Author Archives: Sue Cowing

Indie Spotlight: Hooray! Indie Bookshops are Thriving

screenshot_50

For the new year, here’s a retrospective of bookstores we spotlighted in 2015, recalling a special feature or two of each and a couple of their favorite books for middle-graders.
The shops we featured are all over the country (well, okay, two are in Oregon). Some are new and already doing well, and one claims to be the country’s oldest continuously operating shop. Most are in small or mid-size towns or neighborhoods, and many were founded by first-time booksellers simply determined that their community would have a bookstore.   They thrive by knowing their readers, that stubborn and growing tribe who like to hold physical books in their hands and talk about them with real people who know and love books.
The great thing about independent bookstores is that they’re free to create whatever atmosphere they imagine and to choose what books to buy and promote. If you have discovered a shop you love, support them by going there often to hang out, buy and enjoy. Since each bookshop is a unique experience though, you also might want to “collect” those experiences, seeking out shops in your region and wherever you travel, and taking a middle-grader or two along.
How about one of these?

screenshot_51–Bookends, Kailua, Hawaii (through the tunnel from Honolulu)
Interview  with owner /manager Pat Banning in January 2015, who says the secret lies in being “just big enough.”Heap Magyk
Features: general collection of new and used, but strong in children’s. Lots of fantasy and screenshot_49hard to find older books like Raggedy Ann and some early Nancy Drew .
Pat recommends: Magyk by Angie Sage and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley

writers block logo sign #5–Writer’s Block, Las Vegas (www.writersblock.org)
Interview with  Drew Cohen in February 2015, who says of the store’s writer’s workshops: “middle-graders are often the most fun to work with.”screenshot_52WB Battle Bunny
Features: a new store, with a woodshop and fascinating artificial bird sanctuary and adoption program.
Drew recommends: Battle Bunny by Jon Scieska and Mac Barnett, and Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine.

Octavia logoOctavia Books, New Orleans (www.octaviabooks.com)
Interview with co-owner Judith Lafitte in March, 2015bookstore waterfall
Features: It’s not every bookstore that has an atrium with a waterfall or served as a “port in the storm” after Hurricane Katrina.Octavia Ms. RapscottOctavia Imaginary
Judith recommends: Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elsie Primavera and The Imaginary by A.F. Harold.

square books logoSquare Books, Junior, Oxford MS (www.squarebooks.com/junior)
Interview with Paul Fyke in April 2015
Features: Called ‘an independent among independents,” it strives to be welcoming with couches and play spaces rather than having a commercial look.Square Books How they croakedSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret
Paul recommends: The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch and How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg

Annie B's gift cardAnnie Bloom’s, Portland Oregon (www.anniebloomsbooks.com)
Interview with  children’s author and bookseller Rosanne Parry in May, 2015
Features: Part of the charming Multnomah Village neighborhood. Has a spinning rack of unabridged classics. The store cat’s name is. . .Annie Bloom.Annie Bloom's poisoned applesAnnie Bloom's Brchbark House
Rosanne recommends: Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich and Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman
Stone Alley logoStone Alley Books & Collectables, Galesburg IL
Interview with  Ben Stomberg, founder/owner/manager in June 2015 .
Features: Ben went into the bookstore business when the town’s only bookstore closed. Strong in fiction, YA, and children’s books Stone Alley. Silversteinand has a growing stone alley blumeselection of comics. Recently merged with the local gaming store to their mutual benefit.
Ben recommends: ” you can’t go wrong with classics” like Where the Sidewalk Ends or anything by Judy Blume.

Crious Iguana logoCurious Iguana, Frederick Maryland (www.curiousiguana.com)
Interview with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner in July 2015
Features: Just two-and-a-half years old and thriving. Diverse and globally focused books. Curious Iguana WarA screenshot_53percentage of monthly sales goes to global nonprofits.
Marlene recommends: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker and The Crossover, Kwame Alexander

imagesBeach Books, Seaside Oregon
Rosanne Parry’s interview with owner screenshot_55Karen Emerling in November, 2015
Features: Monthly Lunch in the Loft series with regional authors. Carries many local authors and books related to the coast.

screenshot_05Once Upon a Time, Montrose CA
Interview with Maureen Palacios in December 2015
Features: The oldest continuous children’s bookshop in the country and never had a better year, Noted for their lively window displays. screenshot_28Décor and screenshot_30music have the more sophisticated child in mind.
Maureen recommends: Crenshaw by Catherine Applegate and Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff.

Readers, have you visited any of these shops?  Do you have another favorite you think MUF should spotlight?

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

Indie Spotlight: Once Upon A Time Bookstore, Montrose CA

screenshot_24

How  heartening to discover an independent bookstore that has been in existence nearly fifty years and has not only survived the recession, but is thriving!  It’s the award-winning  Once Upon a Time in Montrose CA (www.shopconceuponatime.com). We’re talking today with Maureen Palacios, one of a growing number of bookstore owners who got into the business not because they had experience in the field, but because they thought their town needed to have a bookstore!  Once Upon a Time  has quite an ownership story.
MUF: Is Once Upon A Time truly the oldest children’s bookstore? Maureen: Well, in 2008 Publisher’s Weekly wrote an article about old children’s bookstores and their research indicated we were the oldest, having started in 1966 and still operating. Of course, there have been stores started before 1966 but alas, they have gone out of business.screenshot_05

MUF:What inspired you to buy it from its founder and keep it going?Maureen: Our family had been customers of Once Upon a Time for many years when early in 2003, youngest daughter Amelia, age 8), was picking out books to read at the store. She turned to me and said, “Mama, we have all the books.” I noticed things were very bare on the shelves and inquired about the lack of inventory. A staffer reluctantly said the store was for sale and would probably close if no buyer came through. This infuriated my children, especially my older daughter Jessica, age 9, who took matters into her own hands. A week or so after our last trip to Once Upon a Time, I was surprised to a call from a newspaper reporter asking to speak with Jessica. He had received a fax from one Jessica Palacios who, apparently, wrote a Letter to the Editor of our paper in pencil asking someone to help the nice lady sell her store and lamenting where would she buy her 5th Harry Potter book if Once Upon a Time was not there? This was prepared (in pencil) and faxed off – all without my knowledge! The newspaper not only printed her letter, but also an article about the shop and tough times.
By then, the founder was basically asking anyone who walked into the store if they would like to buy a children’s independent bookstore. We walked in, and she asked me. I said –“I don’t know anything about books – I fire people” (My Human Relations background). She said, “But I’ll train you!”

Tha Palacios family during inventory

Tha Palacios family during inventory

My husband and I agreed we could not let the shop go out of our community, so we submitted a bid to the founder. After a few days, we were informed we had the store! We had no knowledge or experience in bookselling, retail or buying.   I had to quit my successful Human Resources management career of 20 years to learn the trade from the founder. Blessedly, the community responded enthusiastically, my children ages 8 and 9 read ALL the books available ,wrote reviews, and hand sold books to customers. The store has gone on, wea moved down the block after a nasty landlord tripled our rent, forged ahead with ebooks, and weathered the recession of 2008. This will be our best sales year in 49 years. We have significantly expanded our outreach by committing to the large Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and partnering with 4 publishers and manning 3 booths – including the main stage Kids Stage booth – and hosting/selling 40 authors over a 2 day festival.
This year, after 49 years, we won what many in kids’ bookselling consider the pinnacle of success, the 2015 Pannell Award Children’s Specialty Bookstore award, and were presented the award at BEA in New York by the Woman’s National Book Association.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.  What do you want your customers, especially young readers, to experience when they visit?screenshot_14
Maureen:
It starts with our front window displays. We have won awards with our creations to draw people into our store and to whet their appetite on what’s inside. Kids love our windows.
Even at 1200 sq. feet we pack great product in. We like to appeal to a more sophisticated child and have blue-hued silhouette murals depicting the sections of our bookstore on the walls and not primary colors. We play classical music as I do not generally enjoy most children’s music (too sappy, too trite) being a former paid musician myself. I don’t think it’s necessary to dumb down our store for kids, as they are always surprising & delighting us. screenshot_13A red barn (which houses the few hardcover adult books we have) has been greeting customers by the door for generations, beckoning the younger set to explore inside the barn and play friends and neighbors with open windows.

MUF: Your collection has been described as “curated.” How do you choose the books to carry in your store?
Maureen: Great design, artfully, whimsically or imaginatively drawn on covers. For most picture books, the cover art MUST convey a sense of style as no one will bother even looking at the text if they don’t care to pick it up. We do not carry self-published titles – oh, maybe only one – because the books must sell their space, and the self-pubbed titles cover art can’t hold a candle to the vast majority of our inventory. Middle grade and YA books also must have appealing covers and the book should have received good strong reviews and/or one of my staff has read the book.   We do not take everything from a publisher – which is much more difficult than it sounds. Being discerning and knowing at least 3 customers for a particular title will help ensure we stock the book.

MUF: Since we are middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what titles new or old, fiction or nonfiction do you find yourself recommending to readers aged eight to twelve these days?
Maureen: Newer releases: Anything by Stuart Gibb, screenshot_31Kate DiCamillo, Cynthia Kadohata, Pam Munoz Ryan, Katherine Applegate,screenshot_28 Brandon Mull, Lisa McMann, Margaret Haddix, Gary Schmidt, Tom Angleberger, Raina Telgemeir, Kazu Kibuishi.  Misty of Chincoteague is still recommended, as is The Phantom Tollbooth. Cynthia Kadohata’s stories are so thoughtful and beautifully written, as well as Thanhha Lai’s. Gary Schmidt’s writing is always welcome and any book by Kate DiCamillo. Tracy Holczer is our local favorite with her “Secret Hum of a Daisy.” screenshot_32And we can’t wait to sell Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell and Blackthorn Key by newbie Kevin Sands.

Nonfiction is usually the Who is ..series, or the fantastic picture book biographies – my personal favorite: GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY by Mara Rockliff screenshot_30and delightfully illustrated by Vincent X Kirsch. Of course, we LOVE Jon Scieszka’s science series as well as Ken Jennings books.

MUF: Many of the most successful independent bookstores maintain close connections to their communities, is this also true of Once Upon a Time?
Maureen:
Being a customer first, I understood that just having longer hours in the day and opening seven days a week was important to our community. We host AYSO teams, donate books, ARCs and gift cards to almost every school in the Crescenta Valley area and beyond, and hire high school students for their first job and give them scholarships to go to college. We place hundreds of authors in  schools as well as partner with our local and main library for events and programming. We donate and provide speakers to PTAs, new parent groups, non-profit organizations and hospitals.
I have recently been  honored by the Children’s Literacy Council of Southern California with the Dorothy C McKenzie Award. This award, named for the organization’s founder, is given periodically in recognition of an individual’s distinguished service to the field of children’s literatur.

screenshot_17

Katherine Applegate & Fans

MUF: Have well-known middle grade authors appeared at your store? Do you have events or programs coming up that would be of interest to middle-graders?
Maureen: We have had the privilege of hosting many well-known authors such as Katherine Applegate, Jon Scieszka, Pseudonymous Bosch, Lisa McMann, Richard Peck, Margaret Haddix, Brandon Mull, Cornelia Funke, Mac Barnett, Raina Telgemier, and many more. We also love to discover & present to our community a new talent, who writes exciting and engaging books for middle grade.
screenshot_38We are thrilled to be hosting on Jan. 3rd   KRISTEN KITTSCHER for her book launch party of her Rose Parade-themed middle grade mystery TIARA ON THE TERRACE.  At the end of January on the 30th, we will celebrate COMICS SQUAD DAY!  with Jenni Holm and Cecil Castelucci.

MUF: If a family came from out of town to visit your shop. Would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? Are there other unique sights or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Maureen:
Anyone coming to our shop is in for a treat, as we are a part of Montrose Shopping Park, a 3-block long outside, tree-shaded shopping & dining area that has been dubbed “Old Town Montrose” for its quaint, mid-western architecture. Dozens of movies, TV series and commercials are shot here in the park. We have had NCIS – Los Angeles, NCIS, Sons of Anarchy, House, a film directed by Clint Eastwood, most of Will Ferrell movies and many more shoot here. Most of the stores are independently owned and no big box stores at all. Right next to us, there is a fabulous BBQ joint – Zeke’s – and the next 2 storefronts are terrific restaurants. There’s Italian, Armenian, Mexican, Japanese, Sushi and more restaurants. We are located about 1 mile from a beautiful botanical garden destination – DESCANSO GARDENS – that offers families a respite from the hustle and bustle of LA with themed gardens, world-famous Camellia forest and acres of gorgeous plants. Many times I give a visiting author a day pass to the Gardens between school visits and an evening event so they can rest.

Thanks, Maureen for introducing us to your shop and neighborhood.  It all sounds so inviting!  Readers, have you visited Once Upon a Tome or do you think you would like to?  Please comment here.

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

 

Indie Spotlight: Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD

Crious Iguana logo
I don’t know which is a greater delight to feature, a veteran independent bookstore that has survived the ups and downs and dire predictions of the last few years, or one that is new and also doing well. Today we’re talking with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner with Tom England of Curious Iguana (www.curiousiguana.com) in Frederick, Maryland.
(Have you ever noticed how founders of independent bookstores like to give them animal names: Blue Manatee, Bear Pond, Flying Pig, Mockingbird, Velveteen Rabbit? )

MUF: Marlene, your shop has been open just two years, and already it is thriving! Tell us how you came to found Curious Iguana and what you think accounts for its early success?
Marlene: My husband Tom and I opened Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in September 2000, and a couple of years ago we started dreaming about what a new curius iguana frontretail adventure might look like. Children’s books had been a consistently strong category at the Bear, so we originally planned to open a children’s bookstore. But the message we heard over and over again from our customers was how much downtown Frederick needed an independent bookstore for all ages, not just kids. When we found out a larger retail space was available around the corner from Dancing Bear, we relocated the toy store there in the summer of 2013 and opened the Iguana in the Bear’s former location just two months later.

Our local community, as well as out-of-towners who visit Frederick, has demonstrated so much love and support for the Iguana. I think it helps that Tom and I already had strong ties to the community—because of the toy store, we were a known entity and never the ‘new kids on the block,’ so to speak. We are also extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team of booksellers who are curious (of course!), passionate about reading, and dedicated to providing exemplary customer service.

MUF: The shop name is wonderful, as is the subtitle, “get to know your world.” In what ways do you encourage young readers to do that?
Marlene: We are very thoughtful in our selection of books, being sure to include titles that are diverse and globally focused.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry at Curious Iguana?Marlene: It’s a team effort that involves staff (particularly Kari, our children’s book buyer), publishing reps, online research, recommendations and reviews from other indie bookstores, and lots and lots of reading!

MUF:As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourselves recommending most to 8-12 year olds these days?  Crious Iguana CartwheelingCruous iguana echo
Marlene:
Although classics are always a staple, new midgrade fiction is flourishing at the Iguana. Kids seem to be really interested in strong, Curious Iguana revolution
character-driven stories—books that open their eyes to the experiences of others and help them understand the world around them. Wonder (RJ Palacio) is still a big hit, but also Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan), Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (Katherine Rundell)Curious Iguana Butterfly Hill, El Deafo (Cece Bell), Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson), The Crossover Curious Iguana War(Kwame Alexander), I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Marjorie Agosin), Revolution (Deborah Wiles), and The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). We’ve been really impressed with our midgrade readers—their appetite for reading, their interest in heavier topics.

MUF: Have favorite middle-grade authors appeared at Curious Iguana? Do you have other activities or events designed to appeal to this age group?

Marlene: Last year, we hosted Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame) and were filled to capacity. I’m not sure we could have squeezed one more person in the bookstore! We’ve also welcomed Deborah Wiles (a longtime friend of our bookstore and toy store) and Grace Lin (who braved treacherous weather to greet 60+ fans on a very snowy Saturday morning).curious iguana Lin Several of our middle-grade customers attended a Q&A with a panel of authors from We Need Diverse Books, and we have hosted a Kids Go Global book club for ages 8-12, as well as several intergenerational book discussions at the Iguana and at our county libraries for middle-grade readers and their favorite adults.

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

MUF: Curious Iguana is a “benefit corporation.” Please tell us what that means for you, for your customers, and for the recipients of your donations.
Marlene: All benefit corporations have unique goals and objectives; ours is to be a successful business that also makes a difference in our world—that’s why we donate a percentage of monthly sales to global nonprofits that are making a world of difference. Recent recipients include Kiva, The Malala Fund, Room to Read, CamFed, and Children of Promise, Children of Hope, a nonprofit in the Dominican Republic that was started by a longtime customer and friend. This commitment to giving back helps us keep our priorities straight. It’s a constant reminder that helping others is a big part of why we do what we do. Our customers seem to respect our vision and appreciate that the money they spend at the Iguana is having a broad impact far beyond downtown Frederick.curous iguana interior

MUF: If an out of town family on a day trip visits Curious Iguana, would there be family-friendly places near buy to get a snack or meal? Are there other unique Frederick sights or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Marlene: Definitely! Our historic downtown is a thriving ‘Main Street’ community with all kinds of independent specialty stores and restaurants. There really is something for everyone. Of course, we’re just a tad biased and would encourage visitors to stop by our sister store, Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, just around the corner from the Iguana. Many families add some history to their shopping and dining with a visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is also located in downtown Frederick. Two helpful websites to check out when planning a trip to Frederick are http://downtownfrederick.org and http://visitfrderick.org.

curious iguana round logoThank you Marlene, for telling us about your bookstore and its mission!  Readers, have you visited this popular shop? (Hmmmmm. I wonder if Curious Iguana is acquainted with Reading Reptile?  Seems like they might have a lot  in common. )

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