Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: Today we’re talking with Sarah and Barb of the children’s department of Prairie Lights (www.prairielights.com), an independent bookstore in the heart of the reading and writing university town of Iowa City Iowa, designated a UNESCO City of Literature.
MUF: Your location and your close relationship with the Iowa Writing Workshop gives your store a unique readers-and-writers atmosphere and clientele, doesn’t it?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: It does! Because we host readings a few times a week, it means that young readers and writers have access to some of the top writers working today. It also means the young readers who come in sometimes want the latest trendy book, but they are often eager to see something different, to read outside their usual comfort zones.
MUF: When a middle school-age boy or girl comes into your store, how do you help them connect with their next good book?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: We ask them, “what was the last awesome book that you read?” and go from there. We fearlessly pull lots of books off the shelf and have fun talking about each one. Sometimes kids are hesitant to read a book recommended by a grown up, but we’re pretty good at matching great books with intrepid readers.
We display local authors’ books on a special shelf, featuring local middle grade authors Sarah Prineas and Delia Ray. We have a current display and we create a book list in May for summer reading and November for holiday gift giving. Link: http://www.prairielights.com/pauls-corner/summer-children-teens-reading-list.
We also present titles on the Talk of Iowa show with Charity Nebbe on Iowa Public Radio.
MUF: I’m including here pictures of the covers of some titles on your lists. You recently had a sellout appearance of Rick Riordan at Prairie Lights. Are there more readings, events or activities coming up over the holidays that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: Renowned author Lois Lowry is coming to the Englert Theater on November 16 , 2016. We are hosting a special evening on Wed. November 9 with Michelle Falkoff and Calla Devlin, who will read from their new YA novels.
In addition, because we are a UNESCO City of Literature we also have a Festival of Books for Children every year in February. Link: http://www.onebooktwobook.org/
MUF: How do you decide what titles to carry for ages eight to twelve?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS:Two people in the kids area do the ordering. They have good relationships with publisher’s reps and also read journals for reviews.
MUF: Prairie Lights’ collection is strong in poetry, and it’s good to see the increasing popularity of poetry and novels-in-verse with young readers. Do you and your customers have some favorites?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: In our book lists/bibliographies we always include a poetry section, and we have a section of the kids are full of poetry books, both classics and new books. We think every family needs to read a poem aloud every day—like at the breakfast table, or before dinner.
MUF: What other titles, new and old, fiction and nonfiction do you find yourself recommending to middle-graders these days?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: Check out our booklist of new recommended titles, online: http://www.prairielights.com/pauls-corner/summer-children-teens-reading-list
MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit Prairie Lights, would there be family-friendly places in the neighborhood where the could get a meal or snack after shopping? And if they could stay beyond the day, are there some unique sights or family activities they shouldn’t miss?
PRAIRIE LIGHTS: We are just down the street from the Pedestrian Mall, where visitors will find unique little shops, frozen yogurt, an interactive water fountain, and a great playground, not to mention the Iowa City Public Library. In the other direction is the University of Iowa, featuring MacBride Hall and its natural history museum. There are lots of restaurants downtown, too, all easy walking distance.
Readers, whether you live nearby or are passing through, be sure to visit this great book store! And if you’re already a fan, please say hello in a comment.
Sue Cowing is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)
Oh, I just can’t get over that picture of President Obama with his bag of books 🙂