indie bookstores

The Fountainhead Bookstore, Hendersonville, NC

Valerie (l) and her daughter Melise.

Valerie (l) and her daughter Melise.

For a short time, I lived in the quaint town of Hendersonville, North Carolina, whose Main Street is chock full of adorable shops. One of those was a bookstore. That shop is now under new management, and I’m happy to have been invited to speak at The Fountainhead Bookstore in February. I’ll post reminders closer to the date, but I’m pleased to share this short interview with Valerie Wellbourn, the shop’s bookseller. Here’s my chat with Valerie.

Can you tell us about The Fountainhead Bookstore?

We have an eclectic selection, including a Children’s Section for the very young up to age 8 and a Tween Section. Customers tell us that we have a wonderful selection within each genre. We try to be a place where bookworms feel welcome and get social opportunities to meet other bookworms.

How did you become a bookseller?

I was a land surveyor for many years, believe it or not. In December of 2009 the local bookstore on Main Street had gone out of business.  I was actually looking for just such an opportunity, and as a book lover myself had gotten tired of always driving to the nearest big city, Asheville, for book shopping and book clubs.  I opened the kind of bookstore that I had always wished for in our town.

 What are some of your favorite books for kids? 

A few of my favorite picture books are: Blockhead (of course), pop-ups like Flanimals or the new Harry Potter pop-up book. One Red Dot is awesome, Of Thee I Sing is a great new one, and Children Make Terrible Pets is very funny.  I like the concept of Beautiful Oops! very much. I could go on and on.

Why do you think you so many people love the shop?

Customers tell us that they really appreciate the ambience, our helpfulness, and the friendly atmosphere.  Plus, they can find certain books here that are hard to find anywhere else.

Why should people support independent bookstore over chains or online stores?

Just remember, Amazon nor Kindle will never, ever host your favorite author.  Nor will they ever host a book club. If local indie stores disappear, all you’re likely to be offered in the future are mainstream books (which are not bad in and of themselves, but your choices will be limited). 

The Fountainhead Bookstore will host my talk on February 19, starting at 3 PM. The store is located at 408 North Main Street, Hendersonville, NC.


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Thank you, Books of Wonder!

2010 Book Event at Books of Wonder, New York City

Illustrator John O’Brien and I recently appeared for the very first time together at a book signing event at the legendary Books of Wonder bookstore in New York City.

The event introduced the audience to five new picture book biographies. Among them were books about Ella Fitzgerald, John F. Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix, Dave the Potter, and of course, Leonardo Fibonacci.

It was a special event for us because John and I had never met during the two years we worked together on the book. It was also great to see old friends from New York City who I have not been able to see in a long time, since I no longer live in the region.

The Books of Wonder link containing descriptions of all the books is here. Doing a group event like this is a fun and low-stress way to learn about great children’s books. I’d highly recommend this format to other bookstores. I left with a number of the other books myself.

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Yellow Book Road Bookstore, San Diego


Booksellers David and Ann Diener operate Yellow Book Road, the best-known children’s bookstore in the San Diego area. The shop was voted the No. 1 Bookstore in San Diego two years running. Needless to say, the store is an independent, mom-and-pop operation, just the sort of store my brothers and I used to patronize as kids when we used our paper route money to buy books. I’m proud to say that David and Ann will be hosting me for a reading and book signing for Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci on April 24 at 2 p.m. The store is located at 7200 Parkway Drive, Suite 118, La Mesa, CA, 91942. Here’s my chat with Ann.

Can you tell us about The Yellow Book Road?

The Yellow Book Road began in 1986. Two teachers who were wild about children’s books began the store, which later moved to downtown La Mesa into its own building. Over the years the original owners became very well known in the area of children’s literature and gave workshops and seminars on the topic. After twenty years in the business, these two women decided to sell the store. Two young teachers bought the store and moved it to its present location. With the economy in a recession, plus raising young kids of their own, these two young teachers felt they needed to give up their dream and sold the store to us in September 2009. 

How did you two become booksellers of children's books only?

The store has always been a children’s bookstore—that was the original focus and intent. There is a need for a store for children’s literature with professional, knowledgeable staff advising customers on the full range and depth of children’s media from infant to young adult. We have a motto at The Yellow Book Road —“We know kids and we know books!”

Do you remember visiting bookshops when you were a kid?

I don’t remember spending much time in bookstores as a child but I spent many hours in the public library. I have always read and have always loved books.

What are some of your favorite books for kids? 

I remember that The Cat in the Hat was the first book I ever read to myself without any help. Because I clearly remember this, it must be a favorite. I also remember reading Black Beauty over and over as well as a collection of fairy tales on my own bookshelf. I devoured Anne of Green Gables and all of the Louisa May Alcott books. A Wrinkle in Time was my first science fiction book and I actually liked it! There are too many books to discuss, but I could talk on and on about children’s books.

You have been voted San Diego's #1 Bookstore in 2008 and 2009. Why do you think you so many people love the shop?

The staff at the book store has always been the reason people come to The Yellow Book Road. We hire teachers and librarians and those just crazy about children’s books. We feel we offer professional service to anyone who comes in and wants a good book. Teachers come here for their classroom collections and grandmas come for books for their grandkids. Each customer can trust the advice and help from our qualified staff.

Can you tell us what book events are like at The Yellow Book Road? 

We have had several book events that we have been involved with since September. Writers and illustrators the caliber of John Scieszka, David Shannon, and Jack Prelutsky have appeared at the store.  Most of the events during the school year are during the day so that classes can come from schools because we believe that the magic starts when an author and their books are introduced to children. Literacy is an important component of our mission and when an author shares the words from their own pages, the stories come to life. Often for a very famous author, we have standing-room-only. There are times when we’ve had lesser known authors who have shared their stories with a more intimate crowd and I hope the enjoyment is just the same. 

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Meet Bookseller Leslie of Spellbound Books, Asheville

On Saturday, April 10, I’ll be doing my first book reading and signing for “Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci” at Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in Asheville, NC, where I live. It’s an odd little town of only 70,000 people but at least a dozen or so new and used bookstores. People like to read here! Leslie Hawkins runs the only bookshop dedicated to children’s books. I thought I’d spend some time getting to know her before I did my talk at her place on Saturday. Here’s a short Q&A we put together.

Leslie Hawkins, Spellbound Books, Asheville, 2010

Can you tell us about Spellbound Children's Bookshop?

Spellbound is an independent bookstore just for kids, featuring books for babies through teens. We carry primarily new books but also have a small section of used books and select non-book items that encourage reading and creativity, such as plush toys and posters based on classic book characters, art supplies, music, and educational toys and games. Our mission is to help raise lifelong readers who are curious, imaginative, and independent thinkers by sharing the magic found when you open a book. In addition to children's books and related items, Spellbound also offers a different kind of shopping experience for families in Western North Carolina. At our store, the "children's section" is the entire store, and we are always available to help connect kids with books they will love. We have a carefully selected inventory reflecting the best books of yesterday and today, books that kids will want to read again and again…books with staying power…books that hold you spellbound!

How did you become a bookseller of children's books only?

When I found myself “between jobs” several years ago, I asked myself what I really wanted to spend my time doing. I thought about the jobs and volunteer positions that had given me the most satisfaction and I realized that I really missed working with kids. The sign on the wall that says “We love kids & we love books” pretty much sums it up. I saw a small niche to be filled in the community that would perfectly suit my interests and experience. At the time I had never seen or even heard of an all-children’s bookstore. After some research I found out that not only could it be done, but that people were doing it in lots of other areas-- just not here in Asheville yet. It was not a straight line that brought me here, but it feels like where I was meant to be.

 Do you remember visiting bookshops when you were a kid?

Unfortunately, not much. I went to the library constantly, but my small hometown didn’t have a bookstore. The first time I remember being in a bookstore was when my parents took me to the Waldenbooks that had just opened in the Asheville Mall. I suppose I’m trying to create the bookshop that I wish had been around when I was a kid!

 What are some of your favorite books for kids? (Try to keep the list down to 500 or so. ha ha.)

I often tell people, when they ask how I decided what books to carry, that my opening inventory began with a very scientific process of listing my favorite books from childhood, which I emphatically thought (and still think) all kids should read. Among them, in no particular order: The Monster at the End of This Book; The Shrinking of Treehorn; Sylvester and the Magic Pebble; The Bremen-Town Musicians; Harriet the Spy; A Wrinkle in Time; The Secret Garden… Some of my favorite newer books for kids are The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas; Hope Larson’s graphic novels for tweens; the Graceling books by Kristin Cashore; The Mysterious Benedict Society; Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty books; anything by Kevin Henkes… and of course Blockhead by Joseph D’Agnese!

Recently your shop was mentioned in the bookseller trade press for its creative space-sharing. What is that about, and how is it working out?

The original location of Spellbound was in a great little neighborhood not far from downtown, but it was just out of the way enough to be challenging as far as attracting locals from other parts of town and attracting tourists. After a couple of years of looking, I finally found the perfect downtown location at the same time that Alisha Silver was ready to open her own photography studio. What with the economy being… let’s say “less than robust” in 2008, we both liked the idea of sharing a space and sharing expenses. We’re sort of like business roommates, two individual businesses cohabiting in the same storefront. Our businesses have also turned out to be very complimentary; on many occasions bookshop customers have ended up booking photo sessions with Alisha or her clients have become customers at Spellbound after discovering us through her.

 Can you tell us what the book events are like at Spellbound?
They can be as varied as the books and authors. We try to make our events interactive, to get kids engaged with the material and, when possible, with the author. Sometimes that means having a craft activity that ties in with the book, or a slideshow, or an illustrator bringing original artwork to show how a book was put together, or for older kids we might have games to test their knowledge about a book or series, or costume contests….

2019 Update: Spellbound Bookshop has a brand-new location under construction. In the interim, the shop is operating in a pop-up location. Details at the link in the story.

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