Category Archives: Fiction

Daring to Be Different

Because this is Black History month, I asked several experts to recommend some not-to-be-missed middle-grade books. Not all their suggestions are about the African American experience, but they’re all about the multicultural experience and kids dealing with differences. If you’re discussing the timely topics of prejudice or exclusion, here’s a great list of resources:

TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Two girls named Naomi are forced into an unlikely friendship when their parents begin dating. The girls’ emotional journeys take them through the struggles of living in a blended family and learning to become friends as well as sisters.

 

 

AS BRAVE AS YOU by Jason Reynolds

This multi-award-winning book examines bravery from the viewpoint of Genie, who wonders how you can tell who’s brave. What about his blind grandfather, who never leaves the house? Or his older brother who doesn’t want to shoot a gun? Maybe bravery is being strong enough to admit what you don’t want to do.

 

 

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

A National Book Award Finalist, Ghost tells the story of four kids from diverse backgrounds whose personalities clash. But they must come together to form an elite track team bound for the Junior Olympics.

 

 

 

THE LEFT-HANDED FATE by Kate Milford

Caught up in the war between England and France, Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault hope to stop the battle by finding parts to an engine. They’re imprisoned by a twelve-year-old American midshipsman, Oliver, who must decide whether to become a traitor or risk the lives of enemies he now sees as friends.

 

 

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson

Set in Mississippi in 1955, Jackson’s novel blends fiction with the true story of the trial of Emmett Till. Rose Lee Carter decides to be a part of the movement that changes the South.

 

 

 

FRAZZLED by Booki Vivat

Filled with doodles by Booki Vivat, this hilarious story of Abbie Wu is filled with drama. Will Abbie “survive the everyday disasters of growing up”? Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

 

 

 

THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner

Charlie feels unimportant until she discovers a wish-granting fish – only what she wishes for comes true in unexpected ways. Then her family faces a challenge. Should Charlie risk a wish on something this important?

 

 

 

THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi

In a steampunk set in the Middle East, twelve-year-old Farah and her friends get trapped in a game board. The only way they can escape and save the others inside is to figure out the puzzle set up by a diabolical gamemaker.

 

 

 

TOWERS FALLING by Jewell Parker Rhodes

An award-winning author, Rhodes tells the story of the Twin Towers from the point of view of children who weren’t born when it happened. While they’re learning about their town’s history, they’re also discovering things about themselves and what it means to be an American.

 

 

MAGNIFICENT MYA TIBBS: SPIRIT WEEK SHOWDOWN by Crystal Allen

With pink cowboy boots and the upcoming Spirit Week, Mya’s all set for partnering with her best friend. But then she gets paired with the school bully. Great for fans of Clementine and Ramona.

 

 

 

 

If you want more great titles written by and about African Americans, take a look at Brown Bookshelf’s daily featured books and authors every day this month. If you’re not familiar with the Brown Bookshelf,  be sure to return to our blog on February 22 to learn more when Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman interviews Kelly Starling Lyons, one of the founders.

ABOUT THE BLOG AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 36 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. Living in Africa as a child and traveling extensively as an adult taught Laurie the importance of appreciating other cultures. She spent last weekend with an African friend, learning to properly cook grasshoppers and caterpillars. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.

Indie Spotlight: Parnassus Books, Nashville TN

Ann Patchett, successful award-winning author and passionate promoter of independent bookstores all over the country,

Karen Hayes & Ann Patchett

has joined the growing number of authors who feel strongly about the value of independent bookstores so they open their own, in her case Parnassus Books in Nashville Tennessee (www.parnassusbooks.net), co-founded with publishing veteran Karen Hayes. We’re talking today with Mary Laura Philpott who writes the store’s lively blog “Musings” and has two middle-grade junior booksellers of her own.

Mixed-Up Files: What do you want people to experience at Parnassus? Describe an ideal day in the shop.
Mary Laura
: If you look around the store, you can see the experience that Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, our owners, have in mind. It’s open and light and clean, but with plenty of interesting nooks and corners, and lots of comfy seating. There’s usually a shop dog or two lounging around, hoping for a reader to snuggle with. And depending on the day, we might set up chairs in front of our stage for a visiting author to come read and sign books. It’s meant to be more than just a store — a real hub for lovers of the written word of all ages.

MUF:With your owners’ experience in the publishing business, your store collection must be well curated. Do you and your community have some special areas of interest?
Mary Laura:
You’re right — curation is key, especially for a small store where there’s no room for filler. Our owners and buyers have gotten to know what local audience is interested in. Of course, new fiction and nonfiction are always popular. Nashville’s full of voracious readers, so customers tend to be aware of the latest literary buzz and come in looking for new titles they’ve read about. Not surprisingly, we have a well-stocked music section. And with the expansion of our shop in 2016, we were able to add not only more elbow room for browsing in all our sections, but also more space for children’s and YA titles.

MUFHow do you help kids select books? We’d like to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers aged 8-12.
Mary Laura:
Great question! Our manager of books for young readers is Stephanie Appell, who has a masters degree in library science with a focus on youth services and is a former teen librarian. She also just might be the most enthusiastic champion of children’s literature and YA literature I’ve ever met. She regularly meets with publishers to discuss what they’ve got coming up, but she also does a lot of her own research, via trade publications and blogs, to stay on top of the best and brightest new titles. All of our children’s booksellers are great at reading ahead so they can recommend the best new reads the minute the books come out.
You can follow along with our staff picks on Musing, our online magazine. Every month, there are some picks especially for young readers, chosen by our children’s booksellers as well as our junior booksellers — a few kids ranging from elementary to high school who help us out on weekends and holidays. (Two of them are my own kids, and they love choosing their staff picks!) https://parnassusmusing.net/category/staff-picks/

[Looking over these staff picks, we found lots of new or somehow overlooked titles to add to our teetering pile of books-to-read.  Fiction:  Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly, Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur,  The Girl Who Could Fly and The Boy Who Knew Everything by Victoria Foster, and Awkward  by Svetlana Chmkova.   Nonfiction: The Courage to Soar by Simone Biles, Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska,  and March by John Lewis.]

MUF: Any events or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Mary Laura: Yes! We are so excited about the launch of Andrew Maraniss’s Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line. This is a middle grade adaptation of Andrew’s New York Times bestselling book of the same title, and it’s an incredible true story of courage and perseverance. Andrew is going to discuss the book with fellow New York Times bestselling author Ruta Sepetys at Parnassus on February 9th. You can check our online calendar for more upcoming events at http://www.parnassusbooks.net/event.

MUF: Many independent bookstores have store pets, but Parnassus has several wonderfully named dogs (Sparkman Vandevender or Sparky, Opie Breman, Belle Rock, Bear Gardner, Mary Todd Lincoln Coffman, and Eleanor Roosevelt Philpott), who not only greet customers but actually perform same-day delivery service?
Mary Laura
: Ha! Yes, that was their April Fool’s Day joke on us all last year. (https://parnassusmusing.net/2016/04/01/announcing-our-new-service-parnassus-on-paws/) Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the dogs could drive and they just showed up at people’s doorsteps? They actually serve a variety of functions in the store, from offering wet-nosed greetings to acting as furry footstools to snuggling anyone who looks like they need a little love. They also have their own blog, “Shop Dog Diaries,” where they share their bookstore adventures. (https://parnassusmusing.net/category/shop-dog-diaries/)

MUF:For those of us who can’t visit and enjoy Parnassus soon, tell us what we can experience online.
Mary Laura:
If you can’t be here in person, make sure you’re subscribed to Musing — it’s almost as good as visiting the store. You’ll get lots of exclusive, free bookish content delivered right to your inbox: author interviews, reading lists, staff reviews of new books, Ann’s blog, the shop dogs’ blog, and more. (www.ParnassusMusing.com) You can also shop directly from our store website, www.ParnassusBooks.net, and we’ll ship your books to you. One other thing far-away readers need to know about is our subscription programs. (http://www.parnassusbooks.net/first-edition-clubs) There are two, actually: the First Editions Club (a signed, hardcover, new adult book every month) and ParnassusNext (a new, signed YA book every month). And if you’re on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, you can interact with us every day!

MUF: If a family visits your shop from out of town, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal? And if they can stay a little longer, are there some unique sites or activities nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Mary Laura
: Oh, Nashville is such a family-friendly town. Depending on the weather, there are lots of places right in the middle of the city to hike and enjoy the outdoors (check out Radnor Lake and Warner Parks). The Parthenon is pretty cool, as are the Nashville Zoo and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. If you’re into science, the Adventure Science Center is worth checking out. There are some family-friendly activities at Opryland as well. As for food, well, we could go on forever . . . Andy Brennan, our store manager, strongly believes Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint is the best in town. There are several spots right here in our shopping center, too, including Fox’s Donut Den right around the corner. Donuts and books, does it get better than that?

MUF:  Amen!  Thanks for telling us about Parnassus Books.  Readers, have you visited this delightful shop?  If not, wouldn’t you love to go there?

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

An Unfortunate Event

If you like stories about people who enjoy popular series of books, this is a story for you. If you like stories about families bonding over books, you might read on. If you are a parent who appreciates the value of reading and a proud parent of readers, you may enjoy this.

But, if you are a meticulous keeper of neatly shelved and ordered books which are kept with the utmost of care and handling, you may want to stop now. If you cringe when someone opens one of your books for fear they may dog ear a page, please go dust off the Aa-Hi titles on your bookshelf. This story is not for you.

It all began at a book fair years ago when the three, young Hays children selected a paperback book entitled, THE BAD BEGINNING. The book is read, thoroughly enjoyed and soon book two in the series is ordered. Well, some of you may guess where this is going. The next thing the dad knows is that we own A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1 thru Book 8.

Fast forward to early January 2017. The 20-something, college-graduate, working-professional, Hays kids are at the house for a family dinner. The kids and their significant others are talking about their anticipation for the new Netflix A Series of Unfortunate Events series. (Anticipation here meaning, waiting with great excitement and enthusiasm.) The talk turns from the TV series to the book series.

It is found out, with great surprise, that only one of the five young adults read the entire series—my son-in-law. Out of the old adults (me and my teacher wife), I lead the elderly set with a reading through THE AUSTERE ACADEMY, Book 5. After many joyful minutes of A Series of Unfortunate Events book talk, my eldest daughter, who is a second-grade teacher, says she wants to read all the books again before she watches the series.

Girl Twin says she recently reorganized her room and thinks she remembers them being on her bookshelf. She checks and returns with a stack of books. Books 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8. No THE REPTILE ROOM or THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR!

A mild panic ensues. Where are Book 2 and 6???!!!

A search of all the bookshelves in the house reveals nothing. The two volumes, including my favorite, THE REPTILE ROOM, are gone. Most of the immediate blame goes on Boy Twin, but after a search of his books, he is cleared. Eventually, we decide they could be anywhere. The most likely scenario is determined to be those two books probably disappeared when they were part of my wife’s middle school or 3rd-grade classrooms free-range-reading book shelves.

An unfortunate event, indeed.

Soon, we ameliorate (a word meaning to make better) the lost book situation by returning to a discussion of our favorite parts of the Baudelaire orphans’ plight and end a pleasant evening talking books and eating dinner with the family.

Lessons learned from my Unfortunate Event evening…

  1. You never outgrow your favorite books. They stay embedded in your heart and soul forever. Nothing can change that.
  2. There are books for everyone. A nonreader is a reader who just hasn’t found his niche yet. i.e. My son-in-law, who is the admitted nonreader of the whole bunch is the only one of the whole bunch who read the entire 13-book A Series of Unfortunate Events series.
  3. Sometimes books get lost and disappear for a reason. There are kids out there without access to books besides what they find in the library or on a teacher’s open reading shelf or a free book exchange. Sometimes a borrowed book becomes so special and important, it finds a new owner. Oh yeah, then there’s always the overzealous mother who cleans out your room (book and baseball card collection included!) the minute you move off to college.
  4. The Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events is very good. As good as the books but in a different way. Isn’t that the way book adaptations should be?

Author’s UpdateI wish I could update you with happy news of Book 2, THE REPTILE ROOM and Book 6, THE ERSATZ ELEVATOR being found, but, alas, they are still missing. In more upbeat news, Book 9, THE CARNIVOROUS CARNIVAL, turned up this week in a search and nobody remembers buying it.