The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army

posted in: Michael Foreman | 5

origamibookshopfrontcoverThe power of ideas and the resilience which comes with imagination are key themes in Michael Foreman‘s fabulous celebration of stories, The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army, about a bookshop threatened with closure.

Developers want to replace the bookshop with a supermarket but hope arrives when an energetic and powerful superhero, Origami Girl, folds herself out of a newspaper delivery boy’s bag. She summons an army of friends out of the pages on the shelves of the bookshop and local library, and when builders and the local bigwig come face to face with characters they themselves loved in the books they read as children, do you think they can still continue with their plans to bulldoze the bookshop?

There’s so much to enjoy in this optimistic and not a-political picture book. From the very first illustration, which I’m sure is semi-autobiographical (Foreman himself was a newspaper delivery boy, and the blue and white scarf is perhaps a nod to his life-long support of Chelsea football club), to the final pages showing a completely different building project which really serves the local community, each spread from Foreman has something to make readers smile and feel empowered.


The story arc reminds me of Foreman’s piercing and brilliant War and Peas; Conflict and peaceful resolution are key themes throughout his oeuvre, perhaps unsurprisingly for one whose outlook on life has been so coloured by his experience of World War 2 and the Cold War (the former engagingly explored in War Boy).

Colour plays a powerful role in the illustrations in The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army. Yes, Foreman is known for his intense blue washes, and they are present here, but by counterpointing these with flashes time and again of rainbow hued details (the passing train, the children’s outfits, the railway bridge arches), the blue lifts and brightens, and the palette and composition of his spreads embody energy and hopefulness. For me, each rainbow splash is like a shaft of sunlight hitting the page.


Fictional characters coming to life have a long and wonderful history. Two of my favourite examples are to be found in Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson and Eleanor’s Secret, a marvellous animated film which deserves to be much more widely known. Classics old and new are represented in Foreman’s visionary army, with McKee’s Elmer and Ross’ Little Princess marching alongside Alice, Puss in Boots, Toad of Toad Hall and many more, including some of Foreman’s favourites from earlier books of his. This playfulness seems to me a Foreman hallmark; when I interviewed him I was especially struck by the twinkle in his eye and joie de vivre. His sense of mischief shines through too: The spread showing politicians snoring in parliament is a hoot!

Unfortunately, the future for bookshops is not as bright and rainbow filled as Foreman’s rich book suggests. Just this week Saltaire Bookshop has announced that it may have to close in 6 months time, with takings currently averaging only £2 a day. The stats for the UK are bleak: Ten years ago there were 1,535 independent booksellers here, but by 2014 there were only 939. Interestingly, the situation in the US seems more hopeful: According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookshops (or should I say bookstores) in the U.S. has grown significantly in the last 5 years (figures differ, but if you’re interested, take a look here and here).

I can only encourage you to do your bit to ensure there continue to be local independent bookshops to feed our imaginations by getting your own copy of this loving ode to the impact books can have on us and the value of places which store stories for us all by seeking out your own copy of The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army. It will make your book-loving heart sing!


Inspired by Foreman’s fabulous book we wanted to create our own bookshop full of origami characters. First we had to fill our shop with books, and not just any old books, but edible ones. These were made with little chewy sweets (fruit salads), but you could use any small individually wrapped rectangular sweet.


We also included in our inventory these enticing books:


I hope the image below gives you a good enough idea of how to make these books yourself. If you do use fruit salads or blackjacks (in the UK) you can use my printout for the words on the pages by downloading from here. Each double page spread is a excerpt from a different Grimm’s fairy tale so you can include everything from Rapunzel to The 12 Dancing Princesses in your bookshop.


The fairytale texts were attached to the sweets and book covers (small slips of cardboard) using tiny glue dots.The second type of book was made out of fig rolls (fig newtons) and strips of dried fruit / fruit leather (we used these), with writing icing to decorate the covers.

Once our bookshop stock was ready we had to build some shelves and create some origami characters to hide in amongst the books:


We used Densho Origami: Traditional Japanese Figures for Everyone to learn how to make origami figures. It was ideal for my 10 year old who quickly graduated to the more complex projects, but J, at 7, also found the instructions for the simpler patterns easy to follow.


Finally our bookshop had a grand opening. You can imagine how many books got eaten in the celebration!


Whilst making our little bookshop full with origami friends we listened to:

  • Indies! – For Independent Bookstores Everywhere. This is a parody of Lorde’s Royals.
  • All About Them Books! Another parody – this time of All About That Bass.
  • Reading (Happy Song) by Adreanna Clark

  • We also tried learning The Origami Song…. it’s surprisingly addictive!

    Other activities which would go well with reading The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army include:

  • Making all sorts of crafts with newspaper. Red Ted Art has a great round-up.
  • Designing your own playground. I’m sure your kids will have loads of ideas about what would be in their ideal playground, but if you wanted some more ideas, you could show them this pinterest board with ideas.
  • Creating your own book bloc shields. These have an interesting and very real history, which I first learned about at the V&A’s exhibition Disobedient Objects. Full details on how to make your own can be found here (scroll down to the book block shields).

  • Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers.

    If you liked this post you might also enjoy these other posts of mine:

  • Making teeny-tiny paper books and pocket libraries
  • Creating snack-sized books out of chocolate
  • Working with a local bookshop to get book reviews by 6 and 7 year olds on display

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