Here is another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Elizabeth Bird (abbreviated “EB” below), who blogs at A Fuse #8 Production. Her blog is one of several hosted at the School Library Journal website. Elizabeth Bird is perhaps the most prominent and prolific blogger in the kidlitosphere (kidlit celebrity?). She posts children’s book reviews, along with news, videos, and funny stuff related to kids’ books. She is also a public librarian in New York City, as you will see from the interview. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out A Fuse #8 Production (link above), as well as the many other excellent resources she mentions in the interview. Thanks Elizabeth!
Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?
EB: Excellent question. Basically, I stumbled into it. After I determined that I wanted to become a librarian I was a little vague on what kind of librarian I could be. I took a course on children’s literature to fill a credit while getting my MLIS (Masters in Library and Information Science). Honestly, I probably just saw it as an easy “A”. But then as I started to get into the class, I discovered my calling. I’d been reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials for years for fun. It never occurred to me to make a whole occupation out of it. After that, I was a clear goner. Writing about children’s literature just seemed a natural next step after studying them all the time.
Q: How and when did you start “A Fuse #8 Production”?
EB: In 2005 I read an article in School Library Journal about how to create a blog for your school library. I was a public librarian, but this still sounded like a pretty keen idea and I was eager to make such a blog for my own branch’s children’s room. However in 2005 the library wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of a New York Public Library approved blog (they have since embraced the idea with open arms) and said it wouldn’t be a great idea. In a huff, I decided to make my own blog, and in early 2006 (February or so) I began. It was, as it turns out, the best move I could have possibly made. School Library Journal eventually bought it and I’ve been hosted by them ever since.
Q: What is the content of “A Fuse #8 Production”, and what are your goals for it?
EB: At the start the blog was just a series of reviews. But since joining the child_lit listserv I noticed that there was lots of cool children’s literary news out there. So I added that as well. Then I started reporting on my own observations, and everything pretty much blossomed from there. After School Library Journal purchased me I started concentrating more on Video Sundays and Librarian Previews. At this point in time the blog is a kind of hodgepodge of reviews and videos, interviews (on occasion) and news.
As for my goals, I guess you could say that I intend to keep bringing up topics of discussion for folks to yammer over. My ultimate goal is to find a way to bring together all the different aspects of children’s literature in a common conversation. Not just authors, editors, agents, illustrators, librarians, teachers, and parents, but also people who make magazines for kids, playwrights, people who write children’s poetry or screenplays. Basically, I just want us all to be one big happy family.
Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate the books you review?
EB: My criteria is split between several considerations. On the one hand, I have to consider the child reader and what they want. If I’m bored to tears by a book then bet your bottom dollar that someone with a shorter attention span than my own will be too. On the other hand, I am what they call in the business a “gatekeeper”. And I have to consider other gatekeepers who purchase books. That title about snot and boogers may please the child reader considerably, but kids don’t tend to earn their own pocket money. It’s the adults calling the shots, and nine out of ten times they want their kids to be reading something that’s worthy of their little geniuses.
So basically, I take each book on a case by case basis. If I’ve seen similar books done in the same vein before I’ll compare it to those, but generally speaking the title needs to stand on its own merits. Is it well-written for a kid? Does it know who its audience is? Does it accomplish what it sets out to do? I take all these questions into consideration.
Q: Why children’s books and not adult books?
EB: I’ve nothing against adult books, but when I started reviewing on my own I saw that while adult books are swimming in reviews, children’s materials never got quite as much attention. There are other advantages as well. The time it takes to read a book written for adults is incredibly long. Reviewing for children, in contrast, is a breeze. A picture book can take all of five minutes (10 minutes if I’m really examining it closely). Finally, I do feel that children’s books are consistently more interesting than books for adults. We’ve some of the greatest minds of our generation working on them, after all.
Q: I understand that you are also a children’s librarian in New York City. How does your library work influence your writing at “A Fuse #8 Production”, and vice versa?
EB: My working and my blogging lives really feed into one another. Sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other. While I never blog at work, I do reap its rewards. My Children’s Literary Salons often contain panelists that I’ve met through my blogging life. I’m also able to suggest books for the system that I’ve received, all thanks to the blogosphere. On the librarian side of the equation, I feel that my blog has a great deal more legitimacy because of my position within the New York Public Library system. I also see books added to my system that might not have been sent to me for review, so I’ve a fuller appreciation for what’s being published. It’s lovely.
Q: In addition to your blog and library work, what are some other ways you are involved in the world of children’s books?
EB: Certainly. I review for Kirkus, TimeOut New York Kids and, on occasion, The New York Times. I have written articles for Horn Book Magazine. I often speak in public, and have done so during conferences (ComicCon, Book Expo, ALA, etc.) as well as meetings (SCBWI, etc.). I wrote a book for ALA Editions for children’s librarians called Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career. I have also sold two picture books to Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins) and I’ve sold a non-fiction adult title to Candlewick about the hidden stories behind children’s literature, which I am writing with bloggers Jules Danielson (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) and Peter Sieruta (Collecting Children’s Books). I also do freelance work as an advisor to Scholastic Book Group.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work around children’s books?
EB: Boy. That’s a million dollar question, I think. It’s hard to pinpoint. It probably just boils down to the fact that I like getting the kids reading. As simple as that. Not a long lengthy answer, but an honest one.
Q: I understand that you have published at least one book and may have some children’s books in the works? Tell me a bit about your book(s) and your publishing hopes for the future.
EB: Yup! As I mentioned before I wrote a book for ALA Editions, sold two picture books, and I’m working on a title for Candlewick. In terms of my own personal publishing hopes, I do believe that this is just the beginning. I think in the future I’ll attempt to straddle the worlds of writing fiction (picture books, middle grade, YA, etc.) and writing these non-fiction “behind the scenes” titles as well. I belong to a writers group here in NYC that’s magnificent and I hope to clear away a little more time for fiction writing in the future. Once my Candlewick book is done, of course.
Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?
EB: Boy. I think my blog basically is a big soapbox full of children’s books. And with that in mind the advice that I’d give would depend on the audience. However, there are just some things that are always true.
1. Reading to and with your kids is vital for their future.
2. Everyone should have a library card.
3. There should be more books out there containing wrestlers for kids. Seriously. I get asked for them all the time. Won’t someone PLEASE heed my cries?
Now I’m gonna go open this soapbox to look at the books inside. Thanks for the questions!
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