“We’ll just put the books . . . ANYWHERE!” — from the film, “Party Girl.”
Question: Why does this image from “Desk Set,” starring Katherine Hepburn as librarian Bunny Watson, remind me of Elizabeth Bird? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
While I’ve got you, I have to share this fabulous clip that should tickle the fancy of any librarian. Finally, a realistic portrayal. The actress is Parker Posey, America’s indie-film queen, from the movie, “Party Girl.”
And more seriously, here’s the trailer for a documentary titled, “Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film,” a film I totally missed when it came out in 2004. It’s now available on DVD. Some notes from the Media Education Foundation:
This film’s subject is librarians: who they are, what they do, why they do it, and the impact of their work in people’s lives. The underlying meaning is how we express our own humanity, how we listen to ourselves and one another in the realm of the written and read word — a uniquely human privilege.
Audiences will be surprised and delighted by the fascinating librarians in this entertaining and enlightening film, and will emerge with a greater appreciation for the range of literature and materials available to them thanks to our nation’s librarians.
The film was written and directed by Ann M. Seidl, a library consultant. For a bref interview with Ann, you want to click wildly right now.
Tip of the hat to the great pop culture blog, Pop Candy, for the inspiration.
It doesn’t take long for a book-loving blog-hopper to discover Betsy Bird’s A Fuse #8 Production. It is so consistently good — full of personality and life and enthusiasm for children’s books — that many of us return on a regular basis. Heck, she’s practically a Cult Figure, though without the flowing robes or talk of alien spaceships riding behind Comet Hale-Bopp.
I thought it might be fun to hang out with Betsy for a little bit. Hopefully you’ll think so, too. Hey, here she comes now . . .
Betsy, thanks for stopping by. Can I get you anything? A drink, some Ritz crackers, a cheese log?
A cheese log? Seriously? Man, I haven’t seen a good cheese log since the Blizzard of ’08. I will have some M & M’s if you have them, though.
Sorry, I’ve only got the brown M & M’s, which I save for emergencies. My cheese log memories are not blizzard-related like yours. Mine are associated with my mother’s famous Monday Bowling Nights. With seven kids, she deserved one night out, and that’s all she got. She’d return home with her bowling partner and neighbor, Mrs. Kleinberg, and they’d drink Gallo wine, smoke cigarettes, and chat. I’d crawl under the coffee table, eavesdrop, and ponder the mysterious appeal of a nutty port wine cheese log.
For me, cheese logs are entirely mythical. The kinds of things that “other people’s families” ate. A log o’ cheese seemed so weird to me as a kid. But enough about cylindrical cow by-products! Let’s get this interview ah-goin’.
Betsy, you are a librarian, blogger, bon vivant, and soon-to-be-published author. So let’s start with that last part first. I understand that you recently sold two manuscripts. Congratulations, that’s really exciting. Have you been dreaming of this for a long time?
Many, many thanks! I have indeed been dreaming of this, but sort of in a lazy “that’s something I should do when I’m a grown-up” way. Then this illustrator comes along, asks if I’ll write a book if he illustrates it, and voila! I become the luckiest librarian in the Western Hemisphere. I cannot account for the Eastern Hemisphere at this time.
I loved your “happy dance.” Understated, dignified, professional.
I try. You should see my slightly more complicated “Dance of Joy”. It involves ferrets.
The mind reels. So, tell us a little bit about the stories.
Ah. Well, when said illustrator (I’m waiting for his name to be officially released before I “out him”, so to speak) contacted me he only had one idea. To wit: “Giants leaping.” Awesome. So book #1 is Giant Dance Party. A small girl teaches a troop of gigantic, gangly, clumsy giants to dance. Hilarity ensues. Book #2 is still in the works, but it involves giants in New York. I can say that much.
Come on, don’t make me beg. Tell us the name of the illustrator. Or at least give us a hint. Does it rhyme with “Maurice Sendak?”
You got me. It’s Four Piece Svensack, the great Swedish performance artist of 33rd and Broadway. Okay, here’s a real hint though. My illustrator is blond. Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you?
That narrows it down, thanks. So that was the trigger for you, just two words, giants leaping? Did s/he show you an illustration? Did you talk about it? Or did the ideas just instantly flow?
The illustrator did send a sketch or two, now that you mention it. But only after I said something equivalent to, “That’s a frickin’ AWESOME idea!” Then I wept. We talked a lot about it, sometimes over email and sometimes over the phone. It was nice. I hear that in most cases an author doesn’t get to interact with their illustrator like this, but it’s much more fun if it’s a joint effort, I think.
That’s correct, writers and illustrators rarely have much contact. And I suspect something may be lost in that great divide. I don’t think it’s an accident that so many great books come from one person, the multi-talented writer/illustrator. At least in those cases, there’s back-and-forth (even if it’s only inside one mind), rather than the publishing standard of writer finishes, illustrator takes over, and never the twain shall meet. Anyway, I can’t wait to see your book. When should I start camping out in front of my local independent bookstore?
No idea. I mean, some idea. It’s won’t be 2010, I’m pretty sure. Being a cynical sally I assume 2013. My illustrator is a happy, sweet, wonderfully optimistic sort and says 2010. Probably 2011 or 2012.
Soon you’ll be joining the fraternal organization of children’s authors and illustrators. We’re a semi-secret society, loosely modeled after the Freemasons. I’m sorry, but I can’t show you the secret handshake until the first book hits stores. Homeland security, you understand.
Understood. We librarians have our own super secret handshake anyway. It involves being double jointed (which all real librarians are anyway). And now I can be a part of the super secret children’s-librarians-turned-authors club. As it happens, my children’s room here at NYPL has had two authors before me. Marcia Brown wrote Stone Soup while working in my room, and Claire Huchet Bishop wrote The Five Chinese Brothers. So, y’know. There’s a precedent.
It makes sense that a dedicated children’s librarian would become a talented author. What’s next, “Dancing with the Stars?”
Absolutely! I mean, the first book’s all about dancing giants, right? I’m envisioning a Giant Dance Party song, a dance craze (that would involve a lot of galumphing), a music video, the works.
Where did you grow up? What brought you to the Big Apple?
I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the tourist board’s slogan is “Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo!”
There is, really? I thought it was like a gag.
Nuh-uh. No gag. I’ve since made friends from Eureka and Kokomo. If I can get a pal from Walla Walla I have it made. Anywho, I was raised there, went to college in Richmond, Indiana (“Fight, fight, inner light, kill, Quakers, kill!”), lived in Portland, Oregon for a time, moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and then my husband got into Columbia University’s screenwriting program. We’ve been here ever since, but we’re probably headed for L.A. next.
You seem to have one of the busiest, most popular blogs in the kidlitosphere. How did that all begin for you?
Ironically, with a School Library Journal article (ironic, I mean, since they now host my blog). I can’t remember what it was called, but the piece discussed children’s literary blogs, and it sounded fun. I’d already been writing reviews on Amazon.com for a lark. It wasn’t much more of a step to just start writing them on my blog as well. Then I added news. Then I started reporting on publisher events here in NYC. And then SLJ decided to buy me up so I sold out to the man and have been very happy ever since.
It’s clear from Fuse #8 that you a voracious reader, print and new media. What makes a good blog, do you think?
Personality, for one.
Personality?! Oh, rats!
Regular updates for another. If a blog can give me something I’ll find nowhere else, that’s a lure. Plus, I’m a sucker for a catchy name.
Like, um, James Preller’s Blog? How’s that for catchy?
It’s got a beat and I can dance to it. Gold, kid! Authorial blogs are sort of exempt from the whole “Catchy Name” requirement, y’know. If you start calling your site “Tin Can Phone” or something, how’s anyone going to know it’s you?
You recently published the results of a reader’s poll, asking folks to name their top ten picture books of all time. You compiled those lists to create a master list of “Top 100 Picture Books.” In what way did the results surprise you?
Ooh. Excellent question. I think I was very surprised that people didn’t send in the books they solely loved when they themselves were small children. It was a nice mix of books from the canon, books people liked now (and that their kids like right now), and books from their youth. And who could have predicted two top slots for Mo Willems? Surprising to say the least. I was also surprised that Dr. Seuss didn’t do better than he did. The man was clearly too prolific. His books split the vote over and over again.
Split the vote? You are bringing up bad memories of Ralph Nader and the 2000 election. For me, when Go, Dog. Go! wasn’t included, that pretty much made the whole list meaningless in my eyes. But still fun!
Go, Dog. Go! will have it’s day. I didn’t allow Easy Readers on my Picture Book Poll. At some point I’ll do an Easy Reader poll as well. Then you can see how the book stacks up against the likes of Frog and Toad and The Cat in the Hat.
I don’t really get the need for that distinction — but it’s your poll! Reading the results, I was happy to be reminded of old classics (never expected Millions of Cats to rank so high), or discover recent titles that I’d missed. Were you disappointed that any specific titles that didn’t make it?
Oh sure. The list is totally lacking in diversity. I think we figured out that only two of the creators were people of color. A little weird, actually. And there were certainly titles I would have considered shoo-ins. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss for one.The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein for another. There’s no predicting what showed up. Except for the Top 10, of course. Those were a little easier to predict.
There’s also that critical difference between “favorite” books and “important” books. Charlotte Zolotow’s William’s Doll was a landmark book, I think, as was, in a different way, something like Emily Arnold McCully’s Mirette on the High Wire. Top 100? No idea. But among the Top 100 most influential books, I’d think so. These lists get complicated.
Well, there will always be beloved books that are considered “important”, and titles that are “important” but people don’t gravitate naturally towards. As a reader poll, my list is limited to the individual preferences of my readers. It’s completely subjective. Which is fine, but it’s not the be all and end all of lists.
You did a lot of research on each book. I think that’s a big part of Fuse #8’s success –- you put a ton of effort into it. How many hours a week do you put into the blog?
Hours a week? Oo-de-lally. Hmm. Well, we’re going to pretend that the poll was the exception rather than the rule. On average, though, I’d say I spend a good 14 hours a week on the blog. Two hours a night or so. That’s just a rough estimate.
You’ve met a lot of authors over the years. What have been some of the highlights?
Having tea with Ursula LeGuin was quite the thrill. And getting to speak at The Eric Carle Museum where I later had dinner with Jane Yolen, Jeanne Birdsall, and others. My contact with Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka is flattering. And getting to sit at the Newbery Award winning table two years in a row (first for Susan Patron who mentioned me in her speech, and the second time for Laura Amy Schlitz). Those are some of them, certainly.
Is it true that one of the items on your Bucket List is to sing Karaoke with Ed Young?
Absolutely. If by “Bucket List” you mean “Thing That Will Never Occur in This or Any Other Lifetime”.
Who are you still dying to meet?
The Golden Fleece is, and shall evermore be the aforementioned Sendak. Of course if I met him I’d just flap my gums for a while and be destroyed by his single withering glance. But it might still be worth it.
Blogs are a growing force in children’s literature: influential, timely, free. Is that a good thing –- and why?
I see it as a good thing on the whole. With the decline of newspaper book review sections and the shift to online resources, blogs are becoming a new voice in the marketplace. They will never replace professional reviews, of course, but if a purchasing librarian or parent trusts a blogger’s voice and title selection then they’re going to be more inclined to get their book suggestions from that source. And as long as the bloggers keep their opinions sharp and their heads on straight, the relationship will be beneficial for all.
Your answer suggests there might be a downside.
Well, there’s always the danger of getting too darn cozy with the publishing types. Or reviewing stuff just to make people happy, and not because it’s actually any good. Like I say, you have to trust your blogger. If you suspect they might be compromised (I suddenly have a flash from a movie where someone yells over a phone, “The librarian blogger is compromised! I repeat…!”) then find another. There are plenty of fish in the sea.
With great power comes great responsibility. How do you choose what to review?
It’s tough. I receive boxes of books from publishers, titles from individual authors and illustrators, and additional books from people who want Amazon.com reviews (that’s a whole different market right there). What I tend to do is to put them on my bookshelves in the order of publication date. January books first, February second, etc. I organize them within each month in the order I would like to read them. Then I read through them in this pattern: current month title, past months’ titles, future month title. These I put on the old To Be Reviewed shelf where they wait. Now my reviewing is a different pattern. I prefer to review a picture book, then a novel, then a graphic novel or poetry book or non-fiction title. Because of the sheer amount of non-fiction out there, however, I usually will alternate between a non-fiction book and a graphic novel, then another non-fiction book and a book of poetry. Deciding which book to review next usually depends on how well a book has stayed with me. If I read your book two months ago but can’t remember the plot or the characters, it’s not going to get reviewed. But if it really gripped me in some way (or was memorably awful) it’s getting a review at some point.
If kids like it, is it a good book?
Sometimes. Kids also like eating snot and watching Barney television shows, so I dunno if you should necessarily consider them to be the number one arbitrators of taste. But taking a kid’s opinion on any book is important. Just so long as you remember that there are different kinds of kids with different tastes out there.
Okay, Lightning Round: Five favorite movies?
The Brave Little Toaster
I have “Happy-Go-Lucky” on my Netflix cue. Love Mike Leigh. Okay: Five favorite places in New York City?
Bank Street Bookstore
Books of Wonder
The Jefferson Market Library branch
My library (whoop!)
Five favorite children’s books?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
Ultra-Violet Catastrophe by Margaret Mahy
Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge
The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg
The Mysterious Tadpole? I’m surprised. Why that title?
Well, I’ve a weakness for it. And I should clarify that I’m talking about the original. Not the subsequent reillustrated monstrosity they’ve started selling recently. The original had everything. Mystery. A friendship between a magical creature and an everyday child. A satisfying conclusion. Plus it has a moment (in the original) when you get to see an American Indian single-handedly taking down an evil pirate ship. Where else are you going to see that in a picture book, I ask you?
You are on a rooftop in the city, peaceful under the stars. There’s a song playing and a drink in your hand. What’s the song? What’s the drink?
Ah. That would be a glass of Pims (the mysterious British summer drink that never lists its ingredients on the bottle) and the song would be “This Is the Life” by Amy MacDonald.
Here’s two girls sweetly covering Amy MacDonald’s tune . . . just for Betsy.
Almost forgot: Where’d you get the name, A Fuse #8 Production?
Fuse #8? Hasn’t a thing in the entire world to do with children’s literature. Here’s the scoop. When I graduated from college I was given my grandmother’s dilapidated 1989 Buick Century. The paint job had long since peeled away thanks to a permanent parking in the lot next to her nursing home, but I didn’t care. It was my first wheels. So I park on the street one day in good old Richmond, Indiana and after I take the key out of the car the automatic locks start leaping up and down and up and down. Convinced that my car is possessed (she was christened Linda Blair from there on in) I eventually discovered that the lock situation was killing my battery.
So I’ve just graduated, I’m broke, and I take it into the shop for repairs. The repair guy takes one look at it, opens the glove compartment, and removes Fuse #8. I am told that if I just take that fuse out, it won’t kill itself and he doesn’t charge me a cent. Mind you, Fuse #8 controls the horn, the radio, and the automatic windows, but it’s not like I care. That man was a saint. Fast forward a couple of years and my husband’s looking for a good name for his new film production company. He really wants to call it A Widow Be Damned Production since he’s having rights-related difficulties with Erskine Caldwell’s widow. I counter with A Fuse #8 Production. It’s got everything! A number. A weird word. My suggestion is summarily rejected but I vowed from there on in that I would name SOMETHING A Fuse #8 Production someday. And so I did. Since then I’ve wanted to name something Tin Can Phone, but nothing appropriate has presented itself yet.
Thanks, Betsy. You’ve been wonderful. Good luck with your writing. And thanks, especially, for the great job you do at Fuse #8 — it’s always an entertaining, informative read. As a parting gift, please accept this John Deere “Select Series X300 Tractor,” featuring Edge Xtra Deck, Twin Touch Pedals, V-Twin Engines, and Cast-Iron Front Axles. It comes with a four-year warranty, or 300 hours, whichever comes first.
Awesome! I’ve had this John Deere Striping Kit that fits 48″ & 54″ Decks for the X300 and X500 kicking around my tiny New York apartment for about a year or so. Finally some way to make use of it! Cheers and thanks so much for having me here on your blog. It’s been a hoot.
A tense, dramatic, tautly-written account of an ambush in Afghanistan, it struck me as such a different kind of article than I remember seeing before. Maybe I’m wrong, but my sense is that after years of regulations that attempt to control war coverage, perhaps now there’s a new openness about war reporting. Could that be true? Regardless, this article signaled to me that there was a shift of some kind. I applaud this article, the courage of the reporter, and the Times by putting this story front and center, above the fold on page one. It’s too easy to forget that we’re at war, that young men are killing and dying, that there’s a cause and a cost. By all means, read the story.
I did a school visit recently, where I spoke with approximately 400 6th-grade students. In part, I focused on my upcoming book, Bystander, which centers on bullying and its effect on five main characters: Dylan, Griffin, Mary, David, and Cody. The idea for the opening scene was inspired by a piece of information I picked up on Columbine and ketchup packets. If only for myself, I needed that allusion echoing through my book. When I asked the students if they’d ever heard of Columbine, only two hands were raised. I guess that surprised me. After all, that event changed our schools forever. Just the other day I was in an elementary school when they had a “lock-down drill,” you know, because there’s “a wild animal loose in the school.” I imagine my second-grade daughter, Maggie, picturing a deer skidding through the halls, like a clown in socks.
Anyway, this new book, Columbine by Dave Cullin, is at the top of my reading list. The cover designer for the book, Henry Sene Yee, recently posted a detailed account of how he arrived at that remarkable, understated, haunting cover. Fascinating.
Elizabeth isn’t just providing another tired list, she’s doing research, showing artwork and videos, clips from reviews, and personal commentary. It makes you want to go back and read those books all over again; and in some cases, discover the few that somehow fell through the cracks.
Lastly, a few shots of Canyon de Chelley, Navajo land, in Arizona near the New Mexico border, another one from Taos Pueblo, one from Mesa Verda, and a couple of shots of people who came along for the ride. It was a great vacation/adventure.
Hey, I was very glad to see that my friend R.W. Alley — the artist behind Jigsaw Jones, and recently interviewed here on these premises — was given some much-deserved attention by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production.
Elizabeth reviews There’s a Wolf at the Door, written by R.W.’s wife, Zoe. Which is cool, because I first learned about it when Bob (I call him Bob, and so can you!) mentioned it in our interview. Elizabeth begins her review with a startling confession:
I admit it. I tend to root for the well-dressed baddies. I always have.
And for what it’s worth, I’m ready to post another installment in my series of entries that follows the making of a single book cover, from concept to completion. I interview art director Jennifer Rinaldi and we’ll get to see R.W. Alley’s rough sketch placed in a “sketch mechanical.” That’s coming on Sunday, probably.
After I began this blog, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t alone. There were other like-minded bloggers out there, dozens maybe. Which led me to a site called Literate Lives, hosted by a classroom teacher and a school librarian, Karen Terlecky and Bill Prosser. Karen wrote what I considered a kind, insightful review of Along Came Spider. So naturally I fell in love.
Looking around the web today, I’m continually awed by the dedicated literature-lovers out there. All those people who night after night devour the written word. The real readers who, like Bill and Karen, find no greater pleasure than to bring a child and a good book together.
As for the below, please be advised: I will now be attempting the perilous two-headed interview . . .
Okay, Bill and Karen, life wasn’t busy enough. So you started a blog. What on earth were you thinking?
Bill: When I became a librarian last year after twenty-four years of classroom teaching, I knew I wanted to try blogging about books. Around that same time, Karen casually mentioned that she was interested in starting a blog. She wondered if I wanted to team up. It was a no-brainer. I got to accomplish a goal, work with a great teacher, and cut my workload in half. Now almost a year later, we are being interviewed by James Preller.
Well, Mitzy Kafka couldn’t make it. She’s at a health spa outside of East Orange, New Jersey. And if you want to read that as “rehab,” that’s entirely up to you.
Karen: I am so glad Bill remembers the exact train of events, because my over-fifty brain has blanked out on the specifics. What I do remember was Franki and Mary Lee from A Year of Reading gently prompting me to do this. Then, another friend, Katie, started Creative Literacy. I was very motivated by her success. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I so appreciate that I share the blog with Bill.
I know when I started this blog in early May, I felt a little like Vincent Price in “The House of Usher.” I was filled with an overwhelming sense of talking to myself in an empty room.
Bill: Sometimes I still wonder why anyone cares about what I have to say. But then I’d get the one comment from an author, or parent, or friend — and I was hooked!
Karen: We were fortunate that Mary Lee and Franki decided to “launch” us at their blog. That brought some visitors to see us that we might not have otherwise had. I have to admit that once we added SiteMeter to our blog, it became an addiction for me.
Oh, I hear that. I need a daily shot of Google Analytics in my coffee.
Karen: I know people stop by, but I wish that more people would leave comments. That would make it feel more personal for me, and less like me by myself. I love the back and forth of a conversation –- sort of like this interview!
It’s all done with mirrors, Karen. I’m a lot like David Blaine that way. For me, the real revelation has been how the kidlitosphere began to open up — all sorts of different blogs, by people who cared passionately about the same things, from booksellers to editors, librarians and teachers and authors. People like Roger Sutton, Jen Robinson, Matthew Cordell, Dennis Cass, Nan Hoekstra, and on and on. I’ve found it really inspiring.
Karen: I am amazed at the connections I’ve made. Last year, shortly after Bill and I started our blog, we presented at a literacy conference here in Dublin. We met one of the bloggers whose posts I followed on a regular basis –- way fun! In addition to our group of Central Ohio Bloggers (fabulous people!), I have also had an opportunity to chat online with authors who have stopped by our blog, and even two publishers. This concept of internet connectedness is pretty amazing!
What have you learned along the way?
BIll: It’s helped me be better at finding and recommending good books to my students.
Bill: Blogs help me stay ahead of the curve. A lot of the bloggers are getting advanced copies, so I know what’s coming out, before it comes out. Even with things that are released, blogs are quicker than waiting for the monthly journals that review books. In most cases I’ve already heard of or read many of the books being reviewed because I got a heads up from somebody’s blog.
What about you, Karen?
Karen: I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer. I’m so jealous of my blogger friends who can read a book and dash off a post. I’m very critical of my own writing, and revise multiple times. It takes me at least an hour per post before I hit that “publish” button.
I saw Ariana Huffington on The Daily Show the other day –- I was panting along on the elliptical at the YMCA –- and she emphasized, “First thought, best thought.”
Huffington really believes in that “first draft of history” concept. But with a book review, there are definite responsibilities.
Karen: I think you’re right –- I wish I could get on board with Ariana’s thinking. I’m just always considering my audience. For better or worse, what I put in my blog posts is how most of the reading audience (students, parents, fellow bloggers, authors, publishers) know me as a person. I guess with that thought comes some responsibilities.
Anyway, Bill, you revealed in your first blog post that you set a goal, ten years ago, to read every Newbery winner.
Bill: I try to read the winner before it’s announced, so I can feel really smart and informed. So far I’m batting zero on that. I’ve managed to hit a few of the Honor Books.
After all those years of teaching, Bill, you decided to become a librarian. Was that a mid-life crisis? Shouldn’t you have just bought a fancy red sports car?
Bill: I hadn’t thought of the sports car. I’m still driving a minivan, zero to sixty in twenty minutes.
My wife complains that our minivan sucked the last ounce of coolness right out of her. I tell her that it isn’t true; she still has a few ounces left.
Bill: Thanks for that, now I’ll never be able to convince my teenage children that minivans are cool. When I got my Masters about 20 years ago, I looked into getting the library certificate. But at that point in my life, it was too big of a time commitment. I’ve always loved the library from when I was a kid, so it seemed a natural fit. The sports car may have been more fun, but I doubt it.
Reminds me of a favorite poem by Arnold Lobel from Whiskers & Rhymes:
Books to the ceiling, books to the sky,
My piles of books are a mile high.
How I love them!
How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.
Karen, you are a fifth-grade teacher and . . . a part-time proctologist? Do I have that right?
Karen: I’m fairly certain they’re not paying me enough if I am a part-time proctologist! The idea of that makes me laugh –- it gives a whole new twist to my beginning of the year assessments!
That’s right, I heard you can be a real pain in the assessment.
Karen: LOL! My high school daughter got quite a kick out of that last statement! Back on topic — this year, I am a full-time fifth grade teacher. This is after two years of splitting myself between jobs, teaching language arts and social studies half days, and then giving curricular support to other teachers in those two areas as well. I love the all-day community in my classroom this year. I have a fabulous class, and enjoy each moment with them.
Karen, let’s just ignore Bill for a while . . .
. . . I was taken by how you described, in your first-ever post, your “great reading life.” It feels like this blog is an outpouring of that life, that love.
Karen: I have loved reading my entire life. I can remember being the first in line on the days the bookmobile came to our neighborhood. I had very understanding parents who allowed me to collect all the books in the Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and the Bobbsey Twins series.
I used to be in book clubs with my friends way before it was a trendy thing to do. Being able to share this love of reading and books with my students on a daily basis is a gift for me. Together, we really create a community of readers. The blog is just an extension of my own reading life and my love for books.
I’m staggered by readers of your knowledge and commitment. In that, I think being a writer pretty much prevents me from becoming a great reader –- in the sense of a broad reader, expansive and up-to-date.
Bill: I think our profession sort of demands it so we can keep up to date for our kids. In your profession it might get distracting to your writing? What do you think?
That’s it, exactly. In fact, I shouldn’t even be here right now.
Karen: I feel like it comes in cycles for me. My avid reading times are in the summer, at the beach, and at any holiday break. I am in a “down” time right now, but I am eagerly awaiting our holiday break in two weeks! A few things help me stay up-to-date with current books: Bill introduced me to the awesomeness of the “new book” section at our public library, I have friends who are willing to share their Advanced Reader Copies, and we have a fabulous independent children’s bookstore here in Columbus called, Cover to Cover. The owner, Sally, is gracious about sharing the best of the new books in the store.
Well, we’re all in it together, right? Isn’t that the subtext of this discussion?
Karen: Absolutely! When the small group of Central Ohio bloggers gets together, we never seem to run out of things to talk about. And central to all our conversations are books –- we love being able to refer books to each other, and talk about mutual books we love.
And then I look at how we’ve connected with you over such a short amount of time, just because I happened to review Along Came Spider –- it’s back to being connected to one another’s lives through books.
I get a kick out of how you guys flip out over books you love. What’s the big deal?
Bill: There is nothing better than connecting with a kid over a great book.
Karen: When I read a book I thoroughly enjoy, I want to share that with others. I agree with what Bill said about the connections you make with kids. The students who come to school and tells me they read a post about a book and had to get a copy so they could read it themselves –- that’s the big deal about books for me.
Let’s talk about the Newbery Award. In reading them all, Bill, did you come across any stinkers?
Bill: Definitely. School Library Journal just did an article on this last month, “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” written by Anita Silvey. It was well done and so true. I tend to like the Honor Books better than the actual Medal Winners. Somewhere along the way the voters forgot that these were books for kids, not adults who read books for kids.
I spoke with an editor recently who felt that it hurt the entire industry when they name a book that isn’t kid-friendly. Not that it should be a popularity contest, but that child-appeal should be an important factor. Or do you believe that the committee should rise above any commercial thought of “promoting the industry?” I guess the question is, are some of these committees out of touch with what kids are willing to read?
Bill: I don’t think the Newbery committee has the responsibility to sell books, or that it is a popularity contest, but they do have the responsibility to pick books that kids will read and enjoy. Otherwise why say the award is for fiction geared for ten to fourteen year olds? If the books they pick aren’t written for those ages — what’s the point? And yes, I think some of the committees are out of touch. That said, there are examples recently, especially in the Honor selections of books that might not have made much of a splash without the award. Once they had medals attached, teachers read them and then put them into the kids’ hands. A couple that come to mind are Al Capone Does My Shirts and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.
So what book is going to win the Newbery this year?
Bill: I like Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor; Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, and my dark horse is Itch: A Novel by Michele D. Kwasney. However, The Underneath will probably win and I don’t really like it much.
Karen: I’ll be rooting for Waiting for Normal.
Wow, good for Leslie Connor. She grew up not far from here, outside of Schenectady. Arnold Lobel grew up in Schenectady, too. Must be something in the water. Okay, lightning round. Favorite books?
Karen: All-time favorite, Little Women. Adult favorite –- I’m a Jodi Picoult junkie!
Bill: Hattie Big Sky; Johnny Tremain; Make Way for Ducklings; Twelve Terrible Things . . . I could go on and on.
Karen and Bill (talking really fast, together): A Year of Reading! Jen Robinson! 100 Scope Notes! The Miss Rumphius Effect! The Reading Zone! Two Writing Teachers! Creative Literacy! Barbara O’Connor! And, of course, your blog!
You had to say that or I’d never let you out of here. Anyway, Karen and Bill, thanks for the interview. And thank you, most of all, for the very real contribution you make to children’s literature. Please accept this 1978 Amana Radarange Touchmatic microwave oven as a parting gift.