Author Archives: Sue Cowing

Indie Spotlight: Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh NC

Quail Ridge logoQuail Ridge Books & Music of Raleigh, North Carolina, now in its 30th year, has received, among other awards, the Publishers’ Weekly Bookseller of the Year Award and the Pannell Award for Excellence in Children’s Bookselling. We’re speaking today with Carol Moyer, Children’s Department Manager at Quail Ridge( Ridge front

MUF: Please spell out for our readers what being an independent shop allows you to do at Quail Ridge Books?
Carol: Being independent means that we hand-select the inventory in the store, an inventory of the best books that is broad and diverse. We can decide what to display, how and where to display it. We decide which titles to promote in newsletters and other advertising. We decide which authors to invite for a program.

MUF: Customer reviews praise Quail Ridge Books as a place where booksellers lead you to the perfect books and can make you a book-source hero in a child’s eyes.   How do you do that?
Carol: The children’s staff stays up to date with children’s books and can recommend titles for all ages. We get to know our customers and their interests, and we help them find books for each occasion. Knowing books and knowing customers is the key.

Quail Ridge Book CakeMUF: I notice your shop extends this to personal shopping service online. How do you choose the books you carry in your shop?
Carol: We order inventory after reviewing pre-publication copies and other materials from publishers. We read reviews all the time and look for more books by our favorite authors.

MUF: Many independent bookstores combine books with or cards and gifts, but not so many with music. Tell us how combination of books and music works with your community of customers.
Carol: Our former owner added a classical music CD department to enhance the bookstore. Great music and great books make a winning combination.

Quail Ridge Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson

MUF: So many events every month at your store, some with signing line tickets!   What’s coming up that might especially interest middle-graders?Quail Ridge Brown Girl DreamingQuail Ridge Revolution
Carol: This month we’ve had Tommy Greenwald who writes the Charlie Joe Jackson series and Jacqueline Woodson with her brilliant new memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Coming up Nov 5 is Deborah Wiles with her fascinating novel of the 60’s, Revolution.

MUF: You have some fun-sounding book clubs for our age group— First in Series and Middle School Girls Book Club. What have they been reading?
Quail Ridge Charly Joe JacksonCarol: First in the Series Book Club have been reading Tommy Greenwald’s book Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Making Money Deborah Wiles’s first book of the 60’s series, Countdown. The club meets before the author event and then stays to meet the author and hear the program.Quail Ridge Countdown
Middle School Girls Book Club read Brown Girl Dreaming and stayed for the program.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what are some titles new and old, fiction and non-fiction, that you are especially recommending to middle-grade readers at the moment?  Also tell us about Wake County’s Battle of the Books.
Carol: North Carolina School Library Media Association selects titles for the Battle of the Books list each year. Quail Ridge crowdThis is a middle school reading incentive program that has been very successful over the years. The list includes are range of reading levels and interests, but all of the books have been well reviewed and are on recommended lists.   We are certainly recommending books by authors coming to the store, and then we all have personal favorites.

Quail Ridge-SkinkQuail Ridge BrotherbandQuail Ridge Gooseberry ParkWe like Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen, Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney, Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Brotherband Chronicles by Flanagan, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, and the list goes on and on and on!Quail Ridge World according to Humphrey

MUF: And our readers’ to-read lists just got a little longer!
Carol, if a family visited Quail Ridge Books from out of town, would there be some place nearby where they could get a family-friendly snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay awhile, are there other special family activities or sites in the area they might enjoy?
Carol: We are located in a shopping center with Whole Foods and a local restaurant, Tripps. Families are welcome at both places. We are between the North Carolina Museum of Art and downtown Raleigh where there are plenty of places to visit.Quail Ridge logo #2

MUF: Thanks so much, Carol, for telling us about Quail Ridge and recommending some good middle-grade titles. Readers, doesn’t this sound like a great shop to visit?

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011, Usborne UK 2012, HarperCollins UK 2014)

Indie Spotlight: Avid Bookshop, Athens GA

Sue Cowing for Mixed-up files:  We’re talking today with Janet  Geddis, avid logoowner of Avid Bookshop (,  a new and thriving book haven in Athens, Georgia.
MUF: Your shop is only three years old, which means that you opened at a time when those-who-were-supposed-to-know-but-weren’t-getting-around-the-country-much were predicting that bookstores were dying out, bound to be replaced by online sites and ebooks. So what inspired you to do this? Avid books front #1
Janet: I was inspired by many things: my love of reading, my love of Athens, my love of people, and my love of those special spots we call “third places.” I’d experimented with lots of great jobs (teaching, tutoring, event planning, community outreach, and more), but I didn’t want to do any of them full-time. I had a major a-ha! moment when I realized that my lifelong half-dream of having my own bookstore would allow me to do a little bit of everything I loved. Once I started doing market research, I realized how sorely Athens needed a bookstore like Avid, and the community has responded in such an incredibly inspiring way.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere at Avid Bookshop.
Janet: Avid is one of my favorite places in the world. We hear customers commenting on its warmth and “good vibes,” and it’s so amazing to hear that the ambiance we aimed to create translates clearly to our customers. Avid Interior #1My booksellers and I are all people-people, so we love to greet everyone who walks in and help as much or as little as people need. Since we have no back office or receiving room, the shop can seem a little jumbled and messy at times, but we roll with it and like to think it’s part of our charm.
MUF: Athens seems to be a lively and unique community. Tell us about your customers and how you help them find their good reads. Janet: We LOVE our customers and our town so much. I’d venture to guess that at least every other person you walk by is rather creative—we have a ton of musicians, visual artists, writers, and more in our relatively small city. The first step in connecting readers with books comes up when I meet one-on-one with publisher reps and decide what titles I will stock from season to season. I think of my existing customers as well as potential customers; I look at past sales data and consider the trends that I witness in my community. Once a customer walks in (whether it’s someone we know well or have just met that day), we are able to choose from a curated collection of titles that my booksellers and I already love and/or think our customers will love. Avid read #1We take the time to listen to a customer’s description of his or her reading tastes and make sure we give a personalized recommendation. And then we ask that they check back in down the line to let us know what they thought of their purchases!
MUF: I love it when the recommended titles on a store’s website include books I haven’t even seen reviews of. It’s a sign to me that the booksellers read widely and curate the books. This doesn’t happen on Amazon or the chain store’s sites. How do you choose the books you carry in your store?  What are some titles new or old, fiction or nonfiction, that you are recommending to middle-grade readers at the moment?
Janet: In addition to very carefully selecting books on publishers’ lists, I talk frequently with my staff not only about what books they’re loving (or not loving), but also the kinds of comments and feedback they overhear from customers in the shop. My store is very, very small, so it can be hard to say no to certain books, but I think we’ve gained a reputation for being selective without being snobby (and of course we can order any book in print and get it in within a couple of weekdays if a customer wants something specific we don’t have on the shelf). Avid Timmy FailureFor a long while, we’ve had our reliable sales in the middle Avid fourteenth goldishgrade section: I’m thinking of how we continue to sell books in the Wildwood series (Meloy), anything Origami Yoda, the Wimpy Kid books, and more. We have helped make some books Avid bestsellers due to our love of putting them in readers’ hands: the Timmy Failure books (Pastis) and anything by Jennifer Holm (especially one of my new favorites, The Fourteenth Goldfish) come to mind right away.
MUF: You have a special Young Reader’s Book club for middle graders. What titles will they be reading next?
Janet: The next book on the list is The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. I know that our Young Readers’ Book Club moderators (Rainey, a customer, and Will, a bookseller) have some ideas they will be nominating for the kids to vote on—we’ll have the November selection listed on our website calendar soon! MUF: Please tell our readers about Frank the FFF, and how he came to be?
Janet: Ha! Oh, Frank. Avid frank #1We love him so. In July 2012, we participated in Candlewick’s Where’s Waldo? buy local promotion. (We’ve done it each year since, to continued and growing success.) A few months later, we still had customers asking us about Waldo and itching for the next contest to begin. We decided to create a brand new character that our local print shop would make multiple standees of—we would then distribute this character to 50+ local businesses to help promote buying locally for the holidays. Instead of selecting an existing book character, we put out a call to artists. After a blind judging from our panel, a winner was chosen: a then-11-year-old artist named Jeremy Kiran Fernandes’s “Frank” character was the winner! He has a book for a head and loves Athens ever so much. We elongated his name (we’re obsessed with words—what do you expect?) and he became Frank, the Fabulous Fiction Fan. The effort was a BLAST but also rather exhausting, so we didn’t do the promotion during the 2013 holidays. Jury’s still out on whether Frank will make a repeat performance this year.
MUF: Do you have any events coming up that are of special interest to middle-graders?
Janet: Apart from our Young Readers’ Book Club meeting in October, we don’t have anything middle-grade-specific on the list at the moment. We have had some stellar events this school year already, though, introducing hundreds of kids to Random House authors Lou Anders (Frostborn) Avid Frostbornand Jennifer Holm at their schools and at the bookshop. Those events were very well received and the middle grade readers loved the chance to meet these authors. MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit Avid Bookshop, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal? And if they could stay awhile, are there other places and activities around Athens they shouldn’t miss? Janet: There’s so much to do in our neck of the woods! Avid Bookshop is a few blocks outside of downtown proper on the lovely Prince Avenue. You could stroll two doors down to the Daily Co-op, a member-owned grocery story that is famous in the kid crowd for their bulk selection of candy and snacks. (You can grab a sandwich or salad from their deli department as well.) A few blocks in the other direction is a complex called The Bottleworks, where families can enjoy food and drink from any number of locally-owned restaurants/cafes. For families with more time in Athens (and a car), I recommend a few different things off the top of my head: a)   A visit to Bear Hollow, the small zoo at Memorial Park; b)   A kids’ craft class at Treehouse Kid & Craft; c)    Weekday story time at the Athens-Clarke County Library; d)   Pizza and sandbox playing at Ted’s Most Best, a local joint known for its pizza and kid-friendly atmosphere.Avid sign #1

MUF: Thanks Janet, for taking time to describe your delightful shop to us.  Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of shopping here, or are you now tempted to treat yourself to a visit?  If so, please chime in on the comments and let these folks know.
Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog, Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harper-Collins UK 2014.

Hana Hou! Middle Grade Fiction About Hawaii

Fine and colorful picture books about Hawaii abound, as do adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, and there are a fair number of YA novels.  But what if a middle grader wants to curl up with a good novel set in Hawaii? These are few, but still there are some engaging choices.screenshot_1692

Graham Salisbury’s books stand out. Most are set in Kona on the island of Hawaii where he grew up, and they draw in part on family stories.   Under the Blood Read Sun (Yearling Reprint, 1995) is the story of a young Japanese American boy, Tomi, and his haole (Caucasian) friend Billy just before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Under the Blood-red Sun has just been made into a moving locally-produced and acted film that was featured at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival in May. I predict it will be the talk of film festivals all over when it is released  September 14. A twentieth-anniversary edition of the book will also appear in September.

Well okay, maybe Under the Blood Red Sun is technically YA because the main boy characters are thirteen, but the actor who plays Billy first read and loved the book when he was eight.  Also launching September 14 is the fourth and latest book in that WWII series, Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.  In it a 17-year-old Japanese  boy from Hawaii undergoes harrowing experiences as an undercover agent for the U.S. Army in the Philippines during the War.screenshot_1691

Among my other favorites of Salisbury’s books are Jungle Dogs (Yearling, 1999) in which a boy must overcome his fear of the wild dogs along his paper route and learn to hold his own with troublemakers at school, and Night of the Howling Dogs (Wendy Lamb Books, 2007), based on a true story of a boy whose courage

Hawaii MG #5 Hawaii MG #8Hawaii MG #6and leadership are put to an extreme test when his Boy Scout troupe is caught first in an earthquake and then in a tsunami while camping in a remote spot below the volcano.

Throughout his career, Salisbury has worked with one editor, Wendy Lamb, and this has proved a winning collaboration. In addition to MG and YA novels, Salisbury has written a collection of stories called Island Boyz (Wendy Lamb Books, 2002), full of the rich flavor of island life and the inter-kid relations and negotiations that are so much part of growing up in the islands. For those on the younger end of Middle Grade, he has also recently published an amusing series of books about Calvin Coconut, a boy character who lives in Kailua on the island of Oahu, where Graham also once lived and went to school.

Shan Correa’s Gaff (Peachtree, 2010) gives a glimpse into the semi-secret world of cockfighting, a rural island tradition Hawaii MG #7many visitors are hardly aware exists. Seventh-grader Paul Silva, whose disabled father raises fighting cocks for a living, thinks the birds are magnificent. But he has been sheltered from the nature of the fighting, and once he sees it first-hand, he vows to get his father out. A poignant story of courage and coming-of-age.

For mystery/thriller-lovers, try P.J. Neri’s Hawaii Chiller series (Bess Press) if you can find them, or Elaine Masters’ Thief in Chinatown (Island Hertiage, 1998).

Want something intriguing kids can sink their teeth into (or vice versa)? Don’t miss the exciting new Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy. Hawaii, with all its myths and ghosts and traditions, would seem an ideal fermenting ground for middle-grade fantasy, but whoever writes it needs to be well versed in the stories already here before making anything up or they’ll be off-pitch. HawaiiMG #3

Now we have we have Lehua Parker who grew up in the islands, knows the old tales, knows island people and life, and lets all reverberate through her own very original, page-turning books. MG Hawaii #2Two have been published: One Boy, No Water (Jolly Fish, 2012) and One Shark, No Swim (Jolly Fish, 2013).  A third will come out in 2015. In the series, 11-year old Zader has been adopted as a newborn under strange circumstances into a family of surfers and fishermen. Trouble is, he’s allergic to water, and when he eats raw seafood he has haunting dreams. His Uncle Kahana, a marvelous combination of mystic and down-home, no-nonsense elder, knows a lot more than he’s telling about Zader’s origins and destiny. Suspense and humor guaranteed.

Let’s hope, with the success of these books, there will be many more in the future for middle-grade readers to enjoy!


Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011) and My Dog Has Flies, Poetry for Hawaii’s Kids (BeachHouse, 2005)