Natasha Wing drops by our house every Christmas.
That is, her book does. As we read all of our holiday favorites, a new annual tradition has been the sharing of her Night Before the Night Before Christmas.
Natasha, what’s the good news about children’s literature right now?
The good news is that technology is catching up to our imaginations so that there are more outlets for good stories such as an e-book that can reproduce color pages of picture books, to movies with special effects that recreate imagined worlds.
From your perspective, what can be done to improve children’s literature?
Overall, I think for the book world, people need to start asking “What are you reading?” Interviewers need to include that question in their list of “want to knows” about a person. For instance, when someone interviews a celebrity, a community leader, or a sports player, ask him or her, “What book are you reading?” I think it will make reading hip, and shift some focus from what the person looks like to their intellect.
Natasha Wing is the author of 20 children’s books including her best-selling series called “The Night Before” which includes The Night Before Kindergarten. Her book, An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers was recently chosen as a Silver Honor for the Eureka Children’s Book Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.
Laura Purdie Salas defies magic. She’s a prolific poet just as comfortable writing in other genres. Unlike many magicians, Laura shares. From her Write Your Own Poetry book to her blog, she’s revealing how she does it. Simultaneously, she’s showing how we can do it, too.
Laura, what’s the good news about young people’s literature?
What’s good about these tough times in children’s publishing is that they are making all the components stronger. I think the best books will still get published, the most committed editors will still find work, and the most passionate writers are the ones who will be left standing when things get better. These times are challenging us to do only our absolute best, and kids deserve that!
Another great thing about children’s publishing is the range of books published for young kids today. From snarky to silly, sweet to saucy, there are picture books and chapter books for every kind of kid! And I think/hope that publishers who are taking risks and broadening their definition of what’s suitable for kids are being rewarded with awards and good sales.
This is purely from my personal perspective as a poet and poetry lover: I think one way that good can get better is by figuring out a way to overcome adults’ fear of poetry. So many teachers feel intimidated by poetry. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If we expose kids to more poetry throughout their childhood, we build in them a love of words, an ability to see the world through many lenses, and a great method of self-expression!
In a broader sense, I think good can only get better when we insist on better funding for our schools and libraries. There’s nothing as disheartening as visiting a school that has $200 per year (or less) for library acquisitions. Many of our kids are being denied exposure to one of the best things in life.
Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 85 books for children. Most of all, she loves to write poetry. Funny, serious, rhyming, free verse…she loves it all. Her first trade picture book poetry collection, Stampede! Poems About the Wild Side of School, was published by Clarion Books. She has 10 poetry collections from Capstone Press, as well as Write Your Own Poetry with Compass Point.
Toni Buzzeo is a walking library.
She won me over with her first book, The Sea Chest, in 2002. More than a well-written title, the book seemed to be the creation of someone whose life revolved around books. Sure enough, I learned that Toni was a career librarian. She’s mastered her craft by serving and understanding books—and readers.
This is a time of rapid change in children’s publishing, and sometimes humans don’t manage rapid change well. However, as children’s book creators, I believe that we are lucky to be writing and illustrating in this time of incredible forward momentum and fabulous opportunity as format possibilities open around us and small publishers gain new ground, expanding their publishing programs while also stepping into the lively new world of e-publishing with their large house counterparts.
Imagine! The kids we’re writing for today will not ever have lived in a time when books were only paper objects! But I also believe that they will always own and read paper books throughout their lifetimes, as one of the many delivery systems for the written word. Furthermore, in my world, it is not possible that STORY, the essential kernel of what we offer to our readers, whether we are fiction or nonfiction creators, will disappear. For, as humans, we have the deep-seated need to tell stories, to listen to stories, to be changed by stories. That will never change.
I am a career school librarian as well as an author. In much the way that I believe the form of “books” will change, I also know that the form of libraries will change. And as in children’s publishing, in my library world, I hear some people beating the drums of fear. But what I know, without doubt, is that books and libraries and stories are strong forces and that though they may change, they will never disappear, so bring on the changes, I say! Help us to find more ways to get more books and more stories into the hands of ever more children.
Personally, I think that “good” gets better when we support the fierce apostles of the written word, the teachers and librarians who share books (in whatever form) and stories with children. This isn’t as easy as it once was, as librarian positions in schools and public libraries are trimmed and as teachers’ instruction is bound more and more relentlessly to their students’ scores on standardized tests. As writers and illustrators, we need these champions of children’s literature to be conduits for kids—to encourage them to read and think about and talk about and write about books, and to connect each child with a series of “perfect” books for him or her.
As authors and illustrators, we need to stand at school board meetings and town council meetings and lift up our voices in protest when librarians are fired, when libraries are closed, when class sizes grow too big to manage, and when teachers are forced to spend all year, every year, “preparing for the test.” We need to be knowledgeable and thoughtful citizens who speak out on behalf of our colleagues in schools and libraries, for they are the ones who will continue to share the love of story with the children we are writing for!
Toni Buzzeo is the award-winning Maine children’s author of twelve picture books with six more forthcoming. For sixteen years, she worked as a school librarian in Portland, Maine where she honed her knowledge of children’s literature. Combining this knowledge with her love of children, Buzzeo writes about characters of all stripes (including ducklings, loons, dinosaurs, teachers, and librarians) who explore their worlds, their relationships, and themselves in settings that include rocky Maine lighthouse islands, mountain lakes, the southern U.S. coast, and the interior of fictional school and public libraries.