Friday, August 26, 2011

Firsts Fridays: Librarian and Author Jeanette Larson

UPDATE!!! We have us a winner for Jeanette's book.

KERRI!!!! Congrats and enjoy that book!

It is my privilege this Firsts Friday to have someone that not only enjoys writing but she lives it. Jeanette Larson spends her time in books, writing books and around books. Let’s get to know the inspiration that is Jeanette and see how she can use her reminiscing about her firsts can help those of us experiencing them now.

For more than twenty-five years Jeanette Larson worked in libraries and with the publishing industry. After writing several books and innumerable articles for librarians, Jeanette moved to the other side of the shelf with her first book for young people, Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. Born at Ft. Dix, NJ, Jeanette and her military family moved around a lot, frequently returning to New Jersey. As a librarian, Jeanette has met many writers and illustrators and worked with the Texas Book Festival. She also helped former first lady Laura Bush by organizing authors for events like the White House Easter Egg Roll. She lives in Pflugerville, TX, a small community just north of Austin with her husband, Jim, two schipperke dogs, and two cats, including a "reformed feral." Her home is near a 100-acre park that is home to herons, ducks, and other wildlife while her garden includes an assortment of flowers, plants, and bushes that attract hummingbirds.

Sounds to me like a winner! And guess what? Jeanette wants to give away a signed copy of her book Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. Just comment after the post about Jeanette and or her books and you will have yourself a great book.  I will pick a winner from one week from today!

DB: You are an old hand at this writing stuff. Can you tell us newbies something that you have found to be very helpful to you over the years with writing and the industry?

JL: I started writing small. By that I mean I volunteered to do book and audiobook reviews for my professional journals. Then I started writing articles. I guess I don't see myself as an "old hand" though because much of my writing until now was for my peers. I would suggest that newbies do as I did and start small. Write for your neighborhood association newsletter, write for the church bulletin. It gets you started. Oh, also I would really suggest that newbies (and others) get involved with SCBWI and their local library association. In Texas and many other states anyone can join the library association and the conferences can be very enlightening. Even if you only visit the exhibits you pick up a lot of information about the publishing industry.

DB: I couldn’t agree more with SCBWI. I love it! But what a great idea about the library association.

What has your writing journey been like from the moment you realized you wanted to be a writer until the moment you had a published book?

JL: Interestingly, I never really thought I wanted to be a writer. My mother was an English teacher and always aspired to be a writer but never really got anything published so I guess the roots were there. She also often edited very critically my work. While she had good intentions it also made writing not much fun. I started writing for the library profession and enjoyed it so wrote more.  As a children's librarian people seemed to expect that I wanted to write for children. I wanted to wait until I truly had something I wanted to share in a book. Unfortunately the librarian part of me loves the research so I have to kick the writer part of me in the butt to move on to the writing and stop researching!

DB: A researcher first then? I like itJ

You hold books very dear in a way others do not. You are a librarian! Not to mention I read you won librarian of the year at one time. Congrats on that amazing accomplishment!  Having the insight you do on the youth and what you see them picking up in libraries, would you say our youth have a passion for reading? What can you tell us YA/MG/PB writers about our youth that we may not already know?

JL: I was so honored to be named librarian of the year especially since it was primarily for my work with revitalizing youth services at Austin Public Library. I think most young kids do have a passion for reading. Kids love to be read too and they love handling books. Unfortunately as they get older, kids don't always find books that interest them and, coupled with other demands on their time, may not find reading to be as pleasurable. For writers I always remind them that kids are smarter than we may think, they don't want to be talked down to, and they will get the message without being clobbered by it. Get to know kids. Even if you have your own children, watch what other kids are doing. Also ask them about their interests and listen in a non-judgmental, non-parental manner. As a children's librarian, especially working with teens in a large urban setting, I discovered that they are interested in all kinds of things. I don't always understand the attraction but I can learn to appreciate their interests. Most kids are good kids even if they sometimes act a little weird or wild. I've also been surprised at the number of kids who like and appreciate things that seem "old school" so I try not to have preconceptions about their interests. For adults who are encouraging kids to read I recommend surrounding them with books. Ask the librarian what is popular and bring those books home. Leave them around for your kids to pick up when they are bored. Worst case scenario you bring them back to the library and get some others. Involve kids in what you are reading and get involved in what they enjoy. Talk about books!

DB: Sounds like great advice!

Are you working on anything new at the moment or in the future?

JL: I have a couple of ideas and have started to work on one that would be a kind of sequel to Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. I really liked that we were able to combine factual material with storytelling and want to write another book in that manner. So far all of my ideas are for non-fiction but the storyteller in me is also lurking in the background.

DB: I also read that you do workshops. What would a newbie gain from these workshops?

JL: Most of the workshops I do are for librarians but occasionally a non-librarian attends. Some of the workshops are on how to do preschool storytimes that enhance literacy skills, while others are on how to conduct summer reading programs. Newbie writers would benefit from learning about the educational part of reading programs and how librarians work with kids. The other workshops are on policy development and weeding library collections so probably would not be of much interest to writers. I have also done some workshops with SCBWI. One is on marketing to libraries (called Loving the Librarian) that explains how libraries obtain books and how authors and illustrators can work with libraries for the benefit of both parties.

DB: Sounds like you make your way around pretty wellJ

Last question and this is just for fun…

Can you tell us something about yourself that we just have to know?

JL: I'm probably the most unorganized librarian you will ever meet. My office is a mess and my books are not in any order. Although it can be frustrating (and I always swear I'm going to get organized) I enjoy the serendipitous nature of trying to find things I know I have. I always stumble on something I had forgotten about.

DB: Serendipitous! That is what I can call my chaosJ

Jeanette, you have been wonderful! Thanks so much for the interview!

If you happen to be in the Princeton, NJ area on Sept 10th then you can stop in to see Jeanette at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival. Sounds fun! And if you can’t make it to that you can always catch her on her website.

Until next time…
Keep writing. Keep learning.


Kerri Cuev said...

New follower from the Campaign stopping by to say hello Deana!

Jeanette, fun interview. It was great to get to know you. I love that your an unorganized librarian.

Jeanette Larson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kerri. I probably should have also said that when I worked in the library my work was organized. I'm just very scattered at home! (Don't want my previous bosses thinking I wasn't a great librarian!)

Dori Butler said...

Jeanette, I have a feeling your office is a place I would enjoy spending time. I'm picturing lots and lots of books...books everywhere, on shelves, furniture, the floor. And animals wandering through freely. I would feel right at home!

Loree Huebner said...

How awesome! I love hummingbirds! I attract them every year. This year, I have 1 male and two females. I use a 4 (parts water)to 1(part sugar)mixture, boiled for 3 minutes.
The females have been battling. I have two feeders up - one in the front and one in the back to give them more space.

I've got trumpet vine and loads of other flowers. I've been doing this for years. Love it! I'll have to check out your book!

Jeigh said...

Hi, Deana! I'm in your campaign group and thought I'd stop by to say hello. Cute blog, and I love your First Fridays posts. Great idea!

Deana said...

Kerri- Hi! I love that part about her too:)

Jeanette- WE believe you. You can have craziness in one area while the other is nice and tidy. I am that way.

Dori- Wouldn't that be perfect!

Loree- Wow, that is so fun that you can even tell they are fighting:)

Jeigh- Hi! Nice to meet you:)

Leslie S. Rose said...

I think librarians are an undervalued national treasure. Loved the interview. Here, here on the SCBWI advice.

alexia said...

Great interview, ladies! It would be fun to be a librarian.