Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report my interview with Travis Jonker (abbreviated “TJ” below), who blogs at 100 Scope Notes . As you will see from the interview, Travis is an elementary school librarian; he also happens to be a pretty funny guy, so you won’t want to miss the interview. I laughed out loud at least once! 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 Travis’s blog, 100 Scope Notes. Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Barbara Bietz of Jewish Books for Children.
Q: I understand you are an elementary school librarian. Can you tell me a bit of the story of how you decided to take up that profession?
TJ: I followed the classic three step program:
1. I found that I hung out in libraries a lot. Public, school, college – I’ve visited and staked out my territory in them all. I can’t imagine how much time I would have spent in libraries if they circulated Jughead Double Digests when I was growing up. I think we would have had a From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler situation (except, you know, with a library instead of a museum).
2. I went to college and decided I wanted to work with the elementary set. I got my teaching certificate and started getting back into children’s books.
3. After college I did a year of service with AmeriCorps and ended up working in a school with a desk just off the library. The outstanding librarian there (Beth Miller) was a huge influence on me wanting to give librarianship a go. Halfway through the year, I was signing up to go back to school for my library degree.
Q: Where, exactly, do you work, and what sorts of things do you enjoy most about your job?
TJ: I work for a school district in Michigan. I’m the elementary school librarian and I split my time between four buildings serving grades K-6.
I love my job. The variety’s good. One day you’re working with a class, helping a student research “Golden Girl” Rue McClanahan, the next you’re hosting an author visit. Every day is different.
Q: Any good stories from your time as a school librarian? Wild happenings in the library? Heart-warming stories about new readers?
TJ: Allow me to use every ounce of hyperbole when I say…one of our library books saved a life. Maybe two. I was “following up” (nagging is such an ugly word) with a student about an overdue book, when he reluctantly relayed a memorable story.
The student was driving home with his mother on a snowy winter night. After skidding off the icy road and getting the front tires of the car stuck in a snowbank, they needed something to jam under the tire for traction. Hulk: The Incredible Guide did the trick.
That’s how we roll in Michigan. I’m hoping Marvel contacts this parent to write a head-scratching blurb for a new edition some day: “Excellent for getting out of snowbanks!”
Q: How do you think our cultural attachment to technology and screens is affecting children’s literacy and kids’ relationship to books?
TJ: There are so many cool things going on right now in terms of technology, but I have to admit I’m a bit nervous about how that’s affecting us. My wife and I have a daughter and I think about that more often now. But then I calm down and realize it’s probably like anything – don’t overdo it and things will be fine.
Q: What motivated you to start your blog, 100 Scope Notes? What are its goals and content?
TJ: I wanted a way to keep track of the books I read and what I thought of them. My goals for the blog haven’t changed much. I still try to get out as many reviews as I can and post about things happening in the children’s lit world that are interesting to me. Through 100 Scope Notes, I feel like I’m ahead of where I would have been in terms of children’s lit knowledge, since I write about it on a daily basis.
I was also moved to start the blog because of all the excellent blogs I was reading when I first started as a school librarian back in the glory days of aught five. They made writing about kids books look like a lot of fun. Most of them are still around doing great work: A Fuse #8 Production, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Chicken Spaghetti, MotherReader, A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, A Year of Reading, the list goes on.
Q: What is the significance of the name, “100 Scope Notes”?
TJ: “Scope note” is a reference term – it is text that helps explain an entry in a thesaurus. I’ll have to check, but I’m pretty sure that was the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written. Anyway, since I would be explaining what I thought of books, the term seemed to fit. The 100 is an homage to the number of times I’ve tried and failed to read the The Twilight series. No, actually I just thought it worked to differentiate the blog from the term.
Q: What are the central criteria you apply when reviewing children’s books?
TJ: Giving readers a sense of what a book is like, how it fits into the grand scheme of children’s lit, and providing my honest assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. I review for School Library Journal where the word count is strict and the mood is professional. On 100 Scope Notes, I have the ability to do whatever floats into my head. While this can be dangerous, in both instances I try to apply these criteria.
Q: I noticed you’ve been posting some interesting poems lately for National Poetry Month (April). Can you tell me about those, and perhaps give an example?
TJ: While I appreciate poetry, I have a hard time writing it. Being wildly inhibited can really put a damper on the whole “expressing yourself” thing. I came across book spine poetry by chance, somehow arriving at the site of artist Nina Katchadourian. After I tried it out, it really seemed to be a good “gateway” poetic form. I thought it would be fun to encourage others to try it out by posting the results. I did a few spine poems recently and I think this is my favorite.
Q: I also noticed from your blog that you seem to have a special interest in book covers for children’s books. Can you tell me about that, and how it makes its way into your blogging?
TJ: The whole design thing has always been an interest for me. I was a few classes shy of an art minor in college, so I definitely have an interest in the visual side of books. Working around kids, I know how a well-crafted cover can lead to circulations, and it kills me to see good books going unread because the cover isn’t appealing. I’m fascinated with how publishers arrive at final covers and how those covers are received in the wilds of the bookstore or library.
Q: What are some of your favorite children’s books and authors?
TJ: I am forever and always a Roald Dahl devotee. As a kid it was my goal to read every one of his books. It’s so wild to think about trying to track down books back in the pre-internet days. The best idea I had about Dahl’s other work was from the little list they put at the beginning of each book. My town library didn’t have them all, and I didn’t realize I could order them from the bookstore, so I was always on the lookout. I still remember visiting the bookstore in Portage, Michigan where I finally found the elusive The Vicar of Nibbleswicke. For some reason, I knew that buying the book wasn’t going to happen, so I sat down in the store and read the whole thing.
Nowadays there are so many authors and illustrators I like. Literally scores. How about I randomly select one author-type person I love…
…and one illustrator-type person I fancy:
They’re both good.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work around children’s books?
TJ: Looking for the best books and sharing them with kids. In my non library life, I always have to hold myself back from recommending things to people – music, TV shows, Girl Scout cookie types, etc. (“Buy the Tagalongs, pass on the Trefoils”). Thankfully, I get to put this curse to good use in my job.
Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?
TJ: Give kids choice.
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