Tag Archives: book lists

Indie Spotlight: Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD

Crious Iguana logo
I don’t know which is a greater delight to feature, a veteran independent bookstore that has survived the ups and downs and dire predictions of the last few years, or one that is new and also doing well. Today we’re talking with Marlene England, co-founder and co-owner with Tom England of Curious Iguana (www.curiousiguana.com) in Frederick, Maryland.
(Have you ever noticed how founders of independent bookstores like to give them animal names: Blue Manatee, Bear Pond, Flying Pig, Mockingbird, Velveteen Rabbit? )

MUF: Marlene, your shop has been open just two years, and already it is thriving! Tell us how you came to found Curious Iguana and what you think accounts for its early success?
Marlene: My husband Tom and I opened Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in September 2000, and a couple of years ago we started dreaming about what a new curius iguana frontretail adventure might look like. Children’s books had been a consistently strong category at the Bear, so we originally planned to open a children’s bookstore. But the message we heard over and over again from our customers was how much downtown Frederick needed an independent bookstore for all ages, not just kids. When we found out a larger retail space was available around the corner from Dancing Bear, we relocated the toy store there in the summer of 2013 and opened the Iguana in the Bear’s former location just two months later.

Our local community, as well as out-of-towners who visit Frederick, has demonstrated so much love and support for the Iguana. I think it helps that Tom and I already had strong ties to the community—because of the toy store, we were a known entity and never the ‘new kids on the block,’ so to speak. We are also extremely fortunate to have a fantastic team of booksellers who are curious (of course!), passionate about reading, and dedicated to providing exemplary customer service.

MUF: The shop name is wonderful, as is the subtitle, “get to know your world.” In what ways do you encourage young readers to do that?
Marlene: We are very thoughtful in our selection of books, being sure to include titles that are diverse and globally focused.

MUF: How do you choose the books you carry at Curious Iguana?Marlene: It’s a team effort that involves staff (particularly Kari, our children’s book buyer), publishing reps, online research, recommendations and reviews from other indie bookstores, and lots and lots of reading!

MUF:As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourselves recommending most to 8-12 year olds these days?  Crious Iguana CartwheelingCruous iguana echo
Although classics are always a staple, new midgrade fiction is flourishing at the Iguana. Kids seem to be really interested in strong, Curious Iguana revolution
character-driven stories—books that open their eyes to the experiences of others and help them understand the world around them. Wonder (RJ Palacio) is still a big hit, but also Echo (Pam Munoz Ryan), Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (Katherine Rundell)Curious Iguana Butterfly Hill, El Deafo (Cece Bell), Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson), The Crossover Curious Iguana War(Kwame Alexander), I Lived on Butterfly Hill (Marjorie Agosin), Revolution (Deborah Wiles), and The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). We’ve been really impressed with our midgrade readers—their appetite for reading, their interest in heavier topics.

MUF: Have favorite middle-grade authors appeared at Curious Iguana? Do you have other activities or events designed to appeal to this age group?

Marlene: Last year, we hosted Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame) and were filled to capacity. I’m not sure we could have squeezed one more person in the bookstore! We’ve also welcomed Deborah Wiles (a longtime friend of our bookstore and toy store) and Grace Lin (who braved treacherous weather to greet 60+ fans on a very snowy Saturday morning).curious iguana Lin Several of our middle-grade customers attended a Q&A with a panel of authors from We Need Diverse Books, and we have hosted a Kids Go Global book club for ages 8-12, as well as several intergenerational book discussions at the Iguana and at our county libraries for middle-grade readers and their favorite adults.

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

SRO crowd for Origami Yoda

MUF: Curious Iguana is a “benefit corporation.” Please tell us what that means for you, for your customers, and for the recipients of your donations.
Marlene: All benefit corporations have unique goals and objectives; ours is to be a successful business that also makes a difference in our world—that’s why we donate a percentage of monthly sales to global nonprofits that are making a world of difference. Recent recipients include Kiva, The Malala Fund, Room to Read, CamFed, and Children of Promise, Children of Hope, a nonprofit in the Dominican Republic that was started by a longtime customer and friend. This commitment to giving back helps us keep our priorities straight. It’s a constant reminder that helping others is a big part of why we do what we do. Our customers seem to respect our vision and appreciate that the money they spend at the Iguana is having a broad impact far beyond downtown Frederick.curous iguana interior

MUF: If an out of town family on a day trip visits Curious Iguana, would there be family-friendly places near buy to get a snack or meal? Are there other unique Frederick sights or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Marlene: Definitely! Our historic downtown is a thriving ‘Main Street’ community with all kinds of independent specialty stores and restaurants. There really is something for everyone. Of course, we’re just a tad biased and would encourage visitors to stop by our sister store, Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, just around the corner from the Iguana. Many families add some history to their shopping and dining with a visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is also located in downtown Frederick. Two helpful websites to check out when planning a trip to Frederick are http://downtownfrederick.org and http://visitfrderick.org.

curious iguana round logoThank you Marlene, for telling us about your bookstore and its mission!  Readers, have you visited this popular shop? (Hmmmmm. I wonder if Curious Iguana is acquainted with Reading Reptile?  Seems like they might have a lot  in common. )

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

In Praise of L–O–N–G Books

QWERTY_keyboardWriters conferences, writing magazines, and literary blogs are long on advice for the aspiring writer, and one the things I hear fairly frequently is the admonition to remember that kids don’t have the attention span they used to what with the giddy spin of the internet forever at their finger tips. Kids want fast-paced, gobble them up reads! Or so we hear.

And yet, time and time again the market has proved them wrong. Some of the most popular books in recent memory have been long, including the last four tomes in the Harry Potter series, all the books in the Eragon series, the Wildwood series, the Game of Thrones juggernaut, and many of the Percy Jackson titles. Classics like The Lord of the Rings and the works of Jane Austin have held up rather well in spite of their length.

What’s up with that!? Here are five things that I think make long books particularly appealing to middle grade kids.

1. Middle grade readers have time. Too young to have a job and notBook Ends Beach allowed to roam the neighborhood alone while their folks are at work, the MG reader has hours of time, especially in the summer to dive into a book that really rewards a long stretch of attention.

2. Most long books are long because they carry a reader off into a richly detailed and lavishly described world whether it’s Harry Potter’s Hogwarts or the Hispanola of Treasure Island. Kids who can’t drive, didn’t pick their hometown, their house, or even the sibling they share a room with, love to be swept away.

3. Many long books are fantasy, science fiction, or magical realism, perennial favorites among MG readers.

4. There’s plenty of praise from grownups to be gained from reading a book of weight and substance and there’s plenty of pride in the accomplishment of reading a long story all the way through to the end.

WB Golden Compass5. Among traditionally published books there is pressure from editors to tighten up the story and tell it as economically and gracefully as possible. I tend to have confidence that a traditionally published book that goes on at some length has something worthwhile to say, something that could not be said in a more compact tale. There are masters of the short form who have made a career of writing lean and lovely tales like a long string of pearls, each one a tiny perfection. But many authors at the height of their powers, even if they have written other short books, write a marvelous long story and if they are lucky it stands the test of time.

IMG_1610-3-225x300[1]I am very much hoping Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book Echo is one of these. I reviewed it on my website.

Here are a few other books kids have liked that approach Moby Dick in length.

Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Fire by JK Rowling

Brisigner by Christopher Paolini

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

How about you? Do you have a favorite tome? Can you remember the feeling of accomplishment from the first long book you read? Please share in the comments.

A Retrospective MUFiversary

As I psyched up for another MUF post, I decided to take a glance back at my previous posts, hoping to find some form of inspiration awaiting me. Surprisingly, it actually worked. And it’s all because of how I name my computer files.

You see, whenever I hammer out a MUF post and save it to my computer, I name the file by starting with the year-month-day date. So when I went to sift through my old posts, the very first file caught my eye: “2012-7-20…”

July 2012. . . .

July 2015. . . .

This month is my triple MUFiversary!

I’m a bit of an expert on anniversaries. In fact, I’ve been forgetting them until the last minute for 20 years. (Though I made up for it just last month when my wife and I celebrated our 20th anniversary via some mutual de-bucket-listing and jumped out of an airplane while 13,000 feet above the ground. She made me go first. But I’ve forgiven her.)

Anyway, the important anniversaries don’t stop there! Digging still deeper into my anniversary theme, I realized this is the 5th year for MUF, which was launched in 2010. So . . . with my wife and me celebrating 20 years of marriage, MUF celebrating its 5th MUFiversary, and my personal celebration of three years of MUFhood, I decided to weave those three anniversaries together and see what I got.

The result? . . . A 20 year journey back through the world of children’s publishing, using a series of 5-year leaps, with each leap including three if-you-haven’t-read-these-you-really-need-to books.

5 YEARS AGO (2010):

  1. BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea. The story shifts between seven different narrators—each providing a unique voice and perspective as the story unfolds.
  2. OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon Draper. The main character can’t walk. She can’t talk. But she has a brilliant mind that refuses to stay hidden.
  3. Moon Over ManifestMOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool. I don’t read much historical fiction—I’m more of a contemporary-fiction guy. But I made an exception for this debut historical novel. And I’m sure glad I did.

10 YEARS AGO (2005):

  1. THE PENULTIMATE PERIL by Lemony Snicket. The 12th (and penultimate) novel in the 13-book Series of Unfortunate Events. Who knew having the narrator constantly defining words for the reader could be so much fun?
  2. HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE by J. K. Rowling. Another penultimate story that finally confirmed it—Severus Snape was clearly a bad guy. . . . Wasn’t he?
  3. The Lightning ThiefTHE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan. Yeah, another series book (but not the penultimate one). This middle-grade novel kicks off the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which my 13-year-old daughter has read approximately 23.5 million times.

15 YEARS AGO (2000):

  1. STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve got a signed copy of Stargirl on my bookshelf. A. Signed. Copy. You may now be jealous. But don’t overdo it.
  2. Because of Winn-DixieBECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo. How could you not love a novel containing a large, ugly dog named after a grocery store?
  3. SCHOOLED by Gordon Korman. I had to include this book because it contains an opening paragraph that makes me want to keep reading every time:
    I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn’t even know what a license was. I wasn’t too clear on what being arrested meant either.

20 YEARS AGO (1995):

  1. WAYSIDE SCHOOL GETS A LITTLE STRANGER by Louis Sachar. The third and final chapter book in the rather wacky Wayside School series still makes for a terrifically fun read-aloud even a couple of decades after publication.
  2. THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. A powerful historical novel that you simply need to read. Because.
  3. Walk Two MoonsWALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech. Okay, I cheated. Walk Two Moons was actually published in 1994. But it won the Newbery Medal in 1995. Since it remains one of my favorite books of all time, I decided that was close enough.

Have a favorite, must-read book published in 1995, 2000, 2005, or 2010? Leave a comment and share the title!

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has a 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course available at Curious.com.