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SUMMER 2007 FEATURE: JUST ONE MORE BOOK

RT: Three days each week, you stop in your favorite coffee shop to record podcasts of some of your favorite children's books. These are books that you share as a family, with daughters Lucy (7) and Bayla (5) and love to read over and over. Have you found it difficult to maintain a pace of three new books each week?

Andrea & Mark: Not at all! We typically record five JOMB conversations per week — and we still can't imagine a time when we wouldn't have in mind a huge list of books that we were desperate to talk about. As parents of two young children, both working full-time in the high-tech sector, the 15 minutes we spend together each weekday morning enjoying great coffee and sharing our passion for a beloved book in our cozy café setting gives us just the boost we need to get us through our hectic and demanding days. We always have a healthy store of shows queued for publication. This is handy for weeks when we are on vacation, traveling on business, overwhelmed by life, etc. It allows our listeners to stay on top of the show (i.e., not fall behind on their listening).

The most challenging parts of producing our Just One More Book! podcast are condensing our impressions of a book into a concise statement for our webpage and doing the research to prepare for interviews.

RT: Given that you're continually reading (and reviewing) new material, do you find it hard to go back to "old" favorites? Have the girls every asked just to spend their story time "re-reading" books you've already shared instead of trying something new?

Andrea & Mark: Reading has always been a big part of every day. It's how we connect. It's how we relax. It's what we do in breaths between activities. We have never limited story time to the hour of bedtime reading. We read at breakfast, in line-ups, at restaurants, etc. — so, we have plenty of time to read both recent additions and old faves.

RT: You also welcome reviews from listeners. Do you have any published criteria or formula you like to use or can recommend?

Andrea & Mark: We just love to hear people talk about the children's books they love. We noticed early on that each time we'd mention our podcast to people — friends or strangers — their eyes would light up as one of their own favorites came to mind and they just couldn't resist telling us about it. We love that spark — that childhood memory — and that urge to share it. We would like JOMB to be a place to share that excitement.

Getting listeners to take the time to actually record their thoughts for our show has been a challenge, though. In the forty-some weeks JOMB has been around, we have received 22 listener-submitted reviews. We would love to play one or two listener-submitted reviews each week. To encourage participation, we don't publish criteria for the reviews. It's really as simple as this: tell us about a children's book you love and why you love it.

RT: In your podcast Finding Great Children's Books [JOMB, 8/22/2006], you mention that you purchase both new and used books. In Lucy and Bayla's library, what percentage of the books are new, and what is used? Do you ever borrow books from the library?

Andrea & Mark: Our split of used and new books was pretty even when we launched Just One More Book! in July 2006. Since then, we have bought and received more new titles, so these now make up the majority of our collection. Since books are scattered fairly evenly throughout our house, it would be difficult to avoid losing sight of library books, so, except for purposes of research — such as Andrea's work on the nominations committee for Cybils [Children's and Young Bloggers Literary Awards] — we don't borrow books.

RT: In that same August 2006 podcast you say that you have found some great books at library sales (i.e., the library is selling a book because no one is reading it). That raises an interesting point. If libraries are donating them because no one is reading them, how will people find them? Do you check to see whether/not the book is still in print? Is it important that your listeners and web site visitors be able to find the books you talk about?

Andrea & Mark: We can only speculate as to why certain books are for sale at libraries. We have seen for sale recently published books that have obviously never been cracked open. We are always sad when we learn that a book we love is out of print but that fact would never prevent us from singing its praises.

Fortunately, out-of-print books are usually available to be read somewhere. Sometimes books are out of print because they're changing format. After we lamented the loss of Sanji and the Baker, Gorky Paul contacted us to let us know this great book would soon be back on the presses. Sometimes out-of-print books are available directly from the author, such as Snowsong Whistling and Nutcracker Noel. Listeners have written to tell us the thrill of contacting an author directly for a copy of a JOMB-reviewed out-of-print book. Sometimes we are able to follow the progress of attempts to revive an out of print book. For example, many wonderful books by Sherry Fitch, such as Sleeping Dragons All Around, went out of print when Double Day abandoned the kidlit side of its business. We have regular updates from Sherry on her efforts to have these books repubished as an anthology. Last but not least, libraries, eBay, used book stores, and garage sales are terrific places to keep your eyes open for great out-of-print books.

RT: What happens to the books you purchase that surprised you? That is, when you bought the book, you thought it would be a family favorite, but it didn't turn out that way.

Andrea & Mark: We fill our lives with great children's books because we are passionate about them. The podcast is just a way to share some of that passion. Given that we only review five books a week, it will take us a long, long time to review every book that we absolutely love so, to answer your question, we just keep reading and enjoying all our titles. If you are asking what we would do if we owned a really, really bad children's book, the answer lies in one of the big secrets to our fabulous library (which we divulged in the episode you referred to above, Finding Great Children's Books). That is, since many book retailers fill their shelves with low quality, highly publicized book products which loudly call out to children, we almost never let our daughters pick out books! As a result it is quite rare that a really bad book makes it into our collection. Not every book we buy is worth raving about, of course. Such books are obviously not included in our show, but they remain in our reading rotation. Very rarely do we encounter a book that, due to shockingly bad grammar or content, we have to remove completely from rotation. These books sit on a high shelf until we can donate them to our school's annual book sale.

RT: As Just One More Book gains visibility as a resource for learning about children's books, authors, and illustrators, are you beginning to get requests from publishers or authors to review their books?

Andrea & Mark: We often receive offers of children's books. In response, we explain that Just One More Book! is a podcast about the children's books we love and why we love them and that, as such, JOMB features family favorites from our personal children's book collection. Authors, illustrators, and publishers are welcome to send books for us to add to our collection. If we love them we'll certainly include them in our show. The good news is that we never publish an unfavorable review!

RT: On a related note, how would someone go about contacting you for a review or interview? Would you consider interviewing authors whose books you have not read? Or whose books you've read but did not like?

Andrea & Mark: It is always a thrill to chat with the people behind the books we adore. Having said that, the scope of our JOMB interviews extends beyond chats with our absolute idols. Our JOMB interviews are also intended to highlight interesting ideas and undertakings in the world of children's literature and literacy. We consider more than just an author's or illustrator's product. A book may not be a read-aloud favorite in our home because our children do not fall into the targeted range of age, gender or interest, or perhaps because the execution of an intriguing idea is still formative. Nevertheless, they may have a personal story, accomplishments, ingenuity, or intentions that interest and inspire us. Those "untold" stories are always welcome on our show. The best way to let us know about inspiring ideas and undertakings in children's literature and literacy is via a friendly email to justOneMoreBook at gmail.com. [Substitute @ for at.]

RT: In listening to several podcasts, it doesn't take long to discover that you have lots of books. In a podcast about the Features of Great Children's Books [JOMB, 12/11/2006], you hit on a topic that every parent can relate to: how do you shelve those oversized books and "cutesy" shaped books? You also mention that because they are awkward, you don't often read them. As your library continues to grow, filling up with many other books that you do share over and over, do you have plans for these books?

Andrea & Mark: Our first advice on the issue of storing books is to shelve books by size and format. This may seem like a daunting task, but once the books are organized in this manner it is very easy to maintain and it is definitely worthwhile. Arranging books this way makes browsing and selecting books a pleasure, for both you and your children; and, because the individual books are so easy to browse, it helps distribute reading time much more evenly among books of different sizes. It also makes it very easy to locate a particular book — as long as you correctly remember the dimensions of the book in question! We have hundreds of books and can usually locate any given book in no time.

Even so, those oddly shaped books, especially the very tiny or extremely large ones, are often missed in day-to-day shelf scans. Like good librarians, though, we regularly rotate the selection of books that are laid out for easy grabbing on our family room table and in our bedrooms. Keeping the very huge books upright in a magazine rack between our daughters' beds has also made these books handy for their weekend morning don't-wake-us-up-'til-eight-o'clock entertainment. We have kept bunches of tiny books in zip-top plastic bags in our car and backpacks. This gives us emergency entertainment on the go, but it does greatly reduce the life of the books!

There are a couple exceptions to the arrange-by-size-and-format rule. We store books that belong to a series or by a "typed" author (such as Madeline, Tacky, Rotten Ralph, Kevin Henkes, Loris Lesynski, Magic Schoolbus) together regardless of size and format because we like to read them in "clumps." We also store our non-fiction, poetry, and seasonal books in their own separate areas. Finally, before our girls were reading, we set up a bookshelf sections for super-easy-to-read books and pop-up books so that our daughters had easy access to the books they could read to themselves.

RT: One of your criteria is that the book is a favorite read-aloud book. As Bayla and Lucy become more sophisticated readers ( i.e., reading at higher grade levels), do you foresee any changes in how you read (i.e., more shared reading) or having the girls prepare their own podcasts? [sidebar: I want to draw out in the interview a little more about the fact that this is not just about reading a book or even "reading together" (where everyone reads their own age-appropriate title. These are books you want to experience, out loud, together.]

Andrea & Mark: We are going to do our best to extend the read-aloud picture book phase of family reading as long as possible. We love the connection that family reading gives us and we believe that it is a mistake to abandon picture books at any point in life. JOMB will, of course, ebb and flow as our family matures and, just as we would never have guessed when we kicked off this project last July the exciting course JOMB would take in its first year. It is very tough to know where it will go in the future. For now, we're enjoying this precious process one day at a time.

RT: What has been your favorite part of the Just One More Book! experience? What has been the biggest surprise (positive or negative) in this venture?

Andrea & Mark: We are loving everything about our JOMB experience. If we had to limit ourselves to one aspect each, Andrea's favorite would be the energizing affect of starting each workday talking about something she's so passionate about. Mark's would be engaging with the fascinating people who create and promote children's books and literacy.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Andrea & Mark: Andrea recently launched a sibling kidlit blog and podcast called Swimming in Literary Soup. This project, which is part of the Grasshopper New Media Parents Network (GNM Parents), introduces readers and listeners to children's books grouped by content or theme. Andrea is thrilled to be able to draw attention to several great books in each episode.

Website: http://www.justonemorebook.com




                 

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