Children’s Books Edition: L’École des Loisirs’ New ‘House of Stories’

In News by Olivia Snaije

The Paris bookstore Chantelivre, owned by publisher L’École des Loisirs, has opened a ‘House of Stories’ where kids engage with narratives.

A space based on Rudy Spiessert and Clementine Mélois’ series ‘Les Chiens Pirates.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

A Bookstore’s ‘House of Stories’
As French children went back to school in the first week of this month, publishers went back to their desks to manage the rentrée littéraire, France’s primary literary season.

The independent L’École des Loisirs, one of the largest children’s publishers in the country, is starting off the school year with a new space called La Maison des Histoires (House of Stories) in which children seven and younger can discover and consolidate their knowledge of L’École des Loisirs’ books.

The 58-year-old publishing house owns Chantelivre, a children’s bookshop nestled among luxury boutiques in Paris’ 6th arrondissement. Last winter, the 400-square-meter shop (4,305 square feet) underwent a renovation which included installing the 150-square-meter (1,614 square feet) Maison des Histoires just behind the bookshop in a former storage area. Its soft launch was held in May, before it closed for the summer holidays.

La Maison des Histoires has nine themed spaces, all based on books published by L’École des Loisirs. Co-founder and associate director Camille Kiejman came up with the idea, inspired by museums she’d see dedicated to children’s books in Nordic markets, such as Junibacken in Stockholm.

La Maison des Histoires’ decors were chosen from a wide variety of books, including Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. There’s a play-kitchen space with a design based on the series Cornebidouille by Pierre Bertrand and Magali Bonniol about a sorceress who spends a lot of time in the kitchen. There’s also a space for children who are not yet walking, with the gentler series Minusculette by Kimiko and Christine Davenier about a fairy and her eight sisters.

Since its beginnings, L’École des Loisirs has been known for its ability to combine quality editorial work with astute business savvy. The fact that Kiejman’s idea was taken on board is a fairly sure bet that, while the spaces are lovely in themselves, the business strategy is sound.

La Maison des Histoires Entry: €10 and €8

A play-kitchen space in Chantelivre’s La Maison des Histoires has a design based on the series ‘Cornebidouille’ by Pierre Bertrand and Magali Bonniol. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

More than 40 years ago, the publishing house had begun offering subscriptions for children. Each year, subscriptions are offered by age and include selections of eight books per year. Teachers and libraries can also take out subscriptions so that classrooms and libraries have steady streams of books for children of different ages.

A large sales force focuses on what L’École des Loisirs calls “intermediaries”—parents, early childhood caregivers, teachers, and librarians who encourage reading and reinforce the brand.  Many adults in France fondly remember L’École des Loisirs books from their childhoods and buy them for their own children.

While the publisher’s backlist of some 6,000 titles brings in a healthy 75 percent of the annual turnover, the appointment in 2013 of Louis Delas–who took over as head of the company from his father, Jean Delas–gave L’École des Loisirs a youthful boost. As a former CEO of Casterman BD Jeunesse (BD for bandes dessinées, or comics), Louis Delas launched a comics imprint called Rue de Sèvres, also in 2013, which has developed impressively in its own right.

In 2015, Alain Beuve-Méry at Le Monde reported that L’École des Loisirs was selling 5 million books yearly, although annual turnover for the private company was not disclosed. An industry insider estimated, however, that annual profits were between €40 million and €45 million (US$42.6 million and $48 million).

Clara Kagan

Three days weekly, Chantelivre’s La Maison des Histoires is open primarily for visits from schoolchildren. There are sessions on other days, including Saturdays, open to the public with an entrance fee of €10 (US$10.65) for children and €8 (US$8.52) for adults.

The space is big enough to accommodate 40 people, adults and children. A session lasts 90 minutes, according to Clara Kagan, who runs the Maison des Histoires. A session might offer storytelling, reading, music, or creative workshops. Sundays, Kagan says, are reserved for birthday parties. The space is booked until the end of the year.

Parents happy to let their children roam can sit in the café, operated in collaboration with the nearby bakery Poilâne. When the children have finished a session, they exit through the Chantelivre bookstore in which books from multiple children’s publishers are sold, as are titles in a smaller adult-content section. A special new area is dedicated to L’École des Loisirs’ books.

While La Maison des Histoires clearly caters to the privileged, €1 (US$1.07) from each ticket sale is set aside for free tickets, a number of which go to schools categorized as being in “priority education zones.” In under two months, Kagan says, La Maison des Histoires has collected enough funds to make free tickets available to 50 classes during the 2023-2024 school year.

Any small child would be enchanted with the space, which fits publisher Louis Delas’ motto: “Make good books, sell them well, and over a long period of time.”

In Chantelivre’s children’s space called La Maison des Histoires, the decor from Maurice Sendak’s work is from the 1963 ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ Image: Publishing Perspectives, Olivia Snaije

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here, more on bookstores is here, and more on the French market is here.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.