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Indie Spotlight: The Twig Book Shop, San Antonio TX

Twig books frontIt’s always a pleasure to feature an independent shop that has thrived for decades! We’re talking today with Claudia Maceo, manager of  The Twig Book Shop of San Antonio.  Twig front sign

MUF: How did your shop get its unique name?
Claudia: The legend behind the name of the store is that the previous owner had purchased it from a man who had named the store after himself. Wanting to have a fresh start, at a cocktail party the new owner was discussing the options for a new name for the store. As is not unusual at a party where there might be alcohol, the literate attendees tossed around a few quotes including the one from which The Twig Book Shop sprang. Alexander Pope – “’Tis education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined”

MUF: Great Story! One reviewer recounting a visit to your shop spoke of its “innocent charm.” What sort of atmosphere have you tried to create for your customers? twig interior #2
Claudia: Given the limited space, we want people to be drawn in by the warm colors of the wood and wall color. There are winding ways through the children’s section and nooks and crannies along each wall. Our cash wrap is in the center of the store and has a huge old Italian-made chandelier from a previous Twig owner that has been placed in our care. We have two entrances- the front-front door and the back-front door. We do have some quaint hand-lettered price signs and computer-generated section signs that I would hope seem “innocent” or quaint.

MUF: A small independent shop has to/gets to be very selective about the titles it carries. How do you decide what books to carry?
Claudia: We have several publisher reps who have known us over the years who advise us wisely. They, after all want us to do well, too. That, and our buyer has been at this job a long time; Susanna was the manager before I was. Our “floor” staff also are great listeners tuned into what customers are asking for.Twig LondonTwig Sarah PennypackerTwig DiCamillo

MUF: How do you help browsers find “the” book. As middle-grade authors, we’re curious to know—what books old or new, fiction or nonfiction do your booksellers find themselves recommending to middle-grade readers these days?
Claudia: When a customer comes to us asking for a book, we usually look it up in the system first, but then we go to the shelf with the customer. That is where the magic occurs – wonderful conversations about reading likes and dislikes, favorite books read, or in the case of a gift, what the reader knows about the intended recipient. We sell a lot of the award winners, classics and the popular authors like Pennypacker, DiCamilo, Henkes, Barnett, London… there are so many.

MUF: The Twig is known for its strong collection of Texana and Texas history. Any especially fine books appealing to ages eight through twelve?Twig Mysterious TrunkTwig, Boy in the Alamo, Margaret Cousins
Claudia: We have sold over 100 copies of Goodnight San Antonio which includes local sites and bits of history. There is the age-old classic The Alamo by Margaret Cousins, an Alamo A to Z that includes a bit more text than a typical alphabet book, and the Mr. Barrington’s Mysterious Trunk series that fictionalizes a variety of events in Texas history.

MUF: Most long-successful book shops like the Twig have a strong connection to their communities. Give us an idea what you and San Antonio do for each other.
Claudia: We are very involved with many organizations like church groups and schools, libraries, and literary organizations, non-profits and charities. We provide books for bookfairs, conferences, and author visits that sometimes includes making donations of the proceeds to the non-profits.Twig logo

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit The Twig, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after ward? And if they could stay a little longer, are there some unique sights and activities nearby that a family shouldn’t miss?
Claudia:
We are located at the Historic Pearl Brewery where all the shops and restaurants are locally owned and operated for a distinctive shopping and dining experience. This summer and fall, several new building projects will be completed like an artistic water feature for kids, informal dining, and a shaded plaza.
We are also on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk which is the turnaround basin for the river taxis. Along this branch, or reach, a bat colony lives under the Camden St. bridge, water fowl make their homes here, and locks make the river navigable from downtown to Pearl. Within a mile or two of Pearl are the San Antonio Museum of Art, the new children’s Do-seum, and the Witte Museum.

screenshot_2228Thank you , Claudia, for telling us more about the Twig. It sounds like a treasure for those who live in  San Antonio and a great place to visit.  Readers, put this one on your map!
And remember, tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day, so buy a book or two or more to support the stores that you want to thrive.  Independents are the future!

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

 

 

Interview–and Giveaway–with Steve Brezenoff

Steve Brezenoff is the author of young adult novels Guy in Real Life; The Absolute Value of -1; and Brooklyn, Burning, as well as over a hundred chapter books for younger readers, including The Field Trip Mysteries, Museum Mysteries, and Ravens Pass series. He grew up on Long Island, spent his twenties in Brooklyn, and now lives in Minneapolis with his wife and their two children.

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Steve joins us to talk about his middle-grade Museum Mysteries series.

Description from IndieBound: ” Join four friends as they take in culture and solve crimes in the Capitol City museums. Because of their parents’ jobs in the museums, the kids have unprecedented access to the exhibits, and because of their brains, they solve mysteries that leave the pros scratching their heads. Discussion questions, writing prompts, a glossary, and nonfiction resources continue the reader’s learning experience long after the story ends.”

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The Museum Mystery series is one of several series you have written for Capstone. Can you tell us a little about the process of developing and writing a series?

I’ve done (or am in the midst of) five series for Capstone. The Museum Mysteries, The Field Trip Mysteries, Back to the Titanic, and Ravens Pass, as well as the Twice-Told Tales under the name Olivia Snowe. (I’ve also contributed titles to a series of sports books under the shared author name Jake Maddox, and a series that morphed into Ravens Pass under the name Jason Strange.)

When it comes to series for this market (school and library), series development is a different animal from trade publishing, primarily because librarians don’t want series that must be read in a particular order. It’s a difficult feat to provide books in order to readers, so being able to read out of order without losing any aspect of the story is ideal. The exception in my case is the Titanic series, which is ordered.

Because of this, development tends to be more thematic. That is, the story is not continuous, so we’re developing characters and scenarios. And because these are all work-for-hire titles, much of this work is done in-house at the publisher before I’m onboard. For example, for the Field Trip Mysteries, the idea of four sixth-graders going on field trips and solving mysteries came from Capstone. I created and developed the characters and placed them on field trips that, initially, came from the publisher as well. As the series went on, more of that became my responsibility. The Museum Mysteries in many ways grew out of the Field Trip Mysteries–they’re thematically very similar. In that case, I was given the four museums to bounce off of, and then developed other details–characters, backgrounds, parents, etc.–on my own.

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If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from the Museum Mystery series what would it be?

I’m tempted to talk about science or art history or American history–in other words, one of the themes behind the four museums featured in the series. But the truth is I’ve been more focused on writing about these characters in a way that shines a light on race and gender and sexuality in a way that I haven’t seen much in chapter books for younger readers, readers at the bottom of the middle-grade range. It’s no secret that most of my fiction takes place in Minneapolis/St. Paul, or a very vaguely fictionalized version of the metro area. I try to make sure, therefore, that the characters reflect the Twin Cities I’ve come to know and love since moving here ten years ago.

It’s no surprise, then, that what has garnered the most positive reaction has been the diversity of the cast. The cover of one of the first Museum Mysteries titles, The Case of the Missing Museum Archives, features main character Amal Farah wearing her hijab. It was such a small gesture, to be honest, but it got a lot of very positive attention.

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There’s so much to like about the Museum Mysteries: An engaging plot with a diverse cast of characters, great illustrations, and (especially appealing to me) lots of science. It seems to me that reluctant or struggling readers would really enjoy them. What has been the response?

I think the response has been good, particularly to the diversity of the cast.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed your Museum Mysteries?

Well, obviously the Field Trip Mysteries, which are thematically very similar to the Museum Mysteries. There’s a great resource for young mystery fans here and here.

Some may know you more for your young adult titles. How does your approach differ in writing for the different age groups?

It might be a symptom of writing mysteries for younger readers rather than the readers’ age, but I tend to rely more on an outline from the outset for my chapter books than for my longer novels for older readers. I can’t even begin a Museum Mystery without knowing everything about the crime, the suspects, and how it was done. With a longer novel, I tend to just start writing, knowing little more than a couple of characters, maybe a setting, and I see where it takes me before I step back and think about outlining.

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Can we look forward to more middle-grade books from you?

There are two more Museum Mysteries in August of this year. And for spring 2017, we’re trying something new with the Field Trip Mysteries. I’ve pulled Sam, Cat, Gum, and Egg out of retirement, and next year they’ll star in four new You Choose mysteries, where readers can make choices for the junior sleuths and try to solve the crime. Stakes are high, and some endings will leave the culprit on the loose.

Steve has kindly offered to give away a set of two signed books from the Museum Mysteries series–The Case of the Stolen Spacesuit and The Case of the Missing Mom. Comment below before midnight on Friday, April 15 for a chance to win. The winner will be announced Saturday, April 16.

Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (Quaker Press 2014).

Indie Spotlight: Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson OH

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Ah, the smell of books!  You certainly can’t get that online.  It’s a pleasure to feature yet another successful small bookshop this month, The Learned Owl Book Shop (www.learnedowl.com,) and to interview its owner/manager Kate Schlademan.
MUF: Learned Owl has recently made an apparently seamless transition to new ownership. What do you feel is special about your shop and what keeps you going?
Kate: Over the years The Learned Owl has become a hub for the community.  Being almost 50 years old, many people have grown up coming to the store and now bring their children here.  We are a meeting place and information place.  We are very fortunate to have tremendous support from our community.screenshot_2205

MUF: Describe the atmosphere of Learned Owl. What to you hope people will experience when they come in?
Kate: The store is housed in a building built in 1867.  It has been a number of different things over the years including a carpentry shop, shoe repair, and art gallery.  We have an upstairs and lower level with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. We always hope people will feel welcome and at home when they enter the store.  Many people comment one two things: they love the smell of books when the walk in and it reminds them of the store in the movie You’ve Got Mail.

MUF: A small store has to be selective in its collection. How do you decide what books to carry, and how do you help a customer find his or her next book?13-Story Treehouse Andy Griffiths
Kate: Deciding what inventory to carry is always difficult, especially when you consider the massive amount of books that are published every year.  It is very important that I understand my market and customers.  I try very hard to have a broad selection of titles for customers to choose from.  When helping people select books, I always ask them what they like to read or what they have read recently that they enjoyed.  This really helps me narrow down where to start.screenshot_2201

screenshot_2200MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask: what are some screenshot_2199 13-Story Treehouse Andy Griffiths Warriors Erin Huntertitles– old or new, fiction or poached Stuart Gibsnonfiction– that you find yourselves recommending to middle grade readers these days?
Kate: Some of my current favorites as well as old stand-bys in no particular order are: The Apothecary series by Maile Meloy, School of Good and Evil series by Soman Chaining, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Three Times Lucky series by Sheila Turnage, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Poached series, by Stuart Gibb, 13 Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and the Warriors original series by Erin Hunter.

MUF: Do you have any activities or events coming up that would be of special interest to readers ages eight to twelve?flamecaster
Kate: We are having a launch party for Cinda Williams Chima’s new book Flamecaster on 4/5.  She is local to the area and we are big fans.

MUF: How do you plan to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day next month?screenshot_2207
Kate: We will have a number of specialty items for sale that day as well as hourly give aways.  We are partnering with some other stores in the area to create a passport of independent bookstores to show how many are around and in hopes of getting people to visit as many as possible.

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit the Learned Owl, are there family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a meal or a snack afterward? And if they could spend more time, are there unique activities or places of interest nearby that a family would enjoy?
Kate: We have a number of family friendly restaurants within walking distance.  We also have a few game and novelty shops which are fun to visit.  The Cuyahoga National Park is about 15 minutes away and one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S.  There are tons of trails to explore.  We are only about 30-40 minutes south of Cleveland where we have a wonderful Art Museum, Natural History Museum, and you can’t forget the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  About 20 minutes south of us is Akron which also boasts a beautiful art museum and a minor league ball park which is always a fun option for affordable family fun.

MUF:  Thank you, Kate.  Readers,  don’t you love the idea of a passport for visiting independent bookstores?   If you’re in Ohio or planning to go, you might want to include Learned Owl Book Shop in your itinerary.

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