Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Indie Spotlight: TreeHouse Books, Ashland OR

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: It’s always a pleasure to feature a true children’s book shop! We are talking today with Jane Almquist and Cynthia Salbato, shopkeepers and creators of the Secret Book Club at TreeHouse Books(www.TreeHouseAshland.com).

 MUF: Treehouse Books has made the Best Bookstores in Oregon list, and Ann Patchett recently named it in her list of 26 bookstore favorites nationally. Brag a little. What do you think has made your shop so successful?
Jane & Cynthia: We have a 39 year old history and deep connection to our community. TreeHouse was founded by teachers and then nurtured through a lineage of owners passionate about children’s literature. The secret to our success? We excel at filling up a very tiny bookstore with a wide selection of carefully curated books, we have strong relationships with the area schools and Oregon Shakespeare patrons, and we have our own line of story themed Art Kits and community events.

Jane & Cynthia, aka Owl and Raven

MUF: Visitors to Treehouse Books describe it as unique, magical, and full of color.What atmosphere have you tried to create and what do you want customers to experience?
Jane & Cynthia:
We are a bridge between the world of the imagination and ordinary reality.  Both Jane and Cynthia grew up in the backyard of Disneyland, and Disney’s ‘lands’ were hugely impactful. Instead of Fantasyland, we have the Wizard Apothecary. Instead of Tomorrowland, we have the Secret World Vault. It helps that so many authors have created such vivid worlds for us to borrow from. Our Wizard Supplies section owes much to JK Rowling, as does our Book Vault for Young Adult readers. The mythic and faery realms are also well represented. Each genre or reading level is the entrance into a different ‘land’.
We love to encourage our guests to be their most magical selves while they are in Ashland, and to take some of that enchantment with them into their everyday lives. We ourselves love to be in our personas of LadyJane Owl and Cynthia Ravenwich when we are at the shop!
MUF: A number of independent bookstores have book clubs for kids, but your Secret Book Club for middle readers has developed into something wonderful called the Wizard Academy that includes monthly story games and involves the community. Tell us about that. What games are planned for this spring? What are your plans to expand the program?
Jane & Cynthia:
Merging story genres with community games, we have created a story-based calendar of events featuring 12 themed story games, a game for each month of the year.   The year starts with Time Travel, our science fiction game that also doubles as a goal setting game. In February we read animal stories and play Care of Creatures, a community kindness game.  March is our Wizard Academy. April is mystery, May is fairy tales and so forth. We are working with Matthew Beers, a software developer to take these games online and to other communities.

MUF: Please tell us about your story-themed art kits.
Jane & Cynthia:
 TreeHouse celebrates reading, writing and creating. The Art Kits are the hands-on creating part of our mission. Reading is a wonderful pastime, expanding our hearts and minds. The kits take that expanded heart and mind and put it into action and activate a kid’s own creativity. As kids we loved to “create somethings out of nothings” as LadyJane likes to say.  We put together fun supplies and offer some possibilities with a story theme, and then leave it up to each creator to come up with their own personal creations.

MUF: You describe your collection as “curated.” How do you choose the books to carry in your shop?
Jane & Cynthia
:We read A LOT. We also research a lot (not as fun as reading but essential.) Our customers and community are also big readers and are always recommending titles. It takes a village to build a good bookstore! A lot of great books get missed… possibly a boring cover, or not enough publicity. There’s nothing more satisfying than discovering an undiscovered book and sharing it with readers!  We also have great book publisher reps that help us discover new gems.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we’d love to know what titles, new or old, fiction or nonfiction, do you find yourself recommending these days to ages eight through twelve ?
Jane & Cynthia:It does depend on what the reader likes… it’s very fun to match up a reader with their next favorite book! But here are the books that we have found to have universal appeal this past year:  Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jody Lynn Anderson. When the Sea Turns to Silver, by Grace Lin, The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, and Winterfrost by Michelle Houts. Then there are those authors that we know will excite readers: Brandon Mull, Maile Meloy, Colin Meloy, Kelly Barnhill (yay! She won the Newbery award!), Kate DiCamillo, and of course JK Rowling.
One of the fun things with our book club is that we get to recommend books in different genres each month. In January it was science fiction to complement our Time Travel storygame. This month we switch to animal stories to complement our Care of Creatures Kindness storygame. And in March, when we go to Wizard School, we’ll be reading Fantasy.

MUF: If a family visits Treehouse from out of town, are there family friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after shopping? And if they can stay longer, are there some sights and activities they shouldn’t miss?
Jane & Sylvia
:  Ashland is tiny but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival assures we have lots of visitors so good restaurants are easy to find. Standing Stone and Granite Tap House are two pubs that cater to families. Granite Tap House has just installed a game room and we may be collaborating with them in the future for story themed parties. Martolli’s is a family owned business that sells the best handmade pizza. There is always a big group of students in there and they offer ‘by the slice’ or full pies.
Just half a block from our store is the entrance to Lithia Park, one of our favorite places in Ashland.   The park features a couple of miles of trails along Ashland Creek which runs through the middle of the park.  There is also a playground, the Japanese Garden, some tennis courts, a bandshell, duck ponds, and ice skating in the winter months. For longer stays, OSF is actually very family friendly and student focused. At least one play every season is a rollicking comedy, and one is a big broadway style musical production. Last year we saw a family friendly production of The Wiz, and we’re looking forward to Beauty and the Beast this year. TreeHouse is right across the street from the theaters! Science Works Hands On Museum is a great family place. Don’t miss the Bubble Room!And Southern Oregon is famous for its outdoor activities. World class rafting  in summer and skiing and ice skating in winter are just a few of the outdoor activities for families. Emigrant Lake has a water slide and our neighboring town of Medford has a family fun center with mini golf, go carts, bumper boats and arcade.  The world famous Crater Lake is a great day trip which should include a stop at the Rogue River Gorge in Union Creek.

MUF:  Sounds like a great town for kids growing up, especially with such a dynamic bookstore at its heart!  Thanks for sharing some of the details.  Readers, have you visited this shop?

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

A Valentine to Our Favorite Books

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Mixed-Up Files team shares the middle grade books they love the most. Share your loves in the comments section! 

“As an adult I really enjoyed Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Mackall. Truly heartwarming story about loving yourself, having a positive outlook, and being kind. I cry just thinking about it!”
Amie Borst

 

 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. How can you not love a book about a gorilla who paints?”
—Natalie Rompella 

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages is a perfect blend of emotional journey, immersive history and science on both a large (nuclear physics) and small (inquisitive kid) scale.”
—Jacqueline Jaeger Houtman

 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume sparked my love of reading and writing. It was one of my favorite books as a child, became even more special when I saw it through the eyes of my own children, and will remain one of the most beloved books for the rest of my life.”
—Mindy Alyse Weiss  

“I love Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan for its messages of hope, recovering from a tragedy, and learning to rely on your inner strength.”
Michele Weber Hurwitz  

“I loved Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin for Rose’s indomitable spirit, despite the challenges she faces.”
Beth Von Ancken McMullen

“I love the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott. I have read it several times, and in fact, am now re-reading it again. It is filled with mystery, fantasy, and tons of historical figures. The way he weaves history, science, magic and fantasy together is just stupendous. Makes me lose myself in his world every time I read it.”
Jen Swanson

“Two of my favorite books are perfect for Valentine’s Day because they are both love letters in story form. My childhood favorite, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl is the world’s best love letter to dads. More recently, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is a heartfelt love-letter to teachers.”
—Julie Artz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’ve got to give two as well… one to an old love, and another to a new one! Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising is probably THE book that made me want to become an author. Seeing Will grow and become capable of surviving meant so much to me at the time. And more recently, Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy tugged at my heart in a way few books can. Seeing a kid who thinks he’s broken discover that people can love him for who he is… that’s love.”
—Sean Easley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to give two too!! Also, like Sean, I’ve got old and new.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle will always always hold a special place in my heart because tesseracts are fascinating science and Meg Murray. I always want to read about a brave and smart girl. And A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd because magic, mystery, family, and finding your home are themes I will read again and again. Plus the language is so so beautiful!!”
Heather Murphy Capps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“To choose just one is hard, but I’ll go with Bridget Hodder’s The Rat Prince. I just adored how she used the rat’s POV to share the familiar tale, and there’s even a teeny bit of romance in there.”
Sheri Larsen

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary! And more recently, Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. Lovable Ramona doesn’t always behave, which is very refreshing in a character. Connor’s character Addie has a way of being upbeat in the face of terrible odds. She’s resourceful in the most heartbreaking way.
Phyllis Shalant

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, a deep and sensitive dive into the heart of a boy. I love everything about this book and the spare language Schmidt uses to communicate so much.”
Amber J. Keyser

“Amber stole mine. But I refuse to change my answer, so put me down for Okay for Now, as well. It made me laugh. It made me cry. And sometimes it did both within the span of a single page.”
TP Jagger

“I have to second Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.”
Dori Hillestad Butler

“My latest favorite is Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan for its use of POV switches and voice.”
—Jenn Skovira Brisendine

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Now? If I have to choose just one I’d say Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. SO powerful – feelings like a punch to the chest – but real and hopeful and so true to how kids feel things.”
Valerie Stein

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Why? Because it’s a beautifully written, Jungle Book-inspired tale with ghosts and ghouls and creatures of the night fighting the man Jack who means to harm the orphan Bod. All in an ancient burial ground/cemetery. And it starts with the multiple homicide of Bod’s family by Jack. An exceptional book at all turns and it landed perfectly in my literature sweet spot.”
Michael Hays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My favorite that I discovered as an adult is Skellig by David Almond. I really think it’s the perfect book–spare, lovely, magical, and with so much heart. As a kid, my favorite was Anne of Green Gables, which I am loving all over again now that I’m reading it aloud to my 8-year-old redhead.”Kate Manning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“On the fantasy side, I still love the Harry Potter books and on the historical fiction side, Blood on the River James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone. It’s a story about the founding of James Town. It kept my 5th grade class riveted in their seats.”
—Robyn Oleson Gioia

 

The Naked Mole-Rat Letters by Mary Amato has stolen hearts in my family. My daughter has read it more times than I can count. And she cries every time.”
Louise Galveston  

 

 

 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume is THE book of my tween years–Blume gets kids of a certain age so perfectly right. What a gift!”
—Andrea Pyros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.

Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

Today we welcome to the blog Caroline Starr Rose, whose rollicking adventure story, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, comes out tomorrow!

Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.

Onboard the ship, Jasper hears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who’s long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.

In an endearing, funny, pitch-perfect middle grade voice, Caroline Starr Rose tells another stellar historical adventure young readers will long remember.

Why do you write historical fiction? Why do you think kids like to read it?

I always enjoyed history in school, but never felt particularly smart when it came to “knowing” history. There was just too much to master. Historical fiction was my true entry point into understanding the past. It went deeper and wider than a handful of paragraphs in a textbook and made history come alive for me. I’d like to think it does the same for young readers today!

I had never heard of the Klondike gold rush before reading this book. How did you first learn of it, and where did you go to research it?

I didn’t know much about it myself, honestly. When I was researching frontier women for my novel, May B., my mom loaned me a book called Women of the Klondike. My interest was piqued. News that gold had been discovered in this far-off corner of Canada inspired 100,000 people from around the world to try and make the treacherous journey to the goldfields. Somehow, my only school memory connected to this piece of history was Jack London’s short story, “To Build a Fire.”

I start all my historical research by checking out children’s non-fiction on a particular subject. These books provide a quick overview and often point me to more detailed reads through their bibliographies. Jasper represents the very first time I’ve visited a place connected with my fiction. My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise during the summer of 2015. My only request was that we stop in Skagway, a town which is featured in the story. We were able to take a tour around town led by a Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park ranger. Talk about a meaningful moment!

How cool! What are some fun stories or facts you found in your research that you weren’t able to include?

Oh, man. There were so many. I included a good number of real Klondike nicknames in the book, but I collected a whole lot more: Snake Hips Lulu, Limejuice Lil, Billy the Horse, Hamgrease Jimmy, and the Evaporated Kid, who was “so small he looked like a bottle with hips.” Cannibal was the nickname of a man who ate raw moose meat. Old Maiden carried fifty pounds of old newspapers with him because “they were handy to refer to when you get into an argument.”

Swiftwater Bill Gates was so rich he occasionally bathed in wine and presented a dance hall girl with her weight in gold. It’s also been said Swiftwater Bill had only one shirt and had to go to bed while it was being washed. (I’m sure Jasper would have had an opinion on that!)

Those names are fantastic! There are a few scary scenes in this book, and I’m sure in your research you uncovered some tales of violence. How did you decide what was appropriate to include in a middle grade novel?

I can say I wanted to be truthful to Jasper’s experience while also being aware of my audience — what I felt would be appropriate. I know at one point my editor asked me how “dark” I wanted to go, that it would shape the tone of the story, but that I needed to go deeper, whatever direction I chose. My intention was to be truthful but to use a light touch and to always, always end with hope. I hope I’ve accomplished that.

You have written two beautiful novels in verse, Blue Birds and May B., and a poetic picture book, Over in the Wetlands. Jasper is a rollicking, voice-driven prose story. Why did you choose to tell this story in this way?  

I’ve kindly heard people describe my books as beautiful (thank you, by the way!), though this made me chuckle while writing Jasper. This book is decidedly not pretty, but homespun. While the specifics of the story were murky and changed over many drafts, Jasper’s voice was loud and clear. He’s based on Huckleberry Finn, so I knew I wanted to reflect Huck’s colloquial speech, his sharp observations, sweet gullibility, and tendency to speak his mind.

I knew from the beginning verse wasn’t the right fit. The book also wasn’t meant to be epistolary, as I first thought it would be. Jasper didn’t go in much for schooling, so having him write long letters to communicate the story just didn’t feel right. A traditional prose structure felt best.

How was writing this book different from writing your previous books? And how the same?

There are so many ways I could answer this! I’ll keep it simple by saying writing prose was like learning a new language, one I didn’t know very well. Scenes in prose have limitless space. I felt a little at loose ends until my editor reminded me not to rush through the story but to stay present in each moment so the reader could do the same. There was a steep learning curve with this one, and I’m so grateful for the way my editor helped direct my work.

Similarities would be my desire to make the past feel relevant, real, and interesting and to create everyday characters who are nevertheless brave. And full of heart. I love heart.

Did you have a general writing routine for this book?

My general routine for Jasper could be summed up as “write and destroy.” No writing is efficient, and this is the least efficient book I’ve ever written. I tossed two-thirds of it twice and added fifty pages right at the end. Unfortunately, my writing process seems to include understanding the story in the eleventh hour of the eleventh hour. This doesn’t make for easy work, but if I can remember I will connect the dots at the end, it keeps me believing it’s possible!

The voice here, with that striking dialect, is so strong. How did you maintain that?

All I can say is Jasper’s voice was my guiding light. I’m thankful that wasn’t subject to change as the story grew and shifted. Sure, I shaped specifics along the way — making rules for his grammar, picking certain Jasper-y expressions to use throughout, borrowing a Huck Finn word or two as a nod to Jasper’s inspiration (“disremember” is my favorite) — but his voice remained largely the same. It’s easy to slip into, like a worn, warm coat.

The relationship between Jasper and his brother Melvin is central to this story and drives much of the action. What made you want to focus on a sibling relationship? Are there sibling stories that you have enjoyed or that influenced you?

My boys, plain and simple. My husband and I are the babies in our families by a lot. I’ve always described myself as a semi-only child. So it has always been special to watch our boys, who are two years apart, interact with each other. Even when they’re annoyed, it doesn’t last long. They’re a team. They’re friends. They’re brothers. It’s a beautiful thing.

Honestly, I can’t think of any sibling books off the top of my head outside of Ramona and Beezus. In one sense, I had to pave my own way. I wanted devotion and commitment to be key to Mel and Jasper’s relationship and wanted these to remain strong, despite the conflict that comes with being siblings. Mel, as the older brother, has a deep sense of obligation for Jasper’s safety. Jasper wants to prove himself to his brother, first as someone deserving to travel to the goldfields but finally as faithful to his word. The Johnson boys are pretty great, if I do say so myself!

We agree! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Caroline!

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable,* Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices,** Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico.

*American Library Association – Association for Library Service to Children
**American Booksellers Association

Katharine Manning will henceforth be known as “Snake Hips Lulu.” She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a 2016 Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram. Her middle grade book reviews are at Kid Book List.