The Dragon Wagon mobile bookstore is coming to Catskills

New York Times bestselling author Tracey West has built a career writing children’s books filled with fantasy worlds and magical creatures. But her latest adventure will take place off the page as the Catskills resident embarks on a mission to get young people in the rural upstate community to read.

West and her husband, Bill Hancock, turned an old school bus into a mobile bookstore called “The Dragon Wagon,” which travels through Delaware County and surrounding areas in the western Catskills, where families may not have convenient access to a bookstore.

“The Dragon Wagon will bring them books — and give young readers a chance to discover brand new books and get excited about literacy,” West said. “I want every child who visits us to find a book they love. I want them to find themselves in the books they read and I want them to know that books can be an escape and a powerful tool for learning and making the world a better place.”

The idea grew out of a conversation West had with a county librarian who said some of the kids in her town had to drive an hour or more to find a bookstore. West and her husband felt an immediate urge to address the problem, but didn’t know where to begin… until they remembered they owned a 1979 Dodge school bus that they had purchased from a friend who had died.

“It’s heartwarming. It’s really a labor of love to keep this vehicle on the road and doing what it does: bringing books to local children,” Hancock said. The bus is currently being renovated and decorated with dragon stickers. It should be ready to drive early next month.

West, best known for writing the popular Dragon Masters series, said her goal is to develop literacy skills in young people and to encourage their interest in reading, regardless of their background or financial situation. Another focus, however, is providing unhindered access to books that cover a range of subjects, including Black history, LGBTQ communities and cultural differences, at a time when such books are available in states like Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia are prohibited.

“It’s so disturbing,” the children’s author said. “It prevents children from seeing themselves in books or learning about others who are different. And both things are important.” As the program launches in upstate New York this year, West hopes to one day use the bus to take books to other places where they’re not available.

The bus will be stocked with thousands of copies of children’s and young adult books, including fantasy, non-fiction, picture books and cardboard, for parents to read to their toddlers. The books are stored on library-like carts that are wheeled out of the vehicle and placed under an electric awning to provide a real roadside attraction for parishioners.

While those who don’t have a bookstore nearby can usually buy the titles on their reading list from online retailers, West said nothing can replace the experience of shopping in person, especially for young and new readers.

“It’s a very different experience than being fed books by an algorithm. It’s quite special to be able to look at the covers, read the back, and also have a real-life expert on site who can guide you to a book you’d like to read,” she explained, adding that Children are more motivated to become readers if they can choose their own books.

This summer’s The Dragon Wagon soft launch will feature four stations across Delaware County:

Tuesday, June 20: The Cannon Free Library in Delhi from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Open to anyone registering to participate in the library’s 2023 Summer Reading Program. Saturday, June 24: William B. Ogden Free Library, Walton, times to be determined. Open to anyone who registers to participate in the library’s Reading Incentive 2023. Saturday August 12: Andes Community Day at Dirty Girl Farm in Andes from 11am to 4pm. Open to all participants. Saturday, September 23: Margaretville Cauliflower Festival at Village Park in Margaretville from 11am to 4pm. Open to all participants.

Other events may be added to the schedule, which can be viewed on The Dragon Wagon website: