Episode 1 - Book Club - TRANSCRIPT

Will Schwalbe: And that's why something that I've come to say a lot is that books are the second greatest gift you can give someone ... the greatest gift you can give someone as a conversation about a book.


This is The Beginning of Your Life Book Club a podcast celebrating the transformative power of children’s literature and the magic of picture books. I’m your host, Emily Akins.


(page turn sound)

(Clara Reading Little People Busy Town)

Clara: “Main street is a busy place / in each store there’s a friendly face / come along and we can sh- stop / to see who works in every shop.” I got stop and shop mixed up.

This is Clara. She just turned 6. And this year she has just started reading like crazy. She’s the youngest member of our book club. We meet almost every night. We all take turns choosing the books. Unlike most successful book clubs, we do not serve food. Which is funny because one of Clara’s all time favorite books - one she goes to again and again - one she enjoyed even before she could read - one she’s loved so much she’s broken its binding is … The Joy of Cooking.

(Clara and Julia reading The Three Pigs together)

Clara: “High on a little hill - a hill - they guard - over a - dragon!”

Julia: You’re right. Good reading! “High on a hill there lived a great dragon

Who stood guard over a rose made of the purest gold.”

This is Julia. She is the second youngest member of our book club. She’s been reading really well for a few years now. She probably wishes there were food at our book club - she’s just turned 8 and is going through a growth spurt and is eating all. The. Time. She’s a voracious reader, too, devouring books. Namely the Captain Underpants series, which - I have to confess - is so much better than I thought it’d be.

We have a fourth member (besides myself, obviously). His name is Sergio. He’s 40 and the oldest member of our club. He’s enjoys a good book just like the rest of us. He’s also good at writing music for podcasts.

Anyway, like I said our book club meets every night and we have been for about 8 years now and we don’t serve food. And get this … sometimes we don’t even talk about the book.

I am a life-long lover of books, an avid reader, and an English major with two degrees. But would you believe this is the first time I’ve ever been in a book club?

No, wait a minute - there was one other one…

Judy Akins: I think it was the intention that we would read every night. Um … Some nights we would for one reason or another so late getting into bed that all I could think of was just hurrying you on to sleep and we didn’t but, um, it was it was typically my intention that we would read every night…

This is my mom, Judy. Up until she retired a few years ago, she was the Senior Vice President of Marketing for a large health system in the midwest. Prior to that, she ran an ad agency. And when I was a kid, we read together. And apparently, our little book club back then, had food.

Judy: So I always figured … a bath every night, a book every night, usually a bedtime snack every night, which is a good thing you never got fat on it. (laughing) … somehow, you know, it had some kind of thing tied back to, you know, some warm milk in your tummy.

Emily: Oh yeah, will help you sleep,

Judy: A book in your head and a nice tuck into bed and the book was part of being tucked into bed. In other words, we rarely ran a household that said it’s bedtime go on and get in your bed … whether or not it involved a book, I couldn’t say we had a perfect record.

Do you ever leave the house and wonder if you locked the door when you left? And you think - I’m sure I did because I always do but … I just can’t remember doing it.

Well, to be totally honest, I can’t remember a lot of reading we did when I was a kid. But I know we did it. It was a thing. And I know those memories are buried deep and that I felt something when we read because there are a few books from my childhood that I read today as an adult and I still feel it. A glimmer of recognition - or sometimes a WHOOSH - that goes deep.

So I asked my mom what else we read...

Judy: So we read all of the, um - what is his name - L-O-E-B-E-L books as well as the-- so the Little Bear Books

Emily: Frog and Toad

Judy: Yeah Frog and Toad. And there were so many of those. We read all of those and we loved them particularly because LIttle Bear had a friend named Emily. So that was always special. So we had all those Richard Scarry books - they fit a certain, I don’t know, genre where the page is full of detailed pictures of very interesting little characters and everybody's doing all kinds of different things, now less so about the Berenstain Bears but there’s some of that in it.

Emily: It’s like you could spend forever on one page.

Judy: That’s right.

Winford Akins: I remember one about Christmas - the Christmas tree that always got shorter and shorter and shorter …

Emily: Oh yeah!

Winford: What’s the name of that one?

Judy: Mr  Willoughby’s Christmas Tree.

Emily: Yep, we have that one.

That’s my Dad, Winford. He’s a retired high school Spanish teacher; he taught for more than 40 years; was head of the foreign language department, always wore a suit and tie to school, even when none of the other teachers did.

Judy: So, we did a fair number of dr seuss books  which are - in my mind they’re almost like wallpaper - that whole Dr Seuss category of books - not all of them written by Dr Seuss. But the snappy rhyming - “I wish I had Duck Feet” or whatever it was.

Emily: mmm-hmm

Judy: You know, even to this day I find myself having a little mind flip where I say little words like if and it Constantinople and Timbuktu or I’ve got it mixed up but there’s a line in - I don’t think that’s Go Dog Go I think that’s … I don’t know. I don’t know which one it is.

Emily: I don’t know either but I know what you’re talking about.

Judy: It is a riff that’s stuck in my head forever. (laughter) little words like if and it big words too like Constantinople or Timbuktu

Winford: I have the title for the tie for number ten in Sunday’s paper for children and young adult fiction and nonfiction category ... is the Berenstain Bears Show and Tell.

Emily: Huh. I wonder if that’s new.

Winford: In a tie with Mr Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals by Matthew Mehan.

Emily: And is this in the Daily Oklahoman?

Judy: Yeah Oklahoma best sellers.

Dad was reading from from the Sunday paper about bestselling kids books in Oklahoma. He is often reading from the paper. So now - for everyone who has already memorized the Emilie Buchwald quote “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,”  … and for all of you who are already aware of the vital role of print culture in the home … I will tell you a fun anecdote from the Akins family, circa 1981.

My parents say that when I was little I would sit on my dad’s lap and point to the newspaper he was reading and I would call out all the As I could find. I asked them just how old I was when I did that.

Judy: You know, it is … I would say 2, maybe a little bit younger than 2 - you were somewhere between 18 months and 2 … it is that period of development where children learn to identify shapes.

Emily: Yeah. Yeah.

Winford: You were small. I know that. You were climbing into my lap or I was helping to pick you up and you sat in my lap. so I’m not sure either how old. But young

Judy: I would say 2.

Now, our book club back then had another member, Damon, but … he was so much older than me that we didn’t really “book club” together. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t share.

Judy: Basically, even though 8 and a half years apart - it was the same library. But but with new ones that came along when after you were born. There are some of the books that went over both of you guys.

Emily: mm-hmm. And Caps for Sale, for sure, was one of them

Judy: Yes.

I called my brother to see which books he remembered from when we were kids.

Emily: ...because I couldn't think of any besides like Caps for Sale. Ticki Ticki Tembo, Make Way for Ducklings. Knots on a Counting Rope.

Damon: The first couple are the ones I remember most

Emily: And Dr Seuss and like, uh, the uh, Richard scary ones. And Berenstain Bears.

Damon: So, there's ricky ticky tavi. But isn't there also the one about chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo?

Emily: Yeah. That's Tikki Tikki Tembo.

Damon: That's Tikki Tikki Tembo. Okay, then Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is the old Joseph Conrad Story, right?

Emily: Oh, it probably is ricky. Ricky ticky. Tacky. I actually don't know.

Damon: Yeah, that's one that I remember reading with mom at a young age, but I think it was probably a, a older, certainly older than the rikki tikki or the rikki, the Tembo thing.

Emily: Yeah. Tikki Tikki Tembo. Yeah. Um, yeah. I don't remember Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I remember Tikki Tikki Tembo.

Damon: You can see why I got them confused.


Judy: I don’t think we had a lot of dual story time. I do think your age - the space … Winford: Caps for Sale is one you both read

Judy: but not at the same time … But back to Caps for Sale, I mean that’s one that I think by the very … I remember going to book sale with there was book sale downtown Oklahoma City and we went with Keith and Rena Walker one night just for fun and I picked up a bunch of children's books Damon would have been a babe in arms and um Caps for Sale was one of those. I just remember that - I remember buying a little stack of books … I remember going downtown to it and there were tables I mean it was just as far as the eye could see, flat tables with books stacked all over them.

Caps for Sale is one of my favorite books. And when mom read it to me, she always read the refrain in a sing song tune of her own making. It gives me a nice whoosh of nostalgia everytime I read to my kids nowadays and I sing “Caps! Caps for Sale! 50 cents a cap!”

Given the precarious nature of memory, I thought it’d be fun to check with my brother to see if he remembered it the same way.

Emily: Um, okay. So tell me how you remember the caps for sale song.

Damon: I just remember “caps, caps for sale, fifty cents a cap.” That's what I remember.

Emily: Okay. Okay. Okay. That's pretty close. My, my, my version is caps, caps for sale, fifty cents a cap. So mine has like a descending duh duh duh duh duh.

Damon: I think that's ascending.

Emily: Oh yeah, it is, it is a, that's what I meant. Uh, but, but that's pretty close. So I going to ask Mom if she remembers because I wonder if she read it both of those ways or she would probably say that she read it both of those ways. Just so that we would both … feel …

Damon: right, she's certainly not going to give one of us credit for being right...

I called my mom who was vacationing in Cape Cod.

Emily: Okay now if you will - drum roll please - sing the Caps for Sale tune.

Judy: “Caps! Caps for Sale! 50 cents a cap!” Let me do that again.

Emily: (laughter)

Judy: Why’d you laugh.

Emily: Because I’m right and Damon’s wrong.


Emily: Should I break it to him that he was wrong?

Judy: I don’t know. You might save it for a time you really need it. You might be wasting it if you use it now.

Emily: I might.

Judy: There may be a day you really need one just one more thing.

Emily: I have so few of those where I’m right and he’s wrong. I gotta save ‘em. I gotta squirrel them away.

(page turn sound)

There’s another book club I want to tell you about. Not a book club that I was in. But one that did inspire me. It’s called The End of Your Life Book Club. It’s a memoir and a New York Times Bestseller, written by Will Schwalbe. Here’s Will’s story...

Will Schwalbe: Well, The End of Your Life Book Club is a book I wrote about the books that I read with my mother in the last two years of her life, but it was really a book about the role that books have played in our lives from as far back as I can remember. In the End of Your Life Book Club, it really starts with my mother receiving a diagnosis of stage four b pancreatic cancer. And this is a cancer that very often kills people in three to six months. But my family was very lucky because my mother had almost two years. And uh, of course during this time they were doctors appointments and treatments. There was chemo, waiting rooms. And very often I would go with my mother for her chemo appointments, uh her chemo treatments and we would find ourselves sitting there with, with hours. And I started to do what really we'd done all our lives. And as did she, we would say to each other. What are you reading? Uh, and we found ourselves talking again as we have all our lives about books. And in fact, at one point I sort of said jokingly, mom, if we keep meeting like this and keep talking about books, it's kind of like a book club. And she said, don't be silly, it can't possibly be a book club. And I said, why not? And she said, because there's no food.


But we really found that books gave us a way to talk about the things that were most important, the things that were most difficult. Uh, they allowed us at times to escape, at times to engage. Um, and when we're talking about books, we weren't really a sick person and a well person. We were two people, mother and son, talking about books and the books also gave me a way to ask her about things from throughout her life and to learn more about her journey, her childhood, her life as an educator, and then this, this astonishing mission she had later in life, uh, to help refugees and ultimately to help build a library and cultural center in Afghanistan. And, and I think all of that was possible. Thanks to books.

I was so moved by Will’s book the first time I read it - back in 2013 when my mom recommended it to me. I read it again earlier this year as I was preparing for - and naming - this project. I realized that what Will and his mom had at the end of her life is exactly what I’m doing with my kids - just at the other end of life. At the beginning.

Will’s book - and beyond that his reading life with his mom - really crystalized for me what I’m trying to do with this project. His book club and mine are both about building and strengthening relationships around the books we read together - books that help us understand the world within us and the world around us.

Will Schwalbe: One of the things that I think is so important too, when I look back on the books she read with us, it was only partly about the book. It was largely about the conversations we had around the book. And that's why something that I've come to say a lot is that books are the second greatest gift you can give someone ... the greatest gift you can give someone as a conversation about a book.

(page turn sound)

Julia - she’s the voracious 8 year old - asked me the other day, “what’s a metaphor?” I fumbled through an ill-prepared explanation and then really started wishing I had, you know, like a metaphor to explain it to her. I told her - “You know it’s a thing that describes another thing but like, in a different way.” She just gave me a puzzled look and changed the subject.

Every step of the way on my journey to creating this podcast I’ve been casting out wide nets, reading, watching, learning, and more. Interrogating my basic premises. Looking for explanations and definitions and metaphors. Figuring out how to capture and celebrate that powerful thing that happens when words and pictures come together to tell a story and a child and an adult come together to read a story.

Over the course of this series I’ll share plenty of what I’ve collected with you. But to start this whole thing out I want to take a page from the Fancy Nancy playbook and suggest that maybe there isn’t a fancy - or better way of saying it…

Maybe, here at the start, the simplest thing to say is that BOOKS ARE MAGIC.

Welcome to The Beginning of Your Life Book Club


The Beginning of Your Life Book Club is written and produced by me, Emily Akins with original music by Sergio Moreno.

This podcast is made possible by the creative division at Hallmark Cards, where we believe that when you care enough, you can change the world.

Special thanks today to Judy and Winford Akins, Damon Akins, Will Schwalbe, and of course, Julia and Clara.

And thanks to you, too, for listening.

Follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and on my website - TheBeginningofYourLifeBookClub.com.


(Julia reading The Three Pigs)

The king was determined to own this treasure so he sent his eldest son to slay the dragon and bring back the golden rose. The prince spurred his steed into the mountain top and drew his sword and slew the mighty dragon.

Me: I like to read this one in a British accent.

Julia (brit. accent): Many thanks for rescuing me, o brave and noble swine.

Julia (Amer accent): Don’t mention it. Hey Diddle Diddle. Look who’s here. Welcome.


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