Booklist Editor/Children’s Book Author Chats over his Morning Coffee

I was seeking out Booklist media editor Sue-Ellen Beauregard at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans when I ran into Booklist Online editor, Keir Graff, instead, and we started chatting. In addition to his role at Booklist, Keir is a writer and a father of two boys. It so happened that Keir’s first book for children, The Other Felix, was just about to be published by Roaring Brook Press. After speaking to Keir, I sprinted over to the Macmillan Booth where I cited a long friendship with Keir to get my hands on the book!

Now, The Other Felix is published and may even be living on the shelves of your library. Maggie M. of The Smithtown Library just gave it a rave review at the CLASC New Book Forum, and the book was given a Mock Newbery Honor by the students at Waukazoo Elementary in Michigan. I visited Keir in the Booklist booth in Dallas last week and, this time, the Macmillan booth was conveniently located across the aisle!

I wanted to share with all of you what has been a lovely experience getting to know Keir, and he has kindly answered a few questions over his morning cup of coffee at his desk in Chicago. Read on to learn more about Keir and his work as a Booklist editor and children’s book author. 

AO: So what is it you do at Booklist?

KG: I’m the editor of Booklist Online. For some reason, I often find it hard to describe what I do all day, but my main responsibility is making Booklist reviews and articles available via a wide variety of electronic formats. I oversee everything from our website to our blogs and e-newsletters to our social media channels. Fortunately, I have a lot more help than I used to, so I don’t have to do it all myself! I write reviews, too–but only of adult books.

AO: What made you decide to write a children’s book?

KG: It was a complete accident. I had published a number of books for grown-ups and, while I’ve always loved reading with two sons, I had no plans to write for kids. Frankly, it seemed too difficult. But then a few years ago my older son, Felix, began having nightmares in which he was chased through a forest by monsters. I offered all the usual grown-up bromides (“Dreams aren’t real, son; the monsters can’t hurt you”) but nothing I said helped. He knew the dreams weren’t real, but they were still scary. Then, one night, the dream changed: he met a boy who looked just like him, had the same name, and knew how to fight monsters. His nightmares stopped and I had a good idea for a story.

I planned to write a short story just for Felix and his little brother, Cosmo. But the concept was so intriguing that I couldn’t stop writing. A few months later, I had a draft of a short novel. I showed it to my friend and colleague, Ilene Cooper, who said she thought I might have something. After a couple more drafts, Roaring Brook Press offered me a two-book deal.

AO: Felix has some pretty intense dreams. Do you remember your dreams?

KG: I do. I love nothing more than sleeping deeply and waking up confused, still half in dreamland. When I visit schools, I usually tell the kids about my most recent dream, hoping they’ll use their own dreams as creative inspiration. Before one school visit I had a particularly intense dream that I was in a plane full of scientists, flying through a hurricane to gather data. We had just emerged into the eye of the storm, above sunlit water and below blue sky–and were just about to fly into an angry wall of clouds–when I woke up. I was so disappointed.

AO: Did being a dad yourself give you insight into writing about Felix’s dad?

KG: I don’t think I could have written about being a father until I became a father myself–and I hope I’m a better dad than Felix’s dad in the story! But I definitely gave him some traits that I’m afraid I possess, even if I exaggerated them. Mr. Schwartzwalder means well but is distant and self-absorbed, not as good a listener as he could be. Felix really has to solve his own problems. It’s good for kids to solve their own problems, of course, but it’s better if they’re doing it because their parents are encouraging them, not ignoring them.

AO: What can we look forward to next?

KG: I’m working with my editor, the wonderful Kate Jacobs, on my second middle-grade novel. It’s called The Matchstick Castle (at least for now) and should be out in the fall of 2013. If The Other Felix is kind of a quiet character study (at least, in between monster attacks!) then The Matchstick Castle is wild, zany, and (hopefully) funny. It’s about a kid sentenced to the most boring summer vacation imaginable–until he meets an eccentric family living in a dangerously dilapidated house in the woods. I had a ton of fun writing with it and I hope kids have half as much fun reading it.

AO: I’m sure it will be funny, considering what I’ve read from you on your blog. What’s this business about asking books like Fight Club for advice?!

KG: I wanted to add a new feature to the Booklist Online e-newsletter, REaD ALERT–I had always wanted to do an advice column of some sort for Booklist, but I couldn’t decide on the format. (It’s a lot harder than it looks!) Then, just before deadline, I had an idea that people would ask books for advice, not me; hence, “Ask a Book.” In the first one, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club answers a point of silly etiquette. And, next week, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road tells you how to keep your soufflé from falling. 

AO: Tell us something about Neal Porter he doesn’t want us to know!

KG: Boy, I wish I could. I’ve met him several times and have tremendous admiration for him, but we haven’t worked together. Ilene knows him much better. The whole Roaring Brook crew is amazing, though–and they have the awards to show for it!

AO: They sure do. Thanks, Keir, for taking the time to “chat” with us Suffolk County librarians! We wish you the best!

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Shelf Awareness Marks an Important Milestone in Children’s Publishing

If you are not a reader of Shelf Awareness, today is a good day to subscribe! Shelf Awareness, with support from Random House Books, has dedicated an issue to celebrating 20 Years of The Magic Tree House series. Read the interviews between Shelf Awareness children’s editor Jennifer Brown and author Mary Pope Osbourne, Fact Tracker author Natalie Pope Boyce, and illustrator Sal Murdocca.

And, of course, don’t forget to share this milestone with the families in your library. Link to the dedicated issue on your library’s facebook page, or make a book display in your library.

Anne Pellowski Returns to the Suffolk Cooperative Library System

A wonderful confluence of events will bring a world-renowned storyteller to our doorstep this February. Anne Pellowski is in between visits to Ethiopia, where she taught families how to make their own cloth books, and Central America, where she will assist with the Bibliobus project. A native of Wisconsin and active member of the International Board on Books for Young People, Anne is truly a citizen of the world. Anne has kindly offered to present a program on storytelling for librarians on Friday, February 3rd at 10:00am in the SCLS auditorium. She will demonstrate how she makes cloth books and teach us storytelling techniques using our fingers, string, paper, and handkerchiefs.

Anne presented at SCLS about 18 years ago and it was a workshop Joanne K. of the Commack Public Library has never forgotten. “A librarian who attends Anne’s presentation on February 3rd will never forget it either,” Joanne said at the Dream Big meeting on January 17th.

If you work in a Suffolk County library, please register for Anne’s program online or by contacting SCLS Youth Services. If possible, please bring a handkerchief with you to the program. In the meantime, check out Anne’s books, which cover the whole spectrum of storytelling, from techniques and presentation ideas to history and research.

An Opportunity Too Good to Pass Up

The USBBY Bridge to Understanding Award Committee seeks to identify and honor innovative programs that use children’s literature as a way to promote international understanding, and libraries are eligible for this award. Does your library program promote “reading as a way to expand a child’s world”?

To learn more about the award, view information about past winners, and to access entry, criteria, and application forms, please visit the USBBY website. Or, you can contact Suffolk’s own Doris Gebel, president of USBBY, at the Northport-East Northport Library.

The award carries a monetary prize of $1000 and a certificate. The submission deadline for the next award is January 31, 2012.

What is LAPC?

While some children’s librarians in Suffolk County have been throwing around the acronym LAPC (pronounced “laps”) since 1982, others may be mystified about what this group is all about. LAPC stands for Librarians’ Alliance for Parents and Children. According to their informatative blog, LAPC is “a coalition formed for librarians who conduct Parent-Toddler Workshops.  LAPC began in the fall of 1982 with a group of six librarians who saw the need for a network to share ideas and materials which relate to Parent-Toddler Workshops.”

The group meets quarterly. Three meetings are held at pre-determined Suffolk County library, and the spring joint meeting with the Nassau County LAPC rotates between the counties. The next hosting library is usually determined at the LAPC meeting, and then a point person makes arrangments for the meeting room and publicizes the date on the LAPC listserv.

If you think this group would be helpful for you, I encourage you to join the LAPC listserv. Speak to your colleagues if you are unsure whether anyone from your library already attends the meetings. If you have LAPC-related information that you would like posted on the LAPC blog, please contact Michelle at Brookhaven or Audrey at Huntington.

Say Hello to my “Little Friends”

The best part of strolling through exhibit floor at the ALA Midwinter meeting is coming across little gems! In Dallas my treasure was Little Friends, a lovely easy reader by debut author/illustrator Onur Tukel, published by Marshall Cavendish.

Three seasons take the reader through the budding friendship of two girls and the boy across the street. Sara and Louisa are established friends. They live next door to each other and do everything together. Barry lives across the street. He likes to play with his puppet, and doesn’t say much to anyone at all. After an argument over a shared love of swinging from their special tree resolves, the three form a friendship based on their fondness of adventure and a gentle tolerance of each other’s differences.

Each of the three chapters gently pushes a different character center stage, and by the end they felt as real as the kids in my neighborhood. The colors change delightfully with the seasons;  Browns shift to blue and white and finally green. Cartoon boxes keep the pace moving along with full page spreads drawing attention to the big moments. Marketed for ages 7-9, this book may be appreciated by readers who prefer kids instead of animals as their main characters. It’s also perfect as a read aloud or for kids who are ready for a little meatier vocabulary.

I hope Tukel has more stories about the Little Friends up his sleeve! If you can’t wait to see more from Tukel, check out what he’s done for grown-ups. Contact Youth Services to borrow the galley today.

Dream Big Recap

Sixteen children’s librarians presented storytime ideas in front of their peers at the SCLS program Dream Big!: Bringing the Early Literacy Manual to Life. A variety of books, songs, fingerplays, flannelboard stories and crafts for ages birth to five were demonstrated. Many of the ideas were from the Collaborative Summer Library Program Manual, but some of the storytime elements were original creations.

“The meeting was tons of fun today!” One participant wrote afterwards. “I am so proud of us creative librarians!!”

The librarians should be proud – it is one thing to get up in front of children, but performing in front of peers can be intimidating. The audience was superb as well; they gladly clapped and sang and tapped along, just like they were kids again!

“I learned some great new songs and stories to share with my little friends!” another librarian said on facebook. You can discover some new stories, too, by taking a look at the list of books your colleagues presented.