An Interview with Liz the Great

Full disclosure:  The love of words brought my late mom and Liz Kennedy together.  I’m glad Liz stayed in touch with me because she’s someone I admire.  After taking her B. A. in English Lit. at Brown, she earned an M. S. at Emporia State University.  She’s also been a teacher, a museum educator, a mom and for the last several years the resident expert in children’s literature at the website, about.com.  Her column, (http://childrensbooks.about.com/) is a must-read if you want the skinny on current kid-lit.  She was kind enough to (virtually) sit down with me and talk about one of our favorite things : books.

Me:  Liz, you’ve created an amazing career as an expert in children’s literature.   What journey brought you to this point?
LK:  Serendipity and my love of reading and learning were factors. I love to read, libraries and bookstores are my favorite places, and I have a background in education. However, what particularly helped at the beginning is that I also knew html, which when I got started 15 years ago, was very important to writing for the Web. My husband taught me.

Me: What were your favorite books as a child?  Do you still re-read any of them now?
LK: My all-time favorite children’s book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My mother gave me her copy of the novel, which is beautifully illustrated. It’s the first book I ever read that made me feel I was actually there – inside the story, experiencing what the characters were experiencing – an unforgettable feeling. I try to reread the book every year.
Me:  As an expert, you’ve written about hundreds of books.  Which ones made the biggest impression on you?
LK:I tend to be a visual person so particularly enjoy well-illustrated picture books and books, fiction and nonfiction, in which the author’s words create pictures in my mind of locations, characters, experiences, etc.
Me:  Children’s literature has changed over the years.  What are the trends you have noticed?
LK: There is an increased emphasis on more diversity in children’s books that I hope will result in more books that reflect the diversity we see in everyday life.
The definition of middle grade books is expanding; it used to be that publishers used “middle grade” to refer to books for ages 8 or 9 to 12, and “young adult” to refer to books for ages 12 to 18, but now many publishers are also referring to books for ages 10 to 14 as middle grade.
Me:   Let’s get out your crystal ball.  Any guesses about the future of children’s lit?
LK: I see a bright future, with books available in not one, but many, formats, including traditional books, audiobooks and eBooks.
I do, however, have a concern about funding for libraries. Public libraries are crucial to a literate population. For many children and families, they are their only source of books and book-related programs. Libraries are an important part of a community’s quality of life. Yet, too often, public libraries are woefully underfunded.
Me:       A big part of children’s literature comes from the joy of reading aloud.  Do you have any favorites or memories of books being read out loud?
LK: When I was five years old, my mother read me the first few Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, which I loved. I also loved reading aloud to my own kids and did so for a number of years, from Pat the Bunny and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to The Chronicles of Narnia.  
Me:  You’ve got two book-related wishes.  What kinds of books would you like to see more kids reading, and which literary character or writer would you like to have dinner with and why?
LK: 1. I’d like see kids reading more books for fun, books they want to read, rather than just books that have a certain number of AR points or that meet some other kind of arbitrary criteria.
2. I’d love to have dinner with author and illustrator Brian Selznick whose middle grade books have expanded the definition of “picture book.” I think he is a genius. His latest book, The Marvels, an amazing book, comes out in September and I’ll be reviewing it soon.

Thank you Liz for being my Mama’s dear friend and for being a friend to everyone who loves books.

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