Category Archives: independent bookstores

Adventure, Intrigue, and Korea, OH MY!

One of the perks of being a teacher is the authors who grace our school halls, no matter where in the world those halls stand. Korea is such a place, currently front and center in recent events.

First, let me say, as a teacher and author, I appreciate the process: long hours, extensive research, pondering, the wrestling and wavering of ideas, bits of your heart and soul on paper. I value how one’s experiences provide rich content for the stories we create and how those events can touch the lives of students in the classroom. I especially love when students are able to connect to the person behind those words.

Meet author, Anne Sibley O’Brien, and her middle grade novel, In the Shadow of the Sun, an adventure story set in North Korea.

When our school librarian announced an upcoming author visit, I was intrigued to learn that the author, Anne Sibley O’Brien, had grown up in South Korea as a daughter of medical missionaries. A prolific picture book author, Ms. O’Brien’s first novel for middle school kids, In the Shadow of the Sun, unfolds in North Korea, a country currently in the midst of rising tensions around the world.

When my class and I pick up an author’s work, I remind them we are looking inside the mind of another person. We are immersing ourselves into a world that has been created from nothing. If someone else was to tell the same story, it would be voiced from a totally different perspective. In Ms. Obrien’s case, we are not only privilege to her writing acumen, but also bicultural experiences that provide sustenance in the backdrop of a foreign land.

Book Synopsis: North Korea is known as one of the most oppressed countries on Earth, with a dictatorial leader, a starving population, and harsh punishment for rebellion.

Not the best place for a family vacation.

Yet, that’s exactly where Mia Andrews finds herself, on a tour with her aid-worker father and fractious (would irritable be better here?) older brother, Simon. Mia was adopted from South Korea as a baby, and the trip raises tough questions about where she feels she really belongs. Her dad is then arrested for spying, just as forbidden photographs of North Korean slave-labor camps fall into Mia’s hands. The only way to save Dad: get the pictures out of the country. Thus, Mia and Simon set off on a harrowing journey to the border, without food, money, or shelter, in a land where anyone who sees them might turn them in, and getting caught could mean prison — or worse.

 Author Interview

In the Shadow of the Sun, Anne Sibley O’Brien

Please tell us about In the Shadow of the Sun and how you came to write it.

Our family arrived in Korea in March 1960, when my parents were hired by the Presbyterian Church to do medical missionary work. I was seven. We lived in Seoul and Daegu and on the island of Geoje, and I attended Ewha Women’s University for my junior year of college. Along the way I became bilingual and bicultural, and that background has influenced the content of some of my books, including the folktale 바보 온달, published as The Princess and the Beggar (now out of print) and my graphic novel of the Korean hero tale, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea. 

Those books were both inspired by retellings of traditional Korean stories. In the Shadow of the Sun, however, is a completely original story, and a modern one. The inspiration for the book was a radio interview in which my attention was drawn to the people of North Korea in a way I’d never thought of them before. (More about the story here.) That led to a ten-year process of research and writing, including several remarkable encounters with North Koreans who had defected.

You can find more about my childhood and background, photographs and videos, responses to the novel, and whether I’ve ever visited North Korea, on the novel’s blog, InTheShadowOfTheSunBook.com. There is also an activity guide created by Island Readers and Writers.

How do the events in your book tie into our current events with North Korea?

In the Shadow of the Sun is the first fictional portrayal of contemporary North Korea for young English-speaking readers. When I was writing it, I never anticipated just how much the DPRK would be in the spotlight!

The picture of North Korea that’s presented in the media is such a cartoonish one. I think it’s important to consider not just the government but the people, everyday citizens who have no say in what their leaders do. Of course, my plot is a completely imagined one, but I’ve tried to weave in bits of current North Korean politics and society — and most of all, people — in a way that will give readers a glimpse of what it might be like to live there today. In the Author’s Note, I also recommend other books and films which can add more context. I hope that people might come away from the novel with a sense of the humanity of North Korea’s people.

 

 

Sparking the Imagination with Written Imagery

As a classroom teacher of upper MG readers, I’ve been wondering lately on the constant technological pummeling we get from images—gaming, TV, movies, computers, tablets, phones. Screened devices have a powerful attention-grabbing effect on kids, and with so many stimulating colors, photos, Snapchat animations, and videos to look at, the modern-day imagination is contending with a very different ball of yarn than in decades past. It’s great that we can Google-Machine “Roman Empire ruins” and see hundreds of pictures, and it’s fun to test our eye-hand coordination by slashing air-borne fruit, chopping ropes, or helping a chicken across a road. But for many readers, after all that color and movement and music, the imagination may balk a bit when given black words on a white page.

For that reason, it might be pretty difficult for a middle grade teacher, parent, librarian, or writer to hook readers on books with descriptive passages, figurative language, or a generally more literary bent. But instead of avoiding imagery, it may be more important than ever to give readers an opportunity to envision and imagine through the words on the page. We should strive to provide work-out routines and fitness centers for the imagination in our stories through language and description. Inclusion of imagery in MG stories will complement the reader’s experience and ultimately improve and enhance the reader’s imagination. And imagination is important in any setting, as it drives flexible thinking and creative problem solving.

So, in order to spark readers’ imaginations, how do you recognize good imagery in MG works, and how do you write your own? Here are some qualities typically associated with imagery:

  • Imagery is language that employs a mental use of the five senses.
  • It can use certain figurative language devices like similes and metaphors, personification, and hyperbole, but it can exist without any other lit devices being present, too.
  • Good imagery isn’t fluffy or fancy or filled with words you’d find on the SAT. Sometimes, in fact, incredibly simple syntax and short phrases make up excellent imagery.
  • Imagery lets you see, touch, taste, hear, and smell the surroundings  in the character’s world, and it draws the reader in with those experiences.
  • Most importantly, good imagery leads the imagination off-leash—it guides, but never forces. The imagination has to be allowed to run free, if it’s to grow strong.

Here are some scenes in three works of MG fiction with imagery to consider:

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The description of Camazotz is brilliantly creepy in its simplicity. L’Engle’s choice of short, clipped words and phrases reflect the vision concocted in the reader’s imagination of this austere town where anomalies are forbidden:

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of land in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door.

Things get more eerie with the rhythmical description of the kids outside all those houses, girls jumping rope and boys bouncing balls:

Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

The imagery prompts our imaginations to not only see Camazotz but to hear and feel its driving beat, too.

Sarah Jean Horwitz’s Carmer and Grit, Book One: The Wingsnatchers. Big, immediate conflicts or surprised exclamations from characters can work beautifully as openers in MG fiction and nonfiction. But atmospheric imagery can be used just as masterfully to hook the reader into the story. In this book, the two-and-a-half-page opener has no dialogue and no loud clatter of forces. But the tone of mystery, the discordant sounds, and the symbolic light/darkness imagery all work together to pull the reader in:

At the South Gate, just outside the winding iron bars, the Autocat waits. Its jeweled eyes gleam in the darkness. It watches as each golden lantern on the pathway blinks out, one by one, and it growls–a rough, scraping sound like metal on metal, a sound never heard in the garden before. The creature slinks off into Skemantis’s black night, its mission accomplished.

Karen Hesse’s Letters from Rivka. Good imagery keeps firmly in the voice of the 1st person character, in this case, a young Russian refugee fleeing to America in 1919 and seeing Poland for the first time:

The same crooked cottages, the same patchy roads, the same bony fences leaning in to the dust. Looking out from the train, we see people dressed like us, in browns and blacks; people wrapped in layers of clothes.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share thoughts you have on imagery in MG writing, or name some writers you enjoy who do a great job at sparking readers’ imaginations.

Indie Spotlight: Kids Ink Children’s Books, Indianapolis

Always a delight to learn about a thriving independent children’s bookstore! We’re speaking today with Shirley Mullin, owner of Kids Ink Children’s Books in Indianapolis, Indiana
MUF: Kids Ink has been open for over three decades, riding out even the bookstore blues of ten years ago. What’s your survival secret? Have you made adaptions over the year that helped?
Shirley:
We have made constant adaptations to changes in the book industry, the economy, and our customers. We’ve been constant in basic principles ie Kind, Fair, and Honest. We also have always emphasized customer service focusing as much as possible on the children and young adults asking them if they have read a book that they really like. Or, asking what interests them.

Beyond that, however, we have adapted our business to stay viable. We are constantly look for new markets. Several years ago we started supplying books for several title programs which has been successful. We offer not only the books but our expertise in choosing titles. This often involves taking books to the district for a “show and tell, ” helping them decide what works for the curriculum. We are currently beginning to experiment with pop-up stores in some of our larger retirement communities offering holiday shopping and gift wrapping at the facility.
Maintaining our presence at major educational events has also been important either selling books tailored to the event or providing information about the store.Finally, we have expanded our assistance to schools helping them find and book authors…often linking schools together.   We then supply the books for the school to sell.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere you try to create in your shop. What are some special features of Kids Ink?
Shirley:
We have always had a train table and have sold trains.   The past few years we have sold Brio. The train gives children a focus point and something engaging while their adults shop. It is not unusual for us to be called the Train Store.
We do our best to maintain the store as a bright cheerful place. All the fixtures are white so the books and toys stand out. Because we are about 20 percent books, our displays are interesting with perhaps a raccoon puppet and a book with a raccoon title or a Playmobil Knight package with a book about knights.Our front window is large and attracts attention most recently with banned books and now featuring the up-coming John Green book.
But the most important component of atmosphere is the staff. We try to make sure that we are able to greet everyone courteously and respond to their questions. We greet everyone who walks through the door and try to be aware of when they need suggestions.

MUF: Kids Ink is a small shop, so your books must be curated. How do you decide what books and related items to carry?
Shirley:
Terri orders all the sidelines/toys. She has a good eye for what our customers want. We only sell real quality toys with emphasis on “playability,” safety, and good construction. (I am quite able to order toys that never sell!) I personally order all the front list. I read all of the picture books before ordering and many of the novels and non-fiction. For all of them, I think about who might want this book and/or who should need this book. Sometimes there is a book that is about a subject or event that hasn’t been requested but the book is important and needs to be read.
For non-fiction, I look at who wrote the book. Are they qualified to write about this topic? I favor non-fiction that has good elements like Table of Contents, Index, Bibliography and Suggested Reading.
Most important, I watch for books that are inclusive of gender, race, and sexuality. Diversity is very important to me and all of the staff.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often to readers ages 8-12?
Shirley:
Books by Jeanne Birdsall, the Penderwicks, Kimberly Brubacker Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life, Rita Garcia Williams titles, Pam Munoz Ryan titles, Jason Reynolds, Ghost and Patina.Non-Fiction varies a lot depending on what the child finds interesting. We have a lot of requests for biographies, books about animals, and weather.

MUF: Do you have any activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Shirley:
Sarah Cannon, a debut novelist will be signing on 12/2/17 from eleven to one for Oddity. Her book will be of interest for this level.

MUF: If a family is visiting Indianapolis from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near your shop where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they could stay longer, are there some unique family activities or sights they shouldn’t miss?
Shirley: We are next door to The Flying Cupcake, a marvelous place incredibly popular with all our customers. Then next door to that is Father Bryne’s Pizza with unusual grilled thin crust pizza. Across the street is a long established Illinois Street Food Emporium which is known for chicken salad croissants baked daily in house as well as a Grater’s Ice Cream store. In addition, our corner contains shopping for everyone…a jewelry store, a boutique with unusual home items, an art store, clothing store, and a Starbucks.
Even better, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is twenty blocks from the store. It is the largest children’s museum in the world.

MUF: Thanks, Shirley, for sharing news  about your fine shop.  Readers, have you visited Kids Ink yet?