Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight: Bear Pond Books, Montpelier VT

Bear Pond #4Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files:  If only every state had a lively book shop on the main street of it’s capital city!  Today it’s a pleasure to be chatting with Jane Knight of Bear Pond Books ( ), which has been called “one of the great independent book stores on earth.”

Bear Pond #6MUF: What do you hope people will experience when they walk into Bear Pond  Books and browse?

MUF:What keeps you going?
Our passion for books and our loyal customers.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry in your shop?
We use a very magical blend of intuition, passion, rep. and book world reviews, word on the street and even a little wild guessing.Bear Pond ShipwreckBear Pond Glass sentence

MUF: What favorite titles—old and new, fiction and nonfiction—are you recommending to middle graders right now?Bear Pond  Return of Zita
So difficult to narrow them down to a manageable list! But here goes: Bear Pond Steve JenkinsFiction: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, anything by Linda Urban, The Bartimeaus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, the Bone series by Jeff Smith, Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Nation by Terry Pratchett, the Guys read series… please stop me now!!!! Bear Pond BartemausFor Non-fiction: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s MostDangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the Sea ; The Extraordinary Story of Shackleton and the Endeavor by Jennifer Armstrong, Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers, by Tanya Lee Stone, anything by Steve Jenkins. New Bear Pond Linda UrbanTitles: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove, The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitxgerald, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.Bear Pond Under the Egg`

MUF: Have you held events or activities at the store for middle graders? Any tie-ins with the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts up the hill?
Yes, we have! One of the favorites that comes to mind is our poetry month extravaganza in April when we call upon our local school to create and illustrate haikus to decorate the Children’s Room. Bear Pond kids poetryAnd as we speak I am planning a writing workshop for kids this fall with the wonderful Sarah Stewart Taylor, author of the Expeditioners series. Bear Pond ExpeditionersWe have also hosted events with several VCFA faculty, visiting faculty and students, including Leda Schubert, Emily Jenkins (E.Lockhart), An Na, A. S. King, and Tim Wynne-Jones. We also hosted a super fun Reader’s Theater with a group of VCFA alumni who performed some of their new work.

MUF: By the way, where IS Waldo?Bear Pond #1
Last I heard he was fishing down on the Winooski River. But his whereabouts are kept very hush hush. He likes his privacy when he is vacationing here in July.

MUF: If a family from out of town visited Bear Pond Books,  are there family-friendly restaurants/activities/sights they shouldn’t miss, beyond visiting what must be the nations tiniest capitol building?
The obvious crowd pleaser in the area is, of course, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. However, the city of Montpelier itself has plenty of restaurants and snacking opportunities: Positive Pie for outstanding pizza, The Skinny Pancake for crepes and Birchgrove Baking for exquisite baked goods and coffee. For some local flavor there is a cool granite quarry called Rock of Ages <>  that gives tours, you can catch the Vermont Mountaineers <>  play baseball in the summer and there is wonderful live theater downtown at the Lost Nation Theater <> . For a tiny capitol we have plenty of cultural diversion!

MUF: Thank you Jane for sharing your shop and books with us.  Readers, If you’ve experienced Bear Pond for yourself or would like to, please add your comments here.  And if you’re in the area don’t miss the unique pop-up museum and launch party event at Bear Pond on Friday :

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012, HarperCollins UK, 2014)


Indie Spotlight: Fountainhead Bookstore, Hendersonville N.C.

You have to love independent book shops!  Can you image the buyer at a chain bookstore  saying, “The main thing we look for is good writing”?  Those are the very words of  Valerie Welbourne,owner/manager of The Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, North Carolina (
MUF: Valerie, how did your shop get its name and get started, and what keeps you going? Fountainhead logo
The Fountainhead is a nod to Moby Dick, with the fountain coming out of his head . One of our logos has the spout coming out and if you look closely it says “books books books” over and over.  Our loyal customers keep us going.  They offer not only financial support, but moral support as well.  Nothing is better than bookstore customers!  They are such nice people.
MUF:Describe the atmosphere and layout of your store. What happens when, say, an eleven-year-old comes in looking for a good book?
Valerie: I think our atmosphere is fairly casual.  When an eleven-year-old comes in, I get very excited if they say they are looking for some ideas!  I will ask them some questions first about their preferences, and then pull out several choices I think they might enjoy.  Parents really appreciate this too, because it helps them avoid a “power struggle” with their kids over what to read.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know how you choose what books to carry in your shop?Fountainhead readers
Valerie: We consider many factors.  The main thing that we look for is good writing!  And we also take into account if the book matches our particular customer base.  And finally, we read lots of ARCs.  If someone on the staff loved it, it’s in!

MUF: Can you tell us a few titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction that you are recommending to middle-graders right now?
Valerie: Middle Grade kids can run the gamut of ability levels and interests, so we take that into account when making recommendations.  If a child is on the younger end of the spectrum and indicates they like more realistic, situational fiction, I recommend anything by Donna Gephart.  If they are older and looking for a new and serious fantasy series, I would recommend the Chaos Walking trilogy.  The Inventor’s Secret is a new steampunk book out for kids that I found very intriguing.  Also, I’m reading the ARC for The League of fountainhead disappearanceSeven by Alan Gratz right now that I am really enjoying.  It is also steampunk.Fountainhead: Inventor's secret Here are a few more I really am a big fan of:  Snicker of Magic (lovely!), The Shakespeare Mysteries (page turners and I learn something), Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff (coming out this August – great!), fountainhead snicker of magicShark Wars,  and What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays.  Actually, I could go on and on…I really am a Tween Fiction enthusiast.  In fact we are starting a Tween Book Club for adults this June at the request of adult customers.

MUF:You have some enticing children’s book camps coming up this summer, most all Fountainhead campof which sound like they’re right up the alley of middle-graders. Please tell our readers a bit about them. Valerie: Our book camps are great fun.  One of my favorites is the one based on Treasure Island.  We have sword fights, do popcorn reading (great language for reading aloud), write our own backstories for some of the characters, do illustrations, scavenger hunts, etc.  I think I have more fun than anyone there.

MUF: What have been some of your favorite events at Fountainhead Books? Have you had some visits from middle-grade authors?
Valerie: We just hosted a Tween Panel Extravaganza, Futainhead tween paneland it was so much fun.  We got amazing feedback from the attendees, which included kids, adults, librarians, and teachers.  Everyone said please do this again!  It helps that we had some incredible authors participating.  They were:  Deron Hicks, John Thompson, Alan Gratz, Donna Gephart, Tommy Hays, and Natalie Lloyd.  I’ve attached a photo of the event.

MUF:If a family visited Fountainhead Books from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a meal or snack after shopping? And if they could stay awhile, are there other unique sights or family activities in Hendersonville that they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie: Here are some cool places to take kids when visiting Hendersonville, after of course a visit to The Fountainhead Bookstore. These are all within two blocks of the bookstore: * Kilwins ice cream – the best! * Dancing Bear Toys * Hands On Children’s Museum

Thanks, Valerie, for giving us a glimpse into your shop.  It’s always a pleasure to “meet” children’s book store people, because  you’re book readers and curators as well as sellers. Readers, have any of you visited Fountainhead Bookstore (yet)?

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)

Indie Spotlight: Children’s Book World, West Los Angeles

Tucked into a West Los Angeles neighborhood is Children’s Book World, a treasure of a childrens’ bookstore.  Today we’re talking with  “assistant manager and book wizard” Cherry O’Meara, with assistance from owner Sharon Hearn.

CBW logoMUF: Describe the atmosphere of Children’s Book World.  What strikes someone when they come into your shop?  Are there any special features, nooks and crannies?
Cherry: Customers are invariably immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of books displayed on our store!  Next, once they catch their breath and start to browse a bit, they comment also on the quality, range and diversity.   Our center room has a large display table with books relating to the major holiday of the season, for Black History Month at the beginning of the year through Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza.  We set up displays around the store in advance of most occasions, right now we are featuring: Earth Day, Poetry Month, Cinco de Mayo, the Japanese National Holiday Children’s Day, and Mother’s Day.

 MUF: Children’s Book World has  been in business for over twenty-five years, while other children’s bookstores have come and gone.  What’s the secret of your success (and your continuing enthusiasm)?CBW front 3
Cherry: We have a very simple secret.  Besides having an amazing selection of books, our staff READS!  We love books, we love to read, and we read constantly! Because we read the books, we are able to tailor suggestions to the tastes and abilities of individual kids.  Because we love to read, we inspire parents and kids with our enthusiasm for books.  And because we see kids daily who love to read, we get inspired in turn!   Our customers are very loyal to us, and we’ve seen many families stick with us from Very Hungry Caterpillar to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

MUF: Children’s Book World has become known not just as the place to buy children’s books, but also the best place in Los Angeles to recycle them, and this effort all began with a request form a certain best-selling middle-grade author.  Please tell our readers something about Ann M. Martin, the Book Recycling Center and the programs you have for getting used and even new books into the hands of children who need them.
Cherry: When Ann Martin came to do a signing for one of her extremely popular Babysitter series books, we asked customers to bring in a book to be donated to a program working with children from low-income families.  This request was the inspiration for starting our non-profit program, the Children’s Book Recycling Center, founded in 1997.  CBW book Recycling centerWe collect “gently used” book donations, which we organize by age and subject in a storage facility behind the bookshop. Staff from literacy programs, low income schools, and non-profit organizations can arrange to come in to gather the books their children need from our selection. Recipients are invited to come back every 6 months to replenish their collections. We have provided recycled books to over 200 under-served schools and organizations.
Children’s Book World is just starting a new program, Readers & Writers Rock!, thanks to a grant from author James Patterson, that has the mission of bringing authors to low-income schools and bringing underserved children to Children’s Book World author events.  Each of the children attending will receive an autographed copy of one of the visiting author’s books.  We want to put books into the hands of children and be able to provide them with author visits that can give them inspiration and generate and nurture a love of reading.

Popularity Papers

Popularity Papers

MUF: Many bookshops list staff picks on their websites, but your list of recommendations is quite extensive, covering all age levels, with a mixture of classic, currently popular, and lesser-known titles—apparently favorites of your booksellers! How do you decide which titles, new and old, to order and keep in stock?
Cherry: It’s hard, with so many great books out there! Our founder and owner meets with sales reps, and she reads trade magazines for reviews. We have an enormous library of ARCS that the staff can take home to read. We talk to librarians and teachers, and we talk to kids to get ideas for great titles that we hadn’t come across ourselves.  We carry our favorites, old and new.  If a book that one of our booksellers loves is a slow sell, we may still keep it on our shelves, hoping to be able to offer it when the “right” reader comes in.



MUF:  So unlike the chain stores!  How do you help shoppers find the right book?
Cherry: We conduct mini-interviews with shoppers.  What grade is the reader in?  What books have they read recently that they have really enjoyed?  What books haven’t they liked– and why? We love to talk to kids to get an idea of not only their reading level, but their personality.

How they croaked

How they croaked

As Middle- grade authors, we have to ask: what  

School for Good and Evil

School for Good and Evil

CBW Neddiad

The Neddiad

particular fiction and nonfiction titles are you recommending to middle-graders at the moment?
Cherry: Well, tell us a little bit about your reading tastes… what have you read recently that you liked?  We have so many books that we recommend that it is hard to make a list that accurately reflects the titles that we sell daily.  Popularity Papers by Amy Ingatow, anything Wendy Mass, The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander, H.I.V.E. by Marl Walden,  Cornelia & the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by  Wolf Brother by Michele Paver, Ice Fall by Mathew J. Kirby, School for Good and Evil We like to find readers for books that are a little less obvious, but that we love: Home of the Brave by Katherine ApplegateNation by Terry Pratchett; Saffy’s Angel byHilary McKay,  The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater.

Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave

CBW left for dead

Left for Dead

Non-fiction:  Temple Grandin by Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin, How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Fanmous, by Lesley M. M. Blume,  Primates, the Fearless science of Jane Goodall, Dian

Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottavani,    Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search for Justice by Pete Nelson.  

MUF: Who are some middle-grade authors who have visited Children’s Book World for readings and/or signings?  Are any special events planned in the next few months?
Cherry: Sharon Creech, Lois Lowery, Eoin Colfer, Brian Selznick, Sid Fleischman, Katherine Patterson, Kate DiCamillo, Jon Scieszka, JK Rowlings, Rick Riordan, Betty Birney, Richard Peck, and many more.   We wind down our middle grade authors events in May because of testing and end of school scheduling conflicts, and go full steam ahead when school starts again in the fall.  We have events with picture book authors the next few weeks: Jon J Muth, Barney Saltzberg, Antionette Portis , Tim Eagan, and Max Kornell.

Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry

Nick Bruel

Nick Bruel

Antoinette Portis

Antoinette Portis

We love when authors visit us just to see our store. Recently, Stuart Gibbs just dropped by to say howdy !  So come by and visit us!

MUF: If a family visited your shop from out of town, would there be family friendly places nearby where they could get a bite to eat afterward?  How about other interesting family activities in the neighborhood?
Cherry: There is great food very close by – our favorites are a casual, order at the counter, gourmet quality place called FOOD, right across the street, and John O’Groats,  a block down, with the best breakfasts in town.

Thank you, Cherry(and Sharon), for chatting with us today about your lively store.  Readers, if you have visited Children’s Book World  or would like to, please click on comments below and chime in.

Sue Cowing is author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)