Q: How did you come up with the idea for You Are a Reader/You Are a Writer, and to combine the two into one book?
A: The project started as a dual celebration of readers and writers called What Do Readers/Writers Do All Day? with each text much more minimal, parallel to my book What Do Wheels Do All Day?.
I always envisioned the two texts as two sides of the same book, since reading and writing are parts of the same process, the way multiplication and division, are—though we don’t always think of or teach them that way.
I really wanted to explore the duality and richness of the ways reading and writing influence and inform each other—and to help remind others of that, too.
The longer I worked on this book (I first had the idea way back in 2013!) and the more I use mentor texts to help students and myself become better writers, I am reminded of this wonderfully symbiotic relationship.
As the text became longer and more specific, my critique group members and my colleagues at Studio Goodwin Sturges helped me shape and form the dual texts.
Fellow authors Melissa Stewart and Kate Narita, especially, helped me trim and organize, while Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges helped connect the stories more meaningfully in the middle.
When my editor Margaret Ferguson agreed to take a chance on this tête-bêche project, she again helped organize and focus the two texts so Christine could dive into sketching. And my children’s librarians at the Shrewsbury (MA) Public Library were incredible in helping me research the tête-bêche format.
Bookmaking begins with the author’s vision and execution, but it’s a collaborative process for sure!
Q: What do you think Christine Davenier's illustrations add to the books?
A: So very much! Christine brought the diversity of readers and writers to life in a way that complements and extends the text so beautifully. Christine excels at creating emotive, individual kids, and she went above and beyond for Readers and Writers, creating 26 different characters(!), each of whom appears on each side of the book and on the middle spread.
And I think Christine’s illustrations invite repeated readings, as each character has a passion we can see play out via their reading and writing—for example, a boy who reads jokes and then struggles and finally succeeds in writing one, and a girl in dress-up who writes a play and reads a program at the theater.
All of us involved in this book hope that all types of readers will see themselves in these pages.
The Kirkus Review of the book says that its "innovative design reinforces
the book’s central ideas: that reading and writing go together and that,
fundamentally, every child is capable of creativity." What do you
think of that description?
A: I agree with Kirkus that the design highlights the integral roles of these two processes; the book is pretty meta, on purpose. But it’s not meant to be a gimmick. It’s truly form-follows-function.
In terms of creativity, I believe every child is capable of creativity, of course! But I didn’t have creativity on my mind per se as I was writing. For me, the book’s theme is that every child and every person is capable of growth and learning via reading and of self-expression and the sharing of ideas and knowledge via writing.
Q: How did you first get interested in creating children's picture books?
A: Oh, how I love picture books! They’re such a unique, multilayered art form. When you love art, design, words, and the printed page, is there anything better than a picture book?
The best picture books are nuggets of wisdom we can return to again and again in our lives, and my hope is that people never stop reading and enjoying picture books.
In college at UNC-Chapel Hill I studied journalism, but I knew I wanted to pursue books rather than newspapers or magazines. After graduation, I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course and chose a children’s house for my mock publishing experience.
That was it—I was smitten and bitten by the picture book bug. I realized then the way the books we read as children affect us like no others we read in our lifetimes.
So many things are new to children, and the intimate experience of sharing picture books, on a lap, at bedtime, or in a classroom, is different from the way we share books later in life. When young people drink in a book’s pictures while listening to the voice of a caring adult read the story, the alchemy is priceless.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished a young picture book about creating literal and figurative bridges, and I’m working on two interrelated but very different picture book ideas about libraries and their roles as “palaces of the people,” as Andrew Carnegie called them. I am excited!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Given the state of our world, I think it’s worth remembering that raising readers and writers is essential to our democracy and to living on our diverse, interconnected planet. Each of us is our own story-stew of experiences and insights, and all those stories are worth telling and reading.
My hope is that this book helps empower young people to see themselves as readers and writers, whether they engage with books or with a myriad of other reading and writing materials.
The narratives we tell about ourselves are powerful and can be self-fulfilling. Let’s keep working to lift up our next generation of leaders, voters, and creative problem-solvers.
Thank you for having me on your excellent blog, Deborah. Here’s to reading and writing!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb