Monthly Archives: January 2013

Indie Spotlight: Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose

Today we’re talking with Valerie Lewis, founder/owner of the award-winning Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose, California ( Think of your  ten favorite contemporary children’s authors.  Chances are at least nine of them have appeared at  Hicklebee’s Books and sing its praises!  It’s not only a wonderful bookstore and gathering place for performances and author appearances, it’s also a unique and growing museum of art and artifacts from children’s books and their authors.


Mixed-up Files:  Hicklebee’s has become widely known and loved among authors and booklovers.  How and when did your shop get started?
Valerie: We–four friends– opened our store in 1979 in a small space across the street from our current location.  We were not experienced in retail but had young children and buckets of enthusiasm.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere children and their adults walk into when they open the door at Hicklebee’s.
Valerie: One might call it chaos.  The physical structure is made up of shelving from bookstores that have either gone out of business or upgraded their stores. While it began because we could not afford new book cases, we find it’s a valuable asset that adds character.

Not every bookstore has a bathtub filled with pillows for reading in!  Here Lisa Yee & friend enjoy this Hickabee's feature

Not every bookstore has a bathtub filled with pillows for reading in! Here Lisa Yee & friend enjoy this Hicklebee’s feature.

MUF:What do you want their experience to be?
Valerie: I want them to feel warmth with a large dose of magic.

MUF:What about the expansion of your Wall of Fame, which has turned your walls into a museum?
Valerie: We’re running out of walls and doors but it’s a priority so we’ll figure out how to keep it going.

MUF: What are some of your favorite items?
Valerie:  I can’t even begin to list my favorites.  Probably the most sought after is J.K. Rowling’s drawing on the door.  Jules Feiffer’s is the one I touch and continue to admire each time I pass it.  David Small’s depiction of G. Bush makes me laugh the most.  And Rosemary Wells continues to send us a variety of items from paintings to artifacts.

MUF:Did Brian Selznik really donate his backpack and dolls? screenshot_540
Valerie:  The backpack is only one of the items he’s donated.  He is clearly one of our favorite authors, full of magic and surprises.

MUF: It’s apparent from your website that you truly select the books you recommend, because they’re not always the ones on everybody’s else’s lists.  Are there a couple of titles , either fiction or nonfiction,  that you’re  especially recommending  to middle-graders at the moment?
Valerie:  The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen; Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker and Wonder by R. J. Palacio.screenshot_554

MUF: You must be true book and story lovers, because you also recommend older books you think deserve to be reprinted and become classics, even if readers have to read them at the library!  Tell our readers about your unique “Worth the Candle” program, both in the store and online.
Valerie: Our Carol Doup Muller created our “Worth the Candle” program years ago.  She reminds us that before electricity people depended on candles for light.  But candles were expensive.  If you used one it had better be worth it.  Ours is invaluable as a resource for the best books published in the past.

MUF: Tell us about your ongoing programs at the store.  Looks like you do a lot of literacy outreach.screenshot_551
Valerie: All of us here at Hicklebee’s are deeply involved in promoting literacy and are key leaders in regional and national booksellers associations, including the Northern California Booksellers’ Association which we helped to found.   We’ve set up a Resource Room at our store as a meeting place for teachers. We partner with schools and libraries, setting up book fairs and author visits for school assemblies, and inviting schools to create window displays.  We’ve adopted Graystone School in Santa Clara county  and a school in Kiev, setting up a pen pal program and holding a book drive for them. We’ve worked with doctors to establish a Read to Your Bunny program.  We also sponsor family reading nights, hold summer reading programs and have a number of books clubs—including one for adults who read children’s novels— and we’ve organized press conferences for Young Adults to meet YA authors.   

MUF: You and your staff actively promote specific titles of books you consider outstanding.
Valerie:  Yes, we have our book of the month club and our annual Book of the Year award. This year it’s Black Dog, by Levi Pinfold.screenshot_555    We’ve reviewed books for newspapers such as The San Francisco Chronicle and the CBS early show, and we’ve created Lewis Previews, a video series of the season’s best titles for K-6 that plays in libraries and bookstores around the country.

MUF: If a family made a day trip from out of town to Hicklebee’s, would there be family friendly places in the neighborhood to get a bite to eat after browsing?
Valerie: The neighborhood is filled with family friendly restaurants.  A stroll on the Avenue usually involves strollers and often pups.

MUF:  And if they stayed in San Jose for more than a day, are there some other unique things to see and do they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie: The Children’s Museum is a fabulous hands-on experience as well as The Tech Museum.  The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum has been in San Jose since the 1920s.  Happy Hallow Park and Baby Zoo is another attraction as well as numerous parks.

MUF: Any special events coming up at Hicklebee’s ?
Valerie: Most of our Spring events begin in March.  We are in the planning stages now.

MUF:  Thank you Valerie for taking time from your action-packed schedule to share some details about your store! And thank you for demonstrating what makes a children’s book store great: love of good books and their readers, a sense of curiosity and fun, passionate dedication to reading and reading communities, and imagination about ever-new ways to foster all that.


Children’s book fans, do you know the way to San Jose?  If so— and even if not—I’m  sure, like me, you’re eager to treat yourself  to a book store adventure at Hicklebee’s as soon as you can.   You’ll find Hicklebee’s at 1378 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose CA 95125.  If you have been there, please share your experience in a comment, or if reading about the place makes you want to visit, please let Valerie and us know here.

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



In the Name of Research

For school, my fourth-grader is preparing to be Marco Polo. Or to be more exact, an imaginary female accompanying the fourteenth-century merchant traveler from Venice. I don’t know if Marco Polo had female companions on the Silk Road, but since my nine-year-old is a girl, this is the best way she can pretend to be a part of that time and place.

Venetian merchant traveler, Marco Polo. Source: Wikipedia

This isn’t her idea, by the way. It’s her teacher’s. It’s part of their “Explorer” unit, where they get to research a famous explorer from the past, and present their findings to the class, while dressed in period costume. The challenge isn’t finding enough information from books or online. The challenge isn’t writing it all down. The challenge, and this is where the dear parent being me is involved, is finding the dang period costume.

Where exactly am I supposed to find a Venetian, medieval gown for a nine-year-old girl?

Source: Morgue Files

My daughter and I have been discussing ways to render this outfit, using items from our 21th century, Indian-American household. These include sari material, scarves, throws, Indian bedspreads, and a belt I used when I was nine-years-old myself. You could call it improvising. But would you call it research?

Research is an interesting concept, especially in the life of an author. These days, you have the most amount of information you’ve ever had right at your fingertips. A simple Google search can yield paintings of women in the time of Marco Polo, online catalogs where you can purchase period costumes for adults, children, or pets, and Wikipedia pages describing the items Polo discovered on his journey to the Far East. You don’t have to go far to go back far in time.

When I was first writing my children’s novel, VANISHED, I did similar research online, learning as much as I could from Google, about an ancient, South-Indian instrument known as the veena. This was the instrument that would belong to my book’s main character, the one that would go missing, and that she would go to great lengths to recover. At the time, the only person I knew who owned this instrument lived in another state. There were no nearby teachers or veena players.So I did what any other able-bodied author did – I imagined everything. I used my years of being a violinist to imagine how the strings felt when you played on a veena instead, the calluses that formed on your fingers from practicing, the fears of sounding “twangy” in front of others, and what a seemingly unsympathetic teacher might sound like when she’s badgering you to practice. During the summer, I interviewed a real veena teacher in person, and took photographs. And that’s how I wrote my book.


The box I carried my veena in from India to New York.

Today I actually have a veena of my own. With great care and a certain amount of luck, I was able to bring one back from a trip to India last year. Not only that, I actually found a teacher near me, one I didn’t meet until very recently. And I have to say, imagination aside, there is nothing like playing on the real thing. Finally I know firsthand what being a veena player is all about. Looking back at the book I published, I strangely got the details right – the strings really do feel the way I’d written about them! Still, nothing beats the feel and sound of a real instrument – for me the author, and for others who have read my book and get to see and hear the instrument for themselves.

Creative research is definitely a way to bring something otherwise inaccessible to life. Perhaps the materials my daughter will use for her Explorer project will be derived from a silk sari given by her Indian grandmother, or from a Rajasthani bedspread brought back from a trip to India. And maybe the cloak will come from Walmart. She, like her classmates, will have to imagine much.


Source: Flikr

But the real physical and tactile experience of assembling the various materials together,  of wearing them and walking around in them, might evoke a sense of what it was like to be a lady in Marco Polo’s time, hundreds of years ago.

We cannot underestimate the value of a real experience, even a simplified or modified one. Sometimes these real moments have the power to take us farther than a Google search, and we become the musicians and explorers we first could only imagine being inside our heads. 

In the meanwhile, if someone has a spare Venetian, medieval gown that fits a nine-year old, please let this parent (and author) know.


Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED, which was recently featured as an Al’s Book Club Pick on the Today Show. She lives in New York.

Meet Kaylan Adair– middle-grade editor extraordinaire!

Today we welcome Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair to From The Mixed-Up Files.


Kaylan has edited a number of outstanding middle-grade novels including Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins, Small As An Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and the upcoming Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup.  She was even the American editor of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, a novel that straddles that tricky YA/Middle-grade line.

Welcome Kaylan! What excites you about editing middle-grade novels?

Middle-grade novels are what turned me into a reader. I struggled with reading for much of my early life but in fourth or fifth grade, my (incredibly patient) school librarian convinced me to give the novel Follow My Leader a try. The book struck me as being intimidatingly long, but it was about a boy who’s blinded in an accident and gets a guide dog and I was obsessed with dogs at the time (particularly German shepherds), so I decided to give it a try. It’s the first middle-grade novel I remember reading for pleasure. And it’s no exaggeration to say that that experience changed my life. Suddenly, countless worlds opened up to me. I quickly discovered Lois Lowry and devoured everything she’d ever written.

I signed up to read books for our state book award (the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award) and twice read enough books to be selected to go to the awards ceremony — quite an accomplishment for the girl who’d been so stressed about having to finish an assigned book that she’d thrown up on the novel the year before. (In class. In front of everyone.)

 To this day, middle-grade novels seem magical to me. They remain portals to other worlds — as many books are, certainly, but with middle-grade novels, I am keenly aware of the huge significance they can have on a young reader, on someone who’s still learning about the world and about herself. Whenever I work on a middle-grade novel, part of me can’t help wondering how this book might change some child’s life.

What were your favorite books when you were 9-12?

Lois Lowry was there for me at a very important time in my life. I remember reading the ending of The Giver during a school assembly in the auditorium. I couldn’t bear to put the book down, and when I finally finished, I sat there in a daze, trying to puzzle out the ending. (I have no idea what the assembly was about, by the way.)


We know you’re excited about the publication of Garden Princess, the story of an unlikely princess and a strange, enchanted garden (with a heart-stoppingly GORGEOUS cover sure to tempt any middle-grade reader.) Anything else in the middle-grade world you’re looking forward to this spring?

Yes! I’m excited and honored to attend the Highlights Whole Novel: Middle Grade retreat from March 3-9.  


I’ve never participated in anything like this before (and perhaps there is nothing else like this out there!), so I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way with authors and with their manuscripts. My hope for the writers is that they leave the retreat feeling energized and excited to continue working on their projects. Perhaps they’ll gain some new insight into their story or characters because of our week together, or perhaps even just the choice to prioritize their writing for this one week will have a lasting impact and they’ll continue to prioritize their novels long after our time together has ended.

The good news for you, dear From The Mixed-Up Files readers and writers, is there’s still space available at Highlights’ Whole Novel Retreat: Middle Grade. Get more information here. It’s a chance to take your own middle-grade novel to the next level, work with wonderful mentors including Kaylan, gorge on the famous Boyds Mill farm cuisine, and immerse yourself in books and writing… it doesn’t get better than this!


Tami Lewis Brown is hard at work on her next (whole) middle-grade novel and she looks forward to joining editors Kaylan Adair, Molly O’Neill (HarperCollins), Elizabeth VanDoren (Boyds Mill) and a slew of fantastic writers and mentors at the Highlights retreat this spring.