The Right Book For The Right Kid- meet author and bookseller Catherine Linka

What makes an independent book store a magical place? I think it’s personal attention to customers young and old. Today welcome children’s bookseller Catherine Linka to the Mixed-Up files.
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Catherine is the author of the (decidedly YA) A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in spring 2014. She’s the children’s book buyer at Flintridge Books in Southern California. She was my (brilliant) classmate in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. And she’s an absolute expert on matching a particular kid with a special book.
Welcome Catherine! Let’s get right into it. Load of adults love browsing in bookstores- my husband even loves to shop when books are involved. But kids not necessarily so much. How do you make kids feel welcome in your bookstore?
Middle grader readers are often hugely passionate about books, so yes, they can be lured to author appearances and in-store book promotions.  I’ve been surprised by how engaged fifth and sixth graders can be with their favorite authors. We had an event with Pseudonymous Bosch, and one mom took off from work and drove her daughter to our store from San Diego–that’s 100 miles each way!

While a name author can be a big draw, debut authors need to work harder to get a crowd.  A plain vanilla signing or reading aloud from a book is not likely to draw a crowd, but promising a fun activity connected to the book can get kids and parents interested. Debut author Kristen Kittscher set up a photo booth with funny wigs and oversize glasses at her book launch for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, and kids were lined up to get their pics taken.

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High school students often complain that with so many school and activity commitments they don’t have time for recreational reading. Do you see the same problem with middle grade readers?

No, because middle grade readers are forced to read for pleasure. Our local school district requires 20 minutes a day of free reading, assigns eight book reports a year, and pits students against each other to rack up the most Accelerated Reader books in their class. And local parents reinforce the message of reading for fun by buying reading timers for their kids. Despite all this, middle graders can turn into passionate, excited readers who will count the hours until the next Rick Riordan or Wimpy Kid comes out.

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What are some of the best middle grade book events you’ve seen? Live? By video? Print (such as activity kits)?
My favorite middle grade event is our Mother Daughter Book Party. Every January, I gather 7-9 female authors and invite them to meet girls in 3rd-6th grade and their moms. Each author gets a table and groups of moms and daughters sit and talk with each author for ten minutes before a bell tells them to move to the next author. We get a big crowd and everyone loves it–including the authors.
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What really matters is to engage with the reader on a personal level. Young readers want to get to know the authors and to have a little fun with them. They love answering live quizzes and competing for prizes. They love being able to ask questions or act out scenes. They want to know how authors wrote their books and got published, because they might want to write a book, too.

I love it! When we launched The Map Of Me Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington DC hosted a Mother Daughter book tea. It was fabulous. Does your store have a book group/club for middle grade readers? How does that work or why not?

This is the sixth year that I have led the Advance Readers Club. I have 25 kids who meet once a month and choose from the advance copies of books that publishers send me to review. These kids are amazing, enthusiastic and very opinionated readers. They read the books, write brief reviews and report back to me. I take their recommendations very seriously, because they will point me to books that become my bestsellers. And I pass their recommendations on to local librarians and teachers. I also invite authors to visit about twice a year. While the club is supposed to be for 5th and 6th graders, I’ve had kids who have insisted on staying with the group for four years.

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Okay here’s the $64,000,000,000 question– What do you think is the best way to get middle graders engaged with reading?
Help kids find the books that fit them. I always tell parents to start with what interests their child. Or I ask the child to name a couple books he or she really liked. Then I pull 4 or 5 different books and tell the child to read the first page of each one and see which one appeals to them.  Some kids want action and adventure, some want mystery, and some want quiet, soulful books.

I remind parents not to push kids who can read way above grade level into books whose content they aren’t ready for. Let the third grader read the Bunny Detectives! It’s OK. And a young reader doesn’t need to read only classics or Newbery books to become a great reader.

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Who wouldn’t love Polly Horvath, especially when she writes about husband and wife rabbit detectives. It’s a short leap– make that a hop, skip and jump to Everything On A Waffle!

The right book for the right reader! What could be better? Readers have independent bookstores helped engage your middle-grade readers? What events do you know of that really work?

Tami Lewis Brown is a bookstore groupie and she isn’t embarrassed to be the only grownup with no kids in tow at a good middle-grade author appearance.

3 responses to “The Right Book For The Right Kid- meet author and bookseller Catherine Linka

  1. Can’t wait to read A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS! Thanks to Catherine and Tami for a great interview. I love the idea of the photo booth for the Wig in the Window event at your store, Catherine!

  2. Thanks for the wonderful interview, Catherine! I love the idea of an Advance Readers Group. I will definitely keep your ideas in mind as I plan events and interact with readers. Congrats on your upcoming release!

  3. Your upcoming book sounds intriguing. Good luck with the release next spring. I’ll be sure to stop by for a visit next time I’m near your bookstore in Southern Calif. Thanks for your tips.