Children’s author Stephanie Calmenson takes that goal one better. She doesn’t write down to dogs. Every canine character she includes is an original. No cartoon stereotypes. I’ve given her May I Pet Your Dog? as gifts. I think she’s fluent in “kid” and “dog.”
Q: Stephanie, what’s the good news about children’s literature?
A: Not too long ago, I participated in Poetry Blast #8 at ALA, lovingly organized by Marilyn Singer (poet/author) and Barbara Genco (LJ, editor). The event was scheduled for 5:30 on the last evening of the conference and I thought we’d get a handful of people if we were lucky. We were luckier than that. The room was filled. It was filled with librarians who know how poetry can capture a moment; mirror a child’s feelings; entice a reluctant reader; inspire a child to write poems of his or her own. These dedicated librarians stayed through the last night of a long conference to make sure they didn’t miss a good poem they could share with a child. They are our good news.
Q: What can be done to make that “good” better?
A: The talk in publishing these days is about the hot ticket, the fast dollar. But poetry books usually make their mark over time. I hope publishers will use some of the revenue from big ticket items to publish more poetry books for these dedicated librarians to share.
For more on the business of publishing poetry, I recommend reading Professor Sylvia Vardell’s interview with poet /poetry-champion Lee Bennett Hopkins. Dr. Vardell also shares clips of the Poetry Blast.
Stephanie Calmenson, a former teacher and children’s book editor, has written over 100 books for children including poetry, prose, fiction and nonfiction. Her poetry has been described as, “Joyously exuberant” (Kirkus); “whimsical and lively…sure to grab the attention of even the littlest listeners” (SLJ); “…a rainbow of sound….” (Kirkus). Among her most popular titles in rhyme are Welcome, Baby!; Good for You!; Jazzmatazz!; Late for School!; and celebrating its 20th anniversary, the beloved PBS StoryTime favorite, Dinner at the Panda Palace. She is also known for her books about dogs, including Rosie, a Visiting Dog’s Story, which Smithsonian Magazine called “one of the outstanding nonfiction books of the year”, and May I Pet Your Dog?, a Horn Book Fanfare selection. Read more about Stephanie’s books.
Whenever someone in a restaurant takes my order, I’m hoping they like the food, too. I want them to believe in what they’re offering me.
The same holds true for the public library. Librarians like Jody Wurl make searching for each new book an adventure. They aren’t selling. They’re fellow readers sharing joy.
Jody, what’s the good news about children’s literature?
My specialties as a public librarian right now are teen services, readers advisory, and technology. These interests overlap in the world of Twitter in unexpected and, at times, exhilarating ways. One of the things that’s good right now about children’s literature is the online community being built up around it. We have authors, publishers, readers, and parents talking to each other about books. One example: back on June 4, 2011 journalist Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote in a Wall Street Journal article called “Darkness Too Visible” that “Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?” This ignited a passionate conversation about YA lit in many online forums, and on Twitter it took the form of the hashtag #YAsaves. If you go to search.twitter.com and type it in you can follow some of the discussion. Lovers of YA lit offered passionate and sometimes painfully revealing defenses of themes some consider too dark for teens. Sherman Alexie’s rebuttal in the Wall Street Journal article, “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood,” is one of the most compelling essays I have ever read. Technology provides amazing tools to interact with authors you love, follow publishing trends and discussions, and connects you to your fellow readers in unprecedented ways. What a great time to be a book lover!
What can make the “good” better?
To go back to my #YAsaves example, book lovers need to think before they post. NPR ran a story on July 6 called “YA Author Apologizes to ‘Wall Street Journal’ Critic.” From the story:
“Gurdon’s analysis didn’t sit well with YA author Lauren Myracle, whose work was specifically mentioned in Gurdon’s piece. After reading the critique, Myracle called Gurdon’s analysis “idiocy, to be blunt.”
Myracle joined Gurdon and NPR’s Neal Conan to apologize for that remark.
“I lashed out at you,” Myracle said. “When people get outraged they get angry, and then it becomes this weird argument instead of a discussion. … I should welcome people who aren’t on the same page with love and generosity. … And I didn’t with you. And I’m sorry.”
“That’s extremely kind,” Gurdon told Myracle. “Thank you very much for your gracious words. Completely accepted.”
When passions are engaged these online tools make it easy to misstep. If online communities can focus on discussion rather than argument, we’ll build stronger support for the literature we love. Sometimes we’ll need to pause, breathe, then type.
Jody Wurl is a librarian with a large public library system in the Midwest. She loves serving youth, recommending books, and exploring technology. A fan of speculative fiction and the format of comics, she volunteers for and attends numerous science fiction/fantasy/horror/comics events and conventions. She is inordinately pleased that she has an essay published in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them called “Shelve Under Television, Young Adult” where she gets to combine her love of teen services with her love of genre storytelling. You can follow her on Twitter as @Jodyth
Imagine being a student, seeing and knowing that your teacher wants to write, too. That’s joy. That’s Joan Wolf.
Joan, what’s good right now about children’s literature?
Walk in to my 2nd grade classroom during our quiet reading time and you can see what’s good about children’s literature. I can guarantee that every child will be curled up intently reading a book of his or her choice for thirty minutes straight. The kids in my room (and in my colleagues’ rooms) love books and take their reading time very seriously. This is probably one of the best and most hopeful things I see about children’s literature right now. No matter what “doom or gloom” I might read about books or publishing or reading education, I still see kids who are hungry for books. I see kids who love the way a book can transport them to another time, another place, another world, another life. And I still see kids in my elementary school who get excited when a brand new book hits the library or classroom shelves.
From your perspective, what can make that “good” better?
As far as making the “good” better, the teacher in me believes it is incredibly important for educators to continue to provide a variety of genres and books in our classroom and school libraries. Kids need to be exposed to real books. They need more than prepackaged test prep formulaic literature. As the grip of No Child Left Behind tightens in public school classrooms, this becomes more challenging, and also much more important.
The writer in me believes it is equally important that writers continue to write books with subjects and ideas about which we care passionately. In the changing business of publishing (think e-books, economic recession, etc.) this is both challenging and important. More than ever it seems that authors must worry about subjects that will “sell” as much as subjects about which we passionately want to write.
We are definitely in changing times and I believe that children’s literature can be a positive part of that change. I believe in the power of books and words and story, especially when it pertains to children.
Joan M. Wolf is both a teacher and a writer. She has been a public school teacher in elementary and middle school. Currently, she is teaching second grade. She has published four teacher resource books and is the author of Someone Named Eva (Clarion,) an award-winning middle grade historical fiction book. Learn more at www.joanmwolf.com
She’s author of more than 300 published books. Some authors would quit out of fear of repeating themselves. The creative challenge of being original grows with every new book.
However, Yolen hasn’t forgotten those devoted readers—the readers ready for more. She keeps going for them.
Jane, what’s good right now about children’s literature?
The range of topics, ideas, stories, nonfiction, graphic novels is greater than ever before. If someone says they can’t find a good book, they simply aren’t trying. (Or else they are very trying!)
From your perspective, what can be done to make that “good” better?
Support publishers and bookstores . . . and authors/illustrators. Stop supporting bad/poorly written books by celebrities so that publishers realize no one wants such books. Find new ways to finance libraries and KEEP LIBRARIANS. We are in the knowledge/imagination business. So are kids. Don’t disappoint them.
Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.
Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others.