Indie Spotlight: Octavia Books, New Orleans

Octavia logoWe’re talking today with Judith Lafitte, co-owner (with Thomas Lowenburg) of fifteen-year-old Octavia Books in downtown New Orleans(www.octaviabooks.com).

Octavia front

Sue Cowing for Mixed-Up Files: Please tell us what inspired you to open your store and what keeps you going?
Judith:
Tom and I opened Octavia Books because we wanted to do something together. We both are avid book readers and that brought us to the idea of opening a bookstore. The support of the community keeps us going.

bookstore waterfall

The atrium waterfall

MUF: Every independent bookshop is unique in its own way. Please tell us some of the special things about Octavia Books.
Judith: Our location is very special. We are located in a 100-year-old corner commercial building that was once a grocery store in an Uptown neighborhood of the city. We are an L-shaped space that is bright and welcoming. We also have a small glass enclosed atrium space that has a cascading waterfall.

MUF: I gather Octavia Books played an important role after Hurricane Katrina?
Judith
: We were the first bookstore to reopen after the storm. There wasn’t much open or available to the people who returned. In essence, we became a “port in the storm” for anyone who needed a book to help distract them from dealing with this disaster. We instantly became a community meeting place where anyone could come and talk about every concern they had.

Book bag #1

Custom-designed recycled Octavia Books bag: “To Read or Not to Read. What a Silly Question.”

MUF: How do you choose books to carry in your shop, and how do you help your customers choose books that are just right for them out of all the possibilities?
Judith:
Both Tom and I meet with sales reps from publishers to discuss books. Tom does the purchasing for the “grown-up” side of the bookstore and I am the children’s book buyer. In a way, we also know what our customers are reading which also determines the kinds of books we have in the bookstore. And, we also rely on our staff’s insight. For non-book items, we use the same process.Octavia book bag #2
We always ask questions. Sometimes our customers are looking for the same kind of book and other times they are looking for something different. We want to ensure that the customer is satisfied with their purchase.

MUF: As authors of middle grade books, we have to ask: what are some of your favorite titles new and old, fiction and nonfiction, Octavia  Ms. Rapscottthat you often find yourself recommending to boys and girls ages eight to twelve these days?Octavia KnightlyOctavia  MagicOctavia Imaginary
Judith:
I have several authors that I like to suggest to this age group, so anything by Roald Dahl, Rick Riordan, Deborah Wiles, Mike Lupica and Dan Gutman. I also like such titles as Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke, Octavia  ZitaThe Imaginary by A.F. Harold, Magic in the Mix, by Annie Barrows., Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera, and Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin, to name a few. But in general, I like to recommend any kind of sports books or adventure books for boys; girls are a bit easier to choose a book for.

MUF: Do you have reading or events coming up that would be of special interest to this age group?
Judith: We recently had Dan Gutman and Peter Lerangis visit some schools and the bookstore and we are getting ready to have Jon & Pamela Voelkel and Kimberly Willis Holt.

Dan Gutman at Octavia Books

Dan Gutman, author of  The Genius Files series, at Octavia Books

Octavia K.W. HoltOctavia Voelkel

MUF: If a family from out of town visits Octavia Books, are there family-friendly places in the neighborhood where they can get a snack or a meal after browsing? And if they can stay awhile, what other special activities in the area would you recommend for families?
Judith:
We have a breakfast/lunch café located behind the bookstore where families can grab a bite as well as other small cafés in the area. There are also coffee shops along Magazine Street that offer any number of noshes. As for activities, there is Audubon Zoo, Audubon Park, taking a streetcar ride along St. Charles Avenue and loads of shopping along Magazine Street. If it’s a summer visit, there is Hansen’s Snow Ball Stand that is a Beard Award Winner. And if they are interested in movies, the Prytania Theatre is a 100-year-old theatre still in operation.Octavia front #4
Octavia Books award

Thank you for telling us more about your shop, Judith.  Readers, have any of you had the pleasure of visiting Octavia Books? Please share your experiences.

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

Keep Em’ Wowed When You Read Aloud

I blame it on Mrs. Clarke. My fifth grade teacher opened new worlds to us-turning our room into a functioning trading post, taking us to see a traveling Broadway show, reading HARRIET THE SPY aloud with such zest that I may have filched the classroom copy to read it again over the summer. Sorry, Mrs. Clarke!

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It was the first of those three that made me long to teach, the second that spurred my theatrical dreams, and the last that inspired me not only to want to read, but to be a writer of books that could grip kids the way Harriet had gripped me.

I was already an avid reader. It was the way Mrs. Clarke read aloud that really connected me to that book and the power of good writing. I’ll never forget when my teacher shouted “FINKS!” a la Harriet with such passion. It was as if the middle-aged woman who taught us dry subjects like math and spelling had been transformed into a conflicted girl who was neglected by her parents and misunderstood by her friends. I was addicted.

“The reading” is one of my favorite parts of school visits and book signings. It doesn’t matter how self-conscious I feel standing up in front of a crowd, the second I start to read and become the characters on the page, all of that lifts. I happily make a fool out of myself, morphing into a lisping, retainer-wearing bully or an evil genius toddler for the reward of giggles or hearing a student cry, “Don’t stop!” when I close the book.

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, librarian, or an author, employing some of these simple techniques can enhance the read aloud experience for you and your listeners.

When Possible, Practice Aloud Ahead of Time This is the single most helpful thing you can do to improve your reading. While not always practical for teachers or parents reading aloud a chapter a day, even having read the material once will improve your chances of not tripping over difficult phrases and knowing where to pause and change voices. Before I have a school visit, I always rehearse the material several times, highlighting pauses and character changes. I forgot my reading glasses at my first book’s launch, and having rehearsed so much saved me some serious embarrassment!

LouReads

“Reading” during my first book’s launch at Watermark Books.

 

Ba-Dum-Ching! Build tension by pausing at ellipses and speeding up during action scenes. When reading funny material, comedic timing is essential. If you’re not certain how comedic rhythm works, study funny plays and listen for those moments when the actors pause and how they deliver punch lines. I use dramatic pauses and ba-dum-ching! moments to give the audience a significant glance, drawing them into the moment.

Eye Contact Speaking of significant glances: use your finger to keep your place in the text so you can look at your listeners occasionally. It will do wonders to keep them engaged. Here practicing ahead is especially helpful.

Animate Your Body and Face A gesture now and then keeps things exciting for your audience. When I’m reading from my TODD books, I like to wave around a “dirty” sock when I’m doing those portions. If I’m especially familiar with a passage I will walk back and forth, depending on the crowd size and location (I’ve been known to nearly fall off of stages-so use caution.)

I try to animate my face when I read, within reason. There’s no need to channel Jim Carrey, but do try to be entertaining if the text calls for it.

Be Heard If your voice is naturally soft, use a microphone in larger settings or practice projecting by breathing from your diaphragm muscle rather than just your chest. Pop your consonants and don’t drop the end of your sentences, letting them trail off.

Put Your Heart Into It Even if you’re reading a passage that is more contemplative and doesn’t require as much animation, be sensitive to the nuances of the prose and dialogue. There are times when “less is more” while reading aloud, and being subtle is the best method. But whatever you’re reading, your listeners will know right away whether or not you’re wholly invested in the material. If you are, be prepared to be begged for more!

Can you think of any techniques I might have left out? What are your favorite books to read aloud? Any childhood memories of being read to that impacted your love of literature?

LouGbiopicLouise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and the newly released IN TODD WE TRUST, both from Penguin/Razorbill. She directs children’s and community theater and tweets @LouiseGalveston. Find out more about Louise and her work at www.bythegraceoftodd.com.

 

 

An Interview with Jen Calonita, author of Flunked; Fairy Tale Reform School

Flunked Cover

Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Jen! Tell us how you came up with the idea for Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School?

Whenever I’d read a fairy tale or see a fairy tale movie, instead of focusing on the happy ending, I was fixated on the villains. If they didn’t die, what happened to them? Did they go to fairy tale jail? Were they banished to a foreign land? What if they–gasp–said they were sorry? From that seed, the idea for Fairy Tale Reform School was born. I liked the idea of it being run by some of the biggest former baddies in the fairy tale world — the wicked stepmother, evil queen, big bad wolf and the sea siren. But of course, villains being good can be harder than it seems.

You used many well known fairy tale characters in the story. Why did you decide to make Gilly, a shoemakers daughter, your main character?

I wanted a character that readers could relate to and I find the best way to do that is explore a character with flaws. Gilly is certainly the most flawed character I’ve written, but I absolutely adore her because she’s real. Stealing comes easily for her so she thinks that makes it okay, which it’s not. She also thinks her prejudices against royals are justified. They aren’t either. Nothing is as clear cut as it seems and Gilly struggles to realize that doing the easy thing doesn’t make it the right thing. She has to learn to think about more than just herself.

One of the things I found interesting were the profiles of the staff of Fairy Tale Reform School. What made you decide to put those in?

I’ve always been a fan of books that had supplemental material. I feel like it really helps with the world building. Since Gilly is the one who tells the story, we don’t always get to see how the villains became so “good.” The HappilyEverAfterScrolls allow us to tell the villains’ story in a fun way. The scrolls were so much fun to work on.

This is your first middle grade series. What did you like about writing for this audience? Any challenges?

I’m loving writing for this age group. My boys are 10 and 6 and they’ve been begging me to write something they could read. I find it’s great to have a sounding board for that age group in my own home! When I was working on Flunked, I’d go to my older son and read chapters and he’d tell me if they were exciting enough or if they needed more action. Sometimes I’d think I was being perfectly clear about a scene and he’d say, “I don’t get it.” It really helped me gear the story to his age group.

Do you have a favorite middle grade book or series?

Well, I know I’m not alone in my love for the Harry Potter series. The greatest thing has happened in our house–my oldest son started reading it and fell in love with the world too. We got to read several of the books together and I wouldn’t allow him to watch the movies till he’d finished the books. I didn’t want him to lose out on a moment of it. Seeing him enjoy it as much as I did was something I’ll never forget. Either was getting to go to Universal in February and explore Diagon Alley. It was incredible seeing this world come to life in front of our eyes.

I also really love Sarah Mylnowski’s Whatever After series and Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series. We’re BIG Disney people in our house!

What’s next for Gilly and her friends? Any hints?

The sequel to FLUNKED will be out around this time next year and I can tell you the school will be getting a new teacher with some swashbuckling teaching methods. Hint, hint. I can’t wait for readers to experience Gilly’s next big adventure.

Thanks so much for being here, Jen. To celebrate Flunked’s release, Jen is holding a rafflecopter giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway