Nancy Pearl, the librarian known for her book recommendation segments on National Public Radio and her books Book Lust and More Book Lust (as well as for being the model for a popular shushing librarian action figure), talks about her new work-in-progress: a book suggesting great reads for kids and teens.
Can you share some of the details of your new book?
The working title is Book Crush. I actually got that title from a YA librarian and I figured if anyone should know a catchy title for it, she should. The book will be out in late 2006 or early 2007 [from Sasquatch], depending on how fast I can get everything down.
Are you approaching it the same way as your other titles?
This one is a little different. For the first book I literally worked off my bookshelves, looking at what I had, and seeing which quirky category I could fit it into. For this one, I’m trying to balance my old favorites with all the new wonderful books out there. It’s been a real nostalgia trip. I’ve been getting suggestions from kids, parents, grandparents, librarians, then I read them all. It’s so much fun. I started out as a children’s librarian in the Detroit Public Library, so this really takes me back. I’m spending a lot of time in the children’s departments of the bookstores and libraries I visit.
As for the format of the book, right now I think it will be divided into three parts: one from birth to third grade or so, one from fourth-to-eighth grade and one for high school. Of course there are problems inherent with that. The ages and grades are such an arbitrary distinction. I mean, how do you decide if something is really eighth grade or ninth grade? It’s impossible. I think I will have to include an introduction to make it clear that some kids read up or down.
Have you come across any titles you love so far?
There are such good books out there. I’m thrilled to rediscover some of them, like Fifteen by Beverly Cleary. But I think I’ll put those older favorites in a chapter called “Smells Like Teen Nostalgia,” or something (and pay tribute to Kurt Cobain). Some of the newer books I have really enjoyed are Feed by M.T. Anderson, Knuffle Bunny and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.
Do you think there is a need for the kind of books you’re writing? Is that what has inspired you?
Absolutely. I would get and still do get requests for book suggestions. There is a real hunger for some kind of guidance in this area. Even the smallest library or bookstore is bigger than one person can handle. People are eager for some sort of direction, some clues about where they might look for a book. They may know an author or a couple of titles, or even have a recommendation from a friend, but beyond that, many people are lost.
Do you spend most of your time writing now? Do you miss the library?
I’m writing and speaking full-time now. I left the library [as director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library] a year ago last August. I don’t miss working in the library because much of my job had become administrative. But when I go to libraries and bookstores now, I get to meet people and talk about books, which was always the best part of my job.
Did you ever imagine you would have a career as an author?
No, I couldn’t have dreamed it. But I guess it continues what I’ve always done—talk about books I love. I’ve met people all over the world who love those books too. I think that’s why it works so well. It’s not a whole new career, but the same career with a different emphasis.