We have been doing an ongoing series of interviews with our curators at Zoobean. These are the folks with deep expertise in children’s books, helping us identify just the right books for our personalized subscriptions and building our ever growing Zoobean library of high quality books! Next up, Mary from Washington state, a children’s librarian and mom who is particularly knowledgeable about diverse children’s literature.
Zoobean: Tell us about your background in children’s books and being a Zoobean curator!
Mary: I’ve been a fan of children’s books all my life - have always resorted to reading them in times of stress or when I just wanted to read something comforting. I worked in bookstores for many years, which just fostered my love for, and addiction to, kidlit. This past May I completed my Master’s in Library Science. My children’s literature courses were my favorite of all the classes I took for my degree.
While I was working on my MLIS, I started writing a blog on children’s literature called Sprout’s Bookshelf. The goal when I began was to compile a resource where parents, teachers and librarians could find good multicultural children’s books. As a white mother raising a black son, it is especially important to surround my son with books that help him become a global citizen and help him see the diversity in the world all around us. And so putting that information out there for other families, especially those formed through transracial adoption as my family was, became my mission. That’s also what attracted me to Zoobean - the diversity that permeates the Zoobean library is something all children should have access to!
Z:Tell me about the importance of curators when it comes to children’s books. Is it difficult for readers, parents, and loved ones to discover books on their own for kids?
M: I do think it’s difficult to find a good book for kids. It’s hard for me to find good stuff, and I spend all day buying and receiving children’s books in my job! The simple truth is that there is so much out there now, both in terms of what’s published from traditional channels and the titles that people are writing and publishing on their own. Finding a book that’s well-written, engaging and can capture a child’s attention (and keep it) is no easy feat.
Z:How do you know when a book is right for Zoobean families? Or, what makes a book a Zoobean loved book?
M: The short answer is that I know I have a winner when my four-year-old asks to hear the book again! But I also use a high standard to select the books I curate for Zoobean. Is it a title I personally enjoyed? Does it linger in my mind long after I’ve read it? Does it address a specific need or speak to a specific audience? And does it make me want to tell everyone I know about it? If so, I know it’s a good candidate for my blog, and probably for Zoobean as well.
Z: What is your favorite Zoobean book that you’ve curated so far?
M: Probably A House in the Woods by Inga Moore. It’s the perfect book for fall, warm and cozy and compelling. It’s a recent title, but it’s got the sense of a classic about it. And it’s the first book that my son actively cried about when we returned it to the library.
Z: What would be your number one piece of advice in choosing a book for a child?
M: Keep their interests in mind. Don’t choose a book because it’s good, or a classic, or something a child should read. Kids will sniff those should books out in a hurry, and they won’t enjoy the experience. Choose a title because you know it’s about something that will make their little eyes light up. And if you’re not sure what to choose - talk to a teacher, a bookseller, a librarian or a kidlit blogger. Better yet, go hit up the Zoobean library!
Z: For those who have children: What is your favorite thing about reading with your children?
M: Book time is quiet time, an oasis in the otherwise crazy reality of our lives. It seems like we’re constantly rushing off somewhere, or have something that urgently needs to be addressed. Book time is the opposite of that, a time when we can slow down and be together as a family. It’s hushed and cozy and contemplative, no matter what we’re reading. And of course my favorite thing is when my son begs for “just one more book, pleeeeease?”
Z: What is your favorite memory of reading as a child?
M: I read a LOT as a child — pretty much always had my nose in a book at one time or another. In fact, a few years ago we went through a lot of old pictures from my childhood and in nearly every one shows me with a book, or a dog, or both. To this day, if I leave home without something to read, I get a little twitchy.
Z: Where did you grow up?
M: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which I love. My husband and I now live in the Northwest corner of Washington State, near the Canadian border. Yes, there’s lots of rain here, but I don’t mind - great excuse for me to skip the yard work and read instead! :)
Z: Do you have a favorite blog? What is it? What do you like about it?
M: I have so many favorite blogs — all of them kidlit-related! Some great ones I read on a regular basis: Fuse #8, 7 Impossible Things, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Pragmatic Mom, Youth Literature Reviews, 100 Scope Notes, Abby (the) Librarian, Bookshelves of Doom, What Do We Do All Day? and Growing Book by Book. Oh, and there are so many more!