Tag Archives: middle-grade readers

Hana Hou! Middle Grade Fiction About Hawaii

Fine and colorful picture books about Hawaii abound, as do adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, and there are a fair number of YA novels.  But what if a middle grader wants to curl up with a good novel set in Hawaii? These are few, but still there are some engaging choices.screenshot_1692

Graham Salisbury’s books stand out. Most are set in Kona on the island of Hawaii where he grew up, and they draw in part on family stories.   Under the Blood Read Sun (Yearling Reprint, 1995) is the story of a young Japanese American boy, Tomi, and his haole (Caucasian) friend Billy just before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Under the Blood-red Sun has just been made into a moving locally-produced and acted film that was featured at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival in May. I predict it will be the talk of film festivals all over when it is released  September 14. A twentieth-anniversary edition of the book will also appear in September.

Well okay, maybe Under the Blood Red Sun is technically YA because the main boy characters are thirteen, but the actor who plays Billy first read and loved the book when he was eight.  Also launching September 14 is the fourth and latest book in that WWII series, Hunt for the Bamboo Rat.  In it a 17-year-old Japanese  boy from Hawaii undergoes harrowing experiences as an undercover agent for the U.S. Army in the Philippines during the War.screenshot_1691

Among my other favorites of Salisbury’s books are Jungle Dogs (Yearling, 1999) in which a boy must overcome his fear of the wild dogs along his paper route and learn to hold his own with troublemakers at school, and Night of the Howling Dogs (Wendy Lamb Books, 2007), based on a true story of a boy whose courage

Hawaii MG #5 Hawaii MG #8Hawaii MG #6and leadership are put to an extreme test when his Boy Scout troupe is caught first in an earthquake and then in a tsunami while camping in a remote spot below the volcano.

Throughout his career, Salisbury has worked with one editor, Wendy Lamb, and this has proved a winning collaboration. In addition to MG and YA novels, Salisbury has written a collection of stories called Island Boyz (Wendy Lamb Books, 2002), full of the rich flavor of island life and the inter-kid relations and negotiations that are so much part of growing up in the islands. For those on the younger end of Middle Grade, he has also recently published an amusing series of books about Calvin Coconut, a boy character who lives in Kailua on the island of Oahu, where Graham also once lived and went to school.

Shan Correa’s Gaff (Peachtree, 2010) gives a glimpse into the semi-secret world of cockfighting, a rural island tradition Hawaii MG #7many visitors are hardly aware exists. Seventh-grader Paul Silva, whose disabled father raises fighting cocks for a living, thinks the birds are magnificent. But he has been sheltered from the nature of the fighting, and once he sees it first-hand, he vows to get his father out. A poignant story of courage and coming-of-age.

For mystery/thriller-lovers, try P.J. Neri’s Hawaii Chiller series (Bess Press) if you can find them, or Elaine Masters’ Thief in Chinatown (Island Hertiage, 1998).

Want something intriguing kids can sink their teeth into (or vice versa)? Don’t miss the exciting new Niuhi Shark Saga trilogy. Hawaii, with all its myths and ghosts and traditions, would seem an ideal fermenting ground for middle-grade fantasy, but whoever writes it needs to be well versed in the stories already here before making anything up or they’ll be off-pitch. HawaiiMG #3

Now we have we have Lehua Parker who grew up in the islands, knows the old tales, knows island people and life, and lets all reverberate through her own very original, page-turning books. MG Hawaii #2Two have been published: One Boy, No Water (Jolly Fish, 2012) and One Shark, No Swim (Jolly Fish, 2013).  A third will come out in 2015. In the series, 11-year old Zader has been adopted as a newborn under strange circumstances into a family of surfers and fishermen. Trouble is, he’s allergic to water, and when he eats raw seafood he has haunting dreams. His Uncle Kahana, a marvelous combination of mystic and down-home, no-nonsense elder, knows a lot more than he’s telling about Zader’s origins and destiny. Suspense and humor guaranteed.

Let’s hope, with the success of these books, there will be many more in the future for middle-grade readers to enjoy!

 

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011) and My Dog Has Flies, Poetry for Hawaii’s Kids (BeachHouse, 2005)

Indie Spotlight: Bank Street Bookstore, New York City

Bankstreet storefront Many independent children’s bookstores cooperate closely with educators and provide resources for them. Today we’re talking with manager Ann Levine 0f Bank Street Bookstore in New York City(www.bankstreetbooks.com),which has actually been linked with  a famous college of education from the beginning.

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: Describe the atmosphere of your store.  What do you hope people will experience when they visit?

Ann: Bank Street Bookstore is located in Morningside Heights, a wonderful New York neighborhood filled with many cultural and educational institutions. The store has two levels: picture books, early readers, puzzles, and games are on the first floor; fiction, science, biography, history, poetry, and chapter books are on the second floor.  bank street interiorBy New York City standards, the store is quite large, but we still manage to fill every square inch with wonderful books and toys for children. Our front window display changes regularly to reflect seasons, holidays, events, local authors/illustrators, and community events of interest to our customers and neighbors. Upstairs are several window seats for cozy reading, and chairs for small reading groups that can be placed in the open space between shelving units. We always try to look up when customers enter the store so they feel they are being greeted personally. Customers are usually genuinely happy to enter the store, especially after they are greeted by a friendly staff member. Young shoppers are given lots of book ideas and much independence to browse and read for long (or short) stretches.

What is your store’s connection with Bank Street College of Education? 
Ann: The bookstore is an affiliate of Bank Street College of Education, as is the Bank Street School for Children for students from pre-k through grade 8. Through the years the mix of merchandise has changed and adapted. We used to carry far more text books, but that part of the business has changed fairly dramatically so we carry fewer books for coursework than in the past. We maintain a wide range of books for educators on theory and practice as well as many parenting books. Some of the teacher resource books are published by Bank Street College. Classroom materials are available, especially in the fall as teachers return to their classrooms.

MUF: How do you choose the books to carry at Bank Street?  What are some titles, fiction or nonfiction, that you are particularly recommending to middle-grade readers at the moment?
Ann: The selection is finely curated by manager Andy Laties, whose experience is broad and deep.  Andy is assisted by an able staff who know and love children’s books.  Our staff members love children and books, and they apply their experience with both each time they read, review, and recommend a title. Not content to stick to the bestsellers, our staff members are constantly reading in an effort to find the perfect books for each customer and every situation. broad and deep. We maintain a solid back list while keeping current with many new titles. Customers are encouraged to attend special events featuring authors and illustrators Bank Street Counting by 7swho have new releases. Bank Stfreet Real BoySome favorites at the moment are Bank Stree Capurnia Tate“Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, “The Year of Billy Miller” by Kevin Henkes, “Flora and Ulysses” by Kate DiCamillo, “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate, “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” by Jacqueline Kelly, “Counting by 7s” by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and “The Real Boy” by Anne Ursu.

MUF:  Ann, yours is the first shop we’ve seen that regularly puts on puppet shows.  Please tell us something about “Fractured Fables.”

Yippee SkippeeAnn: Andy Laties is also our number one storyteller and puppeteer. “Fractured Fables” are staged every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. They are popular with all ages and have become a welcome activity for families in the neighborhood. Andy and Rebecca Migdal are seasoned pros who use their talents to improvise with well-known tales. They also add musical accompaniment. Children get to pick the stories by pulling a title from a hat, which helps engage their interest and participation. Often special guest authors or illustrators interact with the puppets. Please visit the Fractured Fables Facebook Page for announcements and updates. To see entire shows, go to the Yippee Skippy Puppet Theater Website.

MUF: Any special events for middle-graders coming up?

Julie Sternberg

Julie Sternberg

Carol Weston

Carol Weston

Bank St. Carrot JuiceAnn:  Next week on Saturday, April 5 we’ll have “Novels About Girls,” with guest authors Carol Weston and Julie Steinberg.  Carol Weston’s novel about sisters, Ava and Pip, is first in a series that is charming and full of humor and word play.  Carol has written an advice column for screenshot_1351Girls’ Life magazine since 1994. You will have the chance to “meet” the main characters.  Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake is the third in Julie Sternberg’s middle-grade series about  a thoroughly modern girl adjusting to change.

MUF:  There is so much to see and learn in and about New York!  If a family comes to Bank Street Bookstore from out of town, what are some of the books and games you carry that could help them enjoy their visit?
Ann: We always carry interesting books about New York — and many of them are by New York authors and illustrators.  Out-of-towners often find just what they need to help them understand the “New York Bank St. Hello New Yorkstate of mind.” Among the many are A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbin; Mannahattan: A Natural History of New York City, by Eric Sanderson and Markley Boyer; Hello, New York: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Buroughs,by Julia Rothman; Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton; and New York City Guided Activity Journal, by Mariko Jesse.   We also have New York themed toys and games including subway train models, New York City Yahtzee, and New York City Monopoly.

MUF:  Are there family-friendly places nearby where visitors could stroll or get a snack or a meal after browsing at Bank Street Books?
Ann: Just outside our door is a wide range of choices for families: from Pinkberry frozen yogurt to the Columbia University campus; from Riverside Church to the Hungarian Pastry Shop; from Morningside Park to the Hudson River.

Bank Street Book Card

MUF: Thanks, Ann,  for talking with us!  Readers who’ve been fortunate to visit this fine bookstore, or those who think they would like to, please leave a comment below.

Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborned UK 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Spotlight: When Pigs Fly

FP Store front OPEN

Children’s book fans are in for a treat this month as we chat with Elizabeth Bluemle, co-founder of the fabled Flying Pig Bookstore (www.flyingpigbooks.com) in Shelburne VT.

Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files: Your book shop is rated tops by children’s book lovers and authors all over the country. What, do you think, makes the Flying Pig fly so high?
Elizabeth: Thanks so much for the compliment! We love books, of course, and the people who make them, and I think that shows. We also respect and get a kick out of kid readers of all ages, and I hope that shows, too. We are also incredibly lucky to have a great staff of friendly, knowledgeable, helpful booksellers.Flying Pig painting

MUF: How did the Flying Pig come to be?
Elizabeth: Josie Leavitt and I  met in New York, where we worked  for Literacy Volunteers of NYC. Josie had a high school English teaching degree from Columbia Teachers College, and I had my master’s in elementary education from Bank Street. We moved to Vermont planning to teach and write, but then a little storefront became available in our tiny town. The nearest bookstore was 45 minutes away, and we got a bug to open one. The next two and half months were spent in a fever of preparation; we divided and conquered, and in November of 1996, we opened our doors with 6,500 books and big, exhausted smiles. Ten years later, we moved to a larger space in the next town, and now have about 28,000 books on hand in this location (Shelburne, VT), where we’ve been for seven years. (Readers can learn more about our beginnings in this Horn Book article.)Elizabeth and Josie

MUF: Describe the atmosphere of your shop.
Elizabeth:What we strive for is a charming, chock-full but restfully organized, cheerful space with friendly booksellers who are helpful when help is desired but don’t hover about the patrons. There’s a lot of laughter in the store, as well as enthusiastic book recommending, and we often hear from people that they like to come in when they’ve had a hard day. That’s such a lovely thing to hear. What I hope is that we create an environment where all people feel welcome, and where all kids — even and especially those who think of themselves as reluctant readers — know they can find a relaxed place to discover books they really will love.FP aisles with hearts

MUF:  “Restfully organized”—what a great phrase.  How do you choose what books to carry in your shop?
Elizabeth:We read and we talk. We read reviews, we read advance copies of books that publishers generously send out ahead of publication, we talk to publishers’ sales reps (a well-read sales rep who also understands the store’s ‘slant’ is a treasure!) and we share recommendations with fellow booksellers. One resource I have loved for years is the NECBA Review Project, a biannual collection of book reviews written by New England Children’s Booksellers Association members. It is enormously helpful for flagging titles that might have flown under our radar. And, we also learn about great books from customers.  As for choosing what actually ends up on our shelves, well, that’s art and science combined. We choose what we personally love, and we pay attention to what our customers request and order. We use bestseller lists, especially the New England Bestseller list, which is more in line with our readership, as well as NPR and New York Times Book Review recommendations. We also look at what our bookstore compatriots are selling in order to pick up promising titles we may have missed.Every indie bookstore has its personality and flavor. screenshot_1233It’s one of the joys of owning a store. I can stock some quirky title I love that no one’s ever heard of and keep it on the shelf forever if I want to. Now, if I don’t sell it, that’s not good business, so of course I have to remember to recommend those little gems to customers. The bookstore selection is also heavily influenced by its staff; our adult poetry sales skyrocketed 600% when one staffer started working here. And the demographics and regional tastes of the customers who live near the bookstore have a huge effect, too. One town might have a lot more readers asking for classic literature than another. But I do believe that most readers are flexible and will try just about anything recommended thoughtfully and enthusiastically by a trusted source.

MUF: If an 11-year old comes into the Flying Pig and asks for “a good book,” what happens?
Elizabeth: Oooh, while I love YA books, middle grade is my sweet spot. The books that formed me as a human being were mostly the ones I read between 6 and 12. Is that true? Let’s just say that those books were indeed formative, and beloved. So when an eleven-year-old comes in asking for a good book, I ask them for a few titles they’ve loved recently, I ask what kind of reading mood they think they’re in, trying to gauge whether they want adventure, a mystery, something spooky, sad, a cozy book, a book to make them laugh, a book that shows them a whole new world, a book that sweeps them away to another time or place in history, etc. Where the Mountain Meets the MoonOnce I have a sense of the reader’s range of tastes and current mood, I’ll booktalk five or six titles (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the situation) so that they have a nice little stack to choose from. I shoot for plenty of options without being overwhelming — so sometimes that means I only show two or three books to kids who have a hard time with too many choices.
The whole experience is a conversation, so my ideas about what to recommend often change as I go, based on the reactions my booktalks receive in the moment. While kids are generally open to many kinds of books, they often also have some intolerances, usually temporary but very definite. For instance, a few kids just will NOT read books that don’t seem contemporary. Others are allergic to any hint of romance. Some hate talking animals. Part of the great joy of matching books to readers is trying to find the right book at the right time, while perhaps also broadening a child’s notion of what he or she likes.Fortunately the milk

MUF: What nonfiction and fiction titles, new and old, do you find yourselves recommending to middle-grade readers these Lost Children of the Far Islandsdays?
Elizabeth: We recommend everything from old, old favorites like Understood Betsy, The Saturdays, and Swallows and Amazons, to more recent favorites like Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Gordon Korman’s Swindle, and Rebecca Stead’s Where You Reach Me, to books that were published yesterday. So many books, to so many readers! For recent books, we’ve been on fire with Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk, Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck, and Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses. Nonfiction hits have included The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner and Locomotive by Brian Floca. Dolphins of Shark BayPig-talesFor a great sense of what we have been featuring in the store, here’s a link to our most recent newsletter, Pig-Tales, which rounds up many of our favorite books from 2013. There are scads of recent favorites in it, and we are feeling very pleased for having included so many books that ended up winning awards!

MUF:Who are some middle grade authors you have hosted at Flying Pig?
Elizabeth: We’ve been so lucky with our guests! We’ve hosted so many fantastic writers, including Norton Juster, Kate DiCamillo, Christopher Paul Curtis, Katherine Paterson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Shannon Hale, Annie Barrows, Lois Lowry, Cynthia Lord, Grace Lin, Linda Sue Park, Kate Messner, Linda Urban, Rebecca Rupp, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Phoebe Stone, Brandon Mull, Catherine Jinx, Matt Myklusch, “Erin Hunter,” Tom Angleberger, and so many, many more. It’s a wonderful field we’re in, isn’t it?FP thank you note

MUF: Any special events coming up at your shop that will be of interest to kids in this age group?
Elizabeth:  We are nailing down dates as we speak. One of the most exciting events we have coming up is the launch party for a debut novel by our very first employee, Emily Raabe, whose Lost Children of the Far Islands is coming out from Knopf in April. We also can’t wait for warmer weather to host some “Survivor”-esque games with Chris Tebbetts, co-author (with Jeff Probst) of the Stranded series. Cecil Castellucci may be paying us a visit, as well as Sarah Albee, Erica Perl, and lots of others. Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for events as they unfold. I have to say, writing these answers has made me want to plan a whole bunch of middle grade events!

Sheburne Farms

Sleigh ride at Shelburne Farms

MUF: If a family visited your shop from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby to get a bite to eat after browsing? And if they could spend all day or more in Shelburne, are there other unique attractions they should be sure not miss?
Elizabeth: Shelburne is one of Vermont’s most-visited towns, because of the extraordinary indoor-outdoor Shelburne Museum (now open year-round), Shelburne Farms, and the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, all within a couple of miles of the store. Families can get a tasty bite to eat right next door to the bookstore at the Next Door Bakery and Cafe or at Rustic Roots or Harrington’s up the road, as well as delicious hot drinks, wine, and baked goods across the street at Village Wine and Coffee. We’re also just a few doors down from the wonderful Shelburne Country Store. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. There’s a LOT to see, do, and eat in Shelburne!

Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing  some of the thoughts behind the children’s book gem you and Josie have created at Flying Pig.  Readers, if you have visited this shop or think you would like to, please leave a comment.  And if you live close by, why not drop in —especially if you’ve had a hard day!

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