Frances Ban, the 403rd person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, is a former prosecutor who stumbled by accident onto a very unusual business.

Frances was living in Shanghai with a young child, when she discovered, through some other mothers, a special type of children’s book known as a ‘busy book’ or ‘quiet book’. This is a handmade book with special elements on the page (such as zippers, buttons, pouches, letters and pull-off animals), which offer countless different playing and learning opportunities for readers.

During her school years, Frances had been an exceptional artist, who reluctantly gave up art to focus on more academic subjects. Now that she was having a career break, she seized the opportunity to design her own busy books. Her first batch of 400 sold out in just two months with minimal marketing, which made Frances realise her unusual product had great potential.

Frances has since abandoned her legal career and built a thriving business, Wondertivity, with a highly popular line of books. None of the books have stories, but they each have their own theme.

The biggest challenge Frances faces is supply rather than demand. The books need to be hand-sewn to strict specifications, which makes them hard to produce. Frances has two good suppliers, but they’re manufacturing at full capacity; if Frances wants to produce more, she needs additional suppliers, but the other companies she’s tried have let her down.

Busy books are significantly more expensive than regular children’s books, but they can be consumed in hundreds of different ways (unlike a regular book, which can only be consumed in one way). As a result, they offer more value for money. Also, pages can easily be removed and added (due to the binding that’s used), which means books can keep evolving.

Frances is keen to keep growing her business, and there’s great potential, for a couple of reasons. First, the product category is largely unknown; as more parents discover busy books, the market will naturally grow. Second, Frances already has a loyal customer base (which includes a few celebrity customers) and her books are popular with daycare centres, speech therapists and occupational therapists, which means she has an army of promoters.

If you want to buy a busy book, go to: