Tag Archives: Hicklebees

Indie Spotlight: Best Books for Middle-Graders? Ask Your Independent Bookseller

On recent New York Times Best Seller Lists, a time-travel adventure novel by celebrity talk show host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh ranks #1 in the Middle-Grade category, edging out a widely acclaimed favorite of the children’s lit world, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.  How, you wonder?   Less than two months after its publication, this title, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, shows over 1600 reader reviews on Amazon, and over 1400 of those are five star reviews.  This never happens.screenshot_1133

How the NYT list is compiled is a fascinating and complex subject.   It is not simply a list of the books that have sold the most copies in the preceding week. Suffice it to say that most books on the list are there because of genuine popular demand for them but  others not so much. Children’s books are currently a hot market in publishing, and it looks as though certain marketing practices that have long compromised the adult NYT nonfiction list, especially in the business, how-t0, and political categories, may now be creeping into children’s books. These include marketing companies or organizations making large prepublication purchases that they’ve disguised to count as  individual purchases, and enlisting or hiring people by the hundreds to write and post positive “reviews.” Publishing is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with being market savvy, but if this is what landed Rush Revere on the list, you wonder what other book missed being included as a result.

Of course best-sellers are not guaranteed to be the best books anyway, and there are many better ways readers can learn about quality books for middle-graders they might like to read. Annual best books lists by reliable organizations like the  the American Library Association(www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb) or the New York Public Library (http://labs.nypl.org/childrens-books-2013/#/_) are a good bet.   Read reviews and articles in journals such as School Library Journal or Horn Book. Public and school librarians are another great resource.  And don’t forget that From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, the site you are on at this moment, regularly reviews and discusses new books and interviews authors, so follow us and check out our archives!

Among the best people to ask for recommendations of children’s books past and present are the passionate book-lovers and hand-sellers of independent bookstores.  Here are some of the shops from around the country that we’ve featured on our site in 2013, and the books they’ve recommended to middle-graders:

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Hicklebee’s, San Jose CA (www.hicklebees.com)  Their book of the year was Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. They also recommended Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith, Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck, and Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt

[words], Maplewood NJ (www.wordsbookstore.com) recommended the Rick Riordan, Jeff King, and Dan Gutman books, plus Wonder by R.J. Palacioscreenshot_1127screenshot_1118

Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul MN (www.redballoonbookshop.com) chose Wild Boy by Mary Losure and William Alexander’s Goblin’s Secret and Ghoulish Song.

Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Ashville NC (www.spellboundchildrensbookshop.com) chose the Ivy and Bean, 39 Clues, and Sisters Grimm series, plus There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff and Hope Larson’s graphic version of A Wrinkle in Time.

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Children’s Book World, Haverford PA (www.children’sbookworld.net) recommended Palacio’s Wonder, Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, and John Fardell’s Seven Professors of the Far North.

Mockingbird Books, Seattle WA chose Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson.

Hooray for Books, Alexandria VA (www.hoorayforbooks.com) recommended  The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series by Caroline Carlson

Powell’s Books, Portland OR  (www.powells.comrecommended Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell, Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, The Oddfellows Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin, and for nonfiction: The Goods by McSweeneys, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, “anything in the Basher Science Series,” and Stout Hearted Seven Orphaned on the Oregon Trail by Neta Lohnes Frazier.screenshot_1136 screenshot_1135 screenshot_1134

(Note: many of these shops regularly list staff choices on their web sites).

What are the outstanding books for Middle Graders, fiction and/or nonfiction, that you’ve read in 2013?

 

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

Indie Spotlight: Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose

Today we’re talking with Valerie Lewis, founder/owner of the award-winning Hicklebee’s Books in San Jose, California (www.hicklebees.com). Think of your  ten favorite contemporary children’s authors.  Chances are at least nine of them have appeared at  Hicklebee’s Books and sing its praises!  It’s not only a wonderful bookstore and gathering place for performances and author appearances, it’s also a unique and growing museum of art and artifacts from children’s books and their authors.

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Mixed-up Files:  Hicklebee’s has become widely known and loved among authors and booklovers.  How and when did your shop get started?
Valerie: We–four friends– opened our store in 1979 in a small space across the street from our current location.  We were not experienced in retail but had young children and buckets of enthusiasm.

MUF: Describe the atmosphere children and their adults walk into when they open the door at Hicklebee’s.
Valerie: One might call it chaos.  The physical structure is made up of shelving from bookstores that have either gone out of business or upgraded their stores. While it began because we could not afford new book cases, we find it’s a valuable asset that adds character.

Not every bookstore has a bathtub filled with pillows for reading in!  Here Lisa Yee & friend enjoy this Hickabee's feature

Not every bookstore has a bathtub filled with pillows for reading in! Here Lisa Yee & friend enjoy this Hicklebee’s feature.

MUF:What do you want their experience to be?
Valerie: I want them to feel warmth with a large dose of magic.

MUF:What about the expansion of your Wall of Fame, which has turned your walls into a museum?
Valerie: We’re running out of walls and doors but it’s a priority so we’ll figure out how to keep it going.

MUF: What are some of your favorite items?
Valerie:  I can’t even begin to list my favorites.  Probably the most sought after is J.K. Rowling’s drawing on the door.  Jules Feiffer’s is the one I touch and continue to admire each time I pass it.  David Small’s depiction of G. Bush makes me laugh the most.  And Rosemary Wells continues to send us a variety of items from paintings to artifacts.

MUF:Did Brian Selznik really donate his backpack and dolls? screenshot_540
Valerie:  The backpack is only one of the items he’s donated.  He is clearly one of our favorite authors, full of magic and surprises.

MUF: It’s apparent from your website that you truly select the books you recommend, because they’re not always the ones on everybody’s else’s lists.  Are there a couple of titles , either fiction or nonfiction,  that you’re  especially recommending  to middle-graders at the moment?
Valerie:  The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen; Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker and Wonder by R. J. Palacio.screenshot_554

MUF: You must be true book and story lovers, because you also recommend older books you think deserve to be reprinted and become classics, even if readers have to read them at the library!  Tell our readers about your unique “Worth the Candle” program, both in the store and online.
Valerie: Our Carol Doup Muller created our “Worth the Candle” program years ago.  She reminds us that before electricity people depended on candles for light.  But candles were expensive.  If you used one it had better be worth it.  Ours is invaluable as a resource for the best books published in the past.

MUF: Tell us about your ongoing programs at the store.  Looks like you do a lot of literacy outreach.screenshot_551
Valerie: All of us here at Hicklebee’s are deeply involved in promoting literacy and are key leaders in regional and national booksellers associations, including the Northern California Booksellers’ Association which we helped to found.   We’ve set up a Resource Room at our store as a meeting place for teachers. We partner with schools and libraries, setting up book fairs and author visits for school assemblies, and inviting schools to create window displays.  We’ve adopted Graystone School in Santa Clara county  and a school in Kiev, setting up a pen pal program and holding a book drive for them. We’ve worked with doctors to establish a Read to Your Bunny program.  We also sponsor family reading nights, hold summer reading programs and have a number of books clubs—including one for adults who read children’s novels— and we’ve organized press conferences for Young Adults to meet YA authors.   

MUF: You and your staff actively promote specific titles of books you consider outstanding.
Valerie:  Yes, we have our book of the month club and our annual Book of the Year award. This year it’s Black Dog, by Levi Pinfold.screenshot_555    We’ve reviewed books for newspapers such as The San Francisco Chronicle and the CBS early show, and we’ve created Lewis Previews, a video series of the season’s best titles for K-6 that plays in libraries and bookstores around the country.

MUF: If a family made a day trip from out of town to Hicklebee’s, would there be family friendly places in the neighborhood to get a bite to eat after browsing?
Valerie: The neighborhood is filled with family friendly restaurants.  A stroll on the Avenue usually involves strollers and often pups.

MUF:  And if they stayed in San Jose for more than a day, are there some other unique things to see and do they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie: The Children’s Museum is a fabulous hands-on experience as well as The Tech Museum.  The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum has been in San Jose since the 1920s.  Happy Hallow Park and Baby Zoo is another attraction as well as numerous parks.

MUF: Any special events coming up at Hicklebee’s ?
Valerie: Most of our Spring events begin in March.  We are in the planning stages now.

MUF:  Thank you Valerie for taking time from your action-packed schedule to share some details about your store! And thank you for demonstrating what makes a children’s book store great: love of good books and their readers, a sense of curiosity and fun, passionate dedication to reading and reading communities, and imagination about ever-new ways to foster all that.

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Children’s book fans, do you know the way to San Jose?  If so— and even if not—I’m  sure, like me, you’re eager to treat yourself  to a book store adventure at Hicklebee’s as soon as you can.   You’ll find Hicklebee’s at 1378 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose CA 95125.  If you have been there, please share your experience in a comment, or if reading about the place makes you want to visit, please let Valerie and us know here.

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