Author Archives: Sue Cowing

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)

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 ( ), 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?

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

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry in your shop?
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
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?
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
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?
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 <>  that gives tours, you can catch the Vermont Mountaineers <>  play baseball in the summer and there is wonderful live theater downtown at the Lost Nation Theater <> . 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 :

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)