Tag Archives: interview

Indie Spotlight: Square Books Jr., Oxford MS

Independent Book Store Day is coming up this Saturday, May 2, so it’s delightful to be talking with Paul Fyke of Square Books Jr. in Oxford , Mississippi (www.squarebooks.com/junior) and to be reminded of what we love about independent bookstores!
Mixed-Up Files: Paul, how did Square Books Jr. come to be? How does it relate to Square Books “senior”?  

Square books jr.  exteriorPaul: Square Books Jr. was born out of a mixture of desire and necessity. For a long time Square Books had wanted to expand its children’s area. When it became apparent that it would be impossible to do that in the existing space, a plan was set into motion. Once the right location became available it was quietly leased. Then, the windows were covered in paper leaving the locals to wonder what new business to expect. Once the stock was ordered and the space renovated, it was time for the final step. At the release of “Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix,” it was announced Square Books would host a release party at 6am in celebration. What followed was a scavenger hunt around the town square that eventually led people to the mysterious new space with the paper over the windows. It was then that Square Books, Jr. was unveiled. Now, twelve years later, it seems like the secret is out.

MUF: Please describe the atmosphere you have created in your shop.
Paul: At a staff function, our owner once described Square Books, Jr. as “an independent among independents.” This statement has always stuck with me because I think it very much encapsulates what makes Square Books, Jr. different. We try to cultivate an atmosphere that is welcoming, not just in a tidy, commercial way, but in a human way. When children come into our store we want them to feel like this is their store. There are toys scattered between a play table and a play kitchen in the back, with a couch in between for parents to enjoy a well-earned moment of rest. Rarely is there a time where there’s not at least one child imagining some grand fantasy in the play castle in the back or at the very least dancing to the eclectic musical lineup we play over the stores sound system. Square Books Jr.  Interior #3

MUF: How do you choose the books and other items you carry in Square Books Jr.? What is your collection especially strong in?
Paul: Our greatest strengths are probably our Middle Grade collection and our picture book selection. We are fortunate in that we have a very dedicated staff, each with their own specialties. Leita, who has worked here for going on twelve years now, is the curator of our picture books collection. Jill, our buyer and other twelve year veteran, makes sure that Middle Grade is always filled with exciting new series for children to explore. I’ve been here seven years now, and I spend most of my time in the YA section looking for hidden gems and trying to make sure we don’t end up with a shelf of exclusively NY Times bestsellers. Lyn, our general manager and non-book item buyer, makes sure we never lack for exciting educational toys (many of which are provided by Melissa and Doug). All of this comes together to make a store filled with merchandise that we can all be confident in.

MUF: How do you go about helping readers find “their” books and vice-versa?
Paul: The most important part of helping a child find his or her perfect book is taking the time to talk to the child and discover their interests. It’s more than just “Did you like the Hunger Games/Maze Runner/Percy Jackson?” You have to engage the child. If they like sports do they like to play sports or do they just like to watch sports with their family? Do they like to play Minecraft? Do they like Survival or Creative mode if they do play? What kind of TV shows are they watching?

Children's Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Children’s Book Week bookmark by Raúl Cólón

Finding out what the child does when they are not reading is one of the best ways to help them find a book that is not only engaging, but also something that can help them fall in love with reading.

MUF: How is Square Books Jr. planning to celebrate National Children’s Book Week, May 4-10?
Paul:
Children’s Book Week has always been an exciting time for us. This year we are kicking things off a little bit early with a signing by local authors Kat and Margaret King for their new book The Backyard Campout on Independent Bookstore Day, May 2. Square Books Backyard Campout As the week continues we will have story times aplenty and a special meeting of the SBJ Book Society, our 8-12 year old readers book club. We are going to close the week out with a “Dress as your favorite book character” special story time on Saturday, May 9th.

MUF: Since we’re middle-grade authors, we’re eager to know some titles new and old, fiction and nonfiction, that you find yourself recommending to eight- to twelve-year-olds these days?
Paul:
I love to recommend The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a child that doesn’t love it in some way; whether it’s for the characters, the humor, or the mystery there’s something in there for everyone. Some of my other favorite recommendations include TheSquare Books, Name of this Book is Secret Lost Years of Merlin by TA Barron, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, and  lately The League of Seven by Alan Gratz. My favsquare books league of sevenSquare Books-Lost Years of Merlinorite nonfiction recommendations are Bomb by Steve Sheinken and How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg.Square Books  How they croakedSquare Books Matilda

Square Books Where's Waldo?

He’s everywhere!

MUF: Do you have some special events planned that are geared to middle-graders?
Paul:
Our biggest upcoming event will be the Where’s Waldo event in July. Waldo (or at least a small cardboard cut-out of Waldo) will be hidden in 26 stores around the town square. Kids who find Waldo in at least 20 stores are entered into a drawing for free books and other gifts from around the square. Children of all ages participate in this event, but it is especially fun for middle-graders who are spending their aimless afternoons on the town square. While we don’t have any signings firmly planned at the moment, we will most certainly have a few in the coming months. Information on these can always be found on our Facebook page or on our website, http://www.squarebooks.com/junior.

MUF: If a family makes a day trip to Square Books Jr. from out of town, would there be family-friendly places nearby where they could get a snack or meal after browsing?
Paul: With restaurants lining every side of the courthouse square where our store is located, it’s almost difficult to get off the square without having a meal. There’s Ajax, which is where everyone will tell you to go if you ask for recommendations (yes it’s that good). There’s also Proud Larry’s, which is a personal favorite of mine. Ajax serves amazing seemingly-homemade southern food, while Proud Larry’s serves a greater variety with everything from pizza and pasta to burgers and sandwiches. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth Holli’s Sweet Tooth is the perfect destination. They have a wide assortment of ice cream flavors, incredible milkshakes, and every type of candy you can possibly imagine.square books logo

MUF: And if they can stay a little longer, can you recommend some unique places or activities in Oxford they shouldn’t miss?
Paul:
One activity I encourage everyone to squeeze into their travel schedules is a trip to Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner. Tours are available Tuesday through Saturday, but the grounds can be visited during any day time hours as long as nothing is disturbed. In addition to that, we have a University Museum with constantly changing exhibits that I personally spent a good deal of time in as a child. Past that, my biggest advice is to ask people on the square if there are any events happening soon. There’s almost always something interesting going on if you’re not afraid ask around.

MUF: Readers, don’t you love to hear a bookseller say that his collection is strongest in middle-grade? This Saturday, Independent Book Store Day,  be sure to visit Square Books Jr. to meet the authors of The Backyard Campout. Or visit your nearest independent book shop and buy a book or two.  Thanks to real-book people like us, indies are not only not going away, they’re thriving!

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

Meet Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Welcome Carol Weston, author of the new novel AVA AND TACO CAT. On top of her middle grade novel writing career, Weston is also the “Dear Carol” advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine and a prodigious letter writer to The New York Times (40 published and counting). She’s here to discuss palindromes, Judy Blume and where she got the inspiration for Ava’s hometown.

Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Carol Weston, author of Ava and Taco Cat

Why kids’ books?
Back in college, when I studied French and Spanish literature, I dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t imagine that I’d find my voice while impersonating a fifth grader. And yet I am so happy that after numerous magazine articles and books for teens and adults, I started writing for children. When my own daughters were little, I wrote a series about Melanie Martin and her brother Matt the Brat, and now I tell the tales of Ava Wren and her sister Pip and their word-nerd parents. Melanie lived in Manhattan; Ava lives in Misty Oaks.

Why Misty Oaks?
For 21 years, I’ve been the Dear Carol advice columnist at Girls’ Life Magazine. About five years ago, I received a snail mail letter and I remember noticing that the return address was “Misty Oaks.” Misty Oaks! It is evocative, isn’t it? Somehow a seed was planted. When I’m overwhelmed with my real life, I tell my husband, “I’m going to Misty Oaks,” then head into our daughter Emme’s room–now our guest room–and I wrestle with the latest manuscript. Fiction writing is hard work but oddly calming too.

Did you say Emme?
Yes! Emme is our second daughter. It’s not Emma or Emily; it’s Emme. When she was ten and grownups misheard her name, I’d sometimes hear her say, “It’s E-M-M-E. It’s a palindrome.” Maybe that planted a seed too! Note: Emme is now a grownup herself and she’s an important reader for me. I’m about to hand her the third Ava book, AVA XOX, to get her notes and input. It’s wonderfully lucky to have trusted family members read a manuscript before my “real” editors. Emme gives me great feedback and knows she can say, “This page doesn’t work” and that I will still love her to pieces.

Ava and Taco Cat

Ava and Taco Cat

What can you tell us about the new book?
In AVA AND TACO CAT (note the palindrome!), fifth grade Ava really really wants a cat, but when she and Pip sneak into the rescue center, complications begin. Ava becomes obsessed with her new pet, and her semi-neglected best friend Maybelle ends up making a new friend. This is hard on Ava (as it is on so many kids that age). To distract herself, Ava starts collaborating with Pip on a picturebook about fish. Ava rhymes and Pip draws, and they have high hopes that it will get published. But nope, nothing is that easy and there are lots of twists and turns before things work out.

Things work out?
Hey, it’s a kids’ book! One of my favorite things about writing for kids is that it’s not like a Shakespeare play where you almost expect corpses to litter the stage at the end. No way. Lots of page-turning adventures, but when you are reading a book for kids, spoiler alert, things usually do turn out okay.

Even for their picturebook?
Oh no! Alphabet Fish does not go the distance. Nor should it. Truth told, I found a similarly fishy manuscript in an old file in my filing cabinet –so maybe I did aspire to write for kids sooner than I’d remembered. But without telling you much more, let me say that when Ava finally starts to write about a subject closer to her heart, the story she tells finds a much wider audience. Including one person who–oops, I’d better stop before I spill too much!

Carol Weston and kids meet Judy Blume

Carol Weston and kids meet Judy Blume

Is there one living children’s book author you admire?
There are many! But Judy Blume is right up there. Here’s a photo of her with me back when my girls were… girls.

 

 

 

 

 

Want more Carol? Here she is with her cat talking about Ava and her cat.

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.

Interview with Cory Putman Oakes, Author of Dinosaur Boy

Cory Putman Oakes

Cory Putman Oakes, author of Dinosaur Boy

Today we’re excited to feature our interview with Cory Putman Oakes, a children’s book author from Austin, Texas. Her middle grade debut, DINOSAUR BOY, hits shelves in February, 2015 with its sequel, DINOSAUR BOY SAVES MARS, to follow in February, 2016. She is also the author of THE VEIL (a young adult novel). Cory is a former lawyer, a former Californian, and a current Mexican food enthusiast. When she’s not writing, Cory enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with her husband and their two kiddos.

Tell us where you got your inspiration for making your main character a human/dinosaur hybrid.

When my son was just a few months old, he had this little dinosaur hoodie (complete with spikes) that I absolutely loved. I tried to work the idea of a half-dinosaur, half-human baby into another project I was working on, but my agent (Sarah LaPolla) suggested that the dinosaur kid really needed his own story. I’m so grateful to her for that! So really, I have my son and my agent to thank for Dinosaur Boy.

Dinosaur Boy

Dinosaur Boy

This story idea is quite unique, but are there other books that touch on some of these same topics and themes that have inspired you?

I think Dinosaur Boy can be compared to any book about someone who is different. There are many themes in the book, but to me, the main one is self-acceptance. Accepting your own “weird” is an issue that everyone struggles with – even a lot of adults. So it’s not surprising that there are lots of books on the subject!

Author P.J. Hoover (who was kind enough to blurb Dinosaur Boy) called it “Wonder with dinosaurs.” Wonder has been on my reading list for ages and though I (embarrassingly) haven’t read it yet, I’m told that it’s about a fifth grader with a facial deformity and it’s very touching. I’m thrilled that anyone would compare Dinosaur Boy to a book that was so well received. And as far as I’m concerned, the more books out there encouraging kids to love what’s weird about them, the better! Weird is awesome.

You were born in Switzerland, and raised in America. Did that give you a unique perspective that other classmates might not have had? Does that impact your writing?

I was born in Switzerland, but my parents were American and we moved home to the U.S. shortly afterwards, so I can’t say that it’s impacted me very much. But my parents did take me travelling a lot when I was young, and I think that had a big impact on me. Travelling gives kids a perspective that is hard to get any other way – it teaches you to be flexible, to be tolerant and appreciative of people and things that are different, and it really opens your eyes to how tiny your little corner of the world is.

Before you were a writer, you were a lawyer. Any plans to write legal thrillers or other books that use your legal background?

Ha! No legal thriller plans in my future. After I left law, it actually took me a while to “unlearn” writing like a lawyer and to start writing like a writer again! I used words like “foreseeable” and “negligent,” like, all the time. Even when kids were talking!

I’m much better now, but I still have to be careful! There’s a chapter in Dinosaur Boy where Sawyer and his friends discover a contract (I won’t say about what, because SPOILERS!) When I wrote my first draft, I included the entire contract, complete with terms and conditions, limitations on liability, indemnification provisions, etc. I thought it was hilarious. I read it out loud at a retreat with some author friends and they were all laughing hysterically – but at me, not the writing. They were all like “Oh my god you lawyer! Get rid of that! This is a kid’s book!” And they were absolutely right!

So I still have to watch it. The legal-writing beast is still very much alive inside of me, and constantly at war with the fiction-writing beast!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, what are your favorite songs about love?

My husband and I danced to Elton John’s “Your Song” at our wedding, so for me, it’s pretty hard to beat that one ☺

About Dinosaur Boy:
Everyone knows the dinosaur gene skips a generation. So it isn’t a complete surprise when Sawyer sprouts spikes and a tail before the start of fifth grade. After all, his grandfather was part stegosaurus.

Despite the Principal’s zero tolerance policy, Sawyer becomes a bully magnet, befriended only by Elliot, a.k.a. “Gigantor,” and the weird new girl. When the bullies start disappearing, Sawyer is relieved – until he discovers a secret about the principal that’s more shocking than Dino DNA. The bullies are in for a galactically horrible fate . . . and it’s up to Sawyer and his friends to rescue them.

Find out more about Cory at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Andrea Pyros is the author of My Year of Epic Rock, a middle grade novel about friends, crushes, food allergies, and a rock band named The EpiPens.