Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Monica Edinger (abbreviated “ME” below), who blogs at educating alice and the Huffington Post. As you will see from the interview, Monica is a teacher and an author, and she has worked around children’s books for a long time. She has even served on the Newbery Medal committee. 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 children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Monica’s blog, educating alice; it is one of the most widely read and respected blogs in the kidlitosphere. Click here for the the previous interview in this series.
Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking and writing about children’s books?
ME: I have always been interested in children’s books. Drawing and art was what I did as a kid and so in high school I consciously decided that when I grew up I was going to be a children’s book illustrator. I worked on a number of projects, most notably illustrations for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story, “A Leaf by Niggle” [in The Tolkien Reader]. In college and after (say, when I was in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer) I continued to do art—fairy tales, Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, and a few chapters of another favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I had an agent or two and took my work around, got a few nibbles, but nothing really came of it and my interest in doing art waned although my interest in the books did not. At the same time I was a classroom teacher and always was reading and looking and connecting my students with favorite books.
I’m still a classroom teacher and have to say I love it as much as I did when I started, decades ago. My students inspire me and keep me true. And I do a lot of cool projects with them. For more about my teaching check out my class blog.
But writing about children’s books is something that happened more recently. While I’ve always been a reader, I stopped thinking of myself as a writer for a very long time because of an unfortunate high school experience. Fortunately, that changed in 1990 when I received a fellowship to study children’s literature at Princeton and discovered a wonderful new world of scholarship. Shortly thereafter I was invited by Scholastic to participate in their new network (this is before the web was a big presence) on AOL, leading projects with books, literature, authors, and a teacher language arts discussion board. I also joined the list serve child_lit which was heaven for me as I connected to academics, reviewers, librarians, editors, authors, booksellers and others who all loved children’s books as much as I did. You have to remember that at this time we were all in separate worlds and so child_lit was an amazing place for us to all come together. I wrote a book for Scholastic on teaching fantasy literature [Fantasy Literature in the Elementary Classroom] and a couple on teaching history for a couple of other publishers [Seeking History and Far Away and Long Ago]. Children’s books are in all of them as they are core to my teaching. I ended up as a member and then as chair of NCTE’s Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committee and later was on the 2008 Newbery Committee. I’ve reviewed for Kirkus, The New York Times, and Horn Book. Now I’m writing children’s books myself!
Q: How and when did you start your blog, “educating alice”, and what is the significance of the title?
ME: I followed blogs for a few years and finally decided I was ready to start my own. I liked the idea of having one platform where I could write about my diverse interests—teaching, children’s books, etc. The title was suggested to me by a teaching colleague as it combines two major aspects of my life—educating (teaching) and alice (children’s books).
Q: What do you love about Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?
ME: My father first read the book to me when I was around Alice’s age, eight or so. I fell in love with it (and Looking-Glass as well) and read them over and over and over. I thought that Alice was incredibly lucky to be able to go to Wonderland and I would have loved to have done the same.
Q: What is the content of “educating alice”, and what are your goals for it?
ME: I’ve a series called “In the Classroom” where I feature things that happen in my classroom and another called “Thoughts on Newbery” that I started when I was on the Newbery Committee and continue as a way to consider issues around the books under consideration and awards in general. I do occasional reviews, mentions of books, events, references to interesting articles, and a whole bunch of stuff. It is a fairly eclectic blog. My goals are to continue to make it relevant and interesting and be sure I’m also having fun with it.
Q: I understand that you also blog at The Huffington Post. How did you get that gig, and what is the difference between the two blogs?
ME: The Huffington Post blog came about after I noticed a whole lot of traffic coming from them and suggested that instead of their using my stuff that way that I blog for them. They were delighted. It has been interesting because I see that blog as having a very different audience from educating alice. The latter attracts folks who are already versed and interested in children’s books. I think the HuffPo audience is, I’m guessing, a bit less in that world and so I think it is a great way to get the word out to that different and larger audience.
Q: How does your life as a teacher influence your blogging, and vice versa?
ME: Shortly after starting educating alice I started a class blog and then gave all my students blogs too. So we are all blogging together!
Q: Tell me about your connection with Africa and how it shows up in “educating alice”.
ME: I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone 1974-76 and so care deeply about how American children learn about Africa. My forthcoming book from Candlewick is about a child on the Amistad—all the captives were from the area that is present-day Sierra Leone.
Q: Tell me about the School Library Journal Battle of the Kids Books.
ME: It is a fun, lighthearted way to look at a handful of wonderful 2010 books. The tournament structure is simply a device to get us all to talk about books, who wins and who loses is not the point. We just announced this year’s judges and brackets and I can’t wait for the battle to begin! Go to the site for more and to the FAQ for details about how the whole thing got started.
Q: I understand that you are also a published writer. What are some recent writing projects you are excited about?
ME: I’ve a forthcoming book from Candlewick, Africa is my Home, which will be a fictionalized scrapbook based on the true story of Sarah Margru Kinson, one of four children on the Amistad and I’m currently working on a project about the films of Charlie Chaplin.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work around children’s books?
ME: The people, the passion, the connections, and the love we all share together (adults and children alike) for this wonderful and remarkable art.
Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?
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