Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Indie Spotlight: Annie Bloom’s Books, Portland OR

Annie Bloom's extended logo

Portland, Oregon  is a haven for book- and  bookstore lovers, and Annie Bloom’s (www.anniebloomsbooks.com) in the charming Multnomah Village neighborhood is one of the most popular.  Today we’re talking with author/bookseller Rosanne Parry:

Annie B's interiprMixed-Up Files: Who is Annie Bloom?
Rosanne: Originally Annie Bloom’s was owned by two women. The store name is a combination of their first and last names.
Molly Bloom is our beloved store cat. She is an all black rescue cat with the perfect disposition for presiding over a bookshop. She spends much of her day in the in-basket by the register in front of the store receiving attention from customers of all ages with patience and good humor. Annie B. the cat #1She has a few hiding places throughout the store and her food is kept in the basement office, so if she grows tired of the adoration of our customers she has places to escape. She lives in the store full time and is particularly fond of author readings. She often comes to sit among the guests and sometimes steals the show by parading back and forth in front of the author.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere at Annie Bloom’s. If a ten- or eleven-year old came in for the first time, what would you want his or her experience to be?
Rosanne: Our middle grade section has its own cozy corner in reach of the younger chapter books for kids who are reading up and not far from YA for those who enjoy the occasional foray into older titles. There’s a shelf for new arrivals, and one dedicated to graphic novels of all kinds. My particular favorite is the spinning rack of unabridged classics because MG is the perfect age to discover The Secret Garden, Treasure Island, Sherlock Holmes, annie bloom's sherlockAnne of Green Gables,screenshot_212Annie Bloom's Anne of Gree Tom Sawyer and so many others.annie B's treasure island

MUF: Best-selling adult and children’s author James Patterson has been giving away money recently to support independent bookstores. Congratulations to Annie Blooms for being one of the ones he has chosen! How have you used your windfall?
Rosanne: We’ve completely updated our computer system. It’s been a huge help. Keeping up with the technology is hard for any small business so the Patterson grant was terrific.

MUF: In a small bookshop, there is only room for good books. How do you decide what titles to carry?
Roseanne: The final decisions about book purchases are made by our buyer, but one of the real assets to the store is our staff of more than 20 avid readers. We are a general bookshop carrying fiction, non-fiction, poetry and prose, literary and genre, NS adult’s and children’s titles. No one person could possibly be on top of all those choices so staff members have a balance of favorite areas and help our buyer stay on top of both the great new books and the classics we should always have on hand.
In order to maximize our offerings we usually only carry 1-3 copies of a book. But we order books for customers all the time. If a book is in print we can almost always get it in 2 or 3 days.Annie B's I don't remember the cover

MUF: And how do you help people find books they will love?
Rosanne: Helping a customer find the book is often a group effort, brainstorming a book similar to something the customer already loves, or searching through our data bases for a beloved story when the customer can’t remember the exact title or author’s name. Just yesterday we helped a mom looking for a poetry collection to share with her 12 year old. She had already read most of the good children’s collections and wasn’t quite ready for Mary Oliver or Emily Dickinson. We thought about William Stafford and Billy Collins and Annie Bloom's poisoned applesRobert Frost who many young readers enjoy but wanted a woman poet and after a bit of searching remembered Poisoned Apples by Christine Hepperman, a collection of poems based on the Grimm’s fairy tales and exploring the toxicity of the beauty culture for young women—perfect for sparking lots of important conversations between a mom and daughter and spot on for middle school.
Perhaps best of all we strive to encourage lengthy browsingMolly B the Cat relaxing Annie B's cozy loftwith free coffee, comfy chairs and plenty of unsung gems and local interest books mixed in with the latest best sellers.

MUF: As middle grade authors, we have to ask: what titles, new or old, fiction or non-fiction, do you find yourself recommending most often these days to boys and girls from this age group?
: One of the pleasures of a neighborhood bookshop is the ability to champion local authors. We put a note in our computer system for local authors and mark their spots on the shelf. I love recommending Absolutely Truly Annie Bloom's Absolutely Trulyby Heather Vogel Frederick to kids who are moving up from Encyclopedia Brown. It’s been all joy to see Victoria Jamison’s graphic novel Roller Girl Annie Bloonm's Roller Girltake off, not just locally but nationally. Fans of Raina Telgemeier love it. Other middle grade authors who live in the neighborhood include Graham Salisbury, Susan Fletcher, Laini Taylor, Robin Herrera, Lisa Schroeder, Barry Deutsch, and Roland Smith.
Yesterday someone came in looking for the Little House books and considering reading them aloud to her second grader. I suggested she give Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich a try instead. Annie Bloom's Brchbark HouseHelping people broaden their horizons to excellent books with a lower profile and more diverse titles is also one of the great joys of working in a bookstore.
I also have to give a shout out to the wonderful school librarians who put together the Oregon Battle of the Books list every year. We have a shelf dedicated to books that are on the list, and especially for those of our booksellers who are not widely read in children’s lit, so they can be confident recommending OBOB books all year long. They are some of our best-loved books in the store and many continue to sell long after their OBOB year.

These 8th-graders have dropped in to read to each other from old picture-book favorites

These 8th-graders have dropped in to read to each other from old picture-book favorites

MUF: If families from across town or out of town make the trip to visit Annie Bloom’s, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood for them to get a snack or visit after browsing?
We are a neighborhood shop so many kids who come in are celebrating after their soccer or baseball game in Gabriel Park, or attending a birthday party at the Craft Factory next door. We get a steady parade of frozen yogurt from Necter across the street and home-made fudge from Hatties Candy Shop two doors down. If you’re in the Village for Thinker Toys, then Annie Bloom’s is the spot to get the perfect book go along with the toy. And many a young patient from Zoom Care stops by for a graphic novel to read on their day off of school.Annie B's gift card

Thank you, Roseanne, for taking us inside your shop.  Readers, when you go to Portland, don’t miss this gem!

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

Blue Birds: Insights from Caroline Starr Rose

BlueBirds_CVCaroline Starr Rose is a former history teacher and author of the starred novel in verse, May B. Her new historical middle grade novel Blue Birds (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group USA, 2015) is set in 1587. It’s the honest and gripping story of Alis, one of the unwelcome English settlers on Roanoke Island. Kimi, a member of the Roanoke tribe, has lost both her father and her sister to violent attacks from the colonists. Despite language and mistrust, the two girls find friendship.

MUF: History clearly inspires you. When do you turn from research to story?

CSR: I am not an author who is oozing with plots and characters. Instead I start with an era or event that I want to explore, and I trust ideas will start to grow out of what I’m learning and from the “what if” questions I pose. I need to immerse myself in my study until I feel confident with the material. By the time I start thinking of story, it feels like a natural outgrowth of the history I’ve learned.

MUF: Alis is a brave girl, but also of her time, with chores and children to watch. And yet she is drawn outside of the protection of the settlement to the friend she has made. Tell me about building the tension Alis feels between the two worlds.

CSR: A large part of Alis stems from my exploration of my own experiences as a girl and teen. I moved back to the U.S. at the age of six, after three years in Saudi Arabia. I knew little about my own country or culture and was very much an outsider. My fifteenth year I spent on exchange in Australia. Again, when I came home, what was supposed to be familiar was actually foreign. I wanted to watch a similar tension grow in Alis, wanted her to be drawn into a new world but also come to see her own culture as an outsider might.

MUF: You really capture Alis’ joy in the natural world. I loved the wood carving and learning the word for blue bird, iachawanes. What was your inspiration?

CSR: Author Lucy Maud Montgomery was the inspiration behind Alis’s love of nature. Readers will know her as the author of the Anne Shirley and Emily Starr books. While both these characters deeply love nature, I would argue L.M. Montgomery was even more under its spell. (I’ve read her five-volume journal twice now and plan to do so every ten years. They’ve become a huge part of my writing and reading life.)

Iacháwanes was tricky. I wanted to find an animal indigenous to the Outer Banks that both girls might have encountered and that also had a known Algonquian counterpart. Because the Algonquian dialect the Roanoke and Croatoan spoke is now dead, there were a limited number of words to pick from. The eastern blue bird — iacháwanes — is actually the third bird I picked! When I found Governor John White’s beautiful watercolor (see here), I knew this was the bird my girls connected over.

MUF: You remain true to the terrible and violent history of what happened to both Native people and the white settlers but in a way that won’t frighten young readers. Did you struggle with that?

CSR: An unvarnished picture of history, one that doesn’t try to explain the ugly parts away, is always most impactful. I was worried some of these heartbreaking events might frighten young or especially sensitive readers, but at the same time I knew I couldn’t hide from what really happened. These young characters couldn’t, and I couldn’t do that to my readers, either. That said, I’m happy my publisher chose to label the book as “10 and up” rather than the typical middle grade 8-12.

MUF: There is a demand for diverse books, and yet it’s hard to write across cultures. How did you address describing the Roanoke experience?

CSR: Honestly, it was a very challenging, sometimes scary experience. I’m a non-Native author. I’ve written about two tribes that no longer exist, groups who left no written record and are the subject of very few reference materials. Have I gotten things wrong in some places? I’m almost positive I have. But I tried my very, very best to work with what I knew, as was absolutely my responsibility. It was also important to find a reader from the Lumbee tribe (possibly the modern-day descendants of the Croatoan) who was able to vet my work.

Ultimately, I had to trust my life experiences — I’ve been a girl, I know how profoundly friendship can shape a person — gave me a measure of authority to write about a character far different from me. Writing is a risky endeavor. There’s no room for playing it safe.

MUF: Verse expresses beautifully the connection between Alis and Kimi, especially when there are so few words they share in common. Why did you choose to write in verse?

CSR: I knew from the start this book would be in verse, partly because that’s what I’m comfortable with, partly because I find it such a great way to write historical fiction. Verse gives a reader immediate access to a character and her world. The extraneous is stripped away.

Once I realized the story needed to be told in both girls’ voices, verse added another layer of communication through stanza and line placement on the page. As the girls are drawn together, the words are, too. Verse is magical this way.

MUF: You have a picture book out soon too! Will you continue to write novels in verse?

CSR: Yes! Over in the Wetlands releases this July. Though my next historical novel, a story about the Klondike Gold Rush, is written in prose, I definitely will write verse again. I’m learning to listen to the best way a story can be told. Ideally I figure this out before I begin drafting!

Meet Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Welcome Carol Weston, author of the new novel AVA AND TACO CAT. On top of her middle grade novel writing career, Weston is also the “Dear Carol” advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine and a prodigious letter writer to The New York Times (40 published and counting). She’s here to discuss palindromes, Judy Blume and where she got the inspiration for Ava’s hometown.

Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Why kids’ books?
Back in college, when I studied French and Spanish literature, I dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t imagine that I’d find my voice while impersonating a fifth grader. And yet I am so happy that after numerous magazine articles and books for teens and adults, I started writing for children. When my own daughters were little, I wrote a series about Melanie Martin and her brother Matt the Brat, and now I tell the tales of Ava Wren and her sister Pip and their word-nerd parents. Melanie lived in Manhattan; Ava lives in Misty Oaks.

Why Misty Oaks?
For 21 years, I’ve been the Dear Carol advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine. About five years ago, I received a snail mail letter and I remember noticing that the return address was “Misty Oaks.” Misty Oaks! It is evocative, isn’t it? Somehow a seed was planted. When I’m overwhelmed with my real life, I tell my husband, “I’m going to Misty Oaks,” then head into our daughter Emme’s room–now our guest room–and I wrestle with the latest manuscript. Fiction writing is hard work but oddly calming too.

Did you say Emme?
Yes! Emme is our second daughter. It’s not Emma or Emily; it’s Emme. When she was ten and grownups misheard her name, I’d sometimes hear her say, “It’s E-M-M-E. It’s a palindrome.” Maybe that planted a seed too! Note: Emme is now a grownup herself and she’s an important reader for me. I’m about to hand her the third Ava book, AVA XOX, to get her notes and input. It’s wonderfully lucky to have trusted family members read a manuscript before my “real” editors. Emme gives me great feedback and knows she can say, “This page doesn’t work” and that I will still love her to pieces.

Ava and Taco Cat

Ava and Taco Cat

What can you tell us about the new book?
In AVA AND TACO CAT (note the palindrome!), fifth grade Ava really really wants a cat, but when she and Pip sneak into the rescue center, complications begin. Ava becomes obsessed with her new pet, and her semi-neglected best friend Maybelle ends up making a new friend. This is hard on Ava (as it is on so many kids that age). To distract herself, Ava starts collaborating with Pip on a picturebook about fish. Ava rhymes and Pip draws, and they have high hopes that it will get published. But nope, nothing is that easy and there are lots of twists and turns before things work out.

Things work out?
Hey, it’s a kids’ book! One of my favorite things about writing for kids is that it’s not like a Shakespeare play where you almost expect corpses to litter the stage at the end. No way. Lots of page-turning adventures, but when you are reading a book for kids, spoiler alert, things usually do turn out okay.

Even for their picturebook?
Oh no! Alphabet Fish does not go the distance. Nor should it. Truth told, I found a similarly fishy manuscript in an old file in my filing cabinet –so maybe I did aspire to write for kids sooner than I’d remembered. But without telling you much more, let me say that when Ava finally starts to write about a subject closer to her heart, the story she tells finds a much wider audience. Including one person who–oops, I’d better stop before I spill too much!

Carol Weston and kids meet Judy Blume

Carol Weston and kids meet Judy Blume

Is there one living children’s book author you admire?
There are many! But Judy Blume is right up there. Here’s a photo of her with me back when my girls were… girls.






Want more Carol? Here she is with her cat talking about Ava and her cat.

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.