Q and A With Newbery Winner Kirby Larson: Print or Ebook, Tell The Best Story You Can
Award-winning children’s author Kirby Larson shares her views on writing, marketing, and digital books.
BB: The landscape for children’s books is changing with the onset of digital publishing. How have ebooks affected your career, either as a writer or as a marketer of your books?
KL: When I was a new writer, a mentor gave me the best advice ever. She said the only thing I could control in the business of writing is my work. Not the marketing, not the reviews, not the awards; only the work. She advised to keep my focus on writing the best books that I possibly can, and that’s been my mantra ever since. How those finished books get delivered to readers — via the printed page or electronically — is really out of my control.
BB: What evidence of digital books and digital learning do you see in schools?
KL: I’ve observed that teachers and librarians are using e-readers more and more but—and this is purely anecdotal evidence—I am still mostly seeing books in students’ hands.
Writing is really about relationships — not only building them on the page, but through human connections, too. School visits are rich ways for authors to help contribute to those important connections between kids and books. I love visiting schools! My goal is to get kids charged up about reading and writing.
Every Tuesday and Thursday on my blog, I host a teacher/librarian who shares how he/she connects books and kids in the classroom. The feature is called “From the Office of the Future of Reading” and it’s been an honor to shine the spotlight on our country’s many terrific educators.
BB: Tell us about your Bitty Baby picture book series for American Girl.
KL: The American Girl company has done amazing and kid-friendly things with apps and games in conjunction with the ebooks. When I meet readers at store events, they generally have bought or are buying books, rather than ebooks, so it’s hard for me to determine if there is a difference between the two readerships.
I was invited to audition, along with 5 other authors, to write the Bitty Baby picture books, a brand new series launched by American Girl, and was so honored to have been selected. Though I’m known primarily as a novelist, I started out my career writing picture books. In addition, at the time of the audition, I learned I was going to be a grandma. It seemed perfect timing to stretch my wings with stories for younger readers.
BB: You were awarded the Newbery Honor Award in 2007 for Hattie Big Sky. Let us know your reaction and how this award affected your career.
KL: To put it mildly, winning the Newbery Honor changed my life. Since the awards are a huge secret until the morning they are announced, I had no idea Hattie Big Sky was even being considered. It was my first novel, after all, and Newbery awards are for megastars like Katherine Paterson and Karen Cushman, not ordinary people like me!
This award has enriched my life in so many ways—opened doors, attracted new readers—but it also made it very difficult for me to write the next book. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone!
Luckily, I managed to shake off the pressure by reminding myself of my mantra (focus on telling the best story you can).
BB: You’ve written a few books about dogs (Duke, Two Bobbies, Nubs). Have you always had a special affinity for dogs?
KL: I continue to be amazed at the bonds formed between people and dogs and think we humans have a lot to learn from the loyalty, sensitivity and intuition of our canine buddies. I have one more dog story coming out in August, DASH (a companion to Duke) and I imagine it won’t be my last dog story.
Also, other dog lovers might like to know about an anthology I contributed to, LUCKY DOG (Scholastic); all the authors’ royalties from that book go to support Red Rover, a nonprofit whose mission is “to bring animals out of crisis and strengthen the bond between people and animals through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and education.” It’s a fun book for a good cause.
BB: How do you see the future of children’s books?
KL: I suspect the delivery systems may continue to change, but children’s publishing will always be about getting the best stories into the hands of kids. I do think—at least I hope!—there will be more opportunities for children to see themselves within the pages of a book. For example, I just finished an advanced reader’s copy of a book called A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd in which one of the main characters is in a wheelchair. That’s not a plot point; it’s just who this character is. I definitely see the future allowing for more diversity in stories for children and young adults.
BB: What advice do you have for other writers for children?
KL: Read as much as you can, and as broadly as you can. You can’t be a writer without being a reader! Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org). And find a huge supply of patience because you will need it. One of my books took 10 years to get published.