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The Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac: Anita Silvey’s daily love letter to a book

Posted Feb 15 2011 7:11pm

Choosing books to read with your kids has just gotten easier. In January, Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac ( http://childrensbookalmanac.com ) launched with daily recommendations by children’s book expert, Anita Silvey.

Now, it may feel like you’ve read a thousand kid’s books but Silvey’s actually read 130,000 more. It’s obvious from her daily posts that she has love and respect for great literature. Her recommendations are intriguing, thought-provoking and brilliant. Included with each day’s selection is the story behind the book or author. Make sure to read the daily facts – like the recently noted Susan B. Anthony’s birthday with the suggestion for “ Fighter for Women’s Rights ” by Deborah Hopkinson.

The website is set up so the homepage shows that day’s selection and photo, a sidebar of facts related to the date, and more book suggestions related to the author or subject. You can thumb through the site page-by-page or click on ‘find a book’ in the left rail and browse by age group, subject, type of book, author or illustrator, or by the date featured.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Anita Silvey about this intriguing project.

Mother of Confusion: The Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac is described as a daily love letter to a book or author. How did you become involved in this project?

Anita Silvey

Anita Silvey: I had submitted a proposal to Simon Boughton of Roaring Brook– a very ambitious project about children’s books. At the same time Simon was considering publishing an Almanac for children. It occurred to him that he could combine the two proposals and give parents and teachers a useful tool. In discussions with his staff, they decided it would be wonderful for me to post the essays on line,as I wrote them. That way I could get back responses from readers about what was helpful, what they needed, and what else should be included. The entire proposal was suggested to me over dinner; I believe I waited a nanosecond before saying, “You bet!”

MOC: This is a huge project. Have you already selected the books or are you writing the recommendations throughout the year?

AS: When I began the project, I drew up a master plan for the year. But that outline changes constantly. I develop a month at a time; at that point I make final selections and write the essays. I’m trying to keep a balance of age ranges and kinds of books – and consider the needs of all types of readers.

MOC: I love that you chose David Klass’s “Stuck on Earth” to coordinate with Extraterrestrial Culture Day – both new to me. There are so many incredible and memorable children’s books, how do you decide which ones to include in the almanac and which date to publish them?

AS: Sometimes a day seems too perfect to pass up –Extraterrestrial Culture Day, for instance — and then I find a book that I really love to fit it. Coming up we have Talk like Shakespeare Day, the Tooth Fairy Day, or Talk like a Pirate Day. For Tooth Fairy Day I read about 50 books and chose the two best.

I include superb new titles that may well be unknown to my readers but much more frequently focus on 20th century classics. When I feature the classics, I sometimes write about an author’s birthday. Walter de la Mare once said that “only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.” I am always hunting for that rarest kind of best.

MOC: The behind-the-scenes stories about the books are fantastic. What’s your most startling or amazing discovery about a book?

AS: Every book tells a story, but every book has a story behind it. In my research I am always hunting for the story behind the book. When I can, I try to reveal something about the creative process or the author’s struggle to get published. Dr. Seuss was turned down by 24-27 publishers; Robert McCloskey kept ducks in his bathtub to write “Make Way for Ducklings.” Intriguing details like these often make these authors and illustrators seem human to both children and adults.

MOC: What elements do you look for in a book that make it more than just a good read, but distinguish it as a future classic?

AS: All of our classics have some of the same ingredients: an intriguing story and theme, characters young people want to know, an underlying message or concern, a lightness of touch, originality, and artistic integrity. These are the books that linger in reader’s minds. Classics often are based in a “love of perfection” – the author went to extreme lengths to get everything right.

MOC: Speaking of the classics, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was recently in the news over the edit in the newest edition to make it more politically correct. Often there’s a buzz about a book and whether it’s appropriate for young readers. How do you deal with the controversies surrounding some of these titles?

AS: Almost every classic has generated some type of controversy in its life. For Banned Books Week, for instance, I am going to talk about some of our most challenged books and why I recommend these titles. I think any book that makes a child think and respond to the world will upset someone. But my question always is, “How well did the author do what he or she set out to do?” I then am honest in my comments, so that a parent or teacher can decide what works for them.

MOC: It’s a tradition of mine to include a children’s book (such as “On the Day You Were Born” by Debra Frazier) in baby shower gifts. Often it’s the baby’s first book and prompts conversation at the gathering about favorite childhood books. What five books do you think every parent-to-be should put on the wish-list for their child’s library?

AS: I, too, like the Frazier. I would always give “ Goodnight Moon ” by Margaret Wise Brown , a Max book by Rosemary Wells, “ Brown Bear,Brown Bear, What Do You See? ” by Bill Martin , some volume of nursery rhymes like “ This Little Piggy ” by Jane Yolen , and one of the repetitive text books like “ We’re Going on a Bear Hunt ” by Michael Rosen . But I strongly believe that every child should have exposure to hundreds of books, so that they can find their own favorites. Hence I write about a different book each day.

MOC: What’s happens when the almanac is finished? Are there plans to continue into 2012?

AS: When this year is done, I will start on the next one. But I haven’t solved those problems yet. I am just focusing every day on trying to write an interesting, engaging essay that will excite readers about a book and make them want to share it with the children in their lives.

Related Links:

Anita Silvey’s website

Books written by Anita Silvey

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