Several hundred third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students at Frostwood Elementary School turned an auditorium into a publicist’s dream Oct. 23 as student after student asked Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer to describe how reading, writing and acting in movies had inspired her to write a new book.
Octavia Spencer is best known to many as the Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the proud and unflappable maid Minny Jackson in the recent film, The Help.
The actress has just released her first book for young adults, Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit. The first title in a series, the book follows the story of Miranda Rhodes, a 12-year-old girl from Brooklyn who solves crimes in a small town in Tennessee after she moves there with her father.
Spencer spoke and then signed copies of her book on Oct.22 during a reception at nearby Blue Willow Books. The next morning, she addressed Frostwood students inside the auditorium at Westchester Academy for International Studies. Students and staff are based at a transition site on the Westchester campus while their new school is being readied for reopening soon.
Dozens of Frostwood Elementary students honored Spencer by dressing in Ninja warrior costumes. By repeated show of little hands, the vast auditorium delighted Spencer with their passion for reading and writing. Frostwood Elementary students are big readers, a youth writer’s dream audience.
Spencer told the students that her own journey to being a published writer wasn’t an especially easy one. By age 7, Spencer knew that she had trouble reading. The glasses she was prescribed helped visually, but not with reading comprehension.
By age 12, she was diagnosed with dyslexia. Her mother, who worked as a maid, impressed on her children that the biggest travel adventures that they could have were inside books.
“You can go anywhere!” she recalls her mother exclaiming. “The thing for me about dyslexia was that you do not ever let it define you. I read twice as long and twice as much,” she said. Interestingly, she found that detective-style stories actually appealed to her reading disability.
“They helped me connect the dots in my own reading,” she said, finding that the inductive and deductive reasoning skills in such books inspired her to read more and “connect more dots.”
Growing up, she read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Jupiter Jones, Encyclopedia Brown and Trixie Belden, among other detective novels. Although she was always interested in writing a book, it took her 10 years to plot and think up, and then write and rewrite Randi Rhodes: Ninja Detective. She took the many hours when she was not acting and performing to write, write and write.
When a student asked what she did when she finished the book, Spencer’s answer earned a winning response from Frostwood students. She celebrated. “I had a big piece of chocolate cake and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!”