Author Archives: Sue Cowing

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)

Indie Spotlight: Bear Pond Books, Montpelier VT

Bear Pond #4Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files:  If only every state had a lively book shop on the main street of it’s capital city!  Today it’s a pleasure to be chatting with Jane Knight of Bear Pond Books (www.bearpondbooks.com ), which has been called “one of the great independent book stores on earth.”

Bear Pond #6MUF: What do you hope people will experience when they walk into Bear Pond  Books and browse?
Jane:
Nirvana!

MUF:What keeps you going?
Jane:
Our passion for books and our loyal customers.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry in your shop?
Jane:
We use a very magical blend of intuition, passion, rep. and book world reviews, word on the street and even a little wild guessing.Bear Pond ShipwreckBear Pond Glass sentence

MUF: What favorite titles—old and new, fiction and nonfiction—are you recommending to middle graders right now?Bear Pond  Return of Zita
Jane:
So difficult to narrow them down to a manageable list! But here goes: Bear Pond Steve JenkinsFiction: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, anything by Linda Urban, The Bartimeaus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud, the Bone series by Jeff Smith, Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Nation by Terry Pratchett, the Guys read series… please stop me now!!!! Bear Pond BartemausFor Non-fiction: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s MostDangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the Sea ; The Extraordinary Story of Shackleton and the Endeavor by Jennifer Armstrong, Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers, by Tanya Lee Stone, anything by Steve Jenkins. New Bear Pond Linda UrbanTitles: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove, The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitxgerald, The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.Bear Pond Under the Egg`

MUF: Have you held events or activities at the store for middle graders? Any tie-ins with the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts up the hill?
Jane:
Yes, we have! One of the favorites that comes to mind is our poetry month extravaganza in April when we call upon our local school to create and illustrate haikus to decorate the Children’s Room. Bear Pond kids poetryAnd as we speak I am planning a writing workshop for kids this fall with the wonderful Sarah Stewart Taylor, author of the Expeditioners series. Bear Pond ExpeditionersWe have also hosted events with several VCFA faculty, visiting faculty and students, including Leda Schubert, Emily Jenkins (E.Lockhart), An Na, A. S. King, and Tim Wynne-Jones. We also hosted a super fun Reader’s Theater with a group of VCFA alumni who performed some of their new work.

MUF: By the way, where IS Waldo?Bear Pond #1
Jane:
Last I heard he was fishing down on the Winooski River. But his whereabouts are kept very hush hush. He likes his privacy when he is vacationing here in July.

MUF: If a family from out of town visited Bear Pond Books,  are there family-friendly restaurants/activities/sights they shouldn’t miss, beyond visiting what must be the nations tiniest capitol building?
Jane:
The obvious crowd pleaser in the area is, of course, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. However, the city of Montpelier itself has plenty of restaurants and snacking opportunities: Positive Pie for outstanding pizza, The Skinny Pancake for crepes and Birchgrove Baking for exquisite baked goods and coffee. For some local flavor there is a cool granite quarry called Rock of Ages <http://www.rockofages.com/en/gift-shop-a-tourism>  that gives tours, you can catch the Vermont Mountaineers <http://www.thevermontmountaineers.com/>  play baseball in the summer and there is wonderful live theater downtown at the Lost Nation Theater <http://lostnationtheater.org/> . For a tiny capitol we have plenty of cultural diversion!

MUF: Thank you Jane for sharing your shop and books with us.  Readers, If you’ve experienced Bear Pond for yourself or would like to, please add your comments here.  And if you’re in the area don’t miss the unique pop-up museum and launch party event at Bear Pond on Friday :

http://www.bearpondbooks.com/event/august-1st-gary-miller-museum-americas.

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: Fountainhead Bookstore, Hendersonville N.C.

You have to love independent book shops!  Can you image the buyer at a chain bookstore  saying, “The main thing we look for is good writing”?  Those are the very words of  Valerie Welbourne,owner/manager of The Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, North Carolina (www.fountainheadbookstore.com).
MUF: Valerie, how did your shop get its name and get started, and what keeps you going? Fountainhead logo
Valerie:
The Fountainhead is a nod to Moby Dick, with the fountain coming out of his head . One of our logos has the spout coming out and if you look closely it says “books books books” over and over.  Our loyal customers keep us going.  They offer not only financial support, but moral support as well.  Nothing is better than bookstore customers!  They are such nice people.
MUF:Describe the atmosphere and layout of your store. What happens when, say, an eleven-year-old comes in looking for a good book?
Valerie: I think our atmosphere is fairly casual.  When an eleven-year-old comes in, I get very excited if they say they are looking for some ideas!  I will ask them some questions first about their preferences, and then pull out several choices I think they might enjoy.  Parents really appreciate this too, because it helps them avoid a “power struggle” with their kids over what to read.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know how you choose what books to carry in your shop?Fountainhead readers
Valerie: We consider many factors.  The main thing that we look for is good writing!  And we also take into account if the book matches our particular customer base.  And finally, we read lots of ARCs.  If someone on the staff loved it, it’s in!

MUF: Can you tell us a few titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction that you are recommending to middle-graders right now?
Valerie: Middle Grade kids can run the gamut of ability levels and interests, so we take that into account when making recommendations.  If a child is on the younger end of the spectrum and indicates they like more realistic, situational fiction, I recommend anything by Donna Gephart.  If they are older and looking for a new and serious fantasy series, I would recommend the Chaos Walking trilogy.  The Inventor’s Secret is a new steampunk book out for kids that I found very intriguing.  Also, I’m reading the ARC for The League of fountainhead disappearanceSeven by Alan Gratz right now that I am really enjoying.  It is also steampunk.Fountainhead: Inventor's secret Here are a few more I really am a big fan of:  Snicker of Magic (lovely!), The Shakespeare Mysteries (page turners and I learn something), Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff (coming out this August – great!), fountainhead snicker of magicShark Wars,  and What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays.  Actually, I could go on and on…I really am a Tween Fiction enthusiast.  In fact we are starting a Tween Book Club for adults this June at the request of adult customers.

MUF:You have some enticing children’s book camps coming up this summer, most all Fountainhead campof which sound like they’re right up the alley of middle-graders. Please tell our readers a bit about them. Valerie: Our book camps are great fun.  One of my favorites is the one based on Treasure Island.  We have sword fights, do popcorn reading (great language for reading aloud), write our own backstories for some of the characters, do illustrations, scavenger hunts, etc.  I think I have more fun than anyone there.

MUF: What have been some of your favorite events at Fountainhead Books? Have you had some visits from middle-grade authors?
Valerie: We just hosted a Tween Panel Extravaganza, Futainhead tween paneland it was so much fun.  We got amazing feedback from the attendees, which included kids, adults, librarians, and teachers.  Everyone said please do this again!  It helps that we had some incredible authors participating.  They were:  Deron Hicks, John Thompson, Alan Gratz, Donna Gephart, Tommy Hays, and Natalie Lloyd.  I’ve attached a photo of the event.

MUF:If a family visited Fountainhead Books from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a meal or snack after shopping? And if they could stay awhile, are there other unique sights or family activities in Hendersonville that they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie: Here are some cool places to take kids when visiting Hendersonville, after of course a visit to The Fountainhead Bookstore. These are all within two blocks of the bookstore: * Kilwins ice cream – the best! * Dancing Bear Toys * Hands On Children’s Museum

Thanks, Valerie, for giving us a glimpse into your shop.  It’s always a pleasure to “meet” children’s book store people, because  you’re book readers and curators as well as sellers. Readers, have any of you visited Fountainhead Bookstore (yet)?

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