Episode 12 - The End of the Beginning - TRANSCRIPT

HOOK: I have two things that I say about picture books is that they're little life lessons and I also like to say the picture books will change the world

Episode 12 The End of the Beginning

Clara: I do not like them in a box. I do no like them with a fox. I do not like them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere.

This is Clara. She is still the youngest member of our book club. She is still reading like crazy. And growing every hour of every day.

Emily: He’s getting pretty angry isn’t he?

Clara: If I were Sam-I-am I’d be like you have anger issues. You need to go to therapy.

She hit a milestone recently. She lost her first tooth. When I started this project she was 5 and a half. Half way through this project she turned 6. And then - just as I’m finishing this series - she lost her first tooth. And when she did, I remembered a conversation I had with one of the teachers at the Montessori school that my kids were in over the summer - Ms Libby is her name. She and I chatted at length about books one day right after this project began. And she reminded me of the Montessori planes of development. And how the first plane or stage, really, ends when a child is about 6 or 7 - more specifically - when a child loses her first tooth. As Dr. Maria Montessori herself wrote, “When the small child begins to feel a loose tooth, it is a sign that the first period of childhood is over.”

As so, here I am at the end of this project realizing that maybe I’m also officially at the end of the beginning of Clara’s life. And Julia? Well, we’re two years past her first lost tooth - two years past the end of the beginning. Which I have to remind myself is not the beginning of the end. Just the end of one thing and the beginning of the next.

Most days I’m just stunned at where the time has gone. I don’t understand how my children got so big. I ask the girls this all the time. The other day - actually just before she lost her tooth - I asked Clara, “Where was I while you were getting so big? What was I doing?”

She replied, “You were watching me grow.”

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Loren Long: I wrote Otis the tractor and you guys, anybody know Otis? What does Otis sound like uh uh what does Otis sound like? putt puff puttedy chuff? putt puff puttedy chuff! Exactly Can you Imagine? Do you know the person that wrote that great line of American literature, Me!

This is Loren Long at a book reading at Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas - my local indie bookstore - in September of 2018. He was there to talk to a big group of little kids and their parents - mostly about his new book - There’s a Hole in the Log at the Bottom of the Lake. But he also told us about his book called Little Tree.

Loren Long: And then my younger son and I'm about ready to launch into my presentation this is the buildup. My, my, uh, my youngest son who, who yesterday was this age, started filling out applications for college and I could not stop it. I wanted to say quit this. My stomach started aching. Literally. I was like, wait a second, I'm not sure I've done my job. I'm not sure it's over. I'm way too young to have a college kid for one thing. And, No arguments and I wrote this story. All I could think about the day he was on our driveway. All I could think about was the day, his first day of kindergarten when he cried and grabbed onto my knee with the death grip. And I don't know if any of you guys have had children that that cried on their first day of kindergarten. I did. And he grabbed my knee and then the day he was on our driveway with his bags packed, leaving, moving out of our house for the first time in 18 years, I wanted to grab his knees and cry and say, don't leave me. But I wrote this little story called little tree about a little tree who when all the other leaves change all the other trees start dropping their leaves, change colors and so did his and all the other leaves- all the other trees start dropping their leaves and he's looking around going, I'm not dropping my leaves. I'm like my leaves. And the next spring, they were all taller and his leaves got gray and brown. And it wasn't until he dropped his leaves. that he grew as well. This is for kids going through any change in life and their parents.

Loren Long was the second person I heard over the course of this project to express this type of sentiment. Well, three if you count my brother who sent his oldest to college recently and who said a few of the same things Loren Long said.

Last August I took my kids to hear Rhiannon Ally, a news anchor here in Kansas City and the author of a picture book called “Mommy, Please Don’t Go to Work.” At the event, a fellow news anchor of Ally’s preceded her on the stage and applauded Ally for addressing this difficult topic. Then she asked her, jokingly, if she’d also write a book for parents of older kids called “Please, Son, Don’t Go to College.”

You know … When Clara’s first tooth came out - we could see very clearly what we’d expected. The new permanent teeth were already well on their way in. I’m desperate to hold on to the past and the truth is, Clara didn’t want to let go of her first tooth either. But I think we all know she’s ready. The magic of transformation also comes with the magic of vanishing … and like Loren Long’s Little Tree - you can’t go on if you don’t let go.

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Diane Capriola: So my name is Diane Capriola. I am co-owner of Little Shop of Stories, a children's independent bookstore in Decatur, Georgia. We have been open for a little over 13 years and in that time we've become a really important and integral part of our community.

I have two things that I say about picture books is that they're little life lessons and I also like to say the picture books will change the world or could change the world because, there’s you know, for such limited text there's so much that can be said in a picture book, you know, visually and is n the text. And um, I've, I feel like picture books are great conversation starters. They kind of open up these opportunities to talk about, oh, just about anything about feelings and what is it like to be this person? Um, how, how do you solve a problem? I think in terms of emotional literacy picture books they do that. They give us that they, they teach kids how to be out in the world and how to be with others out in the world. 7:54

Little Shop of Stories is part of a vibrant and supportive local community in Decatur, Georgia, which is also home to the Decatur Book Festival, and Little Shop of Stories has curated the children’s programing for the festival every year since it began shortly after the shop opened. The Decatur Book Festival is the largest independent book festival in the country. Diane said the welcoming community combined with the small town feel of Decatur draws big crowds. The festival welcomes all sorts of children’s book authors and illustrators. Which is what Diane and I talked about when I asked her if she thought meeting an author was more magical or powerful for kids than it is for adults.

Diane:  I think part of it might be the, the kids and teens experience a passion about a book and an author in a way that adults don't … unless it’s Neil Gaiman, um, you know, feel very passionately about Neil Gaiman. But I think if they've really loved a book, like the books that they read it over and over again, I think it, it makes it that much more special to meet the person who created this book. I, one of my favorite stories about a student or a young person meeting an author was maybe eight years ago. We had the author Avi come to visit the book festival and he did a school visit and he was maybe like 72 at the time, like early seventies. And at the end of his presentation, a middle school girl went up to talk to him and she was probably 14 and she was crying when she met him. And I was so moved by that because here's a middle school kid who you think, you know, no one's going gonna reach them, and she got up there to meet him and she cried when she met him. And it was phenomenal. It was an amazing experience. Something that really excites me about the children's book industry right now is the diversity of books that we're seeing, um diversity in content as well as in the people who are creating them. Um, and I love it when I can connect a child with an author, illustrator who looks like them and they can see, oh, I can do that too. Um, for a long time I didn't, I wasn't able to make those connections. But in the last few years, um, there's been this really exciting change in children's books.

The way I found Diane after much googling of children’s independent bookstores and after I sent out a half dozen hand written notes (with vintage children’s literature stamps, by the way). I was delighted to hear back from Diane who emailed me to say that my note made their day at the shop. Which made my day. Oh, but here’s something that drew me to her shop right away. Their slogan is “books for kids and the grown ups they’ll become.”

Diane: that tagline is about the idea of our mission is to create a love of reading and books for kids that they will take throughout their lives. We don't want to be just this blip in their, in their young lives and when they move on, they forget about books or they stop reading. We feel really passionately about the idea of we're, we're creating lifelong readers.

So much of the reading you do as a child really does lay a foundation - either of becoming a lifelong reader or through the way books help you view and process the world.

The lifelong impact of reading as a child is, I think, part of its magic - the way books help kids process their world while they’re still kids … and the way that experience of childhood sticks with you for years to come. It’s sort of a “slow release magic” if you will.

Diane: It helps them to feel safe and secure. I mean, sitting on a parent's lap, you feel like you're the only person in the world. And in that moment that's a great feeling because we don't get that that often.

This reminded me of Loren Long’s answer to my questions “what do you think makes picture books so different from other kinds of books and what makes reading together so different from other kinds of reading?”

Loren Long: I feel like the picture book experience it cannot be duplicated in other, in any other form that we have as human beings. It's a coveted space. It's a safe harbor. Whether you realize it or not, it is a safe harbor that will last for these guys your entire life. Somebody is here from my childhood. I was born in Joplin, Missouri. Oh cool. First six years and before we moved to Kentucky, but I can remember my mother and now she's getting older and whatnot, but I can remember how she read those books. To me, the little engine that could, The Poky Little Puppy, The Story of Ferdinand. I can remember what her voice sounded like and most of all I can remember how it felt and you can't, um, you know, and this is all these years later. So one time I was speaking at a nursing home and I asked everybody to close their eyes and see if they could think of what they love and so forth, you know, when they were kids and you will be amazed at how many of them, almost all of them for put their hands up. And then I asked him when we read it to him, you know, and they all remembered a special person in their life that read those books. And then I asked him how it felt and they put their hands up. Then I asked him who won the superbowl last week. So that feeling … I think that’s the best answer I can give you.

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Here are two more stories about the power of story and the way it sparks something significant inside us.

Diane: So there's this book that is not that well known anymore and it's called The Cinder-Eyed Cats by Eric Rohmann and he's, he's written a bunch of other picture books. My Friend Rabbit was a Caldecott winner, um, several years ago, but when my son Nick was maybe like 18 months close to two years, I bought him this book for Christmas. And it is, you know, barely any words. It's like it's a, it's a poem of very few words and really beautiful lush illustrations. And it's about this boy who is going to bed at night and he ends up getting into this boat and the boat takes them to this island where these cats live, cinder-eyed cats and all these other fantastical creatures live. And he spends this evening with them and they dance around this bonfire and there's this big celebration. And then at the end of it, the boy gets back on the boat. And um, I remember my son Nick, he had just turned the corner on his language was exploding. He was just starting to put simple sentences together and his vocabulary was really growing. And I remember one night we were sitting in the rocking chair reading that book and at the last page you see the boy getting back into the boat. It's morning time and the cinder eyed cats are all on the beach going to sleep. And I just remember saying to him, what do you think that, what do you think the cinder eyed cats are dreaming about? And he just looked at me and he said, cats dreaming about boy in boat. And that was like a sentence that was put together. And he had had this thought about this thing that wasn't being, um, it wasn't being presented to him. It wasn't in the picture at all. He had to think very abstractly about what could they be dreaming about. It was a really special, magical moment.

Diane and I chatted about Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach, which I discussed in episode 5. About the power of providing kids with an opportunity to share their perspective - and respecting kids for their unique viewpoint and their capacity for creativity.

Which made me think about Clara, who one day, when she was 5 had a horrible day at school. Everything that could go wrong did. She left her backpack in the car, she had to eat the school lunch instead of her lunch, the ice cream shop was closed after school, so on and so forth. She was distraught. I knew these were all small things in the grand scheme of things - but I tried to see it from her perspective and realize that these small things were huge to her. I said, “It sounds like CLARA & the terrible horrible no good very bad day.” Julia wasted no time at all to say, “We should write a book!” I pulled some blank paper out of my bag - along with my trusty four color pen - and Julia proceeded to sketch out the story, passing it around at the dinner table so each of us could take a turn drawing and writing about that bad day. And by making that day into a story, Julia turned a day that Clara probably wanted to forget into a day that we all wanted to remember.

I was and still am in awe of the way that our understanding of Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day gave the girls the framework they needed to process that bad day. And how that new book that we created allowed us all to make meaning. That’s powerful.

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Shaina Birkhead: I think it's also in one of the other great things about picture books I think is how ingrained they become in people's, in people's history of themselves. Um, you know, I, I don't think I've met a single person who doesn't have at least one book that they, that they vividly remember from their childhood, um, and that they aren't happy to share with someone else or talk about for at least a few minutes and you want to share those with people.

This is Shaina Birkhead, the Associate Executive Director of the Children’s Book Council, which is the nonprofit trade association of children’s book publishers. The CBC is a membership-based organization that has been around since the 40s or 50s. They operate as a neutral ground for their members - who are children’s book publishers - to connect and to talk about the industry as a whole; and they link publishers with teachers, librarians, and booksellers. With the CBC’s industry-wide perspective and a membership base of publishers, I was curious to know about shifts in diversity and representation, not just in the content of books, but also among the people behind the scenes in the industry.

Shaina: that's something that is a big focus of our work at the Children's Book Council. We actually started the CBC diversity initiative in 2012. Um, and a big focus of that initiative, um, when it first started was, was not just the publishing of books that feature diverse characters and not just be publishing of books by diverse people, but also the hiring and diversity in the workplace of publishing houses because you, you know, I think it stands to reason that if there are more people of different backgrounds working in publishing, they're going to be looking for more diverse books to publish. Um, so that was a real focus of the CBC diversity initiative with a lot of panels and discussions and an open dialogues and creating a safe space for people to talk about issues of diversity in all aspects of publishing. Because it is, it's, it's a hard thing to talk about and it's a sensitive topic for a lot of people. So, um, our goal is always to try and create a space where people can have these difficult conversations that need to be had for everybody to kind of get on the same thing page about an issue like this.

The Children’s Book Council is also the home of an organization called Every Child a Reader.  

Shaina: So we're actually, we're, we're two organizations in one kind of, actually, so Every Child a Reader is the, is the 501c3 nonprofit that is run out of the same office with the same staff, but they're technically two different organizations. So Every Child a Reader is really more of our public facing organization and that is the organization that runs those programs that most people are familiar with, which is children's book week, the National Ambassador for Young People's literature and a few others. One of the great things about our organization is even though it's two different groups, Every Child a Reader is really able to, um, to leverage the connections of the Children's Book Council by working with publishers directly in a way that a lot of nonprofits wouldn't be able to. So we are always grateful to the support of our member publishers and all of the awesome things that they allow us to do for kids. They donate character costumes for events, they send their authors and illustrators out to locations specifically during children's book week. So we're hoping to expand those author and illustrator visit because I think connecting kids directly with the people who create books. It's such an interesting and exciting experience for them. Gives a whole new perspective on the book that they're reading.

Children’s Book Week started in 1919 - which means that 2019 is the 100th anniversary. There are big plans for the year - a new logo and a new theme, which is “Read Now. Read Forever.” And, just a few months ago the CBC announced that the official 2019 Children’s Book Week poster will be illustrated by none other than - Yuyi Morales, author and illustrator most recently of Dreamers - for which Morales won the 2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award.

But - that’s not all. There’s also a twelve-artist collaborative poster, to be revealed in stages throughout 2019 and in November, The Rabbit hOle right here in Kansas City will be creating an immersive narrative experience that features six of the posters, each transformed into a life-size 3-D portal that will transport visitors into the 100-year history of Children’s Book Week. Each portal will be accompanied by an assortment of artifacts, information, and a soundscape of the times.

Shaina: Yeah, we're so excited that I think one of, um, one of the biggest challenges for us as we started, you know, planning our campaign and all of the different things we were going to do is to not only honor the illustrious history of this, of this event, but also, you know, it's for kids and kids don't necessarily care about what happened in 1919. You know, nostalgia is a very adult adult emotion. I feel like. So, um, we wanted to make sure that we were, we were thinking about the present and the future of children's books as well. Um, and one thing that's great about Rabbit hOle is that they're creating these interactive exhibits that are for kids. It's not just a bunch of posters on a wall talking about the history of children's book week. It's gonna be a real, um, excuse me, interactive exhibit for kids to be a part of the history and just be a part of children's books. So we're, we're very excited to be working with them.

Emily: I'm so impressed by what they do and it feels some because they do so much of their work in paper mache paper, like what's in a book, it literally feels like someone has just breathed life into the book and the book has come into existence and it, like, it's all still made of paper, but now you can go into the book.

I have to pause here and tell you all that I am SO, SO, SO excited about the Rabbit hOle - it’s going to be the world’s first “explor-a-storium” - a Museum like no other - an immersive storybook wonderland and national center for the children's book. and I’m delighted that it’s right here in Kansas City. The folks behind this amazing idea are Pete Cowdin and Debbie Pettid; they used to run a children’s book store called Reading Reptile and I am fortunate to have lived within walking distance of this phenomenal store. Several years ago I was paying for a purchase at the shop when Pete told me that the store was closing but that something else was in the works. I couldn’t wait to find out what. I was really sad to see Reading Reptile go. But … as Little Tree might advise us - you can’t go on if you don’t let go.

I’ve now been on the sidelines watching the Rabbit hOle grow - learning so much from Pete and Deb. Pete came to speak at Hallmark and delivered a truly eye-opening talk. Then later, I took a small group of creative folk from Hallmark over to the Rabbit hOle workshop and Deb taught us all how to do papier mache and also how they choose which books they bring to life in their immersive exhibits, which books are the best for immersing yourself in.

Shaina: We're thrilled about this exhibit with them, I think, yeah, it's a great way to do what we're trying to do, which is honor the past, present, and future of not only children's book week, but what Children's book week is for, which is celebrating a picture which is celebrating children's books and connecting kids with authors and illustrators.

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Every Child a Reader also sponsors the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature which is sort of like the Children’s Literature Laureate. The program began in 2008. Each ambassador serves a two year term. And the current ambassador is Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, The Day You Begin, and so many other amazing picture books and young adult books. Her theme as ambassador is “READING = HOPE x CHANGE” and she asks “What’s your equation?” Her campaign encourages young people to think about how powerfully reading can impact their lives by showing them how to create hope, how to change how they see the world, and how reading can be a starting point for activism in their communities.

She is looking ahead to the grown ups they’ll become. But she’s focusing on the here and now of children as well. She writes, “Martin Luther King Jr. said people should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In that regard, I think young people should not be judged by the level of their reading but by the way a book makes them think and feel. By the way it gives them hope. By the way it opens them up to new perspectives and changes them. I’m excited to have these conversations with some of the best conversationalists in our country – our young people.” - JW

Matthew Winner: Emily, I think that probably the most important thing I can do for a child that steps into my library is to see them to connect with them. Um, it's far more important than anything I could possibly teach them, or perhaps it is the essence of teaching itself, uh, to, to show a child that they can be seen, that they matter.

Here’s Matthew Winner again, of the Children’s Book Podcast - whom we heard from in episode 10. He is talking about himself as a school librarian but … truly, I felt like he was speaking to me as a parent and helping me see the incredible value of the job we all have as gatekeepers or caretakers or childrearers or … maybe let’s call ourselves “influencers” but not like the kind on Instagram. Influencers in our own homes, classrooms, and libraries.These are incredibly significant jobs.

Fred Rogers - in a commencement speech in 2001 - said “from the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.”

All of us have such important work to do to help children turn into the grown ups they’ll become.

And I, for one, am so grateful for the role that books play in this work.

In episode 11 I quoted from Jacqueline Woodson’s acceptance speech for the Children’s Literature Legacy Award which she delivered in June of 2018.

And here I want to read to you the way she ended her speech. I want to borrow her ending to use for my ending, as I close out this series, look ahead to what’s next, and remember the little people at the heart of this whole endeavor.

Here’s what Jacqueline Woodson said, “I stand here reminded again of writing’s complicated journey — how it continues to reveal ourselves to us. How it shows us our grace. But more than anything, my hope is that it continues to remind us of the work ahead — and the people we’re doing the work for. The future generations. The young people. Who more than anything deserve a world they can spend their whole lives safely walking and running and jumping — and reading — through.”



The Beginning of Your Life Book Club is written and produced by me, Emily Akins with original music - and an immense amount of editing and moral support for my partner in life and love, 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

Loren Long

Diane Capriola

Shaina Birkhead https://www.cbcbooks.org/


Matthew Winner http://www.matthewcwinner.com/

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.

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