Author Archives: Sue Cowing

Indie Spotlight: Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston TX

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files:  What an interesting idea:  a bookstore devoted half to kid’s books and half to adult! We are talking today with Valerie Koehler, Owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

MUF: I assume your shop gets its name from Blue Willow, the award-winning novel by Doris Gates?  Sounds like you’ve had children’s books  in mind from the beginning.
Valerie: I was not aware of the lovely book by Doris Gates when I named the shop.  But just like in her novel, the shop is named after Blue Willow china. When I bought the shop, I wanted to offer books for the entire family. so now it’s half and half.  Our top two selling categories are adult fiction and children’s picture books.

school visit

MUF:You’ve been open twenty years now and you survived the downturn several years ago when many bookstores closed.  What has contributed to your success?  What kind of atmosphere do you try to create for customers at Blue Willow Books?
Valerie: We never saw the downturn as we plowed ahead with new ideas, new partnerships, and lots of events.  I feel our success is due to our open minds to new opportunities.  We want everyone to feel welcome and we want to continue to spread our love of books through the city.  We venture far beyond our walls with school visits and our three yearly festivals.

MUF:Tell us more about your monthly book club, “Another Shade of Blue” for middle-grade girls.  What have been some of their favorite books, and what will they be reading in June?  
Valerie:It’s been a slow start to this club and we are retooling it as I write this.  It’s so hard to get critical mass when the kids are overbooked.  They loved The Green Glass House By Kate Milford. In June, they are reading Beyond The Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk.

MUF: How do you choose which books to carry in your shop?
Valerie: I read advance copies, I look at reviews, I look at trends and past sales.  It’s an art and a science (and a crap shoot!).

MUF: How do you help kids find their next best book? As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers between eight and twelve?
Valerie We tend to recommend stand-alone novels as the kids already know the series.  All of us like different books!  This past year, we all loved PAX by Sara Pennypacker.  But each kid deserves to be different so we help them one at a time.

Tweens Read Festival

Gene Luen Yang & Fan at Tweens Read Festival

MUF: Do you have any events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Valerie: We are retooling the bookclub so stay tuned.  Also, put October 21st on the calendar for our 8th annual Tweens Read Festival.  The authors will be announced very soon. Last year we hosted over 3000 kids.
MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after shopping?  And if they could stay longer, are there some unique sites and activities in the area they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie:
We have a great patisserie in our center which is kid friendly.  Just down the street is Hungry’s which has food for the whole family.  For longer visits I like to recommend visiting www.houstonfamilymagazine.com for great Houston ideas.

Thanks, Valerie, for talking with us about Blue Willow Books, and congratulations on your continuing success!  Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of visiting this shop?  Putting it on your list?

 

Indie Spotlight: Linden Tree Books, Los Altos CA

MUF: We’re speaking today with Dianne Edmonds, co-owner of Linden Tree Books (“Where Imaginations Grow”) a lively, mostly-children’s bookstore in Los Altos, California (www.lindentreebooks.com)
Diane, your shop has undergone interesting changes from the past, not only in location but transitioning from children’s recordings to books. What is the atmosphere you’ve created as a bookshop, and what are your goals for the future?
Dianne: Linden Tree has had many positive changes in the last 6 years. We’ve centered our brand and logo around the message: “Where imaginations grow”.  By dropping the word children from our store name, we can emphasize the notion that any person of any age can let their imagination grow. We will always be known as a specialty children’s store but we didn’t want our name limiting how customers view us.  In addition, we foster a sense of creativity and enlightenment in all aspects of our store.  The layout of the store transitions from one section to the next with bright orange signage; our displays capture thematic topics and seasonal happenings.  We have small chairs and ottomans in the picture book area and larger chairs in the teen and adult sections.  Multi generations can come into the store together and find a plethora of books and accessories to allow their imaginations to grow.
Our goals for the future include an on-line web store, continuing our vast assortment of events and public outreach as well as continuing to foster the love of reading within our community.


MUF: Your staff has been described as “literary matchmakers.” How do they go about helping customers find the next, best book?
Dianne: Our literary matchmakers are the best in the industry! We have a phenomenal staff that is recognized by customer’s near and far. Being a “Matchmaker” requires two things: first, you need to know what books are available, their content and audience. This requires spending a LOT of time reading and listening to the opinions of fellow coworkers. Linden Tree Books is blessed with staff that are sincerely interested in what we recommend to our clients, so this is pretty fun and educational. We dedicate time at staff meetings for book talks, all our staff attends our local fall trade show, and everyone joins our team with the desire to let their imagination growSecond, every staff member is trained to be well versed in the art of the interview: asking short, easy questions and understanding the responses. We also have to understand reading levels, comprehension/appropriateness level (i.e., a 10-year-old might read at an 18-year old’s level but they won’t be able to understand nearly as much, and most books at that level will be very inappropriate), what the book(s) are needed for and why, and what the parent is comfortable with. It all starts with the first and best question along the lines of “What have you read recently and enjoyed? Why?” Treating each customer as an individual and not type casting while listening for intonations in their voice or body language is also very critical.
All of this can only be learned by people who like people, and by spending time with the customers. It’s a bit like solving a mystery in a detective novel. Solving the match making mystery in 4 minutes can be really hard; however, there is NOTHING like witnessing a customer discover a book you love and recommend.

MUF: An independent bookstore’s collection has to be curated. How do you decide what books to carry in your shop?
Dianne: First, Jill Curcio, Co-owner, vets every title as she meets with publishing reps and reviews front list titles.  Then we carefully manage the number of inventory turns within the year of all titles.  If customers continue to buy specific titles on a regular basis, we will carry the book.  If the metrics fall below our minimum, even if it’s near and dear to our heart, we have to let it go.  Our customers dictate what they want, we listen to those purchasing habits and respond according.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or non-fiction, you find yourselves recommending to readers ages 8-12 these days?
Diane: How many pages can we fill on your blog? Seriously, we could provide you with pages of titles that are the go-tos for this age group. The Inquisitor’s Tale, (Adam Gidwitz), Spy School (Stuart Gibbs) et al, Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West, Fish in a Tree (Lynda Hunt), Ms Rapscott’s Girls (Elise Primavera), and The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann usually make the cut. I’m also super partial to the Ramona books, the Little House books, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare.
More from our Matchmakers:
–The Boy Who Saved Baseball-John Ritter
–Every Soul a Star– Wendy Mass
–A Wrinkle in Time-Madeline L’Engle
–Harry Potter-J K Rowling
–Hoot- Carl Hiassen
–The Blackthorn Key – Kevin Sands
–Three Times Lucky – Sheila Turnage
–Connect the Stars – Marisa de los Santos
–Jackie Haha – Robert Patterson
–Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke
Frogkisser! – Garth Nix
–Princess Academy – Shannon Hale
–The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
–Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library-Chris Grabenstein
–The Girl Who Drank the Moon-Kelly Barnhill
–Pax-Sara Pennypacker
–Charlotte’s Web -E.B. White
Jennifer Bertman’s The Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code (forthcoming) and The Defiant (M. Quint), because of the local connection to San Francisco locations. Chris Grabenstein’s books, especially Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, because of the tech/game connection.
–The Wild Robot -Peter Brown
–Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day-John D. Anderson
–Some Kind of Courage -Dan Gemeinhart
–Hello Stranger-Steadman
–Summerlost-Ally Condie
–The Warden’s Daughter-Jerry Spinelli
–The Real Boy-Anne Ursu
An upcoming book that we’ll be sure to put into everyone’s hands is Lemons by Melissa Savage, about a girl who has lost her mother and has to get used to a whole new town with a grandfather she’s never met. Another favorite is Full Cicada Moon, set during 1969 and the moon landing, about a girl who’s half black and half Japanese who wants to be an astronaut, and the mindset of the time that she has to overcome.

MUF: When the middle-graders turn thirteen, they’re eligible for a very special book group at your store. Please tell us about it.
Dianne: Linden Tree hosts a special program called the Linden Tree Teen Advisory Board for kids aged 13 through 18. Currently the program has nineteen kids from ten different schools who volunteer their time to attend Board meetings, help set up our in-store events and run events of their own. Just recently, the Teen Board hosted a Harry Potter Trivia event. They also get the opportunity to read pre-release books and meet authors. It’s been invigorating and fun! When we decided to start this program, we were hoping for at least 12 applications for 10 volunteers spots; for the first round, we had 50+ applications! It was amazing and showed us that there is such a need for these young, avid readers to have a place with their “people” to feel comfortable and be with like-minded readers. Being around this talented group really provides hope for the future of literature.

MUF: Do you have any events or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Dianne: We have just started a program for 7 to 12-year olds we call the Linden Tree Page Turners. We have an RSVP list of 50 readers who come to the store to be interviewed about what they love to read! They share their favorite books, give us their thoughts, and we turn them around into a newsletter for adults who want to know what kids are reading. We are really looking forward to seeing what sort of information they share with us.

MUF: I believe you also carry puppets, games, and other book-related items at Linden Tree What are some favorites?
Dianne: The puppets and stuff animals are very popular, especially those with a tie-in with a book, like: the new -Knuffle Bunny, Uni the Unicorn, etc-  o the classic -Lyle, the kid from Snowy Day. Madeline- to the glorious mix of both: Max and Ruby, and all the Boynton stuffies. The Folkmanis brand of puppets sell very well at our store. Also, puzzles, coloring books, origami and magic trick sets are popular. Harry Potter themed sidelines always have a customer base.

MUF: If a family came to Los Altos to visit your store, would there be family-friendly places for them to have lunch or a snack after shopping? And if they could stay a little longer, are there unique family activities or sights nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Dianne: Los Altos has a very inviting downtown. To start with, we are next door to a fabulous bakery, Manresa that features a seasonal selection of handmade breads and pastries as well as a full expresso and tea shop. There is also a unique family friendly restaurant called Bumble. Bumble is a local organic restaurant created for locals and families to gather and enjoy a healthy meal and relax with friends over coffee or a glass of wine while children can check in a bright, sunny Playroom.  Their menu serves brunch and midday cafe offerings and changes seasonally to make the most of locally sourced, organic ingredients.  Also within a block of our store is a skateboard store (Skateworks) several outdoor art sculptures and plenty of sidewalk benches and two ice-cream establishments.

MUF: Thanks, Diane for telling us about your shop and for sharing so many of your favorite titles!  Readers, why not celebrate National Independent Book Store Day this Saturday by visiting Linden Tree Books (or, if you live too far away, your nearest independent shop) and picking up some of these books?

 

 

 

Indie Spotlight: The Voracious Reader, Larchmont NY

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: We’re talking today with Francine Lucidon of The Voracious Reader (www.thevoraciousreader.com).  Don’t you love the subtitle: “for young people with an appetite for books”?
MUF: You opened your shop ten years ago in 2007, generally considered a precarious time for bookstores, yet you’ve thrived.  Guess you knew something the doom-predictors didn’t!  How do you account for your success? 
Francine: While it may not have been the “right time” for a new indie, it was absolutely the perfect time for me and my family to embark on this adventure.  I can be a little headstrong that way. As for our success (which in the world of bookstores often means simply scraping together the rent and salaries each month) again, I credit that hard headed determination. Plus a wonderful supportive staff and community!

Franklin, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Extraordinaire

MUF: For those who haven’t visited (yet), please describe the atmosphere of your store.  When a middle-grade girl or boy comes to your store, what would you like him or her to experience?  How to you connect them with the next best book?
Francine: The store is super friendly – on Fridays you can meet our dog. Navigating the store is fun, with many themed displays, lots of great face-outs and of course, our treats and tea shop attached.

MUF: How do you decide what titles to carry in your store?
Francine: I do a lot of reading myself but also rely on feedback from our Uncommon Corps group. I look for both authors that consistently do well here as well as exciting debut authors. Often I find out about debut authors from regional conferences. I also make sure to read reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal.

MUF: Tell us more about your book club for ages 8-11, Uncommon Corps of Ravenous Readers (love that title—so true for this age group) and what they do.  
Francine: this is an ARCS club, a group of book and pizza loving 8 to 11 year olds. Each person reads and reviews/discusses a unique book not yet published (cool factor J). On the first Friday evening of the month middle graders gather at our meetup to talk books and eat pizza , and at the end of the evening everyone gets another free Advance Review Copy to talk about at our next meeting.

MUF: When the members turn 12, they can move on to the YA Alliance, right?
Francine: Yes, that’s our teen club which is run similarly with YA books.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to middle-graders these days.
Francine: Recommendations depend so much on the reader. I like to know what they’ve read recently, what they tend to enjoy most, then, by showing them maybe 3 titles or so, I feel confident to choose the recommendation that makes their eyes light up. To be honest I usually find 2 or 3 titles a season that I absolutely love and foist them on everyone! A couple of favorites not too long ago have been Kathy Appelt’s Maybe a Fox and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, both soon to release in paperback. Middle grade readers often prefer books that appeal to their strong emotions.  Then there are books that are just plain, silly fun like The Terrible Two from Mac Barnett and Jory John.

 

MUF: Any author visits or events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Francine: We’ll be launching book 2 of the Pixie Piper duology by Annabelle Fisher , Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter, probably at the end of May. People who’d like to attend our events can sign up for our newsletter (www.thevoraciousreader.com) or follow us on our Facebook Page.

MUF: If a family came to Larchmont to visit your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or a meal afterward?  Any unique sights or activities nearby that they shouldn’t miss?
Francine:
They could certainly get snacks in our attached teashop, A Proper Cup, including all natural ice cream from Jane’s of the Hudson Valley. We’ve got lemonade, a huge variety of loose leaf teas and Stumptown cold brew coffee. We’ve also got cupcakes, cake pops. Scones and more. There’s a great Chinese restaurant right next door, wonderful restuarants of all kinds throughout town and a beautiful beachfront park called Manor Park. The town is strollable and filled with families which makes an afternoon here a great family destination.

MUF: How will The Voracious Reader be celebrating National    Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 30th?
Francine:
This year over 400 bookstores nationwide (including OURS!) are joining up to let you know that, with your support,your independent bookstore (that’s US!) can serve as an important hub of ideas, fun and community building! Publishers and authors have created special items to be sold ONLY by participating stores and ONLY on our day of celebration! Stop in for special items from such luminaries as Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Tad Hills and more! We’ll also have giveaways, story times, crafts for the kids and some special treats available in our tea shop!

MUF: Thanks, Francine for taking time to help us  get to know your shop.  How many of our voracious readers reading this column have visited Francine’s shop, or would like to?  Comments welcome.

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