This week’s interview is on a great social media account: @childrensbookclub !
1. How did you come up with the idea of this account?
“I created the account in 2018, a time when I was at home quite a lot with a toddler and a baby. I often found myself photographing illustrations from my vintage children’s book collection (which was much smaller then—this account has really allowed me to justify bulking it up!) and then returning to the pictures in my phone to admire them. That started to feel a bit silly, so on a whim I started an Instagram account just to have something to do with all those photos.
The first book I ever posted was Spectacles by Ellen Raskin, one of my favorite children’s book authors. Spectacles is basically a visual gag about what a little girl sees or thinks she sees before and after her first pair of glasses. Most people know Ellen Raskin from The Westing Game, which was one of my most treasured chapter books as a kid, but she was a prolific picture book author and illustrator too. Her illustrations from the late 1960s are incredible.
It took a while before the account attracted any real following, and when it did I was pleasantly surprised. There are so many incredible children’s book accounts on Instagram that I never expected mine to get noticed, but I get very thoughtful and complimentary messages all the time about how much people look forward to my posts.”
2. Who are your top 3 favorite children’s book authors and why?
1. Ezra Jack Keats. I think it’s tempting to dismiss iconic children’s books like Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are due to feeling overexposed to them, and I get that—I have read each of those books one thousand times in my life as a kid, as a teacher, as a parent and it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to count those fruits the caterpillar is eating his way through yet again. (Also this is maybe a good time to confess that I have never liked Dr. Seuss, even before we all noticed he was a deplorable racist, and I detested The Giving Tree even as a child, so I understand that those archetypal picture books simply are not for everyone.) But I urge anyone who feels like The Snowy Day is overrated to try to read it again with fresh eyes! It is truly a flawless picture book. There is an amazing quote from Keats about Peter, the protagonist of The Snowy Day and six of his other books, who was the first Black main character in a bestselling children’s book: “My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along.”
2. Anne Rockwell. I am choosing Anne Rockwell because she occupies the perfect center in a Venn diagram representing authors I love(d) as a child, as a parent, and as the person running the ChildrensBookClub account. She published a kids’ cookbook in the early eighties called The Mother Goose Cookie-Candy Book that my older sister and I made nearly every recipe from when we were kids, and that was my first experience with baking and it was hugely formative for me at six, seven, eight years old to make a thing without adult help—that was actually edible!
I don’t really enjoy cooking but I love to bake, and I think that book is one of the reasons why: it taught me that baking is fun, even when it doesn’t turn out exactly as expected. (A side note regarding baking: if you, like me, love cake and also vintage children’s books, I started a new side account recently called ChildrensBookCakes that might be right up your alley!) Both of my children adore Anne Rockwell and we have a huge collection of her work. She was mind-bogglingly prolific but a few of her best books, in my opinion, are The Bump in the Night, Gypsy Girl’s Best Shoes, and The Awful Mess.
3. Tomi Ungerer. With the exception of Crictor, which was a Reading Rainbow book, I didn’t read any of Tomi Ungerer’s books until I was an adult, which is really a shame because his aberrant brand of storytelling and celebration of unsavory characters would have been my exact cup of tea as a child. I now read his books often with my family, particularly The Three Robbers, Zeralda’s Ogre, and The Beast of Monsieur Racine. Those books, and many of his others, have a lot of central themes in common: intrepid children, immoral or at least questionable behavior going unpunished, unspecified Old World countries as settings, magnificent bygone language (blunderbuss! marauder! cuirass!), surprising endings. Ungerer’s books celebrate bravery and champion adventurousness, and they are darkly funny in a way appealing to both adults and children. He was a cartoonist and satirist and wrote erotica as well and I think the fact that he wasn’t primarily an author of children’s books is why his books feel so authentic and genuine and never like they are pandering to children. (Also—young Tomi Ungerer was a TOTAL BABE.)
3. What kinds of books did you read as a child?
“When I was very little I loved the Frances books, especially Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell and Lillian Hoban, the Frog and Toad books, and the Childcraft How and Why Library. I still love all those books and now my kids do too! I grew up in the 80s and I think that’s why I love the 60s and 70s for picture books—most of the books I read at school or from the library were from that era.
When I started reading chapter books I definitely gravitated toward dark/mysterious/scary books: I loved In a Dark, Dark Room, anything by Roald Dahl, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Mary Downing Hahn, and The Westing Game. I did read things that were warm and cozy, too—I read and frequently reread all of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary and I was a huge fan of The Babysitter’s Club (Team Stacey!) and Sweet Valley (Team Elizabeth!). And as I got older I loved to read horror by Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike, which paved the way for a major preteen Stephen King phase. I suppose it’s hard to tell from my Instagram account that I am a big horror fan, but I am, and I guess I always have been!
4. What is the process in choosing the images for your social media page?
Most of the books I post on Instagram belong to me. My personal children’s book collection contains some of the books that I saved from my own childhood, but it is predominantly supplied by my local thrift stores. I have been a devoted thrifter since I was ten years old, and I never get tired of the thrill of the hunt! I will buy books online occasionally, but that takes the fun out; there is really nothing like the feeling of finding a sought-after book in the wild.
Libraries have also provided me with lots of wonderful material. I have library cards for all of the nearby counties and I like checking out (no pun intended!) different branches to see which libraries have good collections of vintage children’s books. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library has a fantastic children’s collection.
One incredible book I read at SFPL is Suzuki Beane by Sandra Scoppettone, which is typically described as a Beatnik version of Eloise. That is a rare, expensive book but they have it in the Book Arts and Special Collections center on the 6th floor of the main branch, and I was thrilled to be able to photograph it there and post it to my Instagram account.
The 1960s and 1970s are my two favorite decades for children’s books and I think most of what I post is from that era. I almost always post ten slides for each book, and I try to keep them sequential for the most part so that I can try to get the story across, although without sharing text it’s a bit difficult. But I do my best to convey the soul of the book!”
5. What is the most requested genre you get to post on your feed and why do you think it is so popular?
You know, I don’t think I have ever received any requests to post anything! I get a lot of requests to post more often and a lot of messages of appreciation for what I do post, but no one ever really makes requests. Based on comments and likes, though, I would say that people respond really positively to mid-century-era books, bold and colorful illustrations (black and white illustrations just never garner the same enthusiasm!), lesser-known works by well-known authors and illustrators, and childhood favorites. As a follower of many accounts that are similar to mine, what I personally enjoy most is getting the opportunity to look closely inside a book that I have never seen before. I am always appreciative when people post multiple images; that is why I try to always post ten slides, so people can get a real sense of what is going on in the book (at least illustrations-wise). I don’t know how many people are swiping past the first image but I do try to be purposeful in my choice of all ten!
My favorite part of running this account is when I discover something unusual and a little bit weird, because I know people will get excited with me over it.
A good example is a book that I recently stumbled upon called The Nuns Go West by Jonathan Routh. The premise involves seven faceless nuns on holiday traveling through the West on a giant elephant and getting mixed up in some wacky shenanigans, and it is one of those books that just has something for everyone. It’s weird but not inaccessible, it’s funny to kids and to adults, it’s silly in a smart way and the illustrations are great. Those are the kinds of books I love sharing: surprising, lovely, quality books that you have probably never heard of before, but if you track down a copy you can read it to the kids in your life and they’ll love it too, or you can just hang on to it as a collector, and when you turn its pages you can take a moment to feel how lucky you are to live in a world where these extraordinary objects exist.”
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Thank you so much for the interview Katie!
until next time! 🙂