In the shoes of a picture book elf

By Amanda Kee

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The grass-green vintage door stands out cheerfully along Tiong Bahru’s latest “hipster” district. With a tinkling of bells, the door to Woods in the Books opens and the fresh perfume of books greets our guests. Their eyes track the rows, shelves and islands of books diligently and intelligently collected over the years.

It is inevitable that their fingers start to itch and unerringly make their way to the all-professional Nikon camera strapped over their necks. But before our earnest guests can escape with a snap, an elf blocks them.


Elf’s spoken-thought #1: “Sorry, we don’t allow photography here. We really mean that.”

We are not The Grouch who relishes spoiling your excitement. We just think that everyone has a part to play in upholding the integrity of picture books. It is especially ironic that many wannabe- photographers do not understand the sacredness of pictures.

A picture and its artist can only be given full respect when the viewer truly places art in high esteem. If a person irresponsibly snaps photographs out of a habit that greedily consumes eccentricity, humour and aesthetics, he/she runs a risk of reducing and under-appreciating the meaningful art of photography.

Elf’s silent-thought #2: The High and Mighty (in other words, bad customers) arrives.

Of course, we, lowly elves, must serve our (sometimes) high and mighty customers. Still, it pains me to see ignorance in the face when people take one look around and dismiss the shop as “only for children”.

News flash: Children’s literature isn’t just for children.

A favourite of mine is Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer. Though it is a quick read (or maybe because it is a quick read), you will be swept away by the power of astutely written texts and drawings.

Elf’s FAQ #3: “Why do you want to work in a bookshop?” (inserts politely curious face)  

What I find tragic are the reactions of friends and families when I tell them that I am working as a shop assistant and not as a “proper intern”.

Initially, I found myself struggling to justify my decision. Eventually, my peers will relent and with a metaphorical pat on my head, they tell me, all-knowingly, that working in a bookstore is a “cool” or, even, “noble” job. Imagine that.

Elf’s thought #4: But, who am I kidding? I love my job!

Nothing beats the glow in my heart when I find the right book for each curious child (yes, even if you’re a good ripe age of 80!) that comes by looking for a good companion to bring home. Working becomes a gift.

If you have a yen for books, why not take the less travelled route and spend a summer (or two) grounded in the making of a picture bookstore?


At the stroke of evening, the elf takes one last glance around the shop and secures the lock.

Slowly, it sheds its elfish look and hurries along the street, quite unseen by anyone under the bluebell sky, and agonizes over her mountain of essays still left untouched.