On the Road with Indie Booksellers!


From June 2 through 6, my wife Dolores and I traveled 778 miles, visiting ten independent bookstores, four elementary and middle schools, and two public libraries in Eastern and Western Massachusetts—a whirlwind book tour that opened my eyes and gladdened my heart. I don’t know how many books were sold, or will be sold, but what I do know is that in the face of a mounting assault on books and bookstores by popular culture and big business, a legion of smart and committed book people are out there fighting the good fight, striving to keep people reading.

It began like this . . .

Once the dates of my publisher-sponsored Copernicus Legacy tour had been set—three days of school and bookstore visits (with a public library thrown in for good measure)—my wife Dolores contacted independent book shops that dotted our route, to ask if I might stop in to chat and sign whatever books they might have in stock. She called six stores and received six lovely affirmative responses. By the time we set off on our road-trip, we had a slew of official and unofficial events lined up. 

On Saturday May 31, I spent the morning signing at Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City, and in the afternoon Dolores and I hopped in the car and drove to Cape Cod, arriving in Chatham just in time for a late dinner and two sunny days of R&R.


Monday morning, we were off and running. First stop was the Brewster Book Store, where I met with the hardworking Leslie and Jean, who had a sampling of my books, including one copy of the actual “tour” book: The Copernicus Legacy 1: The Forbidden Stone. Both booksellers were gracious and knowledgeable, happy to have me poke around their shop and chat. Next, we circled back to Chatham’s Where the Sidewalk Ends bookstore on Main Street. Fran greeted us there with a handful of titles: The Secrets of Droon, Goofballs, and the obligatory copy of The Forbidden Stone. It’s a fun and airy store, with a great loft for new children’s and YA titles, as well as classics.

At the Brewster Bookstore

Tuesday afternoon, we decamped to the Westport Free Public Library (I do love the Free in so many old library names), where I talked reading and writing with a mixed-age audience of elementary and middle school students and their parents. Partners Village Store, represented by Jan Hall and Lisa Cusick, provided books for purchase. While chatting with them I learned that attending BEA is an annual event for the two of them, too. Children’s Librarian Linda Cunha and Head Librarian Susan Branco at Westport Free told us the happy history of their library and its expansion. One never knows how these after-school events will turn out, but this one was really delightful, with great questions from a cross-section of children and adults. Jan and Lisa, who had generously promoted the event in the press and on social media, were welcoming and inspiring booksellers with a mission to get good books into the hands of young readers and their families. One of the great moments of the visit for me was when a twenty-something young man, Alex, entered the meeting room, shook my hand, and said that he had grown up reading The Secrets of Droon, read in the newspaper that I was going to be at the library, and came expressly to meet me and get a signed Droon for his bookshelf. (Dolores has dubbed young adults such as Alex for whom Droon struck a chord the “Droon Alumni”; I am honored to hear from a number of them on a regular basis.) The bonus is that Alex brought his younger sister, for whom I signed a copy of The Forbidden Stone. And this is how it happens, bookseller to reader, generation to generation, friend to friend, sibling to sibling.


From Westport, we motored back onto the Cape, to overnight in Falmouth. Wednesday morning, I drove north along the Cape Cod Canal to visit the brilliantly well-read fifth and sixth graders at Henry T. Wing School in Sandwich (a town whose name makes me hungry). Books were provided by the effervescent Vicky Titcomb of Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich (similar pangs occur). Vicky was also recently back from BEA. Before the next school, I popped in at the Sandwich Public Library, a big brick affair that houses a vibrant children’s collection overseen by a man named Stu Parsons. I was lucky enough to catch Stu at his job, and boy was I happy I did. He told me he’s planning out the Library’s summer reading program, and he’d take a look to see if any of my books might work. How nice! Stu was another of the dynamic advocates for reading that I had been meeting since the tour began. He carried the spark, and passed it on to me. An awesome pop-in that was.

…running a bookstore is a mixture of love of books and public service, it attracts the very best people.

That afternoon, I chatted with the upper grades at the Forestdale School in Forestdale, Mass., a very readery bunch of good-humored kids. Finally, a book signing at Titcomb’s on Route 6A, which was delightfully populated, despite the overcast and often rainy skies. I was asked to join the many authors who’ve had their photo taken with Samuel Johnson, the statue by the store sign. I gave Sam a copy of my book to hold. He whispered that he’d get to it by and by. Titcomb’s is truly a family mission. Started by Vicky’s dad as a used and rare bookshop, it grew and grew into a new book store, with an upstairs (and, I think, downstairs) still filled with old books for sale. I met several assorted Titcombs and came away, as I usually do, convinced that running a bookstore is a mixture of love of books and public service, it attracts the very best people. 

Zooming back to Falmouth that afternoon, I managed to squeak in at the famous Eight Cousins bookstore before it closed for the evening. Dolores had gone in earlier and visited with store owner, dedicated bookseller Carol Chittenden, also just back from BEA. I met not only with young staffers who also happened to be Droon Alums, Graham, Cara, and Laura, but with Sara Hines, one of the imminent new shop owners. Sara is a dynamo and awesome, and not merely because she is a Mount Holyoke College grad like my daughter Lucy. She is a book person to the core. We talked about BEA, about NEBA and NEIBA and NECBA (New England Children’s Booksellers Association), the latter of which was new to me, and I signed a slew of books from different series including more than one copy of The Forbidden Stone. To say that Eight Cousins is a fantastic store is to vastly understate the electricity of books and bookiness you get when you step in. As they say, it’s worth a visit from anywhere. I look forward to returning.


Thursday dawned with a visit to Plymouth River School in Hingham, followed by an afternoon stop at Jenkins Elementary in Scituate, two towns that had hitherto eluded my decades of travel across the Bay State. Both schools’ books were provided by Buttonwood Books out of Cohasset. Again, to say that these young readers—from third to sixth grade—were sensitive, thoughtful, smart, and funny, would be to scratch the surface. Writers know that when faced with a crowd of 150 kids, it’s hard to make a one-to-one connection, and yet it happens over and over again. Their eyes meet yours and they’re held there for close to an hour of serious talk and silly business and earnest questions and honest answers, and you come away—we writers do—with a sense that these young readers will fill the shelves of bookstores with their own work very soon.

…you realize that being a writer is just one small part of an enchanting and rather amazing human machine with the purpose of putting the right book into the right hands.

Forward to Buttonwood Books and Toys in Cohasset for an afternoon signing. Wow. Totsie McGonagle, Arna Lewis, and Kathy Detwiler are dedicated booksellers who run around finding books for their customers, managing author events, and keeping their town and the neighboring area reading. Again, writers will know this: when you overhear booksellers doing a Q & A with their customers to discern and discover the right books for each one, you realize that being a writer is just one small part of an enchanting and rather amazing human machine with the purpose of putting the right book into the right hands. It’s humbling. Not only do you see (as you don’t when you’re nose-down at your writing desk) the thousands of titles competing for attention, but you appreciate the good people sorting through that sea of books to make sure that each reader finds what they want and need to read. Wow, again. 

…you appreciate the good people sorting through that sea of books to make sure that each reader finds what they want and need to read

It was then that we drove north to Boston to spend the last night before heading home.

Heading home, and stopping at four Indie bookstores along the way. First stop, ten a.m. Friday morning was Newtonville Books in Newton, about a half-hour west of Boston. Once again, a vital shop jam-packed with books, including a stack of my titles, which I happily signed. They were stickered and went back up on the shelves, and we were off to our next stop. Oh, I should mention that Newtonville has a pretty fine collection of notecards. I bought some to send to all the booksellers and librarians I met on the trip.

Newtonville Books

From Newton, Dolores and I motored to Wellesley Books, where I met the store’s manager Jeremy Solomons, a chap from the UK, which, as you know, is the birthplace of books. Jeremy set me up at a table and about twenty books from different series, including a whole stack of The Forbidden Stone, as well as a nifty selection of Goofballs, Underworlds, and Droon titles. We talked about a lot of book matters, and some British things like Bletchley Park, one of my favorite places over there. He gave me his card; I gave him mine, along with an advance reading copy of the next Copernicus book. This, my friends, is the circle of bookstores and book writers in action.

Wellesley Books

From there it was off to Concord, home of Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a host of other people who created the 19th century. At Orchard House I learned that Louisa wrote the book Eight Cousins, after which the Falmouth store was named!

Me and Dolores at Orchard House, Concord, Mass.

Then, The Concord Bookshop—gaaaah! What a place! Bookseller Dawn Rennert is an intuitive listener who knows about books from the inside out; we felt welcome the moment we stepped into her store. We talked about the book industry, the importance of bookshops to communities, the cycle of reader/writer/store, everything. And my wife and I bought up a mini-storm. Actually, I had been buying books at nearly every stop along the way, and I’ll send you a list of the books and the stores where I bought them, if you want. You know, of course, that there are ways to get books cheaper, but how wonderful it is to tug a title off a smartly curated shelf at a smartly curated bookshop? And to happily pay full price. Because you know the store is getting between 40 and 50 percent of the list price—so that they can keep selling books. The state is getting the tax—for the roads to bring us to the bookstore. And you have a new book—to read. What is the downside to that? I don’t think there’s a single one. And now that a certain online bookseller (how I dislike the use of that word in this context) has pulled some of my books and those of my friends from its site, that is no longer an option for me. Indies First, the man said? Yes. Indies first. I also want to say, that in conversation with Dawn, my wife mentioned that my novel Firegirl has been experiencing a new life being read and taught in schools because of its themes of acceptance of and empathy for people different than ourselves. As we left the store, Dawn assured us that Firegirl was on her Monday order list. That circle, at work again.

The Concord Bookshop

I’ll also mention that because of our Facebook postings, another long-time reader and Droon Alum met us in Concord for coffee. I first spoke with Isaac at the UConn Children’s Book Fair when he was eight; we have struck up an email correspondence over the years. This coming fall, Isaac is heading to Northeastern University; he is a fellow of charm and intellect, a young writer, a good mind, a wide-ranging mind. To me, young people like Isaac, Cara, Graham, Laura, and Alex personify the truly humbling yet exhilarating aspects of having written for children for twenty years—the sensitive souls you reach along the way, and the tiny bit you offer them when they are being formed. When you see citizens like these, you bow your head. Beyond all the fun and fame, it’s a responsibility and an honor to have one’s work read.

Finally, the long (and very trafficky) drive from Concord to South Hadley to visit The Odyssey Bookshop and my daughter Lucy who lives there (not necessarily in that order). The Odyssey served as Lucy’s college bookstore for four years when she went to Mount Holyoke College, and it remains one of the coolest shops around. It is very literary, with loads of public events featuring children’s writers, as well as adult authors and esteemed college faculty. We stopped in at around 6 pm, and although Children’s Director Hannah Moushabeck (just back from BEA) was engaged elsewhere, there it was, a stack of my books waiting behind the counter. I holed myself up at a desk in a back room and signed away. I can’t tell you how special it feels to be represented in a college bookstore, which the Odyssey has been doing for years (it celebrated its 50th anniversary last year). Yay, Odyssey! 

The Odyssey Bookshop

The week ended with a fine little dinner next door at Food 101, where we—Dolores, Lucy, her girlfriend Sue, and I—took over a high-top table. A traffic-free drive, and we were home to rest.

The spark that travels from writer to agent to editor to publisher is one thing, but it has to generate sparks all along the way—to bookseller to librarian to teacher and, finally, to reader.

To tally up the whole business, we visited or had books provided by ten independent bookstores—the Brewster Book Store, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Partners Village Store, Titcomb’s Bookshop, Buttonwood Books and Toys, Eight Cousins, Newtonville Books, Wellesley Books, The Concord Bookshop, and The Odyssey Bookshop. I visited four schools—Henry T. Wing, Forestdale, Plymouth River, and Jenkins Elementary—and two libraries—Westport Free Public Library and Sandwich Public Library—met a couple of dozen booksellers, hundreds of students, teachers, school librarians and principals, and five Droon Alumni, and I am so thankful for each one of these people. Because, seriously, books are under siege. The spark that travels from writer to agent to editor to publisher is one thing, but it has to generate sparks all along the way—to bookseller to librarian to teacher and, finally, to reader. Or maybe not finally. Since readers will pass that spark to other readers, and on it goes, possibly forever, unless the spark fizzles out or something comes in the way—like unethical business practices or lethargy. So, how many books did we sell? I have no idea. A few. How much changed? Plenty, if you count meeting the people working and fighting at the front lines. That was the real take-away from almost eight hundred miles on the road. That I’m in this fight—this joyful fight—with an army of friends committed to keeping the written word in our lives for as long as possible. 

I want to grow up in an indie bookstore!

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