Posts Tagged children’s bookstores

Indie Spotlight: Hooray for Books! Alexandria VA

screenshot_812Today we’re talking with Ellen Klein, founder-owner  of




in that town of avid readers, Alexandria, Virginia (

Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files: I gather Hooray for Books began where another shop left off and was founded by some of its booksellers, so it’s a long tradition, right?
Ellen:Yes. A Likely Story closed its doors in November 2007, after serving the Alexandria community for more than 20 years. As a full-time bookseller at that store, I knew there were many loyal customers who would sorely miss having an independent, locally owned children’s bookstore in Old Town. That was the impetus for opening Hooray for Books! in June 2008. What really keeps me going, though, is seeing how excited the children are about everything we do in the store, at their schools, and in our community.

MUF:I’m so glad you tell us something about each of your individual booksellers on your website.  Just glancing over the rich variety of their interests and experiences and the titles they list of favorite books, I can just picture a middle-grader coming into your store to browse, asking for a recommendation, and coming out with a book to love for life!

Erin Hunter and Survivors Fans

Erin Hunter and Survivors Fans

Ellen:Yes, we’re all readers here at the bookstore, so we’re always happy to talk about new books with the children. Many of the children are regular customers, so we’ve learned what kinds of books they most enjoy reading and, often, we’ll order books with the thought, “Oh, so-and-so will want to see this book!” I should add that this is true for our adult readers, too!
Being an independent bookstore means that we’re responsible only to our customers – to anticipate their needs and respond quickly to their requests. What we stock on the shelves is, of course, limited by the size of the store, but we work with more than 400 vendors to try to have on hand the books and other merchandise that we believe our customers would like. If, however, we don’t have exactly what they want, we’re usually able to get it for them within a week or two.

MUF: How do you choose the books to carry in your shop?  Are there some favorite titles, fiction or nonfiction, new or old, that you are recommending to middle-graders this summer?
Ellen:We choose  titles based on several factors: gut instinct; reading an advance review copy; advice from our publisher reps; reviews from other independent bookstores; and customer recommendations. As for summer reading recommendations for middle graders, there are many great books, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention books by authors who will be coming in the fall: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier; the Accidental Adventure series by Alexander London; and the Dragon Chronicles series by Ellen Oh.

MUF:Apparently Alexandria is a reading community.  Is that part of the secret of your shop’s success? What kinds of outreach do you have to your community?
Ellen:Alexandria is said to be the nation’s leader when it comes to readers of children’s books, which is great! We work very closely with a local literacy organization, Wright to Read, to ensure that new books are donated to economically disadvantaged children throughout the city. With Wright to Read, we also cohost the annual Alexandria Story Festival, which is a free event that gives children a unique opportunity to meet award-winning authors. We work with many other organizations, too, as well as public schools in Alexandria and the surrounding counties, to bring books and authors to a wide variety of events.


Judy Bloom signs copies at HFB 

MUF:What have been some of your favorite events at the store?  What’s coming up in the next month or so?
Ellen:For our middle grade readers, we offer two book clubs that meet once a month, year-round. The clubs are very popular because the members read and review copies of books not yet published—and we post the young readers’ reviews when the books are published. We also host events at the schools, public libraries, and the store. Just a few of our upcoming events include Aug. 26th at the store with Ty Burson (Let Sleeping Dragons Lie); Aug. 27th at the Bethesda Public Library with five middle grade authors; Sept. 8th at the store with four middle grade authors; Sept. 19th school and store events with Caroline Carlson (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates); and Sept. 28th–the Alexandria Story Festival.

MUF: If families from out of town Hooray for Books, would there be a family-friendly place nearby where they could get a snack or meal after browsing? And if they could stay awhile, are there some places or activities in the neighborhood or the city they shouldn’t miss?
Ellen:We’re fortunate that right at the corner is a coffee shop, The Uptowner, which makes great sandwiches and wraps and is very popular with our customers. As for sightseeing, I’d recommend visiting the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, which is about three blocks west of the bookstore on a hill that Thomas Jefferson argued should be Capitol Hill. I’d also highly recommend the Torpedo Factory Art Center on Union St (at the city marina), where visitors can see more than 100 artists at work.

Waldo went that-a-way!

Waldo went that-a-way!

 MUF: Thanks,Ellen for taking time out to talk with us.  One thing you said in passing really sticks in my and reminds me why we continue to spotlight children’s bookstores here on The Mixed-Up Files: “Being an independent bookstore means that we’re responsible only to our customers.”  That seems to be the underlying difference between children’s bookstores (all of which are independent)  and chains or on-line booksellers and goes far to explain visiting an Indy is so much more fun and rewarding.
Readers, let us know if you’ve visited Hooray for Books! or would like to go.  And if you’re just too far away, tell us about a favorite children’s bookstore nearer to you.

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy story You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 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 (, 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).

Filling the Well: on growing as a writer

About eight months ago I finished the author note and copy edits for Written in Stone which will be out in June of this year. I had worked on that book off and on for 15 years. In many ways it’s the book that made me a writer. So it was a real career milestone to put the final touches on it for publication. Once it was gone and I faced the prospect of starting something new I felt like I needed to grow as a writer and push my work to a higher level and explore things I hadn’t tried yet. The authors I admire the most are the ones that are always trying something new. Ursula LeGuin, for example, decided that if anyone was going to tell the story of Lavinia from The Aeneid, it was probably going to be her, and since she was already in her eighties she might as well begin at once. She began by re-reading The Aeneid. In Latin. Her award winning novel Lavinia resulted. Wow! This is the woman I want to be when I’m in my 80s!

So how do I get there? I’ve spent a lot of afternoons and evenings in bookstores listening to authors over the years and here are a few things I’ve learned about, not just enjoying longevity in a fickle profession, but continuing to grow and thrive as a writer and a person.

1. Everybody says read, and everybody is right about that. But I’ve come to see that it’s not volume of text swallowed that matters. Real growth comes from reading thoughtfully. For example, this year’s Newbery winner got quite a lot of buzz online before the announcement in January. I was curious, particularly since The One and Only Ivan’s biggest fans seemed to be teachers. So I read it slowly and reflected on why it was working so well for many people. I am going to confess here that it was not my favorite book of the year. But I could see from a slow and careful examination of Applegate’s craft that she’d created a genuinely appealing voice in the gorilla Ivan. It was spare and wry and consistent. Three things that are very hard to do. Also the layout of each page was roomy and inviting, and Casteleo’s illustrations were lovely in their simplicity. I could have read this quickly, decided it’s not my thing, and dismissed it, but I’m glad I took a closer look. It’s still not my favorite, but I’ve learned something about creating an appealing voice, and I’m certainly going to give page layout some thought in future projects.
If you are looking for good commentary on reading I highly recommend the Heavy Medal Blog over at the School Library Journal which is moderated by the very thoughtful and articulate duo Nina Lindsey and Jonathan Hunt. I seldom comment but I’m always learning from the discussions there.


2. I have always found the company of my fellow writers both a comfort and an inspiration. I recently got together for lunch with five women who have inspired me for decades. We talked about ordinary things–the care of aging parents, our dreams for a perfect garden. We talked about decidedly writerly things–the difficulty in finding reliable research about the Danish resistance in WWII, how corporate fundraising is it’s own kind of storytelling. We toasted Deborah Hopkinson’s recent Sibert Honor and commiserated over the bumpy spot someone else was going through. It was great to know I’m not alone in the vicissitudes of the business, and even greater to hear from writers I really respect that they never regretted pushing their work to a higher level.

So if you’ve got a writer or two in your town or an upcoming SCBWI schmooze or an author event at a local bookstore, reach out! Make some connections for yourself. It’s a long lonely road without companions and a grand adventure with friends.

3. I think its also important to do things outside of strictly literary pursuits. One of the great pleasures of working on my book Second Fiddle was playing the violin again after many years away from my instrument and discovering how many people in the book world are also musicians. Don’t neglect other hobbies. Paint. Hike. Dance. Travel. Meet people. Engage your own family as deeply as you can. Your writing will be richer for it.

I will be responding to comments sporadically on this post because I’m out of town with my family is doing stuff that may some day work its way into books. My son is competing in the World Championships of Irish Dance in Boston on Saturday. I’m sure I’ll never write about competitive contemporary Irish dance but I’d love to write about an immigrant Irish kid who loves to dance. I’ll be taking mental notes all week and meeting musicians and talking to dancers from all over the world. I might not write that book for a decade but I’m storing up ideas now.

4. Much of what I’ve learned about the craft of writing has come from listening to authors in bookstores. If you are fortunate enough to live near a bookstore with a visiting author program, take advantage of it. You’ll meet fellow book lovers, make a connection with local book sellers and get excellent mentoring all for the price of a signed book. The woman at the microphone below is the amazing Ursula LeGuin from whom I’ve learned volumes. Her Steering the Craft is one of the most practical and useful writing books I’ve ever worked with. I never  quite understood the subtle distinction between close third person narration and first person narration until I listened to her discuss it in a Q & A at Powells.

There are many great writing conferences around the country. SCBWI hosts many. The ABLA Big Sur Conference has an outstanding reputation. In Portland the Willamette Writers hold a very good conference every August. I’d love to have people recommend a favorite conference or writing class in the comments. Don’t overlook your local community college. Some of the best teaching is done at community colleges. Sometimes when you are ready to take your work to the next level the investment in a regular class with good instructor feedback is what it takes to get you there.

5. And I’ve found one of the best ways to really master an aspect of the craft of writing is to teach a class on that topic. Teaching forces you to think through problems in a way you tend to resist when you are just having a conversation with yourself in your own writing space. When I was really stuck on differentiating the three characters in Second Fiddle who are all the same age, same gender, and play classical music, I decided to teach a class on deeper character development and came up with a workshop I call Character and the Seven Deadly Sins. I don’t think I could have finished that book without developing the workshop. Whether or not you actually teach the workshop, thinking through a story problem in terms of teaching it to others is often helpful. Local SCBWI conferences are always in need of new presenters with fresh material, so don’t be shy about applying to be a presenter . If the exercise helped you finish a book, odds are it will help other people too.

And speaking of teaching, we’ve come to the shameless self-promotion portion of this blog post.

I’ll be teaching a course for beginning writers of MG and YA fiction called Vampire Free Fiction: writing real world novels for young readers. It is an online class sponsored by The Loft Literary Center and it’s running from June 17th to August 11th. I chose this time slot specifically so that it will be easier for a full time teacher or librarian to take the class over summer break and there is a scholarship available to one lucky teacher who applies, so if you are looking for a way to get started on the novel of your dreams or finally finish a project you’ve been nibbling at for years, I hope you’ll give this class or another like it a try. More information about that at the Loft Literary Center

How about you? What do you do to fill the well of your creative life? Do you have a favorite class, workshop or conference to recommend? How about a good book about the craft of writing? Shout outs in the comments please!