Thursday, May 8, 2014

First Barbara/First Reader- interview close, by Jan Godown Annino

We visit again with the Barbara Bush Foundation's Liza McFadden. 
To review yesterday's topics with Liza, look at First Barbara/First Reader, published on Wed., May 7, 2014.

Any advice to children's writers, on writing for young children?

 I’ve never written a children’s book so I’m not sure that I can offer much advice on the writing. That said, I talk to the authors and publishers of children’s books quite frequently and have learned astonishing things from those conversations. One thought from a publisher I remember is, don’t have a true end to your book. Think about the story as a place in time.  For instance Clifford the Big Red Dog is always friendly, outgoing and helpful; however he usually gets into trouble because of his size.  I know this clue isn’t rocket science, but it was eye-opening to me – a true “in medias res” moment – that suddenly put my beloved Miss Piggle-Wiggle and the Box Car Children in a different framework. 

We invite authors to meet with children and as I listen in on their conversations, I’m always struck by their fabulous personalities.  As Mary Pope Osborne, the author of the Magic Tree House series, shared with me a few weeks ago, she gets to live and dream and think like a 9-year old every day, and that’s a positive, magical place. Or, an email I got this week from N.D. Wilson who shared about Boys of Blur.  It combines football, Florida swamps and cane fields, and echoes of the literary classic Beowulf.  What boy/man wouldn’t be excited to continue to research in the swamps of Florida for his next book?  So, and this is by deduction, I see wonderful children’s authors who have never lost their love of their childhood, nor their enthusiasm for it.

You are right. Children's writers tend to have their clay trolls/bat puppets/ tambourines at hand.

Appreciation to you, for the insider tipoff about this new novel,
So now, what non-fiction topics do you think/know have success with young child readers?

Zow.  Let’s go back to that last discussion.  
While I was with Mary Pope Osborne, I met her husband Will Osborne who helps her write the Magic Tree House “companion books." For instance with Dinosaurs Before Dark, there is a dinosaurs non-fiction companion book and, if you’ve read these, they break many of the “rules” for nonfiction.  They even have footnotes!  Yet, they are some of the very top-grossing nonfiction books being published.  They’ve even developed a musical play that middle school students can do based on the books. Of course, it certainly helps that these nonfiction books are aligned with a best-selling fiction series, but I think this brilliant couple should win an award for their breakout ideas.  
Footnotes?  Music?  Fiction and nonfiction? 


You are talking about pace-setters. The Osbornes work hard with winning results, in a class by themselves, Liza. Our daughter devoured  #1, the dinosaurs & most in that first MTH/Morgan LeFay librarian quest adventure group when she was a kiddo. Her favorite was the ninjas, if I remember right. But she also loved mummies. They are fun. 
And, Mary Pope Osborne is a leader in advocating for all authors, by the way.

Care to name picture books that have stayed with you from childhood? Stayed with your children, from your children's picture book years? 
Any non-fiction books to name?


Personally, picture books never really interested me that way stories with illustrations do.  The Nome King with his tiny little legs and his scary beard sitting on his thrown, dark Mombi creating silly Jack Pumpkinhead or Professor H.M. Wogglebug, T.E with his giant pinstriped front shirt listening in at the school door, these strange and wonderful images from the Wizard of Oz stories became so much more alive because they added to one’s imaginative rendering of the story.  

As a kid, I’d borrow these books from the library all the time, and I loved them for their weight, and length as much as I loved them for their humor and imagination.  My daughter loves these books and the set was her 10-year-old birthday gift.  By the way, I recently learned that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series will be reissued with a new, fully-illustrated edition by Jim Kay who won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustrations of Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls in 2012.  Now, I think I will finally read this series! 

As to nonfiction, my son devours all reptile and science books. I’m sorry I’m not at home just now as I’d go in his closet and pull out the purple encyclopedia of animals. Of course, the book would fall into 3 pieces as I pull it off the shelf – so worn is the binding.  We had so many hours of fun.  I remember that in the lining of the pages would be hidden say “6 millipedes” and there would be great questions like, “which type of frog eats its own skin”?  Of course, a great picture of a frog eating its own skin was included. Now, that is a delicious book.  Definitely our favorite of favorites in nonfiction. Pure boy and tomgirl.

 What connection does singing a story, rhymed text, lyrical text or other similar formats have to do with children's book pleasure?

Can I answer a question with a question?  How do we accurately share our emotions without strong language and verbal skills?  What carries emotion better than the sung word?

(And that was sung, back at ya.)

What do volunteers with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy do, that children's authors can also do? In other words, please explain how children's authors can help, other than to write more good books for young people.

You are doing a world of good by writing!  
Think of this - the number one predictor of occupational success is vocabulary.  It is how we are perceived and it all starts with word choice. 

Writing intellectually enriching books is wonderful endeavor and we love you for doing just that. Of course, if you want to do more, consider joining our efforts to help the 20% of Americans who read at less than a 5th grade level.  You know the options …from being a hands-on reading tutor …to making a donation donating books.  All are wonderful and all are appreciated.  
See for more details.

end note, from Jan Godown Annino - The Barbara Bush Foundation works overtime to help us become a nation of readers. Since colleagues here within our Grog do the same, it’s a mighty fine fit, Grog-BBF.  Thank you Liza. Those of us who haven't had the chance to visit your informative site will likely check it out now.  Please expect us to keep writing for children & to keep reading with them. 


  1. Glad you could visit Tina. Schools can't always buy books & so it's great that groups are out there thinking about filling the shelves with good reads.

  2. Thank you, Jan for introducing me to The Barbara Bush Foundation and all the good the organization does to promote literacy. ~Suzy Leopold