Episode 10 - Next Stop: Magic - TRANSCRIPT

HOOK: I am constantly surprised by them. I am constantly caught off guard with that feeling of how did I not ... like what just happened? How did I not see this coming?


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.

Episode 10

Next Stop: Magic

As you may have gathered by now I have some questions that have guided this project - about how pictures books are different from other kinds of books. About how reading together is different than reading alone. About where the magic of picture books comes from. And then … well, I have this one weird question that I wasn’t going to tell you about but … I’ve changed my mind.

In addition to where does the magic of picture books come from, I have also been asking “where does the magic of picture books go.” And even though the question stumped some people, because - admittedly - it’s weird, I kept asking it because I got such interesting answers.

Here’s Julie Bliven:

The magic kind of becomes how we make sense of, you know, like who we are and our family and our home and our community and our world. And sort of, you know, the stories that help us make sense of everything around us,

Here’s Courtney Hinshaw:

Funny thing is when you look at when you open a picture book or look on the back and it says, these books are recommended from ages four to seven really breaks my heart because my students who are 10 and 11 years old are able to gain confidence, make inferences, learn about themselves, and teach others about kindness from books that somebody deems as primary. And I think to myself the magic does not stop at age seven. The magic dazzles hearts of all. We as humans, we're built to storytell. I mean how many ladies sit and watch the Bachelorette on Monday night? I mean, we love to hear stories; we love to hear drama; we love to hear all of that. We enjoy learning from others through words and pictures and that’s what creates the magic.

And here’s Shaina Birkhead of the Children’s Book Council - whom we’ll hear from later in the podcast:

And I think for me the answer, the answer is the same for both. I think it starts with people and it and it goes to people. Um, I think that the magic of picture books really lies in this, in this real sense of collaboration in all aspects of a picture book. And I don't really think anything can be solely created by one person. Collaboration is so important. So there's that, that instant sense of this being something that was created by people for people. Um, so you start there with the creation of the book and you go, you move on to just the sharing of the book. Like we just talked about reading aloud um sharing it in groups, uh, those storytimes at libraries are some of my favorite things to be a part of and witness so I think the magic comes from that, that sense of connection and community from beginning to end of a picture book’s life.

For me it’s sort of a way to ask what happens next? There’s a book - there’s a reader or 2  - there’s magic - but then what? And I love the range of answers and interpretations of this concept. However … there were a couple of folks that pointed out how sad this question could be. As in does the magic go away or dissipate?

Here’s KELLY BAKER whom we heard from earlier in the podcast.

Kelly: And where does the magic go? Is such a sad question for me. You know, I mean, you know what I mean? It's a sad question because I think honestly, I think the magic goes into what people worry about around like data points and reading instruction and accelerated reader programs and rewarding kids for reading. And I think, I think the magic goes from the books and the interactions to well-meaning adults who are focused on the wrong things. And when I'm talking about teaching reading, I'm saying, you know, this notion that you somehow have to teach children all of these little skills and then hope that they will love to read. Um, and that really is, is quite a backwards approach because what we know is you can teach reading skills and totally lose the love for reading. But if you teach toward the love of reading, it's, it's really difficult for the skills to, to be ignored or to not develop, I guess I should say. So I think that's where the magic goes.

After processing people’s responses, I’ve been thinking of who those gatekeepers are - keepers of the magic, if you will. And what a powerful and important position these gatekeepers hold. How important it is for the gatekeepers to keep the magic going; to make sure it doesn’t fade. And while all of us involved in kid lit - as parents and/or professionals - are responsible for this magic. I’m thinking especially today of librarians and booksellers. The folks who encounter so many books and so many kids. These crossing guards or traffic controllers, if you will, who are witness to just the right book getting to just the right kid. And as such - they bear witness to that magic.

Or “close hand magic” - as Matthew Winner put it in an article for a newsletter for the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators.

MATTHEW: You know, you asked me about magic and before we were recording, you are emailing me about magic, about some words that I said about magic and books and uh, I'm glad that you reminded me of those words.

Matthew is an elementary school librarian in Maryland. He’s also the host of The Children’s Book Podcast - a long running series featuring in-depth interviews with authors, illustrators, and more.

MATTHEW: Um, I shared in an article that when I'm in the library and I see a kid connect with a book and I was telling you, today's our first day back at school, I have waited to see these children. It's so great to see them a year older and in new groupings and to see my brand new kindergarteners, it is the best thing. I teach at a school of, goodness, we have around 600 children, probably more if we count pre K. But um, something I experienced even today is, is what I mentioned where you reminded me of an article which is that close hand magic of a child finding a book. It's amazing that if you really watch children, if you really observe them in the library or in reading a book and making a connection when I do a read aloud with them when they're off looking for their own book, when their friend finds a book and they're seeing it as much as you think you can anticipate a reaction, I am constantly surprised by them. I am constantly caught off guard with that feeling of how did I not ... like what just happened? How did I not see this coming? Um, they will say things that will just catch me off guard. They will make connections that I, that I think I never would have handed you this book for that connection that you made. Uh, not that I'm ever trying to like tell a kid what book to read, but um, the way that they tell me the way that they love a book or connecting with something, it's just, I mean, I don't get it. It's like watching a magic trick to me where I'm just staring, going like we did. Anyone else? See what just happened? This is crazy. Did you catch this? This is crazy. I mean, imagine what it's been like to be constantly part of, be part of that.

Close hand magic or “close up magic” or “sleight of hand” - these are the kinds of magic tricks that are performed in an intimate setting - usually just a few feet away from the audience. Like card tricks and the disappearing coin. But I do think it’s a great iteration on this metaphor of magic - especially from the perspective of a librarian.

Matthew told me another story of magic that in this case - is close up magic with a twist - close up magic that goes both ways.

MATTHEW: Here's magic for you. My first year of teaching, first year teaching, I was in fourth grade, um, and I was new. I was green. I don't even, I don't know what I was like. I was just surviving the year I, I've been told, I've been told all the time that I just have too much energy. I know what to do with. So of course I want to work with children because I want to share that with them. But I had this one student who I still keep in touch with today. She's off doing her graduate work and um, to this day she credits me and this is, I'm telling you, I don't feel like I deserve this credit. Um, but she credits me for becoming a reader. That it wasn't until fourth grade that she saw herself as a reader and found herself in books.

And I told her before, Callie, that's impossible. Do you know what kind of a kid you were to me? You were passionate. You brought everything to me. You are the one who energized me. It was a gift for me to teach you.

EMILY: So true. I love that story. And that’s I think that’s such a pristine example of that magic because it, it was both ways. It was magic for her and it was magic. Um, for you too, um, I think that's a beautiful story.

MATTHEW: The whole idea of close hand magic is that the magician fully knows what they're doing and what they're doing to them is, is not magic. It's process. The effect to us because we don't understand the process is magic, but here you have these two people. You have my fourth grader or the child as a fourth grader and me who both think they're doing just normal process, but to the other it’s magic. How cool is that?

So, what does Matthew - who sees so many kids and so many books arrive at and depart from his library day in day out - year in year out - what does he say about where the magic goes.

MATTHEW: Oooo. I’m gonna, I’m gonna give you my gut answer which is to tell you the magic comes from the readers. It has to. Because a book is a book. I write stories and I can tell you how personal they feel and how it's a part of me. Even when it's something funny or serious. It's a part of me. What’s magical to me is knowing that this book comes out and you have no idea what readers will find it. Readers of all ages, uh, how they will connect with it and the best part, you have no idea what a reader will see in that book that you didn't even know was there, but it's the reader that's required to experience that. Otherwise, a book is just what you think is there. You need that reader to reveal what else is there. You know, that process, but you need the reader to turn it into magic right. That's the reader's role. Um, where that energy, where that goes ideally, and this is where I feel probably is the driving force of some of the work that I do with connectivity and with global learners and global citizenship and with my podcast itself, is that I think it's our role then as readers and as people of the world to share that experience, to say, Hey, this book opened my eyes. This book stopped me in my tracks. I can't think of anything else but this book, this book sees me, uh, and it's important then for us to share that. And so where that magic goes, hopefully is is off to connect with others.

(page turn sound)

(car starting and idling sound) Now that magic is on the move - let’s see where else it might go.

EMILY: So do you drive a bookmobile for the library in addition to boomerang?

CRCKT: Yeah, the I drive two bookmobiles.


This is Diarra Leggett. But everyone knows him as Crckt; he’s a bookseller and a library assistant in North Carolina. I found him through my brother, who is one of Crckt’s repeat customers.

EMILY: What's The library one like.

CRCKT: The library one is called the WOW. The Web On Wheels. So it's got considerably less shelf space for books on it, oddly enough. But there are five fold fold down slash fold up desks and some computer. Well power outlets and a, a roaming wifi hotspot so people can come on and access the computers, they can also check out more regular library materials like books and cds and audio books.

EMILY: So it's kind of like the whole library on wheels,

CRCKT: like all the library resources. So it's a, it's a, a mobile library branch basically.

CRCKT: we go to preschools and supply the staff there with materials to share with their children. We go to afterschool programs, we go to a underserved populations usually within the city limits. Uh, I was having a conversation with another library worker about this yesterday, like traditionally bookmobiles served rural populations, but in our case we serve a lot of low income housing, uh housing projects and people who, who face a lot of the same obstacles to getting to the library but are oddly more urban than rural.

EMILY: Yup. That's interesting. That's interesting. Um, what, what kind of response did you get from the kids, especially if they're kids that maybe don't have, you know, a library visit as part of their life. The

CRCKT: kids are usually pretty pumped and we also have a lot of discarded materials that we carry with us because the policy of the library system where I work is that if you're under 18, a parent or legal guardian has to, has either accompany the child or fill out a application for, for their card so that they can borrow materials and sometimes those parents aren't present or in rare cases are just unwilling. So we have, uh, several bins of discarded books so that the kids don't have to leave empty handed.

EMILY: Nice.

As a library assistant at Forsyth County Public Library - Crckt is part of the children’s outreach program. So he works with kids in his day job - so I asked him about kids books on his other book mobile called Boomerang.

CRCKT: It's kind of, I refer to the library job as my front hustle and Boomerang’s my side hustle.

Boomerang Bookshop Nomad Chapter is a mobile bookstore in Greensboro, NC which, in Crckt’s words “carries a carefully curated collection of codex for your cognitive consumption.” He likes alliteration.

Crckt keeps about 2000-3000 books on the bus most of which are used, which is what inspired him to pick the name Boomerang. His collection includes Mixed genre fiction leaning toward literary fiction with an emphasis on promoting writers from under-represented groups: people of color, women, international writers, LGBTQ writers. And recently he has begun incorporating select new titles.

CRCKT: one of my pat responses when people ask like what the books are like, like if you can find multiple copies of it at your local library or if you can find it at Walmart, I'm probably not going to sell it because there are other outlets for those. I'm trying to, I'm trying to do something a little bit different.

EMILY Yeah, that makes sense. Do you have a lot of kids books or middle grade / young adult readers?

CRCKT I do. So I guess another, another 20 percent of it is middle grade books. Initially, honestly I did not want to have picture books because they're a mess

EMILY (laughter) Why are they a mess?

CRCKT because kids get it. Kids get into them and they just rifle through them and I don't have ocd, but as a, as a bookseller and a library worker, I do, I do value order. As I was setting up and building the collection, I was like, honestly, you really can't have a bookmobile and not cater to the kids and it, it, it does work to my advantage. I mean I try to. A lot of my children's books that I come across, I come across them at library sales or church sales and I try to sell them pretty cheaply because children's books, picture books are surprisingly expensive. I usually don't sell a kid's book uh, unless it's strangely collectible or in really nice condition, for anything more than, top, six bucks. Most of them are two bucks a piece.


CRCKT: And then the kids come on, oh, you know, the kids or the kids pull their parents in and parents often you know, you don't want to be that parent that tells her kid they can't have a book. So while the kids are making an unholy mess out of my kids' section, the parents may be looking around but. But the parents also may be gathering a stack of books. So this, I guess it was really, it really was a wise decision for me to incorporate those into my collection.

EMILY: Which one's easier to drive the WOW. Or your Boomerang Books bus

CRCKT: oddly mine.

EMILY: Really

CRCKT: Yeah. Mine is 30 a 31 year old vehicle, but it's got a much better turning radius.

EMILY: Oh yes.

CRCKT: Uh, it does. It doesn't have rear rear view camera at, of course, but uh, I don't know. It's got, it's got its fair share of problems, but I find that I find mine easier to drive.

Not only does Crckt drive two bookmobiles - he’s in two book clubs - the kind WITH food. And this was what informed his answer to my question about the difference between reading alone and reading together.

CRCKT: that is the fact that I am involved in two different book clubs, so I read alone, but like when I discuss the books with others who've read it, they bring out points that I was totally unaware of or had overlooked and they have questions that I may be able to answer it through some sort of insight. So I feel like based on the best of my memory from reading together with my child that uh reading together invites a conversation about what's being read in a way that reading alone does not do.

(page turn sound)

When I think about reading together vs. reading alone, I think both of the small circle of parent and child and bedtime … but also of the slightly wider circle of things like story time at the library where librarians are - again - at those critical intersections where kid meets book.

I spoke to Clare Hollander, Central Youth Services Manager, at the Kansas City Public Library. I’ve visited with Clare several times in the Children’s section at the downtown branch. One of the things I love is seeing Clare call so many kids by name as they’re traipsing in and out of the library. Like she knows everybody.

I also enjoyed chatting with Clare about her read aloud sessions with kids; about how she maximizes the time she has with each group - and how she engages the kids and both recognizes individuality and manages to keep kids on the same page. (pun intended)

EMILY: How do you choose what to read aloud with the kids at different levels?

CLARE: Well, um, you know, that's a really good question. I don't know when. Yeah. And then throw the dart. I found a really cool book called The Read Aloud Handbook, no Reid's Read Alouds, um, by Rob Reid. And what he did was he would go through all of these books and he would say, here's your 10 minute read aloud. Okay. So here's where you set up the, set it up and then read from page 37 to 45 and then, you know, it's, it's, it's, yeah, it sort of feels like cheating, but at the same time it's like, oh my God. Cause yeah, I only have them for 20 minutes.

EMILY: Sure.

CLARE: And uh, you know, I

EMILY: got to make the most of that

CLARE: I used to have every week and uh, so the older kids, I always read novels and you know, just the things that I know the kids are really going to love and what I started with this year was choose your own adventure, which I have never done as a read aloud before, but just because I really wanted to get them to engage and a big part of the work we do with read aloud, it's not about the book, it's about engaging with the book and um so some teachers kind of, they want the kids to be quiet and then here I am wanting the kids to talk. So...

EMILY Um, It's hard to, to get over that notion that you should sit still and read.

CLARE: Yeah.

EMILY: At any age

CLARE everybody's different. But the little kids, they're very kinesthetic, you know, so yeah. And my story times, there's just like, the whole room is just constantly moving, but that's, you know, that's how they're absorbing it is coming in from, you know, every sense. So

EMILY Do you ever read picture books with the older kids?

CLARE Yes, I do.

EMILY How do they respond?

CLARE Oh, they love it. Yeah. No. And you get the right book - The day the crayons quit that one. Okay. Right. And it's just, you know, just enough sass there and the underpants you know, stuff like that. It's just fun for

EMILY I always whisper when I do the peach voice.

CLARE That's a good idea. Oh my God. Yeah. So, um, yeah. And there's just so many picture books that, you know, the language is just so rich and really especially like for those second and third graders who are just getting into reading chapter books. It's like a huge come down from these beautiful picture books that had this elaborate language and then you get Junie B Jones. Yeah. Uh, you know, and yeah. So I'm trying to keep that, that going.

Trying to keep the magic going - you might say.

In Clare’s answer to the question - how are Picture Books different from other books and - in thinking about that read aloud experience - she pointed out the picture book’s unique ability to bring everyone together.  

CLARE So, um, so I think that's a big one. I think that reading, even even when you're reading aloud a book that doesn't have pictures, you're forming your own pictures in your head and everybody's having their own experience of this book. Whereas the picture book it, it does become more of it. Everybody's experiencing the same thing because you don't have to imagine what a plinth is because it's there, there's the plinth, right?

EMILY So it does kind of bring everybody onto the same page, so to speak.

CLARE yeah, you know.

(page turn sound)

I remember very vividly a passage from Will Schwalbe’s book, Books for Life - he tells the story of a librarian when he was a teenager who always gave him just the book he needed when he needed it. Curiously, it was as much through the books he just found on her library cart - which he assumed she’d left for him - as it was from his direct interaction with her. He writes, “It would certainly be too dramatic to say that the books Miss Locke left for me saved my life. But it has become clearer and clearer that these books helped me create a vision of a life that I could look forward to with something other than dread.”

Will Schwalbe’s description made it sound like Miss Locke was able to truly see him in an important way and it reminded me of what Matthew Winner says about how his work as a librarian and a podcaster enables him to say to the kids and readers out there - “I see you.”

This is what he calls “the good work.”

MATTHEW: Well, I think that. No, I don't personally know your audience. I don't know if they teach children. I don't know if they write themselves or illustrate themselves. I don't know if they work in libraries. I don't know if they’re parents, but I think for sure I do know that they read because that's something that sort of unites all of us. We read books, we read signs, we read notes, we read maps, we read each other's expressions. We read each other's emotions and so I suppose what I would love to share is just that, that all of us, all of us people, um big and small. I hope we just are willing to allow ourselves not only to read the world, to read the things in front of us, but allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable to be read and to know that there are people that, that are discovering new things about us and that's allowing them to love us in new ways and that that's a cool thing for other people to see the beauty that's in us that we might not have realized much like I love seeing the beauty in books that the author might not have even realized was there. So uh, um, it's very stepping back and seeing that in one another. I think that's where the good work can be done everyday.

Here’s to all of us keeping the good work going - and the magic - every day.

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:

Julie Bliven

Courtney Hinshaw

Shaina Birkhead

Kelly Baker

Matthew Winner

Diarra "Crckt" Leggett

And Clare Hollander

And thanks to you, too, for listening.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, you can let others know by leaving me a rating and review on iTunes; I would love to hear from you.

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

Emily AkinsComment