Category Archives: Indie Spotlight

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).

Indie Spotlight: The Writer’s Block Book Shop Launches in Las Vegas NV

WB sign ologo #3

Sue Cowing for Mixed-up Files: It’s always a pleasure to hear of a new bookstore opening, more proof that the Indies are holding their own and are on the rise. Just this month Drew Cohen and Scott Seeley opened The Writer’s Block Book Shop in downtown Las Vegas.
 It’s an ambitious enterprise— book seller, book manufacturer, publisher, writer’s workshop, literacy educator, and artificial bird sanctuary! Today we’re talking about this dynamic store with co-founder Drew Cohen.

MUF: Congratulations on your grand opening. Please tell us what inspired you to open a store in Las Vegas, and describe the atmosphere you are creating in this store.WB exterior
Drew: When my husband Scott and I moved to Las Vegas, there were noindependent general-interest bookstores. So it felt like something that was direly needed, particularly in a city as large and as dense as Vegas. From the start, we were also concerned with education. We heard a number of alarming stories about how writing was taught (or, more to the point, not taught) in Vegas-area public schools.

WB interiorScott’s background, as the co-founder and former Executive Director of 826NYC—a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that provides free writing classes to students—was such that we knew that whatever we opened would include an educational component. To that end, we’ll be providing free creative writing classes to students aged 6–18 in the back of the store.WB shopPartly because ofthe classes, we wanted the entire store to feel like a workshop; not just a place where books are sold, but also a place where they are made. The name of our store—The Writer’s Block Book Shop—reflects this. It’s not merely a store, but a shop, with tools, and a letterpress, and exposed wood. One of our staff is usually seated at work bench at the entrance. Our goal has been to create an atmosphere similar to Geppetto’s workshop, where everything is constantly evolving and there are projects scattered around the store.

MUF: Please tell us about a unique feature of your store, the Artificial Bird Sanctuary and Adoption Program. WB artificial birds #2Any connection to Kate Samworth’s book Aviary Wonders, Inc?
Drew: Scott and I really enjoy blending artificial outdoor objects into The Writer’s Block. We installed a streetlamp in the middle of the space, and have a corridor of fake trees separating our classroom area from the rest of the store. So the artificial birds felt like a natural next step. As booksellers, we’re constantly seeking to be inventive about our non-book merchandising; we want to carry things you can’t get anywhere else. The birds, which are individually named and tagged, and then given unique bio sheets, were an opportunity to provide customers with a WB Artificial birdproduct they’d never seen. And because adopting an artificial bird involves reading a vow and a bit of ceremony, it adds some theater to the process—which people enjoy.WB Arificial bird adoption #6
Aviary Wonders, Inc. is a favorite of mine! We didn’t get the idea from that book, but we certainly get excited whenever we encounter a bird-related piece of literature.

MUF: How do you select the books to carry in Writer’s Block? How do you help them find their readers and vice versa?
Drew: I do all of the book-buying myself, with plenty of input from our staff and customers. Everything we carry has passed through my hands, and I take a lot of pride in that fact that nothing that we carry is arbitrarily selected. Honestly, it’s a fairly uncoordinated process: I read a lot of book blogs, scan book reviews, bestseller lists, plenty of publisher catalogs. For children’s titles, I find Elizabeth Bird’s blog via the School Library Journal to be unmissable. WB kids w booksWe carry a lot of art books, so publishers that put an emphasis on presentation—Candlewick, Abrams, 
Enchanted Lion, etc.—always take precedent.
We put a lot of work into our in-store displays. I try my best to make sure that any new books we’re excited about get highly visible shelf-space, and will sometimes resurrect some backlist titles to create display around a theme. This month, for example, we’ll be pairing Candlewick Press’s exquisite adaption of Les Misérables for elementary school readers with Penguin’s reissue of the original novel, both of which fortuitously released during the same month.

Les Miserables 2015

MUF: As Middle-Grade authors, we have to ask, what titles old or new, fiction or nonfiction, do you find yourself recommending to readers eight to twelve? WB Golden CompassWB penderwicks in Spring
Drew: 
It’s a little mature, but the Golden Compass series is a standard. We find that younger readers enjoy the novels for their elements of fantasy and adventure, but that the books still offer plenty of higher concepts to engage the older or precocious middle-graders.
We love the Penderwicks series. It’s sweet and broadly appealing, but it also deals candidly with some of the frustrations of being part of a large family—and also the unique joys of having siblings.
Anything by Gail Carson Levine. WB Writing MagicWe love her strong-willed protagonists, and her books that are about writing fly off of our shelves. There are so many adult titles about the process WB Battle Bunnyof writing fiction, so it’s refreshing to be able to recommend similar titles to younger readers.
Lastly, we’re big fans of some of the more self-aware and cheeky titles for middle-graders. Perhaps it’s partly because we have a store rabbit, but Jon Scieszka’s and Mac Barnett’s Battle Bunny is a big favorite.

MUF: Do you have events planned that would be of special interest to middle-graders?
Drew: We’ll be putting a tremendous amount of work into our free creative classes, and many of these will be focused on middle-graders. (And, let’s face it, middle-graders are often the most fun age group to work with!) Our calendar will be going live in a few weeks via our website (thewritersblock.org). WB open house #2Right now, we’re discussing a workshop that relates to bird classification, and another for composing poetry. We’ll be doing an improv class in the next few months, and are also hoping to partner with some local audio-engineers to create some radio pieces with our students. Our plans are still being finalized, so I’d recommend that folks who are interested sign up for the mailing list at our website.

MUF: Many independent bookstores have mascots or pets, but it’s most often a store cat. How does your rabbit do with all those chewing temptations?
The Baron Hana HouDrew: We love cats, and have three of them at home. But they can be temperamental, and we were also worried that it might upset people’s allergies. A bunny felt like a good compromise—it’s more dramatic than a mouse or guinea pig, but it’s still low-key enough to prevent issues with biting or scratching. Our

Baron's book shop quarters

Baron’s book shop quarters

rabbit—his name is The Baron—is extremely good natured, and loves having his ears petted. He came from a shelter that was filled with noise and dogs, so he was already used to people passing through and lots of activity. We keep him in a large cage for most of the day, but let him out for 5-or-so hours in the morning to stretch his legs. All and all, I think he has a pretty good life. And since he isn’t let loose in the store, he doesn’t get the chance to eat all of our books.

MUF: If a family from out of town visits Writer’s Block 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 unique activities in the area would you recommend for families?
Drew: There is a lot for families to do and see in downtown Las Vegas. Container Park is an essential destination: it combines outdoor dining options with dozens of boutiques, all of which are housed inside of repurposed shipping containers. There’s even an awesome toy store, Kappa Toys, that specializes in fun products for people of all ages—the selection really cuts across generational lines. It’s just a few blocks from The Writer’s Block.WB Mt.  CharlestonWB Red Rock
For families who are staying longer, I’d recommend they check out some of the beautiful wildlife destinations. Vegas is known mainly for the Strip, but there is an incredibly diverse ecology in and around the Valley. Red Rock Canyon has a number of trails that can be hiked; it also has a scenic drive, perfect for when the temperature is too high. If you’ve ever wanted to explore Mars, Red Rock’s landscape gives you a close approximation. And on the other end of the spectrum, Mount Charleston is leafy and cool, and makes for a refreshing day-trip during the summer months.

writers block logo sign #5Thank you so much Drew!
Readers, doesn’t this shop make you want to visit Las Vegas and go directly there for a day of  browsing and magic?
It seems most of the people opening new book shops today do it because they just think there ought to be an independent bookstore in their town.   Luckily for us, they make that dream come true.

Sue Cowing is author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, Harper-Collins UK 2014)

Indie Spotlight: BookEnds, Kailua, Hawaii

Today we’re talking with Pat Banning, owner and manager  of BookEnds , the only independent general interest bookstore on Honolulu’s island of Oahu.  Kailua, a short trip through a mountain tunnel from Honolulu, is noted for its great BookEnds front #2beaches, but also for its charming local shops, of which BookEnds (www.facebook.com/pages/BookEnds) is one.Bookends is  crammed full of new and used books—a playful place for all ages, with a special interest in children’s books.

MUF: Pat, please describe the unique atmosphere you have created at BookEnds.
Pat: We really like the shop to be a welcoming, casual, non-frightening place; to keep kids ever-alert for new things and creatures who might have joined the store- even before you can read, a space with interesting things inside.BookEnds Desk critterBookEnds drawing

MUF: Years ago when Borders opened a branch in nearby Kaneohe, many people said oh dear, what’s going to become of BookEnds? But now Border’s is nowhere to be found. And then there’s the whole electronic book thing.   What’s your survival secret?
Pat: I think the secret MAY be in staying just-big-enough to have a reasonable inventory, small enough to be quick on our feet, to make changes that we see meets the demands of our VERY discerning customers in Kailua….our biggest strength is our very very loyal customer-base.

Hanging out at BookEnds

Hanging out at BookEnds

Pat & Friends

Pat and friends

MUF: On an urban island with a population of just under a million yours is THE independent general interest bookstore. Ever consider cloning yourself? Expanding?
Pat: We’d love to expand; we never have enough space to keep our books reined in! And we’ve got some fun ideas for a BIGGER kid’s section, but….. even thought about another branch, but the thinner you spread your flavor, the less taste there is! So, no cloning, but we’re happy to give helpful hints to others…..

MUF: It’s obvious you folks love children’s books. How do you chose what to carry in your store?BookEnds Books
Pat: We try to carry stuff we love, we try to read as much early material as we can get, and we take the really good advice of the sales reps who sell us publisher’s lists. A well-written children’s book should be just as entertaining for a grown-up as for a child, so if we like it, chances are a lot of kids will like it too.

MUF: As middle-grade authors (and readers) we have to ask: what favorite titles, new and old, fiction and nonfiction, are you recommending to middle graders these days?Pegasus Origins
Pat: We love the Percy Jackson series, the Pegasus series, the Copper Dark is RisingSeptimus Heap series, the Susan Cooper books, the Sisters Grimm, the Series of Unfortunate events…there are really so so many great things coming out right now, that it’s hard to keep up…..Harry Potter started a huge demand for Sisters Grimm Mirrorsfantasy, but there is still a lot of reality-based fiction that is excellent……I have to admit that I don’t get a lot of NON-fiction coming Heap Magykthrough the door these days , for middle-readers, anyway.

MUF: Since you carry used books along with new, chances of finding an old favorite in your shop are pretty good. Can you think of some rare children’s titles or editions you have in stock that we might have trouble finding anywhere else?
Pat: We’ve got a really nice cache of Raggedy Anns that you don’t see often, some of the old Ant and Bee books, a few early Nancy Drews, a very old Little Black Sambo.BookEnds Raggedy Ann & Andy

MUF: Tell us a little about your Kailua neighborhood. If a family made a day trip to BookEnds, would there be family-friendly places nearby to get a snack or meal after browsing? What other family activities and attractions would be available nearby?
Pat: Well,  there’s the park, and the beach really close, Book Ends Beachthe community pool and tennis courts, lots of shopping, and Kailua has the gamut of restaurants, from Macdonalds and Subway, pizza of all types, to Indian and Mexican foods and lots of healthy salads. And of course, coffee for mom and dad….and we’re all waiting to see what Target, opening soon! is going to mean for us here.

Readers, have any of you been to this shop?   If not, and if you’re planning a visit to Honolulu, do include that trip over the Pali to Kailua for a book-lover’s holiday.  If you live on Oahu  already, why not un-chain yourself and drive to the windward side to experience a real bookstore!

 

Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel, You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012, HarperCollinsUK, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

BookEnds drawing