This prolific author (as well as freelance editor, teacher, and conference organizer) is more than individual book titles.
For some authors, it’s convenient to think: what have they done?
For talented Emma Walton Hamilton, my first question remains: What will she do NEXT?
Emma, What’s right right now about children’s literature?
I’m a bit like the mustachioed cap peddler in Caps for Sale … I have the unique opportunity to wear multiple hats when it comes to children’s lit. In addition to being an author, I direct the annual Childrens Literature Conference for Stony Brook Southampton, teach children’s book writing for their MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, and work as a freelance children’s book editor. I head up the Children’s Book Hub membership site, a center of information and support for children’s book authors, and wrote a book called Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment. But probably more important than any of this is the fact that I’m also the Mom of two avid consumers of children’s books.
No matter which hat I’m wearing on any given day, the view is always the same: expansive, colorful, thriving—a landscape rich with possibility and opportunity.
To be sure, much has changed in this landscape over the years. Some areas have grown apace, others have shape-shifted, and new opportunities have sprouted up in all directions. But it is an ever-more rewarding place to be, populated by some of the best people in the world. The generosity, collegiality, and sheer talent of my industry colleagues—from the writers and artists to the editors, booksellers, and librarians—never ceases to amaze me. New technology is providing all kinds of fresh opportunities for reading, writing, and publishing, and the industry is being taken more seriously than ever before, thanks to the success of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, to mention but a few. Last but by no means least, the quality of the work is better than ever… young readers today are the beneficiaries of outstanding art and storytelling in books that provide a cornucopia of ideas, tackle almost any subject and constantly push the boundaries in terms of freshness of approach. I feel so lucky to be a part of this uniquely fertile time in our industry and our world.
What can be done to make that “good” better?
Personally, I could use a few more hours in the day to read everything I want to read, and write everything I want to write!
Besides that, I would say two things. First, I would encourage parents (and publishers, and booksellers) not to dismiss picture books. To do so is to rob our kids of the unique gifts that picture books provide. When a child decodes a story both aurally and visually, he or she is not only developing comprehension, fluency, and listening skills, but also an important understanding of how to process imagery—essential in later life for everything from ‘reading’ body-language in a business meeting to arts appreciation. Equally essential is the bonding time that reading picture books aloud with children provides, and the connections that are thereby forged between reading and pleasure. It isn’t until around eighth grade that young people’s reading abilities and listening skills converge—meaning that, until that point, children can understand a great deal more of what is read to them than they are able to read to themselves, both in terms of vocabulary and ideas. So it remains critically important to read with and to our children, and to engage them in the unique pleasures that picture books provide.
Secondly, or by way of extension, I would say that we must try to keep joy a priority when it comes to kids and reading. With all that competes for our children’s interests today, we must do everything we can to make (and to keep) reading a totally captivating experience. We must balance the reading that is done for assessment, instruction or retention with reading for pleasure’s sake… and we must continually ask ourselves, whether we write for kids or in any other way put books in front of young people, “Will this ignite his or her imagination? Will this motivate him or her to want more?”
There’s a quote from Barbara Feinberg’s Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up that I love: “What does someone just starting out in the world need to take? What book in his knapsack might help him along his way? (Not the one I’ve read today; it seems too nerve-racking, freighted with anxiety. It would weigh him down.) What builds courage? Lightens despair?” I’m by no means saying we should only offer our children happy endings, or pablum—but we must strive to continue to provide young people with reading experiences that are thrilling, joyful, illuminating—and that, above all, make them yearn for more.
A “former” teacher? Author Joanne Anderson Reisberg may not be in a classroom, but she’s still inspiring students.
How? She’s writing what she knows and what she loves. Such personal efforts make the best kind of books.
Joanne, what’s right right now about Children’s Literature?
What’s right is that children’s literature has been put in the hands of young readers in the guise of book clubs. Kids are enthusiastically reading. If you check out a county library for their summer booklets you’ll find boys’ book clubs, girls’ book clubs, mother-and-daughter book clubs, girls’ junior book clubs, and more. Fantastic! Years ago we talked about non-readers and now categorize them under reluctant readers. Publishers, as you know, call this hi-low for high interest and low ability. Schools also have discussion groups with the Great Books program. They not only encourage reading the classics but students analyze the characters and plots. What’s right? Thank heaven its smart to read again.
What can be done to make that “good” better?
I have a thing about stilted dialogue. The protagonist’s words should be true to the character and written most of the time without adverb taglines. We don’t always speak in complete sentences and the dialogue should reflect that. And names, let’s not have a cat, or Calvin, Colin Curtis and Clark in the same story. For those students who “speed” read, nothing slows them down faster than being forced to read a dialect. All that’s needed is a hint or a coloring of that language. Strong dialogue can make “good” much “better.”
Joanne Anderson Reisberg’s biography: “Books are truly an integral part of an author’s life. My great grandfather served with a MN Regiment in the Civil War and prompted my writing, Save the Colors, a Civil War Battle Cry. Zachary Zormer Shape Transformer: a math adventure has kept me, a former teacher, in the classroom as we make Moebius strips and change perimeters by walking through a sheet of paper. Zachary has also been published in Korean and soon in a Chinese language. I’m pleased with my connection to Operation Outreach USA, publishers of Webster’s Coming Home Today. Their literacy mission puts books in the hands of readers who have yet to own a book. (we are debating the title of my new book coming out with them this fall) And I have just ventured into the e-book market with a ‘tween action/adventure historical novel set on the high seas, Escape to the New World. I purchased a two reale coin on Captiva Island and wondered who had held the silver coin before the 16th> century galleon went aground. The story takes Carlos from Seville to the New World to find his father, an assayer, in the silver mines in Potosi. And what I’ve found most important in publishing is that I have been extremely fortunate to have excellent editors.”
Learn more at www.joannereisberg.com.
He’s employed the “truth is stranger than fiction” maxim, recreating the lives of the actual creators of these comic book icons. While young readers may not imagine themselves saving the world, they can relate to the writers and artists who have created these classic characters.
That’s a super power any author would envy!
Marc, what’s right right now with children’s literature?
Writers and editors are demonstrating how much they respect children’s intelligence by producing books on challenging topics written in robust language. I’m speaking particularly about elementary-aged kids and the market I’m most familiar with is nonfiction picture books. Sure, there are still plenty of exceptions and safe bets being published, but the opportunity for experimentation is there.
What could be done to make that “good” better?
More experimentation! And more trust in authors that they can help sell their books in venues beyond the bookstore (physical or online). An author who is passionate enough to pursue an unconventional subject is likely passionate enough to promote it. A non-famous writer who knows his audience and knows how to reach that audience can be as much (or more) of an asset to a project as a Big Name. This is the “Bookball” model.
Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of the ALA Notable picture book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, which made the front page of USA Today for a startling discovery he made during research.
His latest is Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, a picture book for older readers and the first-ever biography of Bill Finger, the real mind behind arguably the world’s most successful superhero. Michael Uslan, executive producer of The Dark Knight Rises and all previous Batman movies since 1989, called it “Purposely and meaningfully (and beautifully) written.”
Marc has been invited to speak internationally at schools, conferences, libraries, museums, synagogues, and a business lunch or two. At noblemania.blogspot.com he reveals research adventures and promotional gambles.