Category Archives: Interviews

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)


The Nonfiction Family Tree

A few weeks ago, I attended the New England SCBWI conference in beautiful Springfield, MA. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a workshop given by  Melissa Stewart and Sarah Albee on Nonfiction. It was fascinating!  There was so much GREAT information that I felt it would be good for others to learn about it. I contacted Melissa and she graciously agreed to be interviewed.   For those of you that haven’t heard of  or been lucky enough to meet Melissa, here’s a little about her:


Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 150 science books for children. She has always been fascinated by the natural world and is passionate about sharing its beauty and wonder with readers of all ages.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Union College in Schenectady, NY, and a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University, Melissa worked as a children’s book editor for nine years before becoming a fulltime writer in 2000. She has written everything from board books for preschoolers to magazine articles for adults.

Melissa believes that nothing brings nonfiction writing to life like firsthand research. While gathering information for her books, she has explored tropical rain forests in Costa Rica, gone on safari in East Africa, and swum with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

When Melissa isn’t writing or exploring the natural world, she spends time speaking at schools, libraries, nature centers, and educator conferences. She serves on the Board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival.

With the advent of Common Core, nonfiction seems to be taking off. Can you give us a little background of how nonfiction has changed over the years? Wow, it’s changed A LOT. Fifteen years ago, most nonfiction text was rather dry. If an author wrote a manuscript with a strong voice, it was edited out. Today editors want, no demand, a strong voice. In the past, authors were supposed to be unbiased, but today it’s perfectly okay for writers to express a point of view.  Art and design has also changed. Ever since desktop publishing software was invented, illustrators and designers have been experimenting. The result is dynamic designs that kids can’t resist. The upshot is that today’s nonfiction has a dual purpose. It delights as well as informs.  


In your talk, you broke nonfiction up into seven categories. Can you explain these categories? Sure. In my talk with uber-talented author Sarah Albee [link:], we drew upon the work of a group of highly-respected academics who call themselves the Uncommon Corp [link:]. They classify nonfiction books into seven broad categories. Data: In more friendly terms, you might call this category Fasts Facts. It includes Eyewitness Books, The Guinness Book of World Records, and my own book Animal Grossapedia. These are the concise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read together and discuss.

Expository: You might call this category Facts Plus because the facts are interwoven into a content-area explanation. This is could be considered “traditional” nonfiction in some ways, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about today’s expository titles. Their engaging text and rich, dynamic art and design are sure to delight as well as inform young readers.

Narrative: This is a category we’ve heard a lot (I mean A LOT) about in the last few years. It’s the current darling of awards committees. Narrative titles present facts in the form of a true story with a narrative arc.   As you learn about the next few categories, I think you’ll see that some of the books that have been lumped into the narrative category should really be thought about on their own terms, based on the author’s approach to the information.

Disciplinary Thinking: These books reveal how scientists and historians go about their work, how they evaluate evidence and form theories. The structure could be narrative, but it usually isn’t. This category might also be called something like Experts at Work. Scientists in the Field books are the perfect example, but there are plenty of other examples. Skull by Mark Aronson is one that immediately comes to mind.

Inquiry: This category could also be called Ask and Answer. In these books, the author raises a question or a group of related questions and then seeks the answer. Sally Walker’s Written in Bone and What Bluebirds Do by Pamela F. Kirby are great examples.

Interpretation: For these books, authors research a topic widely, find their own meaning in the information, and present the content from that point of view. Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman is the first title that leaps to mind, but I’d also put books like Those Rebels, Tom and John by Barbara Kerley in this category. I think we’ll see more of these books in the future because this type of presentation directly supports Common Core.

Action: This is category offers a separate spot for titles that invite young readers to take action. The most obvious examples include Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns and the Science Play series by Vicki Cobb. I’m not sure this system is the be all and end all, but it’s a very interesting way for writers, teachers, librarians, and other book lovers to think about nonfiction. It stretches the way we think about current books and future possibilities, and I think that’s extremely valuable.


Do you think certain topics lend themselves to certain categories? Yes. I think narrative nonfiction works very well for biographies and books about historical events. These topics naturally have a beginning, a middle, and an end. With enough research, an author can craft the alternating scenes and summary architecture that characterizes narrative nonfiction. When writing about science, math, or the Arts, narrative nonfiction may not be an option. Even if it is, it may not be the best choice. For a broad overview of any topic, expository usually works best.   Two great examples are Bugged: How Insects Changes History by Sarah Albee and 9780802734228_p0_v4_s260x420 A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami Decristofano.     If writers think about these categories at the beginning of a project, I think they may have an easier time coming up with a great way to approach a topic and a solid structure for their book. It provides some options, so we aren’t just shooting in the dark.  


Which one do you think is most popular with kids? Why? Data books are clearly the most popular with kids. Most school librarians will tell you that titles like The Guinness Book of World Records is almost constantly checked out. Elementary-aged readers love fascinating facts, so Data books can be good for hooking beginning readers. But many educators worry that these books don’t do much to help kids build their reading skills. Right now, thought leaders like Jonathan Hunt and Marc Aronson feel that we need a new breed of book that forms a bridge between Data books and long-form nonfiction that students are expected to read in middle school and high school.


Which categories do teachers tend use in their classrooms? In recent years, teachers didn’t use much high-quality trade nonfiction in the classroom at all. But the hope is that Common Core is changing that. Right now, teachers are struggling to learn about nonfiction, and they are building their classroom libraries. Luckily, most school librarians have been singing the praises of the new nonfiction for several years now, so they are becoming trusted advisors in schools where they exist. We need more school librarians!


Any tips for readers about how to find fun, engaging nonfiction books? Here are some lists to keep an eye on. They include great nonfiction titles from all seven categories:

  • AAAS/Subaru Prizes for Excellence in Science Books
  • ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
  • CRA Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Award
  • Cook Prize for STEM Picture Book
  • Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices List
  • Cybils Nonfiction for Middle Grade & Young Adult
  • Cybils Nonfiction Picture Books
  • NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
  • NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults


How do you see the world of nonfiction changing for the future? That’s a great question, and I’m not sure I really know the answer. My hope is that we’ll see more nonfiction being published for children. Although I think many editors are now more open to reviewing nonfiction submission than they were in the past, what I hear is that they aren’t yet acquiring significantly more nonfiction manuscripts. This may be because many editors are still trying to get up to speed on the market. They need to familiarize themselves with what’s out there and gain an understanding of the characteristics of best-selling and award-winning nonfiction. Some editors may also be in a wait-and-see mode, wondering how long Common Core will stick around. There is a lot of controversy regarding the testing associated with CCSS, but the standards themselves are sound. Still, educators are famous for a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater mentality. They tend to move in completely new directions every decade or so, abandoning previous ideas rather than revising them.


Of all the books you have written, do any stand out as having been really fun to write? Perhaps they were about a topic that you loved or in a format that you enjoyed.  I guess I’m still an elementary-aged fact-lover at heart. One of my favorite books to research and write was Animal Grossapedia because it’s so chock full of amazing examples of how animals use pee, poop, vomit, slime (mucus), and spit to catch food and stay safe. But what I also really like about this book is that as kids read example after example, they gradually come to the book’s central idea—that animals have an amazing array of adaptations and behaviors that make it possible for them to survive in the world. So I’m sharing an idea that’s a central tenet of biology, but in a package that they find irresistible. To me, that’s a successful book.


Thanks so much for helping us to understand the wild and wonderful world of nonfiction, Melissa!!

To learn more about Melissa see her website at  Melissa also has a great blog called “Celebrate Science” where she focuses on cool nonfiction books, how she writes them, and talks more about the classification and structure of nonfiction books. Check it out here:


**** Jennifer Swanson is the author over 20 fiction and nonfiction books. She is a science nerd at heart and loves to learn new and fun science facts which is why her shelves are filled with books!!

Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan

I’m pleased to welcome author Kate Hannigan to the Mixed-Up Files today. Her debut middle grade book, Cupcake Cousins, was published yesterday from Disney-Hyperion! Books 2 and 3 are scheduled to release in 2015 and 2016.

Q: What inspired you to write Cupcake Cousins? Do you have a fondness for cupcakes…or cousins?

A: The short answer is my kids and their cousins, and the beauty of Michigan, are what inspired this story. Cupcake Cousins is set during a week-long summer vacation for an entire extended family — grandparents, kids and cousins, aunts and uncles, all together under one roof. And that’s just where I got the idea for the story. My fondest memories are of my wonderful cousins and big Irish Catholic family gathering at my grandparents’ old house in Philadelphia. My three kids adore their cousins and they can’t wait for the vacations we spend together each summer, when everybody piles into a rented house on the coast of Lake Michigan.

100_2663Cupcake Cousins is a celebration of those summer moments when kids are outdoors running around all day, eating meals in the fresh air, unplugged from the daily grind. I love the specialness of the cousin relationship — they’re as close as siblings but without the petty quarrels. As for baked goods, yes! I’m a sucker for any kind of pastry! My own daughter and her cousin spent a lot of time baking when they were almost 10-year olds, like the two main characters in the story, Willow and Delia. I wanted to write a book where kids could engage in their interests and discover what they’re good at.

Q: How long did it take you to write the manuscript? How did you react when you found out it would be published?

A: I worked on the manuscript for about a year before finding an agent. And when I showed it to her, I was so grateful that she liked what she saw. We tinkered with it a bit before going out to publishers. The thing about shopping a manuscript is, it’s a whole lot like falling in love — you need just one. And thank goodness, one editor did fall in love! My editor has been a huge supporter of this story from day 1. She’s asked for two more books, so Cupcake Cousins will be a three-book series, with book 2 coming spring 2015 and book 3 in winter 2016. As for my reaction, I am completely superstitious so when we were going back and forth with the contract, I was worried that they might not take the manuscript after all. But as my editor and I were on the phone one day, a hummingbird fluttered to my window. Well, that was the sign I needed! I feature hummingbirds in Cupcake Cousins, so after I saw my own, and then the deal finally went down, I felt a cosmic sense that everything was all right in the universe!

Kate H 2Q: You live in Chicago, but the story is set in Saugatuck, Michigan. Tell us why you chose that as the setting.

A: Western and Northern Michigan are crazy beautiful destinations! For our family, we spend every summer picking fruit and riding our bikes all over the state! It’s a quick drive from Chicago for us, and easy for our cousins from Detroit to meet us. So it was natural for the cousins in the book to do the same. I also love the Midwest and want to celebrate this part of the world as best I can. I wanted to write a timeless sort of book that had none of the trappings of the digital world. Nothing that would date it, but everything that would make it endure. The idea of kids chasing fireflies and picking blueberries, those are the rites of summertime.

Q: I understand that dogs are a big part of your life — your real dog that serves as your “writing companion,” and the fictional dog in Cupcake Cousins. Did you know from the start that this story had to include a dog?

Kate H 1A: Yes, absolutely. What is life without a big, drooly dog at your side? Really? I cannot write a book where the dog dies! I can barely stand to read them! When I was reading Island of the Blue Dolphins to my youngest, I had to pass the book over to my husband to finish the part where her dog dies. So, spoiler alert: Bernice the Bernese mountain dog in Cupcake Cousins does not die!

My own dog is a quirky Australian shepherd named Bella. She is an amazing writing companion. She likes to stay close to me, so she often plops down under my desk and lies on my toes as I type. When it’s time to pick up my kids from school, she paces around the room and stares up at me, as if saying, “Seriously, why aren’t you getting the keys?”

Q: What was your favorite book as a child, and how did it influence your writing?

A: I was not a voracious reader as a child. I liked running around outside, playing from morning to night. And when I did read, I re-read the same stories again and again. Then I would act out the story in my backyard. When I think about my favorite books for children, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Anne of Green Gables, The Penderwicks, I will say that the characters’ resourcefulness is what appeals to me. I like how they use their wits to get themselves out of a jam, and I tried to do that with Willow and Delia in Cupcake Cousins. And, the emphasis on family appeals to me in those stories.

Q: Are you a good cook? Tell us about the malted milk ball cake pictured on your Twitter page.

Kate H 4

A: I’ve been lucky enough to live in two amazing restaurant cities: San Francisco and Chicago. So I definitely enjoy following the foodie scene and getting to good restaurants. But I do cook pretty much all of our meals. “Good” is a relative thing; I’m more like an “enthusiastic” cook! Evolving. In my early days, I was pretty dangerous — there were stove fires, that sort of thing! So I identify with the main characters in Cupcake Cousins, who have their share of kitchen disasters. Somewhere along the way, with the help of Food Network and Pinterest, I got the hang of it. I found the recipe for the malted milk ball cake on Pinterest. Cupcake Cousins features fun recipes that I’ve made with my kids over the years.

Q: Your second middle grade novel, a historical fiction book titled, The Detective’s Assistant, will be published next year. Tell us how and why you switched gears from a contemporary story to a historical one. What inspired this particular book?

A: When I stumbled on a juicy historical nugget, I knew I wanted to write about it. So when Cupcake Cousins was in the long process of back and forth editing, I got to work on this new idea. Writers are always advised to have a next project to focus on, and I think that’s fantastic advice. I was able to throw myself into writing and researching The Detective’s Assistant during the downtime with Cupcake Cousins. And thankfully, it sold to Little, Brown. There is a Lincoln angle to the story, so it will publish in April 2015, at the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.

Q: I’m always curious how writers balance their time. Do you have any secrets to share?

A: I treat my writing time like I’m clocking in and out of the office. I drop my kids at school, then get down to it until school lets out, five days a week. I don’t have any secrets, but I do think it’s important to take yourself seriously. If you want to accomplish things as a writer, you have to treat writing as your job and commit to it fully. I love being able to get up each day and do the writing and researching. Not everyone feels that way about their job, so I am deeply grateful for what I’ve got. But working and writing at home can be challenging. I’ve had to put a fence around what I call my sacred writing time.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m hustling to get books 2 and 3 done for the Cupcake Cousins series, and The Detective’s Assistant is still in production. I have a third project I’m hoping to complete. It’s another historical middle grade, about the Easter Rising in Ireland.

Q: And now for the lightning round! Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Were you ever a flower girl?

A: Sunday afternoons, I would likely be hanging out with my family, cooking, at the gym, or walking Bella. As for ice cream, I’m pretty particular. Haagen-Dazs Ducle de Leche and nothing less. Once you taste it, there’s no going back! I also love Sherman’s Dairy Bar in South Haven, Michigan. I was never a flower girl but I was a bridesmaid in six weddings before I was the bride! My daughter was a flower girl just a few years before I wrote the book, and I’m sure the joy of that experience was still in my mind.

Thanks, Kate, for stopping in today! Visit Kate’s website here, and her terrific blog, where she somehow finds the time to post interviews with numerous authors. We’re giving away ONE AUTOGRAPHED COPY of Kate’s delightful, charming book, so if you’d like to enter the giveaway, please post a comment below!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels for Wendy Lamb Books. Visit her at