Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Indie Spotlight: Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston TX

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files:  What an interesting idea:  a bookstore devoted half to kid’s books and half to adult! We are talking today with Valerie Koehler, Owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

MUF: I assume your shop gets its name from Blue Willow, the award-winning novel by Doris Gates?  Sounds like you’ve had children’s books  in mind from the beginning.
Valerie: I was not aware of the lovely book by Doris Gates when I named the shop.  But just like in her novel, the shop is named after Blue Willow china. When I bought the shop, I wanted to offer books for the entire family. so now it’s half and half.  Our top two selling categories are adult fiction and children’s picture books.

school visit

MUF:You’ve been open twenty years now and you survived the downturn several years ago when many bookstores closed.  What has contributed to your success?  What kind of atmosphere do you try to create for customers at Blue Willow Books?
Valerie: We never saw the downturn as we plowed ahead with new ideas, new partnerships, and lots of events.  I feel our success is due to our open minds to new opportunities.  We want everyone to feel welcome and we want to continue to spread our love of books through the city.  We venture far beyond our walls with school visits and our three yearly festivals.

MUF:Tell us more about your monthly book club, “Another Shade of Blue” for middle-grade girls.  What have been some of their favorite books, and what will they be reading in June?  
Valerie:It’s been a slow start to this club and we are retooling it as I write this.  It’s so hard to get critical mass when the kids are overbooked.  They loved The Green Glass House By Kate Milford. In June, they are reading Beyond The Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk.

MUF: How do you choose which books to carry in your shop?
Valerie: I read advance copies, I look at reviews, I look at trends and past sales.  It’s an art and a science (and a crap shoot!).

MUF: How do you help kids find their next best book? As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, old or new, fiction or nonfiction, you find yourself recommending most often these days to readers between eight and twelve?
Valerie We tend to recommend stand-alone novels as the kids already know the series.  All of us like different books!  This past year, we all loved PAX by Sara Pennypacker.  But each kid deserves to be different so we help them one at a time.

Tweens Read Festival

Gene Luen Yang & Fan at Tweens Read Festival

MUF: Do you have any events coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Valerie: We are retooling the bookclub so stay tuned.  Also, put October 21st on the calendar for our 8th annual Tweens Read Festival.  The authors will be announced very soon. Last year we hosted over 3000 kids.
MUF: If a family from out of town visited your shop, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they could get a snack or meal after shopping?  And if they could stay longer, are there some unique sites and activities in the area they shouldn’t miss?
Valerie:
We have a great patisserie in our center which is kid friendly.  Just down the street is Hungry’s which has food for the whole family.  For longer visits I like to recommend visiting www.houstonfamilymagazine.com for great Houston ideas.

Thanks, Valerie, for talking with us about Blue Willow Books, and congratulations on your continuing success!  Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of visiting this shop?  Putting it on your list?

 

May 2017: New Releases

April showers bring May blossoms, barbecues, & books! This is a great time to start compiling that summer middle grade reading list. You can read one on your porch, sunning by the pool, or even in the car – Well, as long as you’re not the one driving. And what better way to read a book then together? Take a peek at some of these new tales just waiting for you to welcome them along your summer journey.

Mia Measures UpMia Measures UP by Coco Simon

Mia is being cyber-bullied, and she’s determined to find out who is responsible in the latest addition to the Cupcake Diaries series.

Mia is upset when her parents tell her she’s too young to go to a concert without adult supervision. She’s old enough to help run a cupcake business! Why can’t her parents see that she’s also responsible enough to do whatever she wants? And just when she’s reached a compromise with her parents (her older brother Dan will go to the concert with her), Mia finds out she’s being cyber-bullied on social media. It’s the Cupcake Club to the rescue as they all help Mia solve her online bullying mystery!

Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink

Fifth grade was the worst year of Marc’s life. He stunk at gym class, math was too hard for him, the school lunch was horrible, and his class field trip was ruined because he couldn’t swim. But what was most awful thing about fifth grade? Kenny Williamson, the class bully, who calls himself the “King of the Jungle.”

When Marc’s mother tells him that his Uncle Jake is coming to stay for the whole summer, Marc can’t wait. Uncle Jake is a for real, super-cool Navy SEAL. And Uncle Jake has a plan.

He’s going to turn Marc into a warrior.

Becoming a warrior isn’t easy. It means a lot of pull ups, sit ups, pushups, squats, swimming, eating right, and studying harder than ever before! Can Marc transform himself into a warrior before school starts in the fall – and finally stand up to the King of the Jungle himself?

Ages of Oz: A Fiery Friendship by Gabriel Gale; Lisa Fiedler 

Lions, and tigers, and bears, not quite Travel down the red brick road with the world’s most iconic Good Witch, Glinda, as she embarks on a brave adventure in Oz in this start to a brand-new series from Gabriel Gale and Lisa Fiedler.
On her Declaration Day, a day meant for celebration and happiness, Glinda’s peaceful life in Oz is shattered when her mother is imprisoned for practicing forbidden Magic. As she is ripped from her home by a fearsome bounty hunter sent by Aphidina, the Witch of the South, Glinda soon uncovers a startling truth: the Oz she’s always know is not good and right–it’s a world governed by the wickedest of the wicked, overrun with tyranny, corruption, and dark power. And Glinda’s mother? She is actually a high-ranking member of a secret society whose mission is to overthrow the four Wicked Witches and set the stage for the return of the rightful ruler of Oz.
With the help of a feisty, purple-haired girl named Locasta, Glinda sets across the unforgiving landscape to rescue her mother. They are soon joined by Ben, a revolutionary New Yorker, and a mysterious girl called Shade. Armed with their individual gifts, these unlikely heroes mount an epic attack on Aphidina to free Glinda’s mother…and save the future of Oz from the Wickeds before it’s too late.

Hamster Princes: Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon

A magical beanstalk leads to a GIANT surprise in book four of the series that’s chock-full of girl power and perfect for fans of Princess in Black and Babymouse.

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone doesn’t go looking for trouble. She prefers to think of it as looking for adventure. But when she climbs to the top of an enormous beanstalk and sneaks into the castle at the top, Harriet finds plenty of both. The castle is home to one very poetically challenged giant rabbit with two unusual prisoners—a girl who is half harp, half hamster, and an extremely large goose. This calls for a heroic rescue, and Harriet is just the hamster for the job.

The fourth installment of the critically acclaimed Hamster Princess series turns the story of Jack and the Beanstalk upside down, with plenty of laughs along the way.

How to Be a Supervillain by Michael Fry

Victor Spoil comes from a long line of famous supervillains and he’s fully expected to join their ranks one day. But to his family’s utter disappointment, Victor doesn’t have a single bad-guy bone in his body. He won’t run with scissors, he always finishes his peas, and he can’t stand to be messy. Hopeless!

As a last-ditch effort before they give up and let him be a–gasp!–civilian, Victor’s exasperated parents send him to apprentice under a disgraced supervillain called The Smear. This matchup starts off as a complete disaster, but Victor and The Smear eventually find that they have a lot to learn from each other. When the stakes get high as Victor is forced to choose between his mentor and his family morals (or lack thereof)…what will the world’s nicest bad guy do?

In this rollicking middle-grade adventure, Michael Fry’s witty text and hysterical artwork combines superhero action with classic fish-out-of-water humor.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

In this compelling and thought-provoking fantasy set in the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine introduces a spirited heroine who must overcome deeply rooted prejudice—including her own—to heal her broken country.

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

Love You Like a Sister by Robin Palmer

Four soon-to-be-stepsisters must learn to work together as they try to make their parents’ wedding day a day to remember in this witty M!X novel in the tradition of Bridesmaids.

When Avery was two, her parents divorced, and it’s just been Avery and her mom ever since—the Two Musketeers. Until Avery opens her email—on a non-holiday and not her birthday—and receives a bombshell announcement from her father. Not only is he moving back to the New York area, he is remarrying—and his soon-to-be wife has three daughters. Avery’s future stepsisters. Holy. Moly.

Avery’s father is determined to make them all one happy family, so he and his fiancée ask the girls to be the bridesmaids in the upcoming wedding. And they want the girls to help with the something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Meaning that Avery and the girls—who clearly want nothing to do with her—are going to be forced to spend time together.

It’s one (hilarious) disaster after another as Avery tries to help and get to know her future stepsisters—who are all dealing with their own issues with the wedding. From spilling a chocolate-y drink on a very expensive dress when they go dress shopping, to turning her future step-mother’s hair bright blue days before the wedding. Can they all manage to make the wedding a day to remember—or will it be memorable for all the wrong reasons?

Science Comics Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus

Take to the skies with Flying Machines!

Follow the famous aviators from their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, to the fields of North Carolina where they were to make their famous flights. In an era of dirigibles and hot air balloons, the Wright Brothers were among the first innovators of heavier than air flight. But in the hotly competitive international race toward flight, Orville and Wilbur were up against a lot more than bad weather. Mechanical failures, lack of information, and even other aviators complicated the Wright Brothers’ journey. Though they weren’t as wealthy as their European counterparts, their impressive achievements demanded attention on the international stage. Thanks to their carefully recorded experiments and a healthy dash of bravery, the Wright Brothers’ flying machines took off.

5 Worlds Book I by Mark Siegel; Alexis Siegel

The #1 New York Times bestselling creator of Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi, hails this first book in this groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy adventure series as -a magical journey, as fun as it is beautiful – Think Star Wars meets Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves–and more to their worlds–than meets the eye. . . .
– The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.
– A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.
– Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?
When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

“A wondrous book, wise and wild and deeply true.” —Kelly Barnhill, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

For readers who loved Sara Pennypacker’s Pax and Lois Lowry’s The Giver comes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

Restart by Gordon Korman

Chase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.

Hero: Hurricane Rescue by Jennifer Li Shotz

The action-packed follow-up to Hero, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Li Shotz.

When a dangerous hurricane strikes town and Jack and his puppy, Scout, go missing, retired search-and-rescue dog Hero is the only one who can track them down.

Hero and his human, Ben, set off into the woods, but when the storm surges out of control, the group is suddenly trapped with no way out. Now it’s up to Hero to get everyone home safe and sound. Together, Hero and Ben fight for their lives—but can Hero battle his way past alligators, mudslides, and raging floods?

Join Hero for another epic adventure and discover what a dog will do to save his best friend. This edition is a paper-over-board hardcover.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Kids vs. parents! An epic treehouse sleepover! An awesome group of friends! An exciting new book from National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff.

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join. It’s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, things can get pretty complicated pretty fast! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

In the newest novel by beloved National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff, kids have turned the tables on their parents, and all the rules have been tossed out the window. But does Winnie have what it takes to hold her ground and keep everyone happy?

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by AVI

In the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. He’s alone in his ruined home with no money and no food. Oliver’s father has left behind a barely legible waterlogged note: he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in trouble. Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him, and he can’t resist the temptation to take it. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following the trail of his father and sister. The journey is full of thieves, adventurers, and treachery—and London might be the most dangerous place of all.

In the tradition of his Newbery Honor book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi mixes high adventure and short, page-turning chapters with a vivid historical setting featuring a cast of highwaymen, pickpockets, and villainous criminal masterminds.

A Trio of Tolerable Tales by Margaret Atwood

In Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, Ramsay runs away from his revolting relatives and makes a new friend with more refined tastes.

The second tale, Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, features Bob, who was raised by dogs, and Dorinda, who does housework for relatives who don’t like her. It is only when they become friends that they realize they can change their lives for the better.

And finally, to get her parents back, Wenda and her woodchuck companion have to outsmart Widow Wallop in Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery.

Young readers will become lifelong fans of Margaret Atwood’s work and the kind of wordplay that makes these tales such rich fare, whether they are read aloud or enjoyed independently. These compelling stories of resourceful children are a lively introduction to alliteration.

There you have’em! Hope you enjoy your reading time during the month of May!

Indie Spotlight: Linden Tree Books, Los Altos CA

MUF: We’re speaking today with Dianne Edmonds, co-owner of Linden Tree Books (“Where Imaginations Grow”) a lively, mostly-children’s bookstore in Los Altos, California (www.lindentreebooks.com)
Diane, your shop has undergone interesting changes from the past, not only in location but transitioning from children’s recordings to books. What is the atmosphere you’ve created as a bookshop, and what are your goals for the future?
Dianne: Linden Tree has had many positive changes in the last 6 years. We’ve centered our brand and logo around the message: “Where imaginations grow”.  By dropping the word children from our store name, we can emphasize the notion that any person of any age can let their imagination grow. We will always be known as a specialty children’s store but we didn’t want our name limiting how customers view us.  In addition, we foster a sense of creativity and enlightenment in all aspects of our store.  The layout of the store transitions from one section to the next with bright orange signage; our displays capture thematic topics and seasonal happenings.  We have small chairs and ottomans in the picture book area and larger chairs in the teen and adult sections.  Multi generations can come into the store together and find a plethora of books and accessories to allow their imaginations to grow.
Our goals for the future include an on-line web store, continuing our vast assortment of events and public outreach as well as continuing to foster the love of reading within our community.


MUF: Your staff has been described as “literary matchmakers.” How do they go about helping customers find the next, best book?
Dianne: Our literary matchmakers are the best in the industry! We have a phenomenal staff that is recognized by customer’s near and far. Being a “Matchmaker” requires two things: first, you need to know what books are available, their content and audience. This requires spending a LOT of time reading and listening to the opinions of fellow coworkers. Linden Tree Books is blessed with staff that are sincerely interested in what we recommend to our clients, so this is pretty fun and educational. We dedicate time at staff meetings for book talks, all our staff attends our local fall trade show, and everyone joins our team with the desire to let their imagination growSecond, every staff member is trained to be well versed in the art of the interview: asking short, easy questions and understanding the responses. We also have to understand reading levels, comprehension/appropriateness level (i.e., a 10-year-old might read at an 18-year old’s level but they won’t be able to understand nearly as much, and most books at that level will be very inappropriate), what the book(s) are needed for and why, and what the parent is comfortable with. It all starts with the first and best question along the lines of “What have you read recently and enjoyed? Why?” Treating each customer as an individual and not type casting while listening for intonations in their voice or body language is also very critical.
All of this can only be learned by people who like people, and by spending time with the customers. It’s a bit like solving a mystery in a detective novel. Solving the match making mystery in 4 minutes can be really hard; however, there is NOTHING like witnessing a customer discover a book you love and recommend.

MUF: An independent bookstore’s collection has to be curated. How do you decide what books to carry in your shop?
Dianne: First, Jill Curcio, Co-owner, vets every title as she meets with publishing reps and reviews front list titles.  Then we carefully manage the number of inventory turns within the year of all titles.  If customers continue to buy specific titles on a regular basis, we will carry the book.  If the metrics fall below our minimum, even if it’s near and dear to our heart, we have to let it go.  Our customers dictate what they want, we listen to those purchasing habits and respond according.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or non-fiction, you find yourselves recommending to readers ages 8-12 these days?
Diane: How many pages can we fill on your blog? Seriously, we could provide you with pages of titles that are the go-tos for this age group. The Inquisitor’s Tale, (Adam Gidwitz), Spy School (Stuart Gibbs) et al, Books of Elsewhere by Jacqueline West, Fish in a Tree (Lynda Hunt), Ms Rapscott’s Girls (Elise Primavera), and The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann usually make the cut. I’m also super partial to the Ramona books, the Little House books, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare.
More from our Matchmakers:
–The Boy Who Saved Baseball-John Ritter
–Every Soul a Star– Wendy Mass
–A Wrinkle in Time-Madeline L’Engle
–Harry Potter-J K Rowling
–Hoot- Carl Hiassen
–The Blackthorn Key – Kevin Sands
–Three Times Lucky – Sheila Turnage
–Connect the Stars – Marisa de los Santos
–Jackie Haha – Robert Patterson
–Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke
Frogkisser! – Garth Nix
–Princess Academy – Shannon Hale
–The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
–Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library-Chris Grabenstein
–The Girl Who Drank the Moon-Kelly Barnhill
–Pax-Sara Pennypacker
–Charlotte’s Web -E.B. White
Jennifer Bertman’s The Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code (forthcoming) and The Defiant (M. Quint), because of the local connection to San Francisco locations. Chris Grabenstein’s books, especially Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, because of the tech/game connection.
–The Wild Robot -Peter Brown
–Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day-John D. Anderson
–Some Kind of Courage -Dan Gemeinhart
–Hello Stranger-Steadman
–Summerlost-Ally Condie
–The Warden’s Daughter-Jerry Spinelli
–The Real Boy-Anne Ursu
An upcoming book that we’ll be sure to put into everyone’s hands is Lemons by Melissa Savage, about a girl who has lost her mother and has to get used to a whole new town with a grandfather she’s never met. Another favorite is Full Cicada Moon, set during 1969 and the moon landing, about a girl who’s half black and half Japanese who wants to be an astronaut, and the mindset of the time that she has to overcome.

MUF: When the middle-graders turn thirteen, they’re eligible for a very special book group at your store. Please tell us about it.
Dianne: Linden Tree hosts a special program called the Linden Tree Teen Advisory Board for kids aged 13 through 18. Currently the program has nineteen kids from ten different schools who volunteer their time to attend Board meetings, help set up our in-store events and run events of their own. Just recently, the Teen Board hosted a Harry Potter Trivia event. They also get the opportunity to read pre-release books and meet authors. It’s been invigorating and fun! When we decided to start this program, we were hoping for at least 12 applications for 10 volunteers spots; for the first round, we had 50+ applications! It was amazing and showed us that there is such a need for these young, avid readers to have a place with their “people” to feel comfortable and be with like-minded readers. Being around this talented group really provides hope for the future of literature.

MUF: Do you have any events or activities coming up that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Dianne: We have just started a program for 7 to 12-year olds we call the Linden Tree Page Turners. We have an RSVP list of 50 readers who come to the store to be interviewed about what they love to read! They share their favorite books, give us their thoughts, and we turn them around into a newsletter for adults who want to know what kids are reading. We are really looking forward to seeing what sort of information they share with us.

MUF: I believe you also carry puppets, games, and other book-related items at Linden Tree What are some favorites?
Dianne: The puppets and stuff animals are very popular, especially those with a tie-in with a book, like: the new -Knuffle Bunny, Uni the Unicorn, etc-  o the classic -Lyle, the kid from Snowy Day. Madeline- to the glorious mix of both: Max and Ruby, and all the Boynton stuffies. The Folkmanis brand of puppets sell very well at our store. Also, puzzles, coloring books, origami and magic trick sets are popular. Harry Potter themed sidelines always have a customer base.

MUF: If a family came to Los Altos to visit your store, would there be family-friendly places for them to have lunch or a snack after shopping? And if they could stay a little longer, are there unique family activities or sights nearby they shouldn’t miss?
Dianne: Los Altos has a very inviting downtown. To start with, we are next door to a fabulous bakery, Manresa that features a seasonal selection of handmade breads and pastries as well as a full expresso and tea shop. There is also a unique family friendly restaurant called Bumble. Bumble is a local organic restaurant created for locals and families to gather and enjoy a healthy meal and relax with friends over coffee or a glass of wine while children can check in a bright, sunny Playroom.  Their menu serves brunch and midday cafe offerings and changes seasonally to make the most of locally sourced, organic ingredients.  Also within a block of our store is a skateboard store (Skateworks) several outdoor art sculptures and plenty of sidewalk benches and two ice-cream establishments.

MUF: Thanks, Diane for telling us about your shop and for sharing so many of your favorite titles!  Readers, why not celebrate National Independent Book Store Day this Saturday by visiting Linden Tree Books (or, if you live too far away, your nearest independent shop) and picking up some of these books?