Tag Archives: Mockingbird Books

Indie Spotlight: Best Books for Middle-Graders? Ask Your Independent Bookseller

On recent New York Times Best Seller Lists, a time-travel adventure novel by celebrity talk show host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh ranks #1 in the Middle-Grade category, edging out a widely acclaimed favorite of the children’s lit world, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.  How, you wonder?   Less than two months after its publication, this title, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, shows over 1600 reader reviews on Amazon, and over 1400 of those are five star reviews.  This never happens.screenshot_1133

How the NYT list is compiled is a fascinating and complex subject.   It is not simply a list of the books that have sold the most copies in the preceding week. Suffice it to say that most books on the list are there because of genuine popular demand for them but  others not so much. Children’s books are currently a hot market in publishing, and it looks as though certain marketing practices that have long compromised the adult NYT nonfiction list, especially in the business, how-t0, and political categories, may now be creeping into children’s books. These include marketing companies or organizations making large prepublication purchases that they’ve disguised to count as  individual purchases, and enlisting or hiring people by the hundreds to write and post positive “reviews.” Publishing is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with being market savvy, but if this is what landed Rush Revere on the list, you wonder what other book missed being included as a result.

Of course best-sellers are not guaranteed to be the best books anyway, and there are many better ways readers can learn about quality books for middle-graders they might like to read. Annual best books lists by reliable organizations like the  the American Library Association(www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb) or the New York Public Library (http://labs.nypl.org/childrens-books-2013/#/_) are a good bet.   Read reviews and articles in journals such as School Library Journal or Horn Book. Public and school librarians are another great resource.  And don’t forget that From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, the site you are on at this moment, regularly reviews and discusses new books and interviews authors, so follow us and check out our archives!

Among the best people to ask for recommendations of children’s books past and present are the passionate book-lovers and hand-sellers of independent bookstores.  Here are some of the shops from around the country that we’ve featured on our site in 2013, and the books they’ve recommended to middle-graders:

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Hicklebee’s, San Jose CA (www.hicklebees.com)  Their book of the year was Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. They also recommended Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith, Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck, and Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt

[words], Maplewood NJ (www.wordsbookstore.com) recommended the Rick Riordan, Jeff King, and Dan Gutman books, plus Wonder by R.J. Palacioscreenshot_1127screenshot_1118

Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul MN (www.redballoonbookshop.com) chose Wild Boy by Mary Losure and William Alexander’s Goblin’s Secret and Ghoulish Song.

Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Ashville NC (www.spellboundchildrensbookshop.com) chose the Ivy and Bean, 39 Clues, and Sisters Grimm series, plus There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff and Hope Larson’s graphic version of A Wrinkle in Time.

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Children’s Book World, Haverford PA (www.children’sbookworld.net) recommended Palacio’s Wonder, Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, and John Fardell’s Seven Professors of the Far North.

Mockingbird Books, Seattle WA chose Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson.

Hooray for Books, Alexandria VA (www.hoorayforbooks.com) recommended  The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series by Caroline Carlson

Powell’s Books, Portland OR  (www.powells.comrecommended Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell, Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, The Oddfellows Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin, and for nonfiction: The Goods by McSweeneys, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, “anything in the Basher Science Series,” and Stout Hearted Seven Orphaned on the Oregon Trail by Neta Lohnes Frazier.screenshot_1136 screenshot_1135 screenshot_1134

(Note: many of these shops regularly list staff choices on their web sites).

What are the outstanding books for Middle Graders, fiction and/or nonfiction, that you’ve read in 2013?

 

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

Indie Spotlight: Mockingbird Books, Seattle

screenshot_800Summer is here,  a great time to visit a children’s bookstore and come home with treasures to read on the porch or in the park.  Today we’re talking with Wendy Ostenson of Mockingbird Books in Seattle (www.mockingbirdbooksgl.com), who
invites you to her store.
Sue Cowing for Mixed Up Files: That’s a wonderful old building that houses your shop. Can you tell us a little bit about it and about how Mockingbird Books came to be?
Wendy: We are in this wonderful old brick building that was originally a church. Owner Alyson Stage had wanted to own a children’s bookstore ever since her kids were little. When a great space came up for sale in her own Green Lake neighborhood, she partnered with friends and family and bought the building. screenshot_808It’s now not only a bookstore, but houses offices and an event space on its second floor. Alyson’s now-grown kids, Taylor and Emily, work at the store and help coordinate events.
MUF: Describe the atmosphere you have created inside.
Wendy: We like to think of it as a neighborhood space where kids, parents and caregivers are welcome to spend some time. The store is cozy, warm and inviting. Our front window area is dedicated to entertaining kids with trains, puzzles, and chalk art. Our Reading Room in the back has comfortable couches to relax and really, truly get into a book. We also have a small cafe that serves espresso and kid-friendly snacks.
Our staff is pretty much a group of children’s book nerds, comprised of semi-retired librarians and education junkies. Sue Nevins from the store means it when she says, “We love to talk about books!”
MUF: How do you decide what children’s books to carry in your store?

A fan of Suzanne Williams' GODDESS GIRLS series finds the latest at Mockingbird Books

A fan of Suzanne Williams’ GODDESS GIRLS series finds the latest at Mockingbird Books

Wendy: Sue and Linda Spoor do most of the buying. With their 40+ years of experience in children’s books, they do an amazing job of keeping the store balanced with tried-and-true classics and worthy new titles. Mary Bayne and I do several story times a week, so we can definitely tell if a book resonates with kids and is worthy of multiple reads. We all have our favorite authors and book blogs, and we love to talk with friends in the business and meet with publishing reps. Also, our customers often recommend great books that should be on our shelves. So I guess you could say it’s fairly collaborative.
MUF: Do you have some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction you are recommending to middle grade readers right now?
Wendy: Here’s a few great summer reads for middle graders that also will kick-start some great conversations:
Fellowship for Alien Detection by Seattle Author Kevin Emerson
The Search for Sasquatch by Spokane Author Kelly Milner Halls
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
MUF: How does Mockingbird Books keep a following in spite of chains and Internet sales?
Wendy: We like to think folks will have a personal experience when they come into the store.

Dressing up for Cowboy/cowgirl photos during  a visit byJan Sonnemein, author of COWBOY UP

Dressing up for cowboy/cowgirl photos during a visit by Jan Sonnemein, author of COWBOY UP

Whether it’s engaging our youngest readers through story times, unearthing a lost treasured book, or matching a book to a reluctant reader, we strive to provide friendly service. If we don’t have a book in the store, we are happy to research and track it down. We thinks it’s a privilege to get to know our patrons well and see many of them grow up into strong readers.

MUF: Do you have book clubs or events especially designed for middle graders?
Wendy: Sue Nevins does monthly book groups that will start back up in August. There is a Boys Book Group, a Girls Book Group, and a Graphic Novel Group where kids decide the book for that month and they chat about it over pizza.
We also have author events to coincide with new releases. In the last year, we’ve enjoyed visits from national authors such as Michael Buckley, Rose Mary Woods, and Margi Preus.

Trying out invisible ink with Newbery winning author Margie Preus

Trying out invisible ink with Newbery winning author Margie Preus

Many local middle grade authors like Stephanie Barden, Kirby Larson, Kevin Emerson, Patrick Jennings and Martha Brockenbrough are good friends and often do events.

MUF: If a family made a day trip to visit your shop and need a place to grab a bite, what would you recommend?
Wendy: There are so many places right near us. We are on the same block as Rosita’s which is a neighborhood landmark, and Jodee’s which specializes in organic baking. There are also great Greek, Thai, pizza, pub food and sandwich shops within walking distance. And, being it’s Seattle, there are multiple coffee shops on every block.screenshot_806
MUF: And if they decided to stay in Seattle a little longer, what family-friendly sights and activities would you recommend the most?
Wendy: Green Lake, the most-used park in the city, is literally a block from our store. In the summer its focus is water sports galore. You can rent standup paddle boards or paddle boats and swim at the two beach areas. The path around the lake is 2.8 miles and it’s great for walking and bike riding. We are also about a mile away from the renowned Woodland Park Zoo. I can’t wait to see their newly-born jaguar triplets with my kids this summer! I’d also recommend the Chihuly Garden and Glass that has just opened at the bottom of the Space Needle. It’s an accessible while mind-blowing tribute to extreme glass, art and color. My sixth grader loved it.
MUF: Tell us something about Mockinbird Books that most people don’t know.
screenshot_807Wendy: Our giant Giraffe/store mascot, Geraldine, is a bit of a fashionista.  We aren’t sure where she finds them, but she finds hats and accessories and slips them on when nobody’s looking.  We’ve been surprised to find her dresses up as a leprechaun, a firefighter, and The Cat in the Hat.  Right now she’s wearing a hula skirt.  
MUF: A giraffe after my own heart!  Thank you Wendy for giving us a glimpse into your charming shop!  Readers, we know  you treasure children’s bookstores. If you have been to Mockingbird Books or think from this taste you would like to visit, please let Wendy know here.  
Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu, two thousand miles away from the nearest children’s bookstore. She is the author of the middle grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012).