Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Visit from "Masterminds" Author Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman -- a.k.a "the G-Man" or "Special K" -- says he's been writing for more than three-quarters of his life. It's not that he's that old, it's just that he wrote his first book when he was 12 years old and in the 7th grade. It was published when he was 14 and a freshman in high school; by the time he graduated from high school, he had written and published five books.


Photo by Owen Kassimir


Now 51 years old, Gordon has published an astounding 85 books. More than 25 million copies of those books have been sold, and the books have been translated into nearly 30 languages. Gordon's trademarks as an author include writing fast-paced plots and creating believable characters with whom any young reader can identify. His books include: "Ungifted;" the "Swindle" series; the "Dive," "Everest," "Island" and "Titanic" trilogies, and books in the best-selling "39 Clues" series. (One of Gordon's early books also has my vote for one of the catchiest kid's book titles ever:  Nose Pickers From Outer Space.)

Gordon recently visited my library as part of our partnership with Politics & Prose, the premier Washington, D.C. independent bookstore. He was in town promoting his newest novel, Masterminds (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 8-12).  It's a page-turner of the first order in which five kids discover that their seemingly perfect town hides some disturbing secrets, some of which shake them to their emotional core. Gordon lets each character take a turn telling parts of the story, a device that adds both interest and suspense. I got an advance review copy of the book, and once I started reading it, I couldn't put the book down, and ended up reading it straight through -- something I rarely do. It's clear that this will be one of our most popular new books at the library, perfect for both kids who enjoy complex thrillers and for reluctant readers who will find themselves pulled into the story from the first page.



Booklist agrees, giving Masterminds a starred review and noting : "The compelling, twisty mystery has a truly gratifying payoff, and the emotional depth of the characters, not to mention the steadily building pace, will keep readers engaged to the final page, which happily lays the groundwork for a sequel." Kirkus, meanwhile, said of Masterminds: “A fresh premise, good pacing, surprising twists and engaging characters all combine to make this a series worth following."

 Gordon himself is an engaging speaker, and his presentation at the library drew a good number of both new and longtime fans. One adult fan brought her copy of one of the first books Gordon ever published, saying it still was one of her all-time favorites and asking him to sign it for her. Audience members were fascinated by the fact the Gordon published his first book at such a young age. He explained that owed it to the fact that his English teacher in the 7th grade was the school's track coach. The coach had never taught English before and, for a creative writing assignment, told his students: "Just work on whatever you want for the rest of the year."

The result was Gordon's first novel, This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!. Gordon just happened to be the class representative for the Scholastic Arrow Book Club "and so I thought I was practically an employee." Once he finished his manuscript (typed by his mother), Gordon mailed it to the same address where he sent the book order forms. Somehow, his manuscript found its way to the right person at Scholastic and "a few days after my 13th birthday, I signed a contract for my first book." The book was published a year later, and Gordon's career path was set, although he did take time to earn a degree in dramatic visual writing from New York University.







At the library presentation, Gordon spent time answering questions from the audience. As always, someone wanted to know where he gets his ideas. Gordon responded that one way he gets ideas is by "observing things." For example, Gordon said he observed that "a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover means that dog is a goner." So he decided to write No More Dead Dogs, in which a student whose school essay pans a classic book in which a dog dies is punished by being forced to be part of the school play -- based on that classic book. In Gordon's usual style, however, the student has the final word and all turns out well, even for the dog.







Research also is important in developing ideas for his books, Gordon added. For example, he had the idea of writing a series about kids who were vying to be the youngest-ever climber on Mount Everest. Gordon was able to add even more drama when he learned through research that there's not enough oxygen at the highest reaches of Everest to allow a rescue helicopter if a climber gets into trouble. As he put it: "Writing adventure stories is the art of coming up with cool stuff that goes wrong."






 Finally, the question "What if?" provides many great book ideas, Gordon said, adding that's how he got the idea of Masterminds. Gordon started thinking about "whether people are good or evil as part of their nature or whether it's by experience." So he though, "what if there was an experiment that cloned exact copies of some of the worst people ever?" The clones would then be raised in a "perfect place," where they would be raised as regular kids by people they would think were their natural parents. For the experiment to work, however the cloned kids couldn't ever know about it. Of course, that's exactly what does happen in Masterminds, as the five main characters come to the realization that their town -- and the only life they've known -- is a sham.

"It was a challenge to write about these kids who are exact copies of some of the worst bank robbers and gangsters, but who are also real kids," Gordon said. But he wouldn't answer the question of exactly who the kids are cloned from, saying that revelation "comes late  in the series."

Soon enough it was time for the evening's last question, so Gordon would have enough time to sign everyone's books. "What author would you most like to meet?" asked a young audience member. Gordon was quick with his answer: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Why? Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the first book in the series) is a book that Gordon re-reads almost every year. "It is like an instruction manual for writing a great kid's book. It's got everything in it. So she is the one author I absolutely would love to meet."

END NOTES: Thanks to Kerri Poore of Politics & Prose for setting up the event with us, and to Caroline Sun of HarperCollins for sending me an advance copy of Masterminds, and all of the jpgs and info I needed to publicize the event and make it a success.



And thanks to Gordon himself for such a great presentation, and especially for signing my 24-year-old daughter's copies of the Everest trilogy -- a series that inspired her to become a rock climber.









Monday, February 2, 2015

Surprise & Delight at the Youth Media Awards

Today's Youth Media Awards were filled with high emotion, with the crowd of several hundred alternately gasping in surprise and/or roaring with delight. The awards also were history-making as, for the first time ever, graphic novels won a Newbery Honor (El Deafo, written and illustrated by Cece Bell) and a Caldecott Honor (This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki). And the Caldecott Medal winner, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend), was written and illustrated by Dan Santat who also is well known for his popular graphic novels.

Winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal


This One Summer also won a Printz Honor (the Printz Award is given for books for readers ages 12-18 and is sometimes called the Newbery Medal for teens). But a graphic novel, American Born Chinese, written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang, won the top Printz Award way back in 2007, so today wasn't a history-making moment for the Printz. Meanwhile, the 2008 Caldecott Medal winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is considered a hybrid book, not a graphic novel, but it did feature a heavily-woven combination of illustrations and text.


Winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal


The current push for more diversity in children's and teen books, sparked by the We Need Diverse Books movement, also was reflected in today's winners. The Crossover, a novel in verse by Kwame Alexander, is the 2015 Newbery Medal winner. Alexander is the fourth African-American author to win the award, established in 1922. The three previous African-American winners were: Virginia Hamilton, for the 1975 Newbery Medal winning M.C. Higgins, the Great; Mildred Taylor, for the 1977 Newbery Medal book, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; and Christopher Paul Curtis for the 2000 Newbery Medal winner, Bud, Not Buddy.

Brown Girl Dreaming, author Jacqueline Woodson's memoir in verse about growing up in the midst of the civil rights movement, won a 2015 Newbery Honor, as well as this year's  Coretta Scott King Author Award and a 2015 Robert Sibert Honor (the Sibert Medal and Honor books are focused on the best non-fiction books for kids). Brown Girl Dreaming also won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature back in November.

As Nina Lindsay points out in her Heavy Medablog today, poetry also was a big winner in today's awards. Both The Crossover and Brown Girl Dreaming are written in verse, while author Marilyn Nelson uses 50 unrhymed sonnets to tell her story in How I Discovered Poetry. Two other books of poetry won awards: Josphine, a biography of entertainer Josephine Baker written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson won both a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and a Sibert Honor, while books by two poets were honored by the Pura Belpre Award committee. I Lived on Butterfly Hill, written by Marjorie Agosin won the Pura Belpre Author Award, while Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrara was the lone Pura Belpre Author Honor book.

Woodson's book captured three awards today.

Several committees selected a large number of Honor books (each committee decides how many Honor books, if any, will be named). There were five Sibert Honor books: in addition to Brown Girl Dreaming and Josephine, Sibert Honor books included The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming; Neighborhood Sharks, written and illustrated by Katherine Roy, and Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.

But it was the six Caldecott Honor books that really produced a gasp, then a roar of approval, from the audience. Apparently there may have been other years where six Honor books were named (I'm still checking!), but it certainly isn't usual. Yet, 2014 was a banner year for picture books, and the crowd was clearly delighted that the committee's decision reflected this fact.

The first graphic novel to win a Caldecott Honor.


In addition to This One Summer, Caldecott Honor books included: Nana in the City, written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo; The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary GrandPre and written by Barb Rosenstock; Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by 2013 Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett; Viva Frida, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales; and The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant. The Right Word also won the 2015 Sibert Medal, the second for Sweet, who won the 2012 Sibert Medal for Balloons Over Broadway, which she both wrote and illustrated. (Personal note: I served on the 2012 Sibert Committee).

The 2015 Caldecott Medal winner, The Adventures of Beekle, had been popular with some mocks, but wasn't widely considered a front runner. When it was announced as the winner, however, the audience cheered in approval as the Caldecott Committee members donned crowns, symbolic of the crown sported by Beekle.

As for how my library's Caldecott Club and Mock Caldecott picks measured up? Well, we got a few things right. Our own Mock Caldecott Honor Books included two of the actual 2015 Caldecott Honor Books, The Noisy Paint Box and The Right Word. But our top pick, The Farmer and the Clown, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee, surprisingly didn't win anything. It was a similar situation for our Caldecott Club. Our winner, Quest, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker, didn't win anything. But one of the Club's two Honor books, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, won a 2015 Caldecott Honor.

The first graphic novel to win a Newbery Honor.

Meanwhile, the 2015 Newbery Committee, like the 2015 Caldecott Committee, also decided to include a graphic novel, El Deafo, as one of their Honor books. (Author/illustrator Cece Bell came to our library in November along with her husband, author/illustrator Tom Angleberger, and authors Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett and Jory John). The Newbery Committee, sporting t-shirts that read "Trust the Process," named only two Honor books, to the evident disappointment of the audience, who clearly would have liked to have seen more Newbery Honor books.  Brown Girl Dreaming was the other Newbery Honor book.

And let me close this blog post with a shout-out to a long-time mentor of mine, Deb Taylor, who is the coordinator of School and Student Services at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Deb was my young adult literature professor when I was working towards my master's in library science at the University of Maryland, and she and I also served on the 2012 Sibert Committee together. (She was chair of the 2015 Sibert Committee). Deb has mentored and inspired countless librarians, kids and parents, and I'm thrilled that she was chosen as this year's winner of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Way to go, Deb!


Deb Taylor and I after she was honored today

PS If you, like me, can't get enough of these awards, check out this wonderful behind the scenes video of today's winners getting "The Call." Thanks to John Schumacher for spotlighting it on his blog, Watch. Connect Read. 





Sunday, February 1, 2015

Books & a Blizzard

Even a Chicago blizzard can't dim the excitement as librarians eagerly await the big "Youth Media Awards" announcements -- always the highlight of the American Library Association's Midwinter conference.



At 8 a.m. CST tomorrow, several hundred librarians will pack into a room at the McCormick Convention to learn which books will win the "Oscars" of the children's literature world: the Caldecott Medal, given for illustrations, and the Newbery Medal, given for text. Those winners will be the last two announced at the hour-long program, during which a number of other awards also will be bestowed; among them, the Coretta Scott King Award (focused on books by African-American authors and illustrators), the Sibert Medal (given to the best non-fiction book for kids), the Pura Belpre Award (spotlighting books by Latino authors and illustrators), and a number of others.

The program will be broadcast live. There's also a couple of fun pre-announcement and post-announcement shows, hosted by librarians Betsy Bird and Lori Prince. Betsy also has compiled a list of all the Mock Caldecott and Mock Newbery winners she could find; it makes interesting reading.



Last week, we held our first-ever Mock Caldecott at my library, and we made our own choices for the 2015 Caldecott. There were a dozen of us, and our nearly unanimous winner was The Farmer and the Clown, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee. The Farmer and the Clown also has won a number of other Mock Caldecotts around the country, and it was the winner on the Calling Caldecott blog, so we're in good company.

Our Mock Caldecott group also chose four Honor books (listed here in order of title): Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Jonathan Bean; The Iridescence of Birds, written by Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper; The Noisy Paint Box, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary GrandPre; and The Right Word, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Just a few more hours to see how close we came!






Friday, January 16, 2015

Our 2015 Caldecott Club Winners!

We have a winner! My library's Caldecott Club voted earlier this week for their 2015 Caldecott Medal pick. And -- drumroll, please! -- the 2015 Caldecott Club winner is Quest, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker.




We also chose two Caldecott Club Honor Books: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by 2013 Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen (This Is Not My Hat) , and Blizzard, written and illustrated by John Rocco, who won a 2012 Caldecott Honor for Blackout.

These winners were chosen from our six finalists, which also included: The Iridescence of Birds, written by Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper; Froodle, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis; and Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Jonathan Bean.

Now, the thing to remember about our monthly Caldecott Club is that it attracts a mix of kids and adults. In fact, we've taken to calling it our "family book club." The kids range in age from 3 through 12, and the adults are generally their parents. Every once in a while we get an adult who isn't a parent but just enjoys children's literature.

Because we have such a mix of ages and stages, our Caldecott Club doesn't operate formally like a Mock Caldecott. Instead, it's a rather free-form program where we read together four or five picture books -- using our ELMO overhead projector and screen so everyone can see them -- and then discuss their merits. We use a set of "kid-friendly" Caldecott criteria developed by my colleague Dave Burbank, who also is a master of running the ELMO while reading aloud the books. It's not an easy thing to master -- it's a bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time -- but Dave makes it look easy.

While I try to remind everyone that we really are focusing on illustrations, not the text, it's often hard for Caldecott Club participants -- both kids and adults -- to keep that in mind. That's especially true when Dave, an acting major in college, does such a great job of narrating a wordless book like Quest, or hamming it up with a comic text such as the one in Froodle. Because the Caldecott Club is just meant to be fun and an opportunity to share great new illustrated books, however, we don't strictly enforce the idea of sticking with the criteria. We frequently mention the criteria and point out ways that a book's illustrations do, or don't, meet the criteria, but then let the discussion go where it will.

What really interesting is how kids really LOOK at the illustrations, while many adults focus much more on the text. So it's an opportunity for kids to learn more about how illustrations work to create a story, and for adults to sharpen their visual learning skills. And frankly, it's just a blast to have a roomful of folks of all ages talking together about some of the best new kids' books!

I'll admit that, while I acknowledge and admire Becker's artistic talent, Quest wouldn't have been my first choice; I was pulling for The Iridescence of Birds, or maybe Bad Bye, Good Bye. But Quest was the club's clear favorite, while Sam & Dave Dig a Hole and Blizzard ran neck and neck as second choices.

We'll soon see how the club's selection match up to the actual 2015 Caldecott Medal winner, which will be announced on the morning of Feb. 2 at the American Library Association's Midwinter meeting in Chicago. In the two years of our Caldecott Club's existence, we've never voted for the actual winner, but the actual winner has always been on our list of finalists. So, we'll see...

Before the Feb. 2 announcement, however, my library is holding an adults-only Mock Caldecott, at which we will formally follow the Caldecott criteria as we choose a winner. If you're in the DC area, please join us for this Mock Caldecott, which will take place on Jan. 24 from 1-4 p.m. at the Takoma Park Maryland Library. Our list of 15 finalists can be found on my previous blog post, and it's also posted on the library's Children's Room blog.

Meanwhile, even after the 2015 Caldecott Medal winner is announced, our Caldecott Club will continue to meet each month. Next month, on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m., we'll gather to read and discuss the actual winner and any 2015 Caldecott Honor books. On March 9, we'll look at some of the great 2014 books that couldn't be considered for the Caldecott Medal because the illustrator isn't American or doesn't live here -- folks like Frenchman Herve Tullet of Press Here fame. Then in April, we'll start delving into the crop of 2015 books that are contenders for the 2016 Caldecott Medal. As always, it promises to be a lot of fun!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mock Caldecott Time!

For the first time, we've decided to have a Mock Caldecott at my library. To make it happen, I've joined forces with the energetic Alison Morris, whose knowledge of children's literature I greatly admire. Alison works at First Book and is married to graphic novelist Gareth Hinds.

The first step for us was creating a list of semi-finalists; that list contained 33 titles. We then narrowed it down to 15 finalists, which we will discuss at our Mock Caldecott event on Saturday, January 24, from 1-4 p.m. at the Takoma Park Maryland Library, located at 101 Philadelphia Ave. in Takoma Park, Md. We hope you'll join us! We only ask that you register, so we have an idea of how many folks to expect (and how many cookies to purchase!). The library owns copies of all the finalists, and we ask Mock Caldecott participants to read as many as they can ahead of time. Because some of the finalists may be checked out, however, we also plan to have a second "reference" copy of each book; these books can be read at the library, but not checked out. We plan to have this "reference set" available by this weekend. Other local library systems also likely will have copies of the books.

This Mock Caldecott is an "adults-only" event, aimed at adults who love children's literature. We have another forum where kids can make their voices heard -- our monthly Caldecott Club, which has become a family book club connecting kids, parents and books. Our next meeting is Monday, Jan 12 at 7 p.m., where we'll choose our 2015 Caldecott winner. We'll vote on the finalists from each of our club meetings from July through December after looking briefly again at each one.We'll also decide whether to have any honor books. There's no registration required for this event, and we will be serving lemonade and cookies.

So, without further ado, here are our finalists, for both the Mock Caldecott and the Caldecott Club. I'm listing the Caldecott Club finalists first, since that event happens first, and then the Mock Caldecott finalists; you'll see that, not surprisingly, there is some overlap.


CALDECOTT CLUB FINALISTS AT THE TAKOMA PARK MARYLAND LIBRARY
(presented in the order of the months they were chosen):

JULY FINALIST:
Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Jonathan Bean





AUGUST FINALIST:

Froodle, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis




SEPTEMBER FINALIST:

Quest, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker




OCTOBER FINALIST:

The Iridescence of Birds, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper



NOVEMBER FINALIST:

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen

DECEMBER FINALIST:

Blizzard, written and illustrated by John Rocco






MOCK CALDECOTT FINALISTS AT THE TAKOMA PARK MARYLAND LIBRARY
(presented in alphabetical order by authors' last names)

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen




The Baby Tree, written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall





The Right Word, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet




Nana in the City, written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo



Draw!, written and illustrated by Raul Colon



Firebird, written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers



A Dance Like Starlight, written by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper



The Farmer and the Clown, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee



Extraordinary Jane, written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison



Firefly July, edited by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet



The Iridescence of Birds, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper



Viva Frida, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales



A Boy & a Jaguar, written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Ca’Tia Chien



The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary GrandPre



Bad Bye, Good Bye, written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Jonathan Bean











Saturday, January 3, 2015

Confessions of a First-Year Blogger

After earning my living as a writer for more than 35 years, I figured that becoming a blogger wouldn't be such a big deal. It turns out that I was partly right -- and partly very wrong.

First, a bit of backstory: while I've been an avid blog reader for a number of years, I never thought that I would end up starting my own blog. The reason was simple: the weekly column that I wrote on children's and teen books for Scripps Howard News Service from 1990 through 2013 was behind a "pay wall," ensuring that it could only be accessed by newspapers who were paying clients of the news service. Once those newspapers published my column, of course, then it could more readily be accessed by anyone, but the pay wall meant that I couldn't blog about it in any other forum.

That all changed -- suddenly -- in November 2013, when Scripps announced that, after 96 years, it was closing down the wire service and thus ending my 23-year tenure as the children's and teen book reviewer. But I wasn't ready to give up my writing about children's and teen literature, and decided I could now jump into the world of blogs. With some technical help from my library colleague, Patti Mallin, I created this blog (Scripps had given me the "rights" to the name "The Children's Corner;" since that was the name by which publishers, librarians, authors, illustrators and others knew me, I decided to stick with it).

While Patti focused on the technical aspects of creating the blog, I worked like crazy, writing several pieces so that I could have lots of blog posts ready to go. Besides wanting the blog to start with a bang, I had another very good reason: Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly had contacted me when she heard that Scripps Howard News Service was closing and asked if I would do a piece for PW about the changes that I've witnessed in the world of children's and teen literature over 23 years as a reviewer. I knew that when the PW piece ran that it would be a golden opportunity to promote my new blog, and I wanted my blog to be as "content rich" as possible.

And so I started my new career as a blogger. Over the past year, I've learned quite a bit, which I'll distill here:

1. Blogging is NOT the same as journalism. This may be obvious to everyone but me, but I haven't found it easy to just blog instead of trying to be a journalist. This isn't surprising; in addition to being a columnist on children's & teen books for 23 years, I also was a newspaper reporter, on all kinds of different subjects, from 1978-2006 before earning my master's in library science and becoming a children's librarian. Old habits definitely die hard. Here is an example of one of my earliest blog posts -- it reads just like the kind of column I wrote for Scripps for so many years. Writing the column required a specific kind of style, one in which my own "voice" was not supposed to really play much part. I was highly discouraged by my editors from using first-person, even as a columnist. This rule may seem odd to the "here's what I think " world in which we now live, but it was a rule that was exceptionally important -- at the time -- to my editors (as well as the editors of many newspapers who ran my column).

As a result, I've spent much of this year trying to unleash my "voice," and while I've definitely made progress, I still have a ways to go. I aspire to the standards of "voice" set by bloggers I particularly admire, including Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Travis Jonker, John Schumacher, and Roger Sutton, among others.

I do miss my editors, however, especially the indefatigable Bob Jones, who would go over my Scripps column each week to fix grammatical mistakes, query me about anything that seemed unclear, smooth out my transitions, and just generally make my work the best that it could be. I miss him personally, and I miss having an editor bring out the best in my writing. 

One thing I do love about blogging, however,  is the fact that I don't have to *know* everything before writing a blog post. As a reporter, and even as a columnist, I would spend hours and days tracking down facts, talking to sources, and generally trying to make sure that I knew everything that could be known about an author, illustrator, subject, etc. My editors expected me to become an instant expert on whatever I was writing about, whether it was how to motivate reluctant readers, or why Dr. Seuss' books hit such a nerve, or what was the backstory for classics like Make Way for Ducklings or Harriet the Spy.

As a blogger, however, I can just dive in and tackle a piece of a subject, and not worry about being an overall expert. It's an amazing feeling of freedom, and one that's really taken me time to enjoy. In fact, I still feel guilty about not knowing everything there is to know about a particular subject before writing a blog post. But I'm getting better at just realizing that I can write about something without knowing every last thing about it. I'm not a reporter or columnist anymore, I'm a blogger.  Most importantly, I'm getting better -- slowly - at learning to keep it short and snappy.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that blogging takes less time than traditional journalism. That's because....

2. Blogging is all about linking -- to book trailers, publishers' websites, Facebook Twitter, etc.. Again, here is Captain Obvious speaking. But this whole new world of social media, at least as far as it concerns my writing, has taken me a while to learn since it wasn't part of my Scripps column. Through trial and error, I've learned to link whenever I can link -- to a book trailer, the website of an author or illustrator, a publisher's Facebook page, etc. And all of this linking can take a tremendous amount of time. My blogging software, like most, makes it as easy as possible to do all this, and it is so wonderful to be able to post a piece filled with interactive links that readers can enjoy, and know that I've helped make some real connections between books and readers.

Still, it does take a whole lot of time, and that leads to the fact that...

3. Blogging can take over your life -- if you let it. As someone who has written a column just as an adjunct to my "real" jobs (first newspaper reporter, now children's librarian), I thought that I knew how hard it could be to fit in all the reading and writing that's needed to produce regular pieces on children's and teen literature. But blogging can be even more demanding. While I had a weekly deadline to meet at Scripps, for example, I now set my own deadlines. This isn't necessarily a good thing ; I need an external deadline! Over this first year, I've gotten better at setting my own deadlines, mainly because I love writing this blog. I really want to regularly post on this blog-- it's both fun and fulfilling.

Even more demanding than posting regularly is the fact that I could spend hours every day trying to boost the stats of my blog posts. I could be using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and who knows what else to really ensure that ever more people read what I've written. I do put out an initial tweet about each blogpost (find me @MacHardin on Twitter) and I also post it on my Facebook page (Karen MacPherson), but that's about it. I know I'm missing opportunities to "get my name out there" and "do some branding," as some friends have scoldingly told me. But I'm just not willing to spend so much of my time on the computer (or phone or iPad or whatever). I'd rather be reading, so I can write more blog posts!

Overall, I'm thrilled to be a blogger because....

4. Blogging is a lot of fun. It's a way of being an interactive connection between children's & teen books and their readers, an interactive connection that I never could make in all those years of writing a syndicated column for Scripps because of then-staid nature of the newspaper business.

I'm also a lucky blogger; not only do I regularly get review copies from publishers who have gotten to know me over the years, but I also get to meet some of the best authors and illustrators in the business because of my library's amazing partnership with Politics & Prose Bookstore. I work with Kerri Poore, the P&P Children's Department staffer who books children's authors and illustrators for programs at Politics & Prose, and it's been a great connection for my library. In the last year, for example, I've gotten to introduce -- and then write about-- programs at my library starring major authors and illustrators. Here, for example, are links to my blog posts about programs with Kate DiCamillo, Jon Klassen, Jon Scieszka, Tom Angleberger, Mac Barnett, Cece Bell, Maira Kalman, Peter Brown, Marla Frazee, Shannon Hale, George O'Connor, Ben Hatke. Already in this new year, we'll be hosting, in partnership with Politics & Prose, Bad Kitty author/illustrator Nick Bruel, graphic novelists Gareth Hinds and George O'Connor, and best-selling middle-grade author Gordon Korman.

So stay tuned for some great new blog posts in 2015, and thanks for reading!