Tag Archives: contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction

Indie Spotlight: Square Books Jr., Oxford MS

Independent Book Store Day is coming up this Saturday, May 2, so it’s delightful to be talking with Paul Fyke of Square Books Jr. in Oxford , Mississippi (www.squarebooks.com/junior) and to be reminded of what we love about independent bookstores!
Mixed-Up Files: Paul, how did Square Books Jr. come to be? How does it relate to Square Books “senior”?  

Square books jr.  exteriorPaul: Square Books Jr. was born out of a mixture of desire and necessity. For a long time Square Books had wanted to expand its children’s area. When it became apparent that it would be impossible to do that in the existing space, a plan was set into motion. Once the right location became available it was quietly leased. Then, the windows were covered in paper leaving the locals to wonder what new business to expect. Once the stock was ordered and the space renovated, it was time for the final step. At the release of “Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix,” it was announced Square Books would host a release party at 6am in celebration. What followed was a scavenger hunt around the town square that eventually led people to the mysterious new space with the paper over the windows. It was then that Square Books, Jr. was unveiled. Now, twelve years later, it seems like the secret is out.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.
Paul: At a staff function, our owner once described Square Books, Jr. as “an independent among independents.” This statement has always stuck with me because I think it very much encapsulates what makes Square Books, Jr. different. We try to cultivate an atmosphere that is welcoming, not just in a tidy, commercial way, but in a human way. When children come into our store we want them to feel like this is their store. There are toys scattered between a play table and a play kitchen in the back, with a couch in between for parents to enjoy a well-earned moment of rest. Rarely is there a time where there’s not at least one child imagining some grand fantasy in the play castle in the back or at the very least dancing to the eclectic musical lineup we play over the stores sound system. Square Books Jr.  Interior #3

MUF: How do you choose the books and other items you carry in Square Books Jr.? What is your collection especially strong in?
Paul: Our greatest strengths are probably our Middle Grade collection and our picture book selection. We are fortunate in that we have a very dedicated staff, each with their own specialties. Leita, who has worked here for going on twelve years now, is the curator of our picture books collection. Jill, our buyer and other twelve year veteran, makes sure that Middle Grade is always filled with exciting new series for children to explore. I’ve been here seven years now, and I spend most of my time in the YA section looking for hidden gems and trying to make sure we don’t end up with a shelf of exclusively NY Times bestsellers. Lyn, our general manager and non-book item buyer, makes sure we never lack for exciting educational toys (many of which are provided by Melissa and Doug). All of this comes together to make a store filled with merchandise that we can all be confident in.

MUF: How do you go about helping readers find “their” books and vice-versa?
Paul: The most important part of helping a child find his or her perfect book is taking the time to talk to the child and discover their interests. It’s more than just “Did you like the Hunger Games/Maze Runner/Percy Jackson?” You have to engage the child. If they like sports do they like to play sports or do they just like to watch sports with their family? Do they like to play Minecraft? Do they like Survival or Creative mode if they do play? What kind of TV shows are they watching?

Children's Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Children’s Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Finding out what the child does when they are not reading is one of the best ways to help them find a book that is not only engaging, but also something that can help them fall in love with reading.

MUF: How is Square Books Jr. planning to celebrate National Children’s Book Week, May 4-10?
Paul:
Children’s Book Week has always been an exciting time for us. This year we are kicking things off a little bit early with a signing by local authors Kat and Margaret King for their new book The Backyard Campout on Independent Bookstore Day, May 2. Square Books Backyard Campout As the week continues we will have story times aplenty and a special meeting of the SBJ Book Society, our 8-12 year old readers book club. We are going to close the week out with a “Dress as your favorite book character” special story time on Saturday, May 9th.

MUF: Since we’re middle-grade authors, we’re eager to know some titles new and old, fiction and nonfiction, that you find yourself recommending to eight- to twelve-year-olds these days?
Paul:
I love to recommend The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a child that doesn’t love it in some way; whether it’s for the characters, the humor, or the mystery there’s something in there for everyone. Some of my other favorite recommendations include TheSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret Lost Years of Merlin by TA Barron, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, and  lately The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. My favsquare books league of sevenSquare Books-Lost Years of Merlinorite nonfiction recommendations are Bomb by Steve Sheinken and How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg.Square Books  How they croakedSquare Books Matilda

Square Books Where's Waldo?

He’s everywhere!

MUF: Do you have some special events planned that are geared to middle-graders?
Paul:
Our biggest upcoming event will be the Where’s Waldo event in July. Waldo (or at least a small cardboard cut-out of Waldo) will be hidden in 26 stores around the town square. Kids who find Waldo in at least 20 stores are entered into a drawing for free books and other gifts from around the square. Children of all ages participate in this event, but it is especially fun for middle-graders who are spending their aimless afternoons on the town square. While we don’t have any signings firmly planned at the moment, we will most certainly have a few in the coming months. Information on these can always be found on our Facebook page or on our website, http://www.squarebooks.com/junior.

MUF: If a family makes a day trip to Square Books Jr. from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after browsing?
Paul: With restaurants lining every side of the courthouse square where our store is located, it’s almost difficult to get off the square without having a meal. There’s Ajax, which is where everyone will tell you to go if you ask for recommendations (yes it’s that good). There’s also Proud Larry’s, which is a personal favorite of mine. Ajax serves amazing seemingly-homemade southern food, while Proud Larry’s serves a greater variety with everything from pizza and pasta to burgers and sandwiches. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth Holli’s Sweet Tooth is the perfect destination. They have a wide assortment of ice cream flavors, incredible milkshakes, and every type of candy you can possibly imagine.square books logo

MUF: And if they can stay a little longer, can you recommend some unique places or activities in Oxford they shouldn’t miss?
Paul:
One activity I encourage everyone to squeeze into their travel schedules is a trip to Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. Tours are available Tuesday through Saturday, but the grounds can be visited during any day time hours as long as nothing is disturbed. In addition to that, we have a University Museum with constantly changing exhibits that I personally spent a good deal of time in as a child. Past that, my biggest advice is to ask people on the square if there are any events happening soon. There’s almost always something interesting going on if you’re not afraid ask around.

MUF: Readers, don’t you love to hear a bookseller say that his collection is strongest in middle-grade? This Saturday, Independent Book Store Day,  be sure to visit Square Books Jr. to meet the authors of The Backyard Campout. Or visit your nearest independent book shop and buy a book or two.  Thanks to real-book people like us, indies are not only not going away, they’re thriving!

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel  You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, HarperCollins UK 2014)

Keep Em’ Wowed When You Read Aloud

I blame it on Mrs. Clarke. My fifth grade teacher opened new worlds to us-turning our room into a functioning trading post, taking us to see a traveling Broadway show, reading HARRIET THE SPY aloud with such zest that I may have filched the classroom copy to read it again over the summer. Sorry, Mrs. Clarke!

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It was the first of those three that made me long to teach, the second that spurred my theatrical dreams, and the last that inspired me not only to want to read, but to be a writer of books that could grip kids the way Harriet had gripped me.

I was already an avid reader. It was the way Mrs. Clarke read aloud that really connected me to that book and the power of good writing. I’ll never forget when my teacher shouted “FINKS!” a la Harriet with such passion. It was as if the middle-aged woman who taught us dry subjects like math and spelling had been transformed into a conflicted girl who was neglected by her parents and misunderstood by her friends. I was addicted.

“The reading” is one of my favorite parts of school visits and book signings. It doesn’t matter how self-conscious I feel standing up in front of a crowd, the second I start to read and become the characters on the page, all of that lifts. I happily make a fool out of myself, morphing into a lisping, retainer-wearing bully or an evil genius toddler for the reward of giggles or hearing a student cry, “Don’t stop!” when I close the book.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, librarian, or an author, employing some of these simple techniques can enhance the read aloud experience for you and your listeners.

When Possible, Practice Aloud Ahead of Time This is the single most helpful thing you can do to improve your reading. While not always practical for teachers or parents reading aloud a chapter a day, even having read the material once will improve your chances of not tripping over difficult phrases and knowing where to pause and change voices. Before I have a school visit, I always rehearse the material several times, highlighting pauses and character changes. I forgot my reading glasses at my first book’s launch, and having rehearsed so much saved me some serious embarrassment!

LouReads

“Reading” during my first book’s launch at Watermark Books.

 

Ba-Dum-Ching! Build tension by pausing at ellipses and speeding up during action scenes. When reading funny material, comedic timing is essential. If you’re not certain how comedic rhythm works, study funny plays and listen for those moments when the actors pause and how they deliver punch lines. I use dramatic pauses and ba-dum-ching! moments to give the audience a significant glance, drawing them into the moment.

Eye Contact Speaking of significant glances: use your finger to keep your place in the text so you can look at your listeners occasionally. It will do wonders to keep them engaged. Here practicing ahead is especially helpful.

Animate Your Body and Face A gesture now and then keeps things exciting for your audience. When I’m reading from my TODD books, I like to wave around a “dirty” sock when I’m doing those portions. If I’m especially familiar with a passage I will walk back and forth, depending on the crowd size and location (I’ve been known to nearly fall off of stages-so use caution.)

I try to animate my face when I read, within reason. There’s no need to channel Jim Carrey, but do try to be entertaining if the text calls for it.

Be Heard If your voice is naturally soft, use a microphone in larger settings or practice projecting by breathing from your diaphragm muscle rather than just your chest. Pop your consonants and don’t drop the end of your sentences, letting them trail off.

Put Your Heart Into It Even if you’re reading a passage that is more contemplative and doesn’t require as much animation, be sensitive to the nuances of the prose and dialogue. There are times when “less is more” while reading aloud, and being subtle is the best method. But whatever you’re reading, your listeners will know right away whether or not you’re wholly invested in the material. If you are, be prepared to be begged for more!

Can you think of any techniques I might have left out? What are your favorite books to read aloud? Any childhood memories of being read to that impacted your love of literature?

LouGbiopicLouise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and the newly released IN TODD WE TRUST, both from Penguin/Razorbill. She directs children’s and community theater and tweets @LouiseGalveston. Find out more about Louise and her work at www.bythegraceoftodd.com.

 

 

March New Releases

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to SPRING into March! There are so many wonderful books releasing this month, and I’m honored to have one of my own  among them!

(Listed In Order of Release Date)

The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold; illustrated by Emily Gravett (March 3) 

Rudger is Amanda Shuffleup’s imaginary friend. Nobody else can see Rudger-until the evil Mr. Bunting arrives at Amanda’s door. Mr. Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumor has it that he even eats them. And now he’s found Rudger.

Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. He needs to find Amanda before Mr. Bunting catches him-and before Amanda forgets him and he fades away to nothing. But how can an unreal boy stand alone in the real world?

Flunked by Jen Calonita (March 3)

RlunkedFull of regret, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.

Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she’s not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school-for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its sweet mission. There’s a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villian really change?

The Box and the Dragonfly (The Keepers #1) by Ted Sanders (March 3)

KeepersArtifacts. Miseries. Mysteries . . .
From the moment Horace F. Andrews sees the sign from the bus–a sign with his own name on it–everything changes. The sighting leads him underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse brimming with peculiar devices. But there he finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it?

 

Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (March 10)

MsRapscott'sGirls

Fans of Mary Poppins will love this whimsical tale of a boarding school for children of very busy parents, where an extraordinary headmistress teaches them life lessons about courage, adventure, friendship . . . and the importance of birthday cake.
Nestled inside a lighthouse, Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents takes its motto from Amelia Earhart: Adventure is worthwhile in itself. Headmistress Ms. Rapscott couldn’t agree more, but her students, who are shipped to the school in boxes, could use a little convincing. Still, despite their initial reluctance, the students are soon soaring through the sky and getting lost on purpose. In addition to learning what birthday cakes are and how best to approach a bumbershoot tree, the students also manage to learn a little something about strength and bravery.

Little Miss Evil by Bryce Leung, Kristy Shen (March 10) LittleMissEvil

When you live in a volcano, ride to school in a helicopter, and regularly see your dad on the news with the caption “EVIL GENIUS” underneath his picture, it takes a lot to rattle you. Until you get a message that says: We have your father. Deliver the NOVA in 24 hours or we will kill him. But telling him to stop building weapons is like telling Michelangelo to stop painting. And that’s why thirteen-year-old Fiona has a flamethrower strapped to her arm. After all, who’d mess with a girl who can throw fireballs? Apparently, these guys. Big mistake.

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi (March 10) CatchYouLater,Traitor

Brooklyn, New York, 1951.
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison is a regular kid who loves Sam Spade detective books and radio crime dramas, but when an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep accusing his father of being a Communist, Pete finds himself caught in a real-life mystery. Could there really be Commies in Pete’s family? At the same time, Pete’s class turns against him, thanks to similar rumors spread by his own teacher; even Kat, Pete’s best friend, feels the pressure to ditch him. As Pete follows the quickly accumulating clues, he begins to wonder if the truth could put his family’s livelihood–and even their freedom–at risk.

Roller Girl (A Graphic Novel) by Victoria Jamieson (March 10) RollerGirl

For most of her twelve years, Astrid has done everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid’s life as she struggles to keep up with the older girls at camp, hang on to the friend she feels slipping away, and cautiously embark on a new friendship. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout (and junior high!) draws closer, Astrid realizes that maybe she is strong enough to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school… in short, strong enough to be a roller girl.

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman (March 10) Nightbird

Twelve-year-old Twig’s town in the Berkshires is said to hide a winged beast, the Monster of Sidwell, and the rumors draw as many tourists as the town’s famed pink apple orchards. Twig lives in the orchard with her mysterious brother James and her reclusive mother, a baker of irresistible apple pies. Because of a family secret, an ancient curse,Twig has had to isolate herself from other kids. Then a family with two girls, Julia and Agate, moves into the cottage next door. They are descendants of the witch who put the spell on Twig’s family. But Julia turns out to be Twig’s first true friend, and her ally in trying to undo the curse and smooth the path to true love for Agate and James.

Molly Pepper and the Night Train by Courtney King Walker (March 13) ???????????????????

Hidden somewhere in the fog of the San Francisco bay lies Blue Rock Island, home to the bay area’s two best-kept secrets: Bell’s Bluff, the old, abandoned prison on one side of the island, and the Night Train, a mysterious train ride on the other. When twelve-year-old Molly Pepper receives a secret invitation promising a night of magic and adventure aboard the Night Train, she is skeptical. In her experience, most promises prove too good to be true. The fact that she lost her mom is proof enough.

Still, Molly gives hope another chance. Together with her loyal friend, Noah Wonderly, they sneak out of the house and follow a string of clues leading to the Night Train. But when the train stops at Bell’s Bluff, Molly discovers the real reason she was invited. There, she starts to wonder if hope and magic not only fix broken promises; but make you believe in them again.

The Luck Uglies, Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham (March 17) TheLuckUglies

It’s not easy being the daughter of the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies. Now an insidious new lawman in Drowning has declared Rye an outlaw, and she’s stuck on the strange and remote Isle of Pest. But the island quickly feels much less remote when the battle to control the future of the Luck Uglies moves to its shores. To defeat the Luck Uglies’ bitterest rivals, Rye must defy a deranged earl, survive a test meant to judge the grit of the fiercest men—and uncover some long-buried family secrets. And when Rye leads the charge to defend the island, she and her friends will meet an eerily familiar enemy. . .

In Todd We Trust by Louise GalvesInToddWeTrustton (March 17)

In the sequel to By the Grace of Todd, the Toddlians believe Todd has forgotten all about them. There’s only one solution to their problems: to find a new god! And so they decide to build a raft à la Noah’s ark in order to search for a more thoughtful deity. But who can the Toddlians turn to in their time of despair? And does Todd really not remember the miniature race generated by the dirt on his smelly sock? It will take more than divine intervention to save the Toddlians and mend their relationship with their neglectful creator.

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (March 24)

BlackbirdFly

Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. Her mother still cooks Filipino foods, speaks a mix of English and Cebuano, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is.

The Penderwicks In Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (March 24) ThePenderwicks2

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and there are surprises in store for each member of the family. Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. But when some unwelcome surprises make themselves known, the best-laid plans fall apart.

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein (March 24) TheIslandofDr.Libris

What if your favorite characters came to life? Billy’s spending the summer in a lakeside cabin that belongs to the mysterious Dr. Libris. But something strange is going on. Besides the security cameras everywhere, there’s Dr. Libris’s private bookcase. Whenever Billy opens the books inside, he can hear sounds coming from the island in the middle of the lake. The clash of swords. The twang of arrows. Sometimes he can even feel the ground shaking. It’s almost as if the stories he’s reading are coming to life! But that’s impossible . . . isn’t it?

What books are you excited about SPRINGing into this month? Tell us about them in the comments!

LouGbiopicLouise Galveston is the author of By the Grace of Todd and its sequel, In Todd We Trust (Razorbill) www.bythegraceoftodd.com When she’s not shuffling through the mixed-up files on her messy writing desk, you’ll find Louise directing children’s theater, playing games with her big family, or up to her eyeballs in laundry.