Yearly Archives: 2013

Indie Spotlight: Best Books for Middle-Graders? Ask Your Independent Bookseller

On recent New York Times Best Seller Lists, a time-travel adventure novel by celebrity talk show host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh ranks #1 in the Middle-Grade category, edging out a widely acclaimed favorite of the children’s lit world, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.  How, you wonder?   Less than two months after its publication, this title, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, shows over 1600 reader reviews on Amazon, and over 1400 of those are five star reviews.  This never happens.screenshot_1133

How the NYT list is compiled is a fascinating and complex subject.   It is not simply a list of the books that have sold the most copies in the preceding week. Suffice it to say that most books on the list are there because of genuine popular demand for them but  others not so much. Children’s books are currently a hot market in publishing, and it looks as though certain marketing practices that have long compromised the adult NYT nonfiction list, especially in the business, how-t0, and political categories, may now be creeping into children’s books. These include marketing companies or organizations making large prepublication purchases that they’ve disguised to count as  individual purchases, and enlisting or hiring people by the hundreds to write and post positive “reviews.” Publishing is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with being market savvy, but if this is what landed Rush Revere on the list, you wonder what other book missed being included as a result.

Of course best-sellers are not guaranteed to be the best books anyway, and there are many better ways readers can learn about quality books for middle-graders they might like to read. Annual best books lists by reliable organizations like the  the American Library Association( or the New York Public Library ( are a good bet.   Read reviews and articles in journals such as School Library Journal or Horn Book. Public and school librarians are another great resource.  And don’t forget that From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, the site you are on at this moment, regularly reviews and discusses new books and interviews authors, so follow us and check out our archives!

Among the best people to ask for recommendations of children’s books past and present are the passionate book-lovers and hand-sellers of independent bookstores.  Here are some of the shops from around the country that we’ve featured on our site in 2013, and the books they’ve recommended to middle-graders:

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Hicklebee’s, San Jose CA (  Their book of the year was Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. They also recommended Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith, Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck, and Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt

[words], Maplewood NJ ( recommended the Rick Riordan, Jeff King, and Dan Gutman books, plus Wonder by R.J. Palacioscreenshot_1127screenshot_1118

Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul MN ( chose Wild Boy by Mary Losure and William Alexander’s Goblin’s Secret and Ghoulish Song.

Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Ashville NC ( chose the Ivy and Bean, 39 Clues, and Sisters Grimm series, plus There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff and Hope Larson’s graphic version of A Wrinkle in Time.

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Children’s Book World, Haverford PA (www.children’ recommended Palacio’s Wonder, Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, and John Fardell’s Seven Professors of the Far North.

Mockingbird Books, Seattle WA chose Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson.

Hooray for Books, Alexandria VA ( recommended  The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series by Caroline Carlson

Powell’s Books, Portland OR  (www.powells.comrecommended Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell, Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, The Oddfellows Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin, and for nonfiction: The Goods by McSweeneys, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, “anything in the Basher Science Series,” and Stout Hearted Seven Orphaned on the Oregon Trail by Neta Lohnes Frazier.screenshot_1136 screenshot_1135 screenshot_1134

(Note: many of these shops regularly list staff choices on their web sites).

What are the outstanding books for Middle Graders, fiction and/or nonfiction, that you’ve read in 2013?


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

Saying No

ProtestThere are a lot of things that my kids do better than me.  But the one that stands out at this hectic time of year? Saying no.

When my kids don’t want to do something, they say no.  When my kids don’t have time to do something, they say no.  When my kids are in a bad mood, they say no.

Me?  I always seem to say yes. Even if I don’t want to. Even if I don’t have time. And even if it puts me in a bad mood.

I know I’m not alone. In this busy world, we are constantly being asked to do just one more “little” thing.

Parents are asked to do a lot of extras; join the PTA, bake for a class party, volunteer for the next field trip, coach a team…. so much that we often do it at the expense of our children.

Authors are asked to do a lot for free; one more blog post, a quick review of something a friend wrote, a writing workshop, an extra author visit… so much that we don’t have time to actually write.

Even Volunteers are asked to do just a little bit more; lead the next fundraising effort, organize a meeting, write the holiday newsletter… so much that we get burned out.

And I know it’s the same for teachers, librarians, and everyone else…

It’s hard to say no, because all these things are important and someone has to do it.  But I’ve started to notice that I’m not doing things as well as I could.  I’m not enjoying things as much as I should.  And I’m not helping anyone by always saying yes.

keep-calm-and-just-say-no-76As we head into 2014, my goal is to practice saying no.  Not because I’m in a bad mood but because I’ve prioritized my time to respect what really matters; my family and my writing.

I hope it doesn’t sound too grinchy, but I’m giving myself the gift of no this season. And I’m extending the present to all of you… parents, teachers, librarians, writers, and readers.

It’s not selfish to say no.  It’s important – and it’s something we can learn from our kids.


Yolanda Ridge is the author of Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2012). Ironically, both are about a feisty 12-year-old girl who wouldn’t take no for an answer.


Visions of Gold and Silver

The milk and cookies are waiting by the fireplaces, stockings are hung, candles are lit in windows the world over and you know what that means? The book award fairies are on their way to spread holiday cheer and shiny gold and silver stickers as they do every year for a few very special books.
il_340x270.310268467It’s mock Newbery season and many library systems and bookstores around the country are posting the results from their hard working mock Newbery and mock Caldecott groups. Here are some links to the ones I know about.
If you’ve ever wondered how those sticker wearing books are chosen here are some links to the criterion for a few of the Middle Grade eligible awards.
If you like to follow the conversation about this years books, Heavy Medal provides lively and informative chat about this year’s crop of contenders.
And here’s the unsung part of the book award story. The librarians who serve on these book award committees usually do so without extra pay. They travel to several meetings in their award-choosing year. They spend countless hours on email communicating with committee members about the titles, and they read hundreds of books. Here’s the thing that surprised me most about the committee members. They often read books many times over. I heard from one committee member that she read a title eight times–a title that didn’t get a sticker in the end. The final winning books are sometimes read many more times than that.
As an author, it would be easy to be discouraged by how few books are singled out for award stickers each year. But here’s something that I have found very encouraging. Each award committee is made up of librarians from across the country and those librarians, following their year of service on an award committee, go back to their communities and advocate for the books they loved, but perhaps didn’t give a sticker to, to be included on state reading lists for children’s choice book awards and Battle of the Books lists.
These state level book awards, though they don’t get the fanfare of a national award are the engine that keeps literary fiction for children in print. Year after year, librarian’s around the country work very hard to choose a list of books for their local readers which are deep and diverse and have the potential to become classics. What I love is that these state reading lists are not the same fare being pushed at the local big box store. They are not always the books that are already best sellers or have a huge marketing push. They really look for those gems that will serve their children well. So if you’re looking for that next great read for a child in your life, look no further than your own state’s reading lists. These programs are generally found under


your state library association, so for me that would be the Oregon Library Association, or the local Council of Teachers of English.  Battle of the Books is a reading incentive program worthy of a post all it’s own. Here’s a link to the one in my state. Oregon Battle of the Books
So for all you hard working librarians out there, thank you from all of us at the Mixed Up Files for your hard work in championing excellence in children’s books and for sharing your favorites far and wide. Joy and peaceful hours of good reading in your new year!
For all you teachers and parents and writers out there, is there a librarian who’s made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.