Here’s another post in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Jen Robinson (abbreviated “JR” below), who blogs at Jen Robinson’s Book Page. Along with excellent children’s book reviews, Jen’s blog has a particular focus on child literacy. She is also a leader in the online children’s literature community (the “kidlitosphere” as it is sometimes called), 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 Jen’s blog (link above), as well as the many excellent resources she mentions in the interview. Thanks Jen!
Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking/writing about children’s books?
JR: I never stopped reading children’s books, just because I enjoyed them so much. I was also always an advocate of people helping kids to grow up to love books. I think that the whole growing bookworms concept [AMM: hence the bookworm graphic above] resonated with me because I loved books SO SO much as a child. And my love of books enriched my life, both subjectively (countless hours of pleasure) and objectively (high SAT scores, admission to my dream college, etc.). I was a grassroots advocate for literacy for years, long before there were blogs, but I always wished that I could do more. Blogging gave me a platform to work in an area that I was already passionate about.
Q: How and when did you start your blog?
JR: I started my blog in December of 2005. Two different friends recommended blogging for me as a way to do something in the area of children’s books, instead of just talking about doing something someday. I owe them both a debt of gratitude, because blogging turned out to be a perfect fit for me. I just sat down one weekend and created a blog, and was happy to discover soon afterward that there were other people out there blogging about the same things. It’s been an amazing experience.
Q: What is the content of your blog, and what are your goals for it?
JR: I mostly publish book reviews (picture books through young adult titles) and news about the Kidlitosphere and about children’s literacy. I try to keep my blog pretty focused, so I don’t do any interviews or giveaways, or talk about any products. Recently my blog has been on a bit of a hiatus, as I had a baby in April. I do hope to get back to both the reviews and the literacy news soon, though I expect that my focus will slant a bit more towards picture books in the future. I’m grateful to Terry Doherty from The Reading Tub and Carol Rasco from RIF (Reading is Fundamental) for keeping up regular roundups of children’s literacy news in my absence.
At this point, with my daughter (AKA Baby Bookworm) now topping my priority list, I don’t have any concrete goals for the blog. I just want to get back to it, and help bring wonderful books, blogs, and literacy programs to people’s attention.
Q: In addition to your blog, what are some other ways you are involved in the world of children’s books?
JR: I’ve been an organizer for the Cybils since they started. The Cybils are a series of book awards given by children’s and young adult book bloggers. I’m also on the board of Kidlitosphere Central, a portal/gathering place for children’s book bloggers. I was also a founding blogger for Booklights, the PBS Parents children’s book blog, though I’m taking leave from that right now. And every year I attend KidLitCon, an annual conference of children’s book bloggers. In the offline world, I’m on the board of the Santa Clara City Library Foundation and Friends, where I head individual outreach efforts.
Q: What criteria do you use to evaluate the books you review?
JR: My criteria tend to be the same as the official criteria for the Cybils. I’m looking for books that are well-written and are also appealing to kids. I’m not interested in a novel that’s eloquently written if it’s boring, for example, but I’m also not interested in the latest page-turner if the clunky dialog makes me cringe. You can find a more detailed explanation of my criteria for books here.
Q: Why children’s books and not adult books?
JR: I do read adult books (mostly mysteries), but I don’t generally review them. I review children’s books because I think that there are a lot of adults out there who need a bit of help finding great books for the kids in their lives. I feel that by reviewing children’s books I’m performing a meaningful service. If I get to the end of my life and I’ve helped a few people to help raise kids who love to read, I think that I’ll have made a positive difference in the world. Plus, children’s books are, in general, at least as well-written as adult books, and a lot more fun.
Q: I understand that you have a special interest in, and concern for, children’s literacy. Are there particular ways that you focus on and/or advocate for children’s literacy?
JR: As I mentioned above, I report on children’s literacy-related news on my blog as often as possible. Terry Doherty and I have been alternating regular roundups of literacy news on our blogs for a couple of years now. Carol Rasco has stepped in for me during my maternity leave. I also share this news on Twitter and Facebook – anywhere that I can help to spread the word. I’ve also been an organizer for the Share a Story – Shape a Future annual literacy blog tour event, which takes place in March each year. And I highlight programs that put books into the hands of children on my blog.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work around children’s books?
JR: The thing that I enjoy the most about children’s books themselves is that they don’t have as many boundaries. You can find fantasy and mystery and science fiction and a school story all in one book. And, generally speaking, that book will have all of the boring parts edited out, because children are such a demanding audience. I think that some of the best literature being published today is being published as children’s and young adult literature.
The thing that I’ve enjoyed the most about *blogging* about children’s books has been becoming part of the community of people working in this area. I’ve met teachers, librarians, parents, authors, publishers and other fans of children’s books. So many of these people are kindred spirits, people that I feel privileged to know. Before I started my blog, I was quietly reading children’s books on my own, but I didn’t have many people to share that passion with. Finding the Kidlitosphere has been a gift.
Q: I understand that you also work in the computer industry. Tell me about that.
JR: I co-own a small software firm called FabTime. We sell a web-based digital dashboard product that helps companies that make computer chips to improve their manufacturing. We’ve been in business for 11 years, and work with chip manufacturers from around the world. I have a PhD in Industrial Engineering, and specialize in improving factory operations. My business partner heads the coding and installation side of the business, while I manage sales, consulting, and training.
Q: Do the two kinds of work complement each other at all, or are they just separate?
JR: I’ve taken marketing and communication skills that I learned through my work and applied them to my blog. I’ve always tried to take a relatively professional approach to my blog, because that’s what I’m used to from my work. And I have spent some time at work doing website design, so that’s helped with blogging. I think that my blog has helped my work a bit, too, because I publish a monthly newsletter for work, and my blogging has doubtless helped my writing skills.
Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?
JR: Read to your kids from the minute that they’re born, and keep reading aloud to them for as long as they’ll let you. The gift of loving books is one of the most important things that parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles) can give to kids. It pays dividends immediately (closeness and enjoyment of the books) and long-term (reading and writing skills, imagination)
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