Anita Silvey: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 13.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
>> And now I am very pleased to introduce the next author.
You've seen lots of good authors today.
Well, Anita Silvey knows all about good children's books.
She served as the publisher of children's books
for Houghton Mifflin and as the editor of The Horn Book,
which is the magazine about children's literature.
Her books include 100 Best Books for Children
and 500 Great Books for Teens.
Her latest book is Everything I Needed To Know I Learned
From A Children's Book, which seems pretty true.
And she's currently working on the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac
as well as an illustrated biography for children called Henry Knox:
Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot.
She has said only the very best
of anything can be good enough for the young.
Lucky for the young Anita Silvey is one of the best.
Please join me in welcoming Anita Silvey.
[ Applause ]
>> Anita Silvey: Thank you.
Do I have any book lovers out here?
Do I have any book lovers?
This is for book lovers.
You know we talk about [inaudible], vivre, V-I-V-R-E,
it's [inaudible] at this event, okay.
It's joy of books, and I must admit as I was,
I was in a little go cart and, you know,
I was coming from the Capitol going to the Monument,
and I sort of had a heat hallucination,
and I was thinking about how I got here.
And I am somebody who had a lot of detours on my way to being an author
and for those in the audience, you know, if you think you're in detour,
I can only tell you my story.
In 1970, I arrived in Boston and I wanted to teach and I couldn't find,
no one would hire me, and at that point in time there was an opening
in the children's book department at Little Brown and Company,
and I said, oh, gee, if I can't teach kids, wouldn't it be fun
to work on books for them?
It was sort of like in Citizen Kane he says, "Oh, I think it will be fun
to run a newspaper," you know, it just and with that spirit I walked
into the children's book department and I fell in love right away
because I was making books, I was creating books.
I spent the next 32 years helping other people make books
and my dream was that someday I could make my own.
And in 1995, I finished my first reference book for children.
It was called Children's Books and Their Creators.
I was published at Houghton Mifflin when it came out,
and I remember the day that it arrived and by the way I started big
and have gotten smaller, and I recommend that, too, okay, you know,
do your ambitious project first and then get smaller.
It was 800 pages, you know, it's a great door stop.
It really is.
I used to say it was the cheapest in the industry for its weight.
It weighed around three pounds, and when I saw that book and I held it
in my hands that night, I just broke down sobbing
and I said this is what I've always wanted to do
and I've got to find a way to do it.
So, I saved a lot of money and in 2001 I took that vow of authorship;
perseverance, determination, poverty.
[Laughter] That is the author's vow.
You have to be willing to go the distance, not to worry about money
if you want to do what you want to do.
And so I have now had about 10 years of writing books both for children
and writing what I love to do is I love
to write about children's books.
Five years ago one of my best friends in publishing called me up.
It was a cold winter's day.
It was so far from this that it amazes me to think about it,
and she said I'm going to run a title by you and I'm going
to run a concept, and she said the title is Everything I Needed
to Know I Learned From A Children's Book and the concept is
that you're going to interview 100 some people none of whom you know
or who necessarily want to talk to you about the children's book
that influenced their lives and we're going to choose these
from among the leaders in society.
I believe that it took me a fraction of a second to say,
you've got me, I'm on board.
I would love to do this.
Because everywhere I go and every place I talk to people one
of the things I always ask people is what did you read as a child
and what do you remember about it and who gave it to you?
And so I began, I want to say it was easily the happiest two years
of my creative life setting up interviews with people, my editor
and I came up with a list.
We came up with a list of the 500 people in the United States
that if we could get interviews with them that's who we'd want,
and I began person after person after person to try to talk to them
and to try to hear what children's book had affected their lives.
It was an amazing experience, you know, I'd wake up in the morning
and the first thing I'd think of is,
is this the day I talk to Julianne Moore?
Is it Kirk Douglas today?
Who's on docket today?
And I began to have this series of interviews with people
that changed me and changed the way I look at books
because I always would have told you
that I think books have profound influence,
but I never realized what that influence was.
I never had the evidence.
One of the things that people often ask me is they often say what was
your biggest surprise in the interviews?
And I have to say I was talking to Kirk Douglas
by the way had just turned 90, and I had been led to believe
that he loved Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.
And so I was preparing for Mike Mulligan
and his Steam Shovel interview, and he picked up the phone
and I gave him the title of the book and he said, oh, that's easy.
He said the book I want to talk to you about is The Bobbsey Twins.
I said, oh, you've got to be kidding.
I think I laughed, you know, because I was so unprepared for that
and I said, well, why the Bobbsey Twins?
And then he told me and it made perfect sense.
He said my family was an immigrant family,
my parents did not read English, my sister was the first person
to read -- his sister, Betty -- and he said that was her favorite book
and when I was a little boy she sat me on the couch
and she read me the Bobbsey Twins.
And he said because of the Bobbsey Twins I learned to read
and if had not learned to read,
I would have had no career as an actor.
And those were the kinds of testimonies again and again
and again, you know, it's not only people who love books
who are affected by them;
it's everyone who reads a children's book.
The dancer, Edward Villella, said I only think I read one book
as a child, but I remember it as it if were yesterday and the book
that affected him not surprisingly is the Little Engine That Could.
He was a man, a testimony to overcoming things as was
by the way the sportscaster Tiki Barber
that was his favorite book as a child.

I was shocked to find out how many people chose careers based
on children's books.
I would not have thought that.
I would not have thought that you pick up a book, you read it,
and you know what you want to do for your life's work and yet again
and again people gave me that testimony.
David McCullough, the historian,
said that when he was age 9 he met his first alternate historian
in a book by Robert Lawson called Ben and Me, and he said I knew
from that book on that I wanted to write history in just
as exciting way as Robert Lawson could write it.
Robert Kennedy, Jr., picked up a book when he was around 9 or 10,
and it was Jean Craighead George's My Side of The Mountain.
He was so taken with this book and for those who know the book
by the way there's a young boy in there who becomes a falconer
and so Robert wrote to the author, Jean Craighead George,
and basically the letter read something
like I want to get a falcon.
Can you give me any lines that I can use on my mother, Ethel,
to get her to give me one?
[Laughter] Okay, so he wrote to his favorite author.
Evidently Jean gave him the justification that his mother needed
and he got a falcon, and he said that working with a falcon led him
to a career in environmental law
and in pursuing preserving the wilderness, and he said when I went
to school all of the kids in my class all admitted that the book
that had had the most profound effect on us was My Side
of the Mountain and by the way the beauty of that,
by the way Jean Craighead George just turned 90 this year,
and the beauty of that is that later on in their lives they came together
and he was able to tell her that story and so I was able to record it
for the book, which is a wonderful thing to have.
Robert Ballard, who raised the Titanic,
anyone want to guess what his favorite book was?
>> 10,000 Leagues.
>> Anita Silvey: Absolutely.
10,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
He said I'm a modern-day Captain Nemo.
He went to his parents and he said how do I get to do this?
And they said you need to pursue a degree in oceanography and he said
so I went and I got a degree
and then I asked them how do I do other things?
And they told me other things to do.
As he says in his essay, all children have dreams
and what we need are adults to tell us that we can live these dreams,
that we can have these dreams.
I wasn't surprised, I've always aside that children read
for two things; they read for character and they read for plot.
And so there were a lot of people who talked to me
about their favorite character out of children's books.
For Judy Bloom, for writer Judy Bloom, that character was Madeline,
and she so loved the Madeline books that she hid the one
from the library under her pillow so her mother would not return it
and so if you were Judy Bloom's librarian, she's sorry,
but she never did bring it back.
It was, she said I now know my mother might have bought it for me,
but I loved that book too much to give it up.
There is one character out of fiction
that has probably influenced more people than any other;
Simone de Beauvoir, Julianne Moore, Hilary Clinton, Judy Woodruff,
Bobbie Ann Mason and that is from Little Women, Jo March,
has had a profound effect on generations of women.
And one of my favorite stories came
from country western singer heartthrob Brad Paisley,
who had a baby about two years ago, and he and his wife were
in disagreement about how to name the baby because Brad Paisley wanted
to name the baby after his favorite character in children's books,
and his wife clearly didn't want to, okay,
so they argue throughout the hospital stay and eventually
on the way home they have to make a decision
and so Brad Paisley said I got the certificate and I wrote
on it the name of my son and he said I kept the pen because I wanted
to give that pen someday to my son and say
with this pen my favorite author wrote a book
and with this pen we gave you a name based on that book
so that you can have it and hence we have
in this world William Huckleberry Paisley.
So, Huck Finn is alive and well in the Paisley family.
Some of the interviews were absolutely spectacular.
I think my, I had two favorites I must admit.
I'm in love with Pete Seeger.
I just admit it outright, you know, I don't hide it at all,
and I spent two hours on the phone with him and he sang
to me while I was on the phone.
He sang me his favorite songs from childhood.
I couldn't record that, but it was a wonderful interview,
but I had one of the last interviews with the painter N.C. Wyeth,
and he had, painter Andrew Wyeth, the son of N.C. Wyeth,
and his staff had been protecting him, and I didn't realize
that he was sick but when we got on the phone that day,
he started to talk about his father's legacy to him.
He said when he was a little boy his father put him on his lap
and he read Treasure Island to him
and he showed him the images that he was creating.
Wyeth said the day that I saw the image of blind [inaudible] groping
down the row in Treasure Island he said that was the day
that I knew I wanted to become an artist.
He said my father passed on the idea of creating art to me.
Other times it's a single line in a book that people remember.
Jay Leno's favorite book was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,
and the line that he loved from it was the line where it says,
"the harder Maryanne dug, the more people who came the harder
and faster Maryanne dug."
And Jay Leno said I was always a show off and I realized
that that the more of a crowd I had the more of a show off I was.
William DeVries here of Walter Reed, by the way in this city,
is the first doctor to insert the artificial heart,
and his line that he had remembered,
he said I have remembered it every professional day of my life
as a doctor and it was a line from the book his mother gave him,
it was Wizard of Oz, and his line where the tins woodsman said,
" I would bear all the unhappiness in the world if only I had a heart,"
and he said I have carried that line with me
through everything that I've done.
The testimonies were testimonies about family, about sharing books
with children that had been shared with them.
Scott Simon of NPR talked about his new Chinese daughters that he had,
you know, they had adopted and when he's away
from them he reads Goodnight Moon on the telephone to them at night,
and he said we always fall asleep under the same moon.
And Linda Johnson Robb, L.B.J.'s daughter,
gave one of the loveliest testimonies.
Her mother and a woman named Sel [phonetic] Marshall were college
roommates and as Linda said Sel's little boy, Jimmy,
went on to create children's books.
That is, of course, James Marshall,
and he did the classic Miss Nelson is Missing,
and so Linda said we got those books as a child, we shared them
with our children, and she said they're on my shelf right now
for when we have grandchildren and we will pass them on.
And she said that books tie the generations of my family together.
When I touch this book, I'm with my mother, I'm with my own children,
I'm in my own childhood, and now someday I will pass that on
and that is really what great children's books do,
but I have to say that the thing that was remarkable of every one
of these interviews people would say to me you'll remember the name
of the author, I've forgotten it, but I remember the name
of the person who gave it to me.
They're very important people.
They remember the name of their second grade teacher,
the public librarian or the school librarian that handed them the book,
the parent, anyone who gave them those books they,
all of these memories were not just a memory of a book they were memory
of the book and the person who had brought them together.
And as they talked about this,
I have to say that their voices got softer.
My first interview was with Steve Forbes.
I was terrified of him.
He's been known to eat the press for lunch, and when I said
to him did you like reading as a child he said I hated to read
as a child, and I thought, oh, dear, this isn't off on a very good foot
and what are we going to do?
And then he said but you know I loved being read to
and my mother would take me in her lap and she would share books
with me and suddenly his voice got very soft
and he became a young boy again and it was a totally different interview
as he talked about what his mother had done
for him sharing books with him.
So for those of you who are passing on books
to children you are becoming part of their best memories,
you are becoming part of what makes them a human being,
and you are giving them something very precious
and something very vital to remember,
but it will take the children
in your life a long time before they'll tell you this
and they maybe can't tell you this, but I'm really here today
because what I hope is that all of you will find
that this glorious festival some great children's books to pass
on to your children and someday hopefully if I live long enough
and I don't stay in too many heat waves like this one,
I have a better chance of it.
When I'm interviewing them, they will be able to tell me about a book
that you put in their hands of something you gave them,
of something you passed on to them because you remembered to make sure
to get the right book for the right child at the right time
and that is what my book is all about.
Thank you so much, and I'd love to hear from all of you.
[ Applause ]
This is your chance to ask questions, to tell me your,
and somebody is going to I hope tell me your favorite books
and whatever you want to know.
All right.
>> I was wondering what children's book or line was it for you
that really inspired you?
>> Anita Silvey: What book was it for me?
I have to say, you know, tell me, give me an age
and I have a different book,
but I will tell you the one that's the most important to me over time
and it sits right next to my desk and it was purchased
by my mother's great aunt.
She was born in 1865 at the end of the Civil War.
She read it, she inscribed it to my mother, my mother passed it on to me
and every time I touch that book everybody I,
all the women in my family are there
and that's Frances Hodgson's Burnett The Secret Garden and that is still
to this day I must admit it's my favorite book.
What's your favorite book?
That's what I want to know.
>> Uhm, I have a lot.
I probably can't decide.
>> Anita Silvey: Okay.
All right.
[Laughter] All right.
Thank you, yes?
>> I'm with you on The Secret Garden.
That and Anne of Green Gables is my favorite.
>> Anita Silvey: Yeah.
>> But I'm sort of an aspiring children's book author
and the book I've been working
on for some time doesn't really fit a category,
and I keep hearing things like unless you show a character growth,
unless you do this or do that your book won't be published,
and I guess I'm looking for some kind of comfort that as long
as the book is good enough that it will have a shot at being published.
>> Anita Silvey: Yeah, you're going to hear that from me because one
of the things that you find, you know, this is the sense of writers.
There are a lot of rules for writers,
and if you go to conferences, go to conferences
because you can learn things, they'll give you all those rules
for writers and the only thing that's true of rules
for writers is they're meant to be broken.
Almost every single classic that we have
for children breaks the standard convention of the day,
but what the author had to have was a willingness to persevere.
So, we know, for instance, Dr. Seuss is our most rejected classic writer.
He was rejected somewhere around the range of 25 to 27 times
and people didn't like him because they didn't like rhymed verse
and nobody published rhymed verse at that time,
and he didn't have any morals or messages
and everybody was publishing very message-laden books.
One day after his 27th rejection he was walking down the street
and he ran into an old Dartmouth classmate,
and he was singing his tale of woe and that classmate said
to him this is really quite wonderful, you know,
they've just made me the children's book editor at Van Guard
and I'm going to publish your book and Seuss said, yes,
but I've just told you every one has rejected it;
don't you want to read it?
And his friend said I wouldn't know a children's book
if it bit me by the ankles.
[Laughter] But I need one and you have one so we are on board,
and he gave him a contract that day.
Okay, so, persevere, what do you need to write, listen to people,
listen to feedback, but write the book you need to write
because that's the most important book.
I absolutely encourage you with that.
That's how we get great writers.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Yes, over here?
>> Yeah, my favorite book, E.B. White had the same problem.
Charlotte's Web.
>> Anita Silvey: Charlotte's Web.
And how did you find it?
>> My father bought it for me and it's the first book he ever bought
for me so that's why I remember it.
>> Anita Silvey: Okay.
>> Anyways my question for you is, what's something to really remember
and consider when recommending books to reluctant readers?
>> Anita Silvey: Recommending books to reluctant readers, you know,
first of all get help, you know, in your local library.
They know what's working in that area, you know,
we just have Jeff Smith here.
One of the things I saw is graphic novels are books, you know,
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff's books,
these are making great strides with reluctant readers.
So don't judge the kind of literature; just get them something
that engages them and, you know,
there are for each age group I think a good librarian
or good bookseller could give you something that we know is working,
but it's important to honor their taste;
not to put our taste on top of it sometimes.
Sometimes all they're reluctant to read is what we want them to read.
They're not reluctant to read the books that they find exciting.
I have parents say to me, oh, my kids only want
to read information books.
How do I stop them?
And I say you don't stop them.
You give them more information books to read.
So, you know, it's, you know, people get going again.
J.K. Rowling turned people back into readers;
Jeff Kinney is turning people back into readers;
Stephenie Meyer has turned teenagers back into readers; we've got a lot
of great people going now so just don't give up with it.
All right.
And I have another question here.
>> I personally like reading by myself best,
but do you like someone reading to you or you reading by yourself?
>> Anita Silvey: Oh, boy, if anybody reads to me,
that's a real privilege, and you know,
people as you get older they don't, but I love to listen to tapes
where people read, but I like to, I just like to curl
up with a book, you know, I always have.
I did when I was your age and I do now.
Either way it's great.
If they read to you, it's great or, you know,
if you read it, it's great.
So just keep doing it.
Just keep doing it.
Thank you.
All right, over here.
>> Hi. I also have been writing for children and heard what you had said
to the previous person here, but what about publishing on your own?
I know more and more people are trying to do that.
What advice can you give and then I'll tell you my book.
>> Anita Silvey: Okay.
One of the things that I, I teach publishing in the Simmons,
I even have former students here.
It's hard to believe they'd come to hear me again, but anyway one
of the things I say to my students I believe that publishing
on your own is becoming more and more legitimate.
All that is needed is a review source
that would actually review those books, and we would be
in a whole other place with them.
So, I know so many success stories of people who just didn't want
to beat their heads against the brick wall anymore went
and published their book on their own.
There are some good places to do it through like iUniverse that help you
with the process, and you know, if the book works,
you can always sell those rights to publishers.
So, it's not I'll publish on my own and I'll never be able
to have another go at it.
So, I think we're just at that time period where we're going to see more
and more and more publish on their own and then publishers will pick
up some of the more successful books.
So, don't write it off as a possibility.
>> Thank you, and my favorite book is very old, it's [inaudible].
Is Sally Goes to The Circus Alone.
>> Anita Silvey: Oh, okay.
>> It's very, very old, but a sneaky little girl
who managed to go off on her own.
>> Anita Silvey: And go to the circus, yeah.
I'd love to go to the circus right now.
An air conditioned circus.
All right.
Yes? Somebody over here.
>> My question is, who was your mentor
when you were in your childhood?
>> Anita Silvey: I'm sorry?
>> Who was your mentor?
>> Anita Silvey: Oh, who was my mentor?
In publishing, you know, I never, this is an honest story,
I left publishing when I was 53 years old, and I never had a mentor.
I had bosses, but they were sadistic.
[Laughter] No, no, I mean they were my bosses, you know, they got a lot
of work out of me, but they were never mentoring me.
At age 54 I edited the book of Howe Miller, who was the former CEO
of the company that I worked for, and I got my first mentor at the age
of 54, and he is now by the way he's 87, and I tell him he's got
to keep hanging in because I can bring
to him all those questions as a writer that I need.
So, as a writer, I've had a mentor but as somebody
in publishing I never had one so, you know, it's never too late
for a mentor, you know, it's also never too late for a happy childhood
as we all know so thank you.
That's a good question.
>> I'm a school counselor and I'm always using books to,
you know, encourage the children.
I've read your book the 100 Best Books For Children,
and I agree with a lot of them and there's one that wasn't in there.
I was going to email but now I can tell you.
I think it's the Five Chinese Brothers.
>> Anita Silvey: Oh, yes, yes.
>> I love that, and I was surprised it wasn't.
>> Anita Silvey: Yeah, when you only have a, by the way 100 Best Books
for Children was the most sadistic book that I ever did because I love
to do 800 pages and 100 was just too short and so I had to leave
out so many great things.
I believe it's in the reading list, but I just had
to leave out so many things.
Thank you very much.
Okay. One more question I think.
>> Yes. I grew up reading Mary Poppins.
>> Anita Silvey: Oh, a good one.
>> All these stories from other countries.
I am also a great aunt to boys growing up in sports-oriented homes
as well as academic homes but sports so it is a challenge
to not give them what I want but what they would enjoy.
>> Anita Silvey: Yes, yeah.
To remember the mantra is the right book for the right child
at the right time and that is honoring the child.
That is very important to do in all reading.
We honor who they are as human beings.
Okay. Thank you.
One more question.
I think we have one more.
Quick one.
>> Hi. I was wondering I have a question
about what your advice would be for inspirational writers who would
like to pursue writing as their job
but considering how what the competition is
for trying to publish a book.
>> Anita Silvey: Yeah.
One of the things that I say to all writers write what you have
to write, look every now and then at what's published,
but don't get consumed by it.
Find your own voice, find what you have to say, keep going,
perseverance is everything okay so just keep doing it and don't,
there's that voice that's always going
to say they don't need my book, they don't need me, I have nothing
to say, I am insane, in fact, to be doing this in my pajamas
at whatever hour, 3 in the morning, okay, that voice is always there.
Don't give in to it, keep writing what you need
to because you know what I finally realized is I could do books
about what I loved, which was children's books
that had never occurred to me so just keep going.
That's always my advice.
Keep going.
Thank you all.
Thank you very much.

[ Applause ]
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