summer’s paperback fiction and a selection of parenting manuals, Bel has made sure there’s something for everyone.

Details of all Bel and Bunna’s events are on their Facebook Page. Beginning in November you’ll also be able to hold children’s birthday parties at the store.

Bel and Bunna’s Books
3581c Mt Diablo Blvd.
Lafayette, CA
Online: belandbunnasbooks.com

What are your favorite books to read to your children? Let us know in the comments below!

–Katie Antoniou

All images courtesy of Bel and Bunna’s Books