Monday, April 15, 2013

D.E.A.R. for Grownups

     I first met Beverly Cleary's memorable character Ramona Quimby as a supporting character in Henry and the Clubhouse where she all but stole the book. I was in graduate school before I discovered that after Cleary finished the Henry and Beezus series, she had gone on to give Ramona her own literary stage, where Henry and big sister Beezus were the background characters. The notion of D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) was something I would've loved in my childhood. I had to fashion my own notion of D.E.A.R. It was called Stick a Book in Your Lap and Look Like You're Paying Attention in Class. (OK, it isn't much of an acronym.) It did not make me popular with my teachers.

    As adult writers and teachers, we need to make time for our own D.E.A.R.  I'm not talking about reading the latest (adult) best seller, or flipping through whatever literary dregs are in the doctor's waiting room. I am talking about reading the newest children's books that interest you. You know....the kind of book you want to write?

     I assumed that writers, especially children's writers, are readers. However, I never gave much thought as to what they were reading until last month. I was teaching an adult Writing for Children's workshop and had brought in tons of books from my personal collection (not the books I wrote; the books I own) to use as examples of different styles of writing. I have a very expensive book buying habit, because for the last fifteen years I have either lived where there was no library, or very poor ones. Books have changed since we were kids, even if you are a lot younger than I am (which is probably almost everyone reading this.) Yes, there are classics, like Ramona and her friends who will never die.
The first Henry Huggins book was published in 1950, Charlotte's Web, 1952  A Wrinkle in Time 1962.   These are timeless books although I sometimes wonder, given today's publishing climate if any of these three would be considered "commercial" enough to be published today.

   But back to my workshop.  My students devoured my books, then asked. "Where did you get these books?  How did you even know about them?" These writers were mostly young mothers who read to their children....whatever happened to be on the display counter in the picture book section of the library.   "These books aren't at (fill in the name of your local chain bookstore).  How could I find them in the library, if I don't know they exist?"

    Valid points. Chain bookstores, the only ones available to a good chunk of us, feature "sure sellers" tie-ins, "celebrity" picture books, books that have become TV series or movies. A few of the books I brought were Newbery/Caldecott winners. Those are always front and center in bookstores and libraries, but for the rest of us hardworking, writers, just finding our books is a real challenge, let alone reading them.  They are out's  just knowing where to look.

    That's why I spend thirty minutes of my D.A.R.E. each week scouting out the newest books online. Where?  Goodreads is one of my favorite places to see what other readers (and not professional reviewers) think of a book. (I do not know what effect it's recent acquisition by Amazon will have on this site, if any, but there are already thousands or reviews that have been written before this happened.)
I also like Kirkus Reviews.   Kirkus is a subscription service with a pretty hefty price tag. Their selling point is that they preview books up to two months pre-publication, which is great if you are a book store and need to know two months in advance if you are going to order the book. If you are willing to wait a whole week after publication, you can read the review online, for free. Kirkus is issued biweekly, except for a week mid-summer and one the first of January.

     You can also sign up for Publisher's Weekly online. Another print publication with a steep subscription price, you can get daily digests of articles, news as to what editor has been promoted, demoted or moved to another publisher. Thursdays is there special children's edition.  All free.

    There are tons of bloggers (including us!) who interview authors when they have a new book coming out. However, I would be amiss if I did not mention my favorite source of quality reading recommendations.  That is Cooperative Children's Book Center located at the University of Wisconsin. In addition to interviews and news about programs and lectures (if you happen to live in Wisconsin), b they review a "Book of the Week." The BOW is always a recently published book the staff at CCBC think is outstanding. They don't waste their time on junk. You may not agree with all of their choices but you will read them knowing that their selection was carefully considered by a group of people whose only "agenda" is to expose the children's literature community to the widest and best range of the newest books.

   So why are you still reading me? Right now, drop everything and scout out your next list of D.A.R.E. books.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Note from Carmela: With the impending demise of Google Reader, I'm looking at different ways our readers can follow our blog posts. (I'll be talking about this in my post on Friday.) Meanwhile, today I discovered the Bloglovin' site. In case you're interested: 
you can now follow the TeachingAuthors blog with Bloglovin' .

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