As the former publisher of Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books and the previous editor-in-chief of The Horn Book Magazine, Anita Silvey is an expert on children’s books. Yet the conversational tone of her online Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac invites everyone, expert or not, to enter a discussion of her daily book selection, the theme for the day and the additional titles in that day’s sidebar. Here, Silvey discusses the germ of the idea and how it’s grown beyond her wildest dreams.
What inspired the idea for a Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac? How did this project evolve?
After I finished working with Simon Boughton on Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, I had a very ambitious project in mind, with hundreds of reviews. Simon was considering doing an almanac, and it occurred to him that he could do both by combining the two projects and also make my book more manageable for teachers, parents and librarians. We could release it as I wrote it. This is what writers like Dickens used to do, to see what people liked, what they didn’t, catch errors and build a community around the writing.
One of my favorite entries is Dec. 27 (The Suburb Beyond the Stars), where you weave in your observations about author M.T. Anderson as you describe his use of language. Your style is informative yet conversational. Was it easy to find the voice for the entries?
I had to write about 12-15 essays to get at the core of what you want your voice to sound like. Simon would talk about what was on track and what I wanted to think about. My voice felt natural right away. It’s simple things like you don’t use the word “gatefold”; that’s an industry term. Anyone who loves books should be able to look at this and enjoy it.
You also include a nice mix of newer titles and classic books.
I always think that great children’s books are the unifiers of society. We’re a very divided society, but by and large, when I say Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Charlotte’s Web, everyone smiles, it doesn’t matter about their politics or where in the country they live.
I am keeping an eye out for books that I think didn’t get enough attention, such as The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, and Diamond Willow, by Helen Frost. There are a lot of great books that, if they don’t get major nods, people don’t find them. The almanac allows me a way that people can find them.
So you have books in mind that you want to write about? Or do you let the themes of the day inspire the title selection? Jan. 21, National Squirrel Appreciation Day, seems tailor-made for your pick, Scaredy Squirrel.
It goes both ways. I use Chase’s Calendar of Events. For Tooth Fairy Day, who knew there were so many books about tooth fairies? I find my favorite, and talk about that. Poetry month I’ve been waiting for to work in some things. But I am going both ways. It is fun to have those offbeat crazy days, if you want surprises. But there are also going to be serious days, incidents in history, such as Martin Luther King Day, to keep that balance with the lighthearted themes.
I also try to keep a balance between picture books, novels and nonfiction on a monthly basis. Sometimes I write before I have the whole month plotted out. That part is fun, I hope people feel it’s fun, too.
The sidebar is really meaty, too.
What teachers respond to is the sidebar. They say they love going to the kids with things like Global Belly Laugh Day [Jan. 24]—everyone got going on that. I think of teachers and school librarians all the time.
Are you writing about a book a day, too?
I’m about two months ahead. I have two former students who help me prepare the material, mechanical things, to be done. The night before it posts, I always go back to the essay and take a look. Even after I write something, I come upon material that I want to work in. I just came across the fact that Stieg Larssen based his heroine [Lisbeth Salander] on Pippi Longstocking—who would Pippi become when she grew up? This will make a better book.
This will be a book, too, correct?
Yes, I plan to go back to each of those entries and read what my readers have said to me. I may work a comment into the final text. They talk about what that book meant in their lives, and it’s a profound effect. A book will seem to go better in another month, and I may do a little shifting around. I try not to think about the mountain I have to go up. I think, “I just need to get to that little table and I can look out over the valley.” What I love about it as a writer is I see I’m going to get a better book than if I just lived with it in my head.
TAKE A LOOK AT OUR REVIEWS OF SOME OF ANITA SILVEY'S OTHER PICKS.