Carl Lennertz, executive director of the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader, shares what’s on his bedside table.
Let’s be honest and admit that many nightstand reading stacks are aspirational as much as actual, with long-ago purchased books awaiting the passage of a reading binge in another genre. (The stacks are also never as neat as they seem in photos.) Anyone who has ever worked with me will roll their eyes at my “organized” nightstand, if they remember the vertiginous, sliding stacks of files and sales reports that covered my office desks of yore.
So that’s confession #1: I cleaned up the table for the photo. It’s okay; it was fun! And I found two new bookmarks! Which brings me to confession #2: I am using bookmarks!
You see, after a career spent reading manuscripts and ARCs (or AREs), I was an inveterate page corner folder. Yes, in my pleasure reading, I’d use the book flap, but we know that in a life in publishing, 90% of our reading is not sacred paper-wise.
But now, loving treatment of books inhabits my reading world. Children’s books have taught me, among many things, not to fold down page corners. Picture books just need the lovely flap tucked in, though rare is the picture book not devoured in one sitting. And yes, for middle grade and YA books, a bookmark or book flap it is. And graphic novels? One would dare not put a crease in the art! The last galley I did fold the corners on, but not many as I was so riveted I finished it in three nights, was A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby.
It’s a joy to be able to use the flap on the F&Gs of a picture book. I just love the forthcoming The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts, and The Very Very Very Long Dog by Julia Patton… with a super long bookmark!
One last confession: Many of my reading binges are comprised of WWII spy/detective novels, from Alan Furst to Philip Kerr, and I’m currently on hiatus from a Donna Leon streak. But I feel four new binges coming on.
The first is in motion; I’m going to read all of the CBC’s current Best STEM list; Whoosh! and Swap! were first up. (Don Tate’s work on Whoosh! led me to Lee & Low’s It Jes’ Happened, a fantastic picture book about the life of Bill Traylor.)
Second up will be all of Gene Yang’s books (The Shadow Hero was one of my favorite reads since joining the CBC and you can see a part of the face of Saints peeking through on my night table) and the Ms. Marvel comics by G. Willow Wilson about Kamala Khan, a teenage Muslim girl living in Jersey City, near where I’m living now. As a comic book kid, I can’t wait to re-enter that world for a while, where children and teens have the power to face all challenges head-on. As with spy novels and mysteries, I feel that comic books are often able to posit the dichotomies of human character—frailties and strengths—in a dynamic yet tangible way.
The third binge is going to be a Jason Reynolds read-a-thon. I’ve started with The Boy in the Black Suit, and my next choice will be between Long Way Down and Miles Morales, before I go back to Track and his other books.
Fourth and finally, weaving through all the binges will be an immersion in American history. I keep A Gift from Greensboro nearby for rereading; it’s a salve for the eye and soul about two friends and the 1960 Woolworth sit-in, as told via Quraysh Ali Lansana’s poem and Skip Hill’s illustrations. I should reread the Bill of Rights, and so A Kids’ Guide to America’s Bill of Rights by Kathleen Krull is on tap.
Up next in my reading is The John Carlos Story. The taking-a-knee by pro and now high school athletes has me going back to the roots of athlete protest. (I worry about a new round of bullying in high schools over this legitimate act of free speech.) While it drives me nuts that we pay teachers SO little and athletes SO much, there is the national media platform afforded the runner or thrower. I am mystified why the anthem is played at sporting events (its origins were manufactured) and I don’t understand why it’s okay for the guy still on the beer or bathroom line to think he’s being respectful.
I remember vividly when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. The 50th anniversary is next year, and I hope we’ll see a new round of books about them, as well as inspirational books for young readers about athletes like Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. We also need a paperback or three about Colin Kaepernick.
Every imagined and real character in children’s literature teaches us something vital, and the learning can never stop, right? It’s up to us to change things, but our children need more role models and heroes, imaginary and real, now more than ever.