Friday, November 20, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Anita Silvey

Anita Silvey's latest book is Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life (Roaring Brook, 2009).

So far, what’s the most fun you’ve ever had working on a book? Why?

I know that many authors suffer from the "my newest baby is my favorite baby" syndrome. Certainly, that defines my state of mind at the moment.

From beginning to end, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book provided more happiness and excitement for me than any book I have worked on.

The moment Lauren Wohl of Roaring Brook Press suggested the title, I felt a chill running down my spine. She had just summed up in one phrase the work of my lifetime.

Early in my career, I started asking anyone I met (at cocktail parties, dinners, even in cabs and elevators) about the books they read as a child. A universal ice breaker, this question often elicited smiles and fond memories.

However, for my "new baby," I talked to people that I would not ordinarily meet -- about 110 leaders of society in a variety of fields such as science, arts, politics, sports, or journalism.

To them I posed a more serious question: “What children’s book changed your life in a profound way?”

As I conducted interviews with Pete Seeger, Andrew Wyeth, Steve Forbes, Julianne Moore, Peter Lynch, and Kirk Douglas, I realized that I possess far too little faith in the power of children's books.

What these icons read as children shaped them as adults – in amazing ways. Some recalled a character with fondness; some became attracted to a location or country because of a book. Some have remembered a single line from a book for decades. Many chose careers because of a children’s book. Many found a personal, social, or political philosophy that has sustained them for decades.

What was the most important thing you learned in your research?

Not only do those who write children’s books affect young people, but those who put books in children’s hands have just as much influence. Most of my contributors link a particular book to the person who shared it with them.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book is, in fact, dedicated to those who find daily inspiration on Cynsations: "For my colleagues: the women and men who have created, published, taught about, promoted and championed children’s books over the years. They have made it possible for our children to find the right book at the right time."

What has been the highlight of your professional career and how do you define success?

I've always felt that my best moment professionally is the one I am living--right here, right now. Success, for me or any other writer, lies in perseverance, in staying the course.

So I am thrilled to be headed out on book tour to talk about the importance of children’s books and the many ways in which books shape young readers.

Thank you for letting me “natter on” about the new baby.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

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