If author Ann Jacobus wasn’t such a nice person, it would be really easy to dislike her. Talented and beautiful, Ann is not only an award-winning writer, she is also at the helm of one of the most popular and successful children’s book blogs, Readerkidz. Recently I caught up with Ann and we got to chat about her influences and inspiration.
Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?
I was born in Midland, Texas and spent my formative childhood years in Little Rock, Arkansas. My mother’s family all lived in Texas, so it has been a constant throughout my peripatetic life. I live now in San Francisco with my family but spent many years overseas. A friend has a theory that a significant percentage of writers moved around a lot as kids or young adults. It makes you flexible and observational. You have to relearn how people think and operate in each new place to fit in. That’s excellent practice for a writer.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
I’ll speak to ideal. As soon as I get family members off to school or work, I’m at my desk as early as 7:30 am, i.e. a comfy chair and a big old-fashioned atlas, on top of which rests my laptop. My best working hours are in the morning for producing awful first drafts of—or revising—manuscripts, blog posts, essays, proposals, etc. By early afternoon I read books, or the manuscripts I review for a fiction journal, my writing group, publishers or contests. I’ll do email and social media until grocery shopping and soccer games call.
You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?
It’s true that in writing a middle grade novel aimed at eight- and nine-year-old boys, I can use more potty humor than in writing an adult essay. And fiction aimed at fifteen-year-olds again requires a different mindset and voice. I think it comes down to the same shift you use between talking to an eight-year-old (successfully), or a sixteen-year-old or a forty-five-year-old. So I’m aware of my audience as I compose. Right now I’m picturing you and a bunch of your readers.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
It’s hard to pick, but In Children’s literature I greatly admire:
Dav Pilkey-his Captain Underpants series is responsible for turning all three of my sons into readers. He’s subversive and so hysterical (if you are a seven year-old boy) they thought they were getting away with something highly illicit by opening his books. I pretended I was outraged, and that really got them hooked.
Richard Peck (A Year Down Yonder, Secrets at Sea): He’s a prolific, classic children’s author whose books never disappoint and always contain something essential and amusing about the world between their covers.
Rita Williams Garcia (Jumped, One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven) always gets to the heart of things and usually with humor. Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s are two recent excellent additions to the middle grade canon.
Nancy Farmer, (The House of Scorpions, The Sea of Trolls) are two personal favorites, because of the brilliant storytelling, and in the latter, the humor. Olaf OneBrow makes me laugh whenever I think of him.
YA authors Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Chains, Winter Girls) and Walter Dean Meyers (Monster, Lockdown) are masters. They keep it real in the way YA readers demand, and do it so well. Martine Leavitt’s books (Keturah and Lord Death, My Book of Life by Angel) are intense, beautiful, and brilliantly written.
Some adult writers: I love Thorton Wilder’s ability to probe the ineffable universal through the particular and personal (The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Our Town). Ursula LeGuin writes so beautifully in her compelling fantasy stories. Never a word wasted. Annie Dillard does the same with nonfiction. I’m a Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy fan. J.R.R.Tolkien, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jane Austen—
I’ll stop but I could go on and on.
Where did you get the idea/inspiration for your blog www.readerkidz.com?
Readerkidz was started by a group of us who graduated together from the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adult graduate program. My co-bloggers have decades of experience with education and psychology for younger children (kindergarten through fifth grade) and they determined a need for more online reading and book recommendation information for this group. They kindly asked me to join them.
Who is the intended audience?
The blog is aimed at parents, teachers and librarians of K-5 kids, and provides book reviews and recommendations, as well as teacher’s guides, author interviews, and other ideas for promoting a love of reading in the classroom and at home.
What has been your favorite thing about the blog so far?
I love working with my co-bloggers. I get to read more delightful children’s literature than I might otherwise be doing, since my own kids can mostly drive, and/or drink. I’m introduced to outstanding authors and illustrators and can ask them personal questions. I edit the “Librarian’s Corner” and get to see dedicated children’s librarians in action.