Spellbound: Behind the Stories

In last October’s anniversary post Eight Is Great, I gave you a brief  rundown of the history of Spellbound and its locations. In response to some questions I’ve fielded from customers, I’ve decided to write about what was left out of that post: why Spellbound stayed so downsized inside Zapow gallery for so long–from February 2012 to now.

At the time of that anniversary post, it was all too fresh for me to write about. I’m also a very private person, and I like to keep my personal life and business life separate. Unfortunately, sometimes that becomes impossible.

As discussed in this recent podcast interview, by the fall of 2011 I had decided not to renew Spellbound’s  lease at our Wall Street location downtown for a few reasons. For one thing, while we had gained a lot of business from tourists by moving downtown, many local customers expressed how challenging it was to get to Spellbound now that we were downtown, especially when shopping with small children. Most said they preferred Spellbound being in West Asheville–even those customers who don’t live or work in that neighborhood. For another thing, our rent at the Wall Street location was going to increase if we stayed and, though Wall Street is a lovely street, our store is so specialized that we weren’t getting enough foot traffic there to make me confident that Spellbound could afford rent any higher–especially since locals weren’t shopping with us as frequently there.

So I informed our landlords that we would not be renewing and began searching for a new home for Spellbound. I felt pretty strongly that we would probably end up back in West Asheville, where it all began. As the end of the year (and the end of our lease) drew near, however, no space had been located. I spoke with many friends and customers about wanting to make sure I didn’t rush into signing a lease on just any space—I wanted it to be the right space, and I wanted it to be the last time I had to move this bookstore. (I hate moving!)

One of the people I chatted with about this was Lauren Patton, who had just opened an art gallery called Zapow with her husband Matt Johnson. We had been talking for months about how we wanted our businesses to work together somehow, as the gallery was going to have a unique focus on illustration, and what goes together better than children’s books and illustration?

Lauren and Matt invited Spellbound to move into their gallery space. They had just opened and needed to fill space, and I needed a way to keep my store open without rushing into signing a long-term lease. I was offered the chance to take as little or as much space as I wanted for the bookstore, and I didn’t have to sign a long-term lease. Since it was about to be the dead of winter, when sales always drop off a cliff, I decided to just take a wee bit of space for a couple of months and we talked about a couple of different scenarios: Spellbound could expand to take up a lot of the Zapow space, perhaps with dividing walls between the two business or perhaps leaving it open; or perhaps it would be a temporary stop on the way to a new permanent home for the bookstore.

Sadly, only a month after downsizing and moving our inventory into Zapow’s space, my family was thrown into a crisis of the kind that many of you have probably experienced and can relate to. My mother got very ill very quickly, and was diagnosed with cancer. By the time it was caught, it had already spread from her lungs to her brain. Suddenly, she was in and out of the hospital every few days, was started on radiation therapy immediately…and my siblings and my father and I tried to make sure that at least one of us was with her all the time, wherever she was. Our hometown is Marion, about 30 miles east of Asheville. Sometimes she was in the hospital there, sometimes here.

Thanks to my arrangement with Matt and Lauren of Zapow, the three of us were now sharing customer service duties of both businesses, meaning that we could now have both businesses open seven days a week while we each got a little more time away from the cash register to work on all the other things that need to be done, as well as actually having some time off. Needless to say, this became very important as my mother’s disease progressed. Before the Zapow move, as the only full-time staff member of Spellbound I had to be at the store six days a week in order to keep it open (and therefore be able to pay both the business’s bills and my own). If I had still been in that situation when this crisis hit, I don’t know how I would have handled it. I certainly would not have been able to care for my mother as much or simply spend much time with her in what turned out to be her final months.

Understandably, I think, while all of this was going on, all thoughts of either expanding within the Zapow space or searching for a new location were just put on hold for several months. When things were settled down, I decided that the best thing for Spellbound would be to have its own stand-alone location outside of downtown again. And so the search for property began anew, and an Indiegogo campaign was launched to make sure that Spellbound could afford a really nice space and outfit it with good lighting, signage, etc., and bump our inventory up to pre-recession size and then some. (Campaign is live until May 15th, 2013–please visit today to see the great free gifts you can earn for contributions.) We also have changes planned that should allow Spellbound to add an assistant manager position before long, which will be an investment in the bookstore’s ability to provide more programming in the short term and in its ability to better weather another crisis even in a stand-alone space. Of course, none of the funds raised through the campaign will pay anyone’s salary directly, least of all mine. The expected jump-start in sales as well as the addition of room rentals and higher margin used books are what will fuel any job creation.

I know that for every person who actually asked me about our downsizing, there are probably several others who wondered “Hey, what’s the deal?” without actually asking. In light of the crowd funding campaign, in which I am asking people to contribute to Spellbound’s growth, I felt that I needed to be more transparent, as the saying goes, regarding our current location.

I’m sorry for the delay in returning to normal size (as opposed to our current Fun Size version), and I am so very grateful to the many people who have continued to be loyal Spellbound customers in each location. I hope that very soon you will be rewarded with the biggest, best version of Spellbound yet….and that this really will be the last time I ever have to move this bookstore!


New This Spring: The Bookworm Club

The Spellbound Bookworm Club is a book-of-the-month club that we’ll be launching in the spring. The perfect gift that keeps on giving… each month your child or teen will receive a book personally selected for him or her by Spellbound staff. It will arrive, gift-wrapped, with a card from you.

Subscriptions are available for either hardcover, paperback, or board books and with 6-month and 12-month options.

Details about the Spellbound Bookworm Book-of-the month club:

  • Each enrollment will begin with a questionnaire to find out more about our new member for future selections and an announcement card describing the book club to the new member and acknowledging the gift giver. Of course, a self-addressed, postage paid envelope is included to return the questionnaire to Spellbound.
  • Each selection arrives gift-wrapped and with a gift tag reminding the member who (you!) sent this wonderful gift.
  • Each delivery includes a postage-paid reply card to keep in touch and let us know the member’s opinion of the book. It will help us make better selections for that member and is also a chance for the member’s review to be published in our newsletter.
  • Each enrollment includes subscription to our quarterly Bookworm Club newsletter filled with book trivia, activities, and members’ reviews of the books they are reading.
  • We custom-select a book for each child—one that matches the child’s stated interests and reading level.
  • The child receives presents in the mail throughout the year!
  • We include a postage-paid reply card with each selection. Members can use the card to review the book they just received, make a special request, let us know they’re moving or just say “hi.”
  • If a family wants to return a selection for any reason, they just send the book back to us and we will arrange for a refund for that book, credit to your account or an exchange. (The book must be in brand-new, unread condition and we must be contacted within 2 business days of receiving the unwanted book.)
  • We’re always available to talk to families about their children’s reading.

A perfect gift for:




Adults who love books for kids & teens

The bookworm in your life!

Membership Options (Introductory Pricing)

Prices include shipping and handling. Tax will be added.

Hardcover Edition for 12 months $250.00

Hardcover Edition for 6 months $125.00

Paperback Edition for 12 months $140.00

Paperback Edition for 6 months $70.00

Board Book Edition (perfect for babies & toddlers!) for 12 months $140.00

Board Book Edition (perfect for babies & toddlers!) 6 months $70.00


You select 5 holidays + the recipient’s birthday month for a customized selection of 6 books to be delivered throughout the year. $125 Hardcover Edition / $70 Paperback or Board Book Edition

Please Note:
For contributions to our crowdfunding campaign at the $250 level and above, you get a free subscription for the new Spellbound Bookworm Club, in addition to other free goodies. Please visit http://igg.me/at/spellbound/x/2170700 before May 15th, 2013 to learn more and claim this fabulous free gift!

Bookmark this Post: Creative Funding

HelenaCampaignBkmarksThese bookmarks were designed exclusively for Spellbound to help raise money for our campaign. They can be purchased for $3 at Spellbound or Zapow. Handmade by Zapow artist Helena Hannukainen, who donated her time and talent to help Spellbound grow.

You should stop by the Zapow/Spellbound complex at 21 Battery Park Avenue to check out the rest of Helena’s amazing work. She has originals and prints available of her paintings and line drawings.

And don’t forget to visit the Indiegogo campaign page at http://bit.ly/GrowBks before May 15th to help us grow into a bigger, better Spellbound.

Launch Day!

Today is the official launch of Spellbound’s crowd funding campaign on IndieGogo. Please visit the campaign home page at http://bit.ly/GrowBks to watch a super cute video starring some of our young customers, read more about our plans to expand space, inventory, and programming, and to learn about all the cool, free gifts we can send you in thanks for contributing.

SpellboundVisionSketchSmall (2)Here is a sketch by architect Liz Dion illustrating what we envision for the new store space, including a separate event room that can be closed off for private birthday parties, baby showers, workshops, and more. When not in use for events, this room will house the large inventory of used and bargain books we plan to add, as well as lots of comfy seating.

Our funding goal is $18,500 by May 15th, 2013. Any size contribution is helpful, especially if you share with your friends and community that you have contributed and ask them to consider contributing as well. Spreading the word is one of the easiest ways to help… lots and lots of small contributions are just as good as a handful of large ones. Better, even…it shows how much support there is out there for locally owned independent bookstores that support local communities economically and culturally.

Our goal is to raise enough funding to cover the moving costs so that we can expand into a larger, stand-alone space with more room for events and more great books for kids of all ages. We are also responding to overwhelming customer feedback since our move downtown: you want Spellbound back in location that is easier to get to when shopping with your kids and that has free parking that is easier to find. We are focusing our search on the West Asheville neighborhood, extremely convenient to shoppers from all over the area and yet with less traffic and easier parking than downtown.

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed on Day One, and please help us spread the word for the next 44 days!

Not a Word

I have been extremely happy to help a couple of different customers in the last few weeks who have come in to the bookshop specifically looking for wordless picture books. Why so happy? Because over the last eight years I have generally found that wordless picture books, no matter how visually stunning, hilarious or touching or award-winning, can be a really tough sell.

And that’s a shame.

Now, I should be quick to point out that there is no lack of interest in these books on the part of children. It’s the adult shoppers accompanying the kids who almost always poo-poo the idea of taking one of these treasures home. Even if they profess admiration for the artwork, they tend to immediately dismiss it on the grounds that they want to encourage their children to “actually read” or that their child is “already reading,” as if that automatically means that a wordless book is a step backward.

Not so, I say!

For one thing, to say that there is no value–intellectual, developmental, spiritual, or otherwise–in taking the time to look at pieces of artwork is like saying that we should stop taking kids (or adults) to art museums and galleries. There is no worth? Really? And believe me, there is some stunning artwork being published, with or without words, in books for children.

For another thing, to dismiss out of hand the educational value of a wordless story is to “out” yourself as an adult who has forgotten how to look at things with a child’s eye. Sadly, that is most of us, at one time or another.

Have you ever noticed how a kid who hasn’t started reading fluently on his or her own will often open a book and pretend to read it? I see it all the time in the bookshop. An adorable scene: a little one turning pages, pointing to things in the pictures, making up the story on the fly. With or without words on the page, this is a wonderful exercise for a child’s burgeoning literacy.

Being able to recognize and empathize with facial expressions and other visual cues related to the story are very important to developing reading comprehension. Let me emphasize that word again: comprehension. Learning to read (and read well) is not just about being able to sound out longer and longer words. It’s about fully comprehending what you are reading, in all its detail and nuance.

When a child reads a wordless picture book on his own, he generally will not just flip through the pages impatiently and put it down, like an adult browsing in the bookstore or library. He will pore over every picture, go back and forth, following the thread of the story, seeing if he missed anything, filling in the blanks with his own imagination. Sometimes, depending on the illustrations, one can experience different stories with the same book at different times. Reading like this (yes, reading) is amazingly interactive.

Even outside the context of  reading skills as we usually define them, developing visual literacy is something that is becoming more and more important for children growing up in an image-saturated society. Being able to understand visual cues, recognize archetypal or iconic images, and articulate what you are seeing are all skills that strengthen your ability to think critically about images you are presented with as a consumer and also makes you capable of creating and communicating with images effectively as a student, a teacher, an artist, a business person, or practically any role you may play in society.

Here are a few of my personal favorite wordless picture books:


Click to purchase

David Wiesner received the 1991 Caldecott Medal for Tuesday, the whimsical account of a Tuesday when frogs go airborne on their lily pads, float through the air, and explore the nearby houses while their inhabitants sleep.Target age group 5-8 years, but enjoyable for all ages.

Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Winner of the 2012 Caldecott Medal, A Ball for Daisy is yet another medal winner by Chris Raschka, one of my all-time favorite illustrators. Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy’s anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?,  Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring. Raschka’s signature swirling, impressionistic illustrations and his affectionate story will particularly appeal to young dog lovers and teachers and parents who have children dealing with the loss of something special. Target age group 3-7 years.
In illustrations of rare detail and surprise, The Red Book by Barbara Lehman crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is

Click to purchase

Click to purchase

waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over.

This book is about a book. A magical red book without any words. When you turn the pages you’ll experience a new kind of adventure through the power of story.

A Caldecott Honor Book
Target age group 4-8

“The author’s simply drawn art…is appropriate to a pleasing puzzle that will challenge young imaginations and intellects.” —Horn Book

Published in: on March 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm  Comments (1)  

Eight Is Great

Spellbound turns eight this month and, even more than usual at this time of year, I am both amazed and gratified that we have made it another year. I’m not sure that there is any such thing as a typical year; this one has certainly been anything but.

In the last twelve months, Spellbound has bequeathed its Wall Street location to our dear neighbors at Chai Pani for their fabulous new venture MG Road, joined forces with ZaPow (the coolest art gallery in the Southeast), lost its retired but still beloved bookshop dog, and started hatching plans for an expansion.

Like I said: not typical.

A little context for those of you who are new to Spellbound (and a little nostalgia for those who have been with us from the beginning)…

I started Spellbound Children’s Bookshop in 2004 because I thought that the Asheville area might appreciate (and, if I were very, very lucky, might even support) a small independent bookstore just for kids. One where the kids’ section is the entire store. One that is unmistakably all about books. I’ve often said that part of my inspiration for opening Spellbound was my experience years ago shopping for my niece and nephews in the children’s section of a large national chain bookstore. I wanted to share a book from my childhood that I had loved; I went past displays of toys based on movies and tv shows, then past books based on toys and movies and tv shows, then finally got to the small section of what I consider “real” books. This, I thought, is completely upside down. The real books should be the main course, not the small dinner mint at the end of the meal.

So, years after that experience, while looking for a way to integrate my small business experience, my experience (and love) of working with children, and hopefully a way to eke out a small living doing something that I actually cared about, I decided to take a huge gamble and open a bookstore. Just for kids.

On October 25, 2004 Spellbound flung open its door for the first time. (Metaphorically speaking, of course…that door was really too heavy for flinging about.) The location was 866 Haywood Road in the neighborhood of West Asheville. It was an adorable little house converted to commercial use, with an enclosed front porch, a fireplace, and lots of room for fun events. (Does anyone else remember the little brass bell that tinkled every time the door opened?)

Some highlights of our time on Haywood Road include visits from characters like Curious George, Winnie the Pooh, one of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things, and Mouse (of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fame). Not to be outdone, our human guests included Newbery Award winner Paul Fleischman, internationally bestselling author/illustrator Graeme Base, famed storyteller Bill Harley, Nick Bruel (of Bad Kitty fame), Asheville’s own poet and novelist extraordinaire Allan Wolf, and Asheville native Hope Larson for her very first book signing anywhere, promoting a book called Salamander Dream from a tiny indie publisher, long before she was landing contracts with the big guys like Simon & Schuster and MacMillan. (We are so happy, by the way, that she is joining us this year during our birthday month for a signing to promote her new graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.) We also celebrated the midnight releases of the last two Harry Potter books on Haywood Road with massive parties. Preparations for the release of the sixth book introduced me to someone who would over the years become a stalwart supporter of Spellbound as well as one of my very best friends. (See previous post.)

After a few years, during the terrible economic downslide known as the Great Recession, I decided to take a chance and move the bookstore downtown, where there would be more foot traffic (and less need to spend money on advertising). Go to where the people are, I thought. So Spellbound then took up residence at 19 Wall Street, nestled on a tiny avenue that looked like it belonged in Hogsmeade.

During our time on Wall Street, Spellbound shared our space with Alisha Silver Photography. It helped Spellbound afford the pricey downtown location, and also led to one of my most treasured friendships. On Wall Street we continued to host book characters and creators, story times, and the occasional big (daytime) release party, like our Percy Jackson party.

In fall of 2011, when it was time to consider whether or not to renew my lease on the Wall Street location, I thought long and hard about how the business had changed since being downtown. There had been definite perks, like suddenly being in the path of the throngs of tourists who flock to downtown Asheville each season. And for many of my grown-up customers who work in or near downtown, it was convenient for them to drop by during lunch or on the way home from work to grab that next book in the series of the day, or a birthday or holiday present.

However, to be perfectly honest, as many wonderful experiences as I have had meeting travelers from all over the country (and the world) in my bookstore these last few years, I really missed having local families as the majority of my business. I liked seeing the same faces every week or so, keeping up with what each kid in the family is reading now and recommending what they might be ready for next.

To make a long story short (or is it too late for that?), I decided not to renew my lease on the Wall Street location.  ZaPow’s owners, Matt and Lauren Johnson, had come to Spellbound to introduce themselves when they were  looking for a downtown space to open their gallery in 2011. We kept in touch, always saying that we had to find a way for the two businesses to work together somehow, what with our shared love of illustration. It’s good that we kept in touch. Not only have I made two very good friends (sensing a pattern here?), but when my Wall Street lease ended I was invited to join them in their space while I looked for a permanent location. In February of 2012, Spellbound downsized (temporarily) and moved in with ZaPow, the only illustration gallery in the Southeast, at 21 Battery Park Avenue.

I am currently working on plans to add a stand-alone Spellbound location outside of downtown, in addition to keeping our current spot with ZaPow as a permanent downtown satellite location.  In fact, at this point all signs are pointing toward West Asheville. Don’t you love it when things come full circle?

Of course, all of this will take both time and money to bring to fruition. The goal is to have both locations running by spring of 2013. As soon as there is news to report, you, Gentle Reader, will be the first to know.

So there you have Spellbound’s first eight years in a nutshell: where we have been and where we are (hopefully) going. Thanks for sticking with us these last eight years. Hopefully we’ll make it another eight and see you on our Sweet Sixteen.

Leslie Hawkins

Spellbound Children’s Bookshop

Published in: on October 4, 2012 at 10:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rosmerta, Minerva, and Me

Last weekend (opening weekend) I met some friends at The Carolina to see Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It would be a gargantuan understatement to say that we were excited about the movie; we’d been counting down the days for months now, and arrangements for Saturday night included the phrase “When do you want to see it the first time?” (It went without saying that this final installment of the movie series would require multiple viewings.)

When I showed up in my Harry and The Potters glow-in-the-dark tee shirt my friends Jessica and Brad, who had gotten there earlier and saved me a seat, both had wands at the ready. (Seriously.) As I scooted into my seat next to Jessica, I realized that on my other side was none other than my very first Spellbound employee, Alexa!

If you shopped at our store in our early days in West Asheville, you probably remember Alexa; after she graduated from college she went to work as a children’s librarian at the East Asheville branch of the  public library, where she continues to delight kids and parents with story time–just like the old days!

It was totally unplanned, but what a wonderful moment of serendipity. Alexa was my right-hand woman in many ways back then, particularly in pulling off the huge midnight book release parties for Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. You may recall that Alexa was dressed as Madam Rosmerta at the Hallows party. And of course Alexa’s husband Jeremy accompanied her to the movie–Jeremy, although he didn’t work at Spellbound, was also a big presence at the Potter parties. For any of you who remember being sorted at the Half-Blood party, Jeremy helped us rig up the Sorting Hat and acted as its voice. One of the best parts of the party, and I am eternally grateful!

What made the evening at the movies extra special is that on my other side was Jessica, whom I first met when she was engaged to play the role of Professor Minerva McGonagall at the Half-Blood party. She repeated the performance at the Hallows party, and has since become one of my best friends and my faithful companion for all subsequent Potter-related activities.

So there I was, taking in the momentous last installment of the Harry Potter world on film, nestled between Professor McGonagall and Madam Rosmerta. A perfect ending. Of course, we’ve already made plans to see it again. Accio weekend!

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tell the Lady What You Like

I just came across this great article from The Horn Book, one of my favorite resources for parents, teachers, librarians, or anyone who appreciates children’s books. I had to share it.

Written in 1997 by Terri Schmitz of The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts, this article has timeless and sage advice for parents navigating the bookstore with (or for) their kids.

Weary of Winter? So Is Brownie Groundhog!

One of my favorite new picture books in this very new year is Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox, with text by Susan Blackaby and illustrations by Carmen Segovia.

When Brownie wakes up and goes outside on the second day of February, she is dismayed to see her shadow stretching across the field.

Brownie stomps her foot. “Phooey!” she says. “Six more weeks of winter!”

Brownie is impatient for Spring to get here, and she uses her impatience plus some quick thinking to distract the little fox who has targeted Brownie as his next meal.

“Don’t be silly,” she says when the fox announces he’s planning to eat her for breakfast. “You’re too late for breakfast.”

When the fox proposes eating her for lunch, she proclaims that it’s too early and that he’ll just have to wait. And so goes the rest of the day, as the fox tags along with Brownie and waits for it to be a proper mealtime. After spending so much time together, of course the two eventually become friends.

Both the text and the illustrations are that perfect combination of timeless and fresh, and kudos to the book designer–everything from the font to the choice of paper comes together perfectly to complement the words and pictures. Although the title lends itself to a Groundhog Day display, Brownie’s shadow is just mentioned at the beginning of this charming story. Part trickster tale and part odd couple friendship tale, this is a sweet and funny book that kids will enjoy coming back to all winter (and all year) long.


Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ladybug, Ladybug / Fly Away Home

Don’t be alarmed if you spy some unusually large ladybugs downtown today; there hasn’t been an accident at the atomic power plant or anything–just Ladybug Story Time at Spellbound!

Everyone got name tags when they came in, then we read a couple of stories: Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas (and narrated by a very bossy ladybug!) and Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jackie Davis.


Then it was time to make our costumes. First, we drew spots on our wings and Elisha helped everyone secure them with red ribbon…












One more story, the new book by Julia Donaldson (author of the story time fave The Gruffalo) called What the Ladybug Heard. This book has it all: farmyard animals (and noises), a couple of hapless crooks, and a very smart ladybug to foil their dastardly plans!

Then we gave out the goody bags, which included stickers, paper dolls, take-home coloring sheets and other activities, PLUS… everyone got a set of ladybug antennae to complete their costumes!


Thanks to all the kids who came and were such good listeners… and the parents who brought them and helped them keep their wings on straight!


Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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