Tag Archives: interview

Indie Spotlight: Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City IA

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Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: Today we’re talking with Sarah and Barb of the children’s department of Prairie Lights (www.prairielights.com), an independent bookstore in the heart of the reading and writing university town of Iowa City Iowa, designated a UNESCO City of Literature.
MUF: Your location and your close relationship with  the Iowa Writing Workshop gives your store a unique readers-and-writers atmosphere and clientele, doesn’t it?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: It does! Because we host readings a few times a week, it means that young readers and writers have access to some of the top writers working today. It also means the young readers who come in sometimes want the latest trendy book, but they are often eager to see something different, to read outside their usual comfort zones.prairie-lights-kid-browsing

MUF: When a middle school-age boy or girl comes into your store, how do you help them connect with their next good book?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: We ask them, “what was the last awesome book that you read?” and go from there. We fearlessly pull lots of books off the shelf and have fun talking about each one. Sometimes kids are hesitant to read a book recommended by a grown up, but we’re pretty good at matching great books with intrepid readers.prairie-lights-ashprairie-lights-ray
We display local authors’ books on a special shelf, featuring local middle grade authors Sarah Prineas and Delia Ray.   We have a current display and we create a book list in May for summer reading and November for holiday gift giving. Link: http://www.prairielights.com/pauls-corner/summer-children-teens-reading-list.prairie-lights-sea-to-silverprairie-lights-secret-keepers

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We also present titles on the Talk of Iowa show with Charity Nebbe on Iowa Public Radio.

MUF: I’m including here pictures of the covers of some titles on your lists.  You recently had a sellout appearance of Rick Riordan at Prairie Lights. Are there more readings, events or activities coming up over the holidays that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: Renowned author Lois Lowry is coming to the Englert prairie-lights-lowryTheater on November 16 , 2016. We are hosting a special evening on Wed. November 9 with Michelle Falkoff and Calla Devlin, who will read from their new YA novels.
In addition, because we are a UNESCO City of Literature we also have a Festival of Books for Children every year in February. Link: http://www.onebooktwobook.org/

MUF: How do you decide what titles to carry for ages eight to twelve?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS:Two people in the kids area prairie-lights-juando the ordering. They have good relationships with publisher’s reps and also read journals for reviews.

MUF: Prairie Lights’ collection is strong in poetry, and it’s good to see the increasing popularity of poetry and novels-in-verse with young readers. Do you and your customers have some favorites?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: In our book lists/bibliographies we always include a poetry section, and we have a section of the kids are full of poetry books, both classics and new books. We think every family needs to read a poem aloud every day—like at the breakfast table, or before dinner.prairie-lights-poetry

MUF: What other titles, new and old, fiction and nonfiction do you find yourself recommending to middle-graders these days?prairie-lights-some-writer
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: Check out our booklist of new recommended titles, online: http://www.prairielights.com/pauls-corner/summer-children-teens-reading-list

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit Prairie Lights, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where the could get a meal or snack after shopping? And if they could stay beyond the day, are there some unique sights or family activities they shouldn’t miss?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: We are just down the street from the Pedestrian Mall, where visitors will find unique little shops, frozen yogurt, an interactive water fountain, and a great playground, not to mention the Iowa City Public Library. In the other direction is the University of Iowa, featuring MacBride Hall and its natural history museum. There are lots of restaurants downtown, too, all easy walking distance.

Everyone shops at Prairie Lights!

Everyone shops at Prairie Lights!

 

Readers, whether you live nearby or are passing through, be sure to visit this great book store! And if you’re already a fan, please say hello in a comment.
Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)

From the Grave With Cynthia Reeg

cynthiaCynthia Reeg, a curious librarian, ventured from behind the stacks to become a children’s author. Now she contends with quirky characters and delightful dilemmas as often as possible in her stories. Her amazing husband, two grown sons, two adorable grandsons, and awesome family aid Cynthia on this wild and wonderful adventure. She’s a Kansas native who has lived in five other Midwest states. Currently she resides in St. Louis, Missouri and loves to vacation in Florida and New Mexico. Cynthia enjoys tennis, hiking, reading, and hanging out with her family. For more information, visit www.cynthiareeg.com. Find her on Twitter and Facebook

Amie: Welcome, Cynthia! It’ so great to have you join us here at the Files! Some of you may not know this but Cynthia and I are publishing sisters – that is we share the same publisher for our books. So, Cynthia, why don’t you start by telling us what your inspiration was for From the Grave?

Cynthia: First of all, I love Halloween and monsters. Using that theme, I wanted to approach the subject of bullying and intolerance from a different perspective. I hoped that if I created a fun and entertaining fantasy story that kids might also be open to exploring issues of prejudice. Plus, I had a great time crafting the crazy monster world, with all its rules and strange inhabitants—and monster curses, of course.

Amie: We share a similar love for Halloween! And monster curses are the best – in all their diverse ways! Tell us about your favorite character and why you enjoyed writing him.

Cynthia: My favorite character turned out to be bad guy—seventh grade troll, Malcolm McNastee. He originally started out as a fairly typical antagonist but quickly gained equal billing with my other main character, Frankenstein Gordon. What can I say? I write from a sinister perspective much more easily. Malcolm revealed so many conflicting emotions and plot twists that he demanded to be put front and center. And truly, it’s not easy to win an argument with him.

Amie: The antagonist can be the most fun to write! So it’s my understanding that you’re a librarian (yay!). Did your work influence your writing at all?

Cynthia: Of course! Although I left my library job a few years back to devote more time to writing, I use my librarian experiences with children to shape what I write. I know that action, silliness, suspense, and quirky characters draw them into a story. That’s how I try to write because it’s all about connecting with the kids!

Amie: It sounds like you know your audience really well, and that is definitely key to a successful story. Final questions: Graveyard or haunted house? Mummies or Deadies? Booberries or sandwitches?

Cynthia: Graveyard—I love the outdoors. 😉
Mummies—I relate to being so wrapped up in my work.
Sandwitches—more substantial fare for a hungry writer!

Amie: Good choices! Though I think I’ll take the booberries but only covered in chocolate. They make a nice topping for ice scream!

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Monster is as monster does, but Frankenstein Frightface Gordon is totally the wrong shade of ghastly green—actually a pathetic baby blue—and he’s more concerned with keeping his pants neat and tidy than scaring the pants off his victims. But when a new law is passed to rid Uggarland of misfits such as Frank, he must decide if he will become the monster his parents can be proud of or be the monster he can be proud of. Relying on his dead grandmother’s guidance from the grave, Frank makes a most astounding choice and enters into an adventure that most likely will seal his doom.
Or prove he is truly monster enough.

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Amie Borst is the author of the Scarily Ever Laughter Series featuring Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and Snow Fright. Find her on her website, her blog, facebook, twitter, and instagram.

Nonfiction Books with Diverse Characters–An Interview with Author Annette Bay Pimentel & Giveaway!

Children’s books with diverse characters are in high demand these days. They should be. Every child who reads likes to identify with the character in the book, which means that they need to represent every race, creed, color, and ethnic background. Authors are responding to this need by writing about some AMAZING people who have made great contributions to our world.

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I’m happy to have one of those author with me here today. Annette Pimentel writes picture book- biographies for young middle grade readers. She loves to discover people in the corners of history and then find their stories. She writes nonfiction picture books in Moscow, Idaho.

 

Her book is Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans and Helped Cook up the National Park Service by Charlesbridge Publishing

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The true story of a Chinese American mountain man who fed thirty people for ten days in the wilderness–and helped inspire the creation of the National Park Service.

When millionaire Stephen Mather began his quest to create a national park service in 1915, he invited a group of influential men—writers, tycoons, members of Congress, and even a movie star—to go camping in the Sierras. Tie Sing was hired to cook. Throughout the trip, Tie Sing fed not just the campers’ bodies, but also their minds, reminding them to remember and protect the mountains.

Reviews:

Overall, this pencil and watercolor illustrated and eloquently written account of a Chinese American will satisfy every taste. For any library wishing to enhance its diversity and inclusion collection.
– School Library Journal

A frontier adventure that spotlights one of the many significant roles ethnic Chinese played in American history.
Kirkus Reviews

Paragraphs of straightforward text are more advanced than typical picture books, but the soft, expressive watercolor illustrations, some of which are based on historical photos, are a pleasing accompaniment. Ideal for the classroom, particularly this year, when the NPS celebrates its centennial.
– Booklist

 

 

Annette, thanks for joining me today on the blog. I have a few questions for our readers about your writing process and books.

 

Why narrative nonfiction biographies?

Fictional novels describe how people could be. Nonfiction biographies describe how people really are. I love the shiver of excitement I feel when I read what remarkable real people really did.

How do you choose your subjects for your books?
When I discover something new and immediately want to tell someone about it, I know that I have a promising topic. I’m especially interested in stories that surprise me and suggest that the way I’ve been thinking about the world is askew.

What led you to Tie Sing’s story?
I stumbled on photos of the Mather Mountain Party of 1915 while I was researching something else. I was startled to see in the photos an Asian man posing next to famous government officials and tycoons. I had always assumed that national parks, like other American institutions, were created by powerful white men. The photos suggested I only knew part of the story.

You do not have a Chinese heritage, so how did you make sure to include Tie Sing’s true voice and experiences?
I wish Tie Sing had kept a diary, but he didn’t. To be sure the secondhand descriptions of him were in historical context, I researched race relations in 1915. I also relied on experts like the book’s artist, Rich Lo, who, like Tie Sing, grew up bilingual in Chinese and English. The book’s expert reviewer was Park Ranger Yenyen Chan, who brought to the project deep professional knowledge as well as broad personal knowledge of Chinese American culture.

Can you talk about how important it is to ensure that diverse characters are given a true representation?
It’s important that every character in a piece of nonfiction is represented truly! But it’s extra tricky to accurately represent characters, like Tie Sing, who didn’t leave much documentary trace and who come from a culture different from that of the people who wrote about them. Despite the difficulties—maybe because of the difficulties–those people deserve to have their stories told! Without their stories we are left with an inaccurate picture of our shared history.

You have another book in development which features a Puerto Rican character’s life. Why do you think diverse books like these are important?

Children are in many ways marginalized in our society. I think that every child feels, at times, like an outsider. Stories about unexpected people doing remarkable things reassure and encourage kids that their own lives matter. And, of course, books about women and ethnic and cultural minorities give all of us a more nuanced and true picture of our history.

Tell us a little about how you do your research. How much time do you spend? What type of sources do you look for?
I spend hours and weeks and months on research. I interview my subjects or people who knew them when I can, but usually I rely on archival research—letters, papers, photos, etc. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find an autobiography. I love the US Census for the quirky information it gives me about my subject. And of course I use academic articles to provide historical context and to answer specific questions that arise as I research.

Why is back matter useful for readers?
Back matter extends my conversation with the reader and allows my book to speak to multiple audiences. Some readers only want the story in the main text. That’s find. But others want more, and back matter provides it. Back matter feels to me like a cozy dialogue, where I as a writer, get to share the fascinating details that didn’t belong in the story.

Anything that you are working on that you would care to share? Other books that we can look for from you soon?
In 2018 Nancy Paulsen Books will publish Girl Running, the story of an amazing female marathoner and in 2019 they will publish Ann Brooks Goes West (with her piano) the story of a feisty pioneer. I also have another book in the works that I’m very excited about, but I have to wait to talk about it.

Can you think of a few other diverse nonfiction books that would be good for young middle grade readers?
I loved Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford for its lyrical language and its sensitive handling of the theme of slavery

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Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood for its story of creativity beating back against poverty

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and Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy for the most inspiring basketball story I’d never heard.

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For more great nonfiction picture books for young middle grade readers, including diverse titles, check out Annette’s blog at  annettebaypimentel.com

Annette has graciously offered a giveaway of her new book. To win a signed copy, please leave your name in the comments below.

******Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 nonfiction books for kids. Mostly about Science, Technology, and Engineering, because… well, STEM ROCKS!  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com