Interview, Books Before Bedtime

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

We catch up with Tania McCartney, reviewer and founder of the popular Kids’ Book Review site, as she tells us how to select the best books for your kids, and also gives us her best bedtime reading tips!

Why do you love children's books? I have always loved children’s books. Even before I had my own kids, I was seriously addicted to picture books and children’s classics – my collection is now the size of a small mountain! I love the enchantment, the superlative storytelling, the magic, the characters – the ability children’s books have to transport the reader to another world, whether they be child or adult. I particularly love the way children’s books expand the imagination and encourage children to think big, to think laterally, to develop compassion and empathy, to learn, to absorb, to grow – and to delight. And of course – I love any opportunity to travel with my children via the pages of a book.

What made you start your own blog reviewing children's books? As an author myself, I have a deep passion for supporting and immersing myself in literary talent. I think it’s vital that authors and illustrators network and support each other – writing is such a solitary pursuit, and the literary world is a phenomenal place to make friends and source information to make you a better writer. I wanted to start a blog first and foremost out of my desire to read and share books with other adults and children, but my other aim is to open up the book writing world to everyone – to inspire both adults and children to read and write more. I hope Kids Book Review, even in the smallest way, adds to the plethora of fabulous websites and blogs that focus on children’s literature. I also hope it serves as a platform for authors and illustrators to share their work and their processes with everyone and anyone – from kids to professional writers.

Favourite author/illustrator? This is a difficult question to answer in the singular, and apologies to the 100 people I’ve left off this short list… but my current faves are Emily Gravett, Maurice Sendak, Enid Blyton, Miroslav Sasek, Babette Cole, Mo Willems, Lynley Dodd, Heath Mackenzie, Lauren Child, Peter Carnavas, David Shannon, Oliver Jeffers, CS Lewis, Stephen Michael King, Kay Thompson.

What do you look out for when selecting books to read to your own children? I like books that are ‘different’. I know that’s a totally subjective statement – but I love something that’s just not been done before – in any way, shape or form. I buy my kids endless information and non-fiction books but when it comes to inspirational stories and fiction, I always go for something that looks as beautiful on the outside as it reads on the inside. This is a given with picture books, but I also prefer it with novels. I love gorgeous illustration and design, and I think front covers can be underestimated in terms of the power they have over the content – not just upon purchasing but also upon reading. As for content, I buy books across the board and in all genres, but the writing must be engaging, well-edited, clever, informative and most of all – creative and imaginative. I refuse to buy churn-em out series held together by little more than clever marketing and fluff. I want meaty books for my kids. I want them transported to another world. I also want them to laugh. And learn.

I wish I had written... Too many to say! Of course, we all wish we’d written Harry Potter… and I honestly wish I’d written every single book I’ve ever fallen in love with (many!). This question might be better answered if I told you which authors I wish I could actually physically become – and there are only two. Emily Gravett and Lauren Child.

Best bedtime reading tips? Of course, having wind-down time is vital before bed, but once a dreamy ready-to-read state has been achieved… allow your child to choose the book. Always have several options – and introduce new books all the time. When your child is really young, of course they’ll want books repeated ad infinitum, and this is perfectly okay – you must comply! You’ll soon know them off by heart – I can still recite Little Miss Spider and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy verbatim.

Try older books like readers and chapter books early in your child’s life – this will help your child learn to love the concept of imagining rather than relying on pictures. Use intonation and character voices, sound effects and physical movement to keep your child engaged in the story. Ask them to read an occasional word, if they’re old enough – perhaps the last word on every page. Another tip, to keep kids engaged, is to ask them questions through the story, asking their opinion or interpretation. Don’t hesitate to add your own sentiment to the story, too – like “poor Mr Twiddle!” or “I wonder what will happen next!?”

Consider vintage books for bedtime reading. Kids are exposed to many modern books at school but there is a whole other world contained in books of the past. Go for early edition copies, if you can. Scour eBay or second hand bookstores for old editions… you really want original Enid Blyton not her completely messed-up, modernised form. Oh, the agony.

Lastly, try making up your own mini stories, without a book in hand, to finish off your reading session. Having your child star in these stories will have them listening in rapture. Make sure you fill the story with people they know, and add in some surprise characters. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated or full of plot twists; even the simplest bookless story will entrance a child when told with love.

Currently reading? Always so much. I’m just about to start some new Pocket Money Puffins, the Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton, the Willy Waggledagger series by Martin Chatterton and Gregory Rogers, the Mr Badger series by Leigh Hobbs and some more Emily Gravett picture books for our special Behind the Books feature on Kids Book Review. I’m also in the midst of reading Sandy Fussell’s amazing Samurai Kids books and will soon be starting a heap of fabulous information books just delivered from the National Library. I’m in heaven.

See the Books Before Bedtime site for more.

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