Library Appreciation Day: Librarian Susan Wodiska Kusel
Today we welcome Susan Kusel, a children's librarian in the Arlington County, Va., system, and one of my local librarians. Susan is also a columnist for the PBS.org column "Booklights" and the founder of the awesome DC Kidlit Book Group. She blogs at WizardsWireless.Although we've only known each other a few months, I've been very impressed by the breadth, width, and depth of Susan's knowledge about kidlit and her commitment to kids and books. Welcome, Susan!What's your favorite flower and why?My favorite flower is the lily, because Susan means lily in Hebrew. If I can have a second one, it's the hydrangea. Blue hydrangeas were part of my wedding bouquet and they've always been special to my husband and I since then.In the language of flowers, lilies have different meanings according to their colors. A white lily symbolizes purity and sweetness, while an orange one is for coquetry. This one (at right) is a stargazer, one of the most fragrant. Its perfume will fill an entire house.Is there a quotation you live by or have posted at your desk?Am I allowed to make up my own? If so, it would be this: “Have the courage to be the first person to stand for a standing ovation and the last person to sit down.” You can accomplish anything, you just have to have confidence in your convictions and not be swayed by the rest of the crowd.Which book do you wish you could live inside?Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter. Oh, and Harry Potter. Did I mention Harry Potter? Seriously, who wouldn’t want a magic wand?Who's your favorite dead writer?Children’s or adult? For children, it would be Lucy Maud Montgomery, author ofAnne of Green Gablesand many more. For adults, it’s Jane Austen, a writer whoneeds no introduction. And in case you’re curious, if I had chance to meet anyliving author it would be J.K. Rowling, hands down. Not particularly shocking,given my answers to the other questions.What book have you read more than any other and why?This will probably stun your readers, but the answer is Harry Potter. It’s not because of the hype or the popularity (like I said above, I think it’s important to like something and stand by your convictions even if no one else does.) It’s because of the excellence of the writing. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the books (actually, I listen to them on audio, so I have them memorized) but every single time I discover something new. There are so many levels to the books, and so much humor and complexity mixed in. Also, since J.K. Rowling plotted all seven books before the first one was even published, there are endless clues buried in the earlier books about things that happen in the later books. I always say it’s not the first reading that makes them great (although it’s wonderful to read those scenes for the first time.) It’s in the rereading (and rereading) where the brilliance comes out.The other great thing about Harry Potter is how it became famous. It wasn’t because of the author’s reputation. Jo Rowling was a first time, completely unknown and unpublished author whose manuscript was turned down several times before being accepted. The only reason it became famous is because of the quality of the writing and storytelling. I find that incredibly inspiring, particularly in a time where it seems like talent can be overlooked in favor of fame and celebrity.It's no coincidence that my personal blog is named Wizards Wireless!Name three books that are too often overlooked.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Seriously, though, that’s a good question and a hard one to answer succinctly because there are so many. Here are some that spring to mind: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, the Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald, and King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (which won the 1949 Newbery medal, so it’s hard to say it’s been ignored entirely).What do you wish you could tell writers who visit the library?I wish I could tell them to explore the world of children’s literature... particularly their own genre but to go beyond it. If you're a heart surgeon, I expect you to know about and be familiar with major surgical breakthroughs or new research. If you're a children's writer (no matter if you write full time, part time or for an hour every other week), I expect you to know, and to have read this year's Newbery and Caldecott winners, at a bare minimum.I get frustrated by writers that don't know anything about the field but what they or their friends write. Find out why a book has hype around it. Why did that book win the Newbery? Find out how a book even wins a Newbery. Do you know what the process and criteria are? If you're a YA writer, do you keep up with the genre? Do you read picture books, and chapter books and early readers too? Get to know the field, the whole field, as it is now, not just what you remember from when you were a child. Need some help? Ask a librarian.This is one of the many reasons I enjoy the DC Children's Literature book clubthat I founded a few years ago. Over fifty children's and YA authors are members (probably more by now, I've lost count). I love to hear their opinions and viewpoints and think it's wonderful to watch them be engaged and involved with books by other writers.Are there any topics or areas you think writers are missing out on?Sure, but it's much more important to write what you love and what inspires you. Nobody said to Neil Gaiman, "hey, Neil, what the market is really missing is a book of short stories about a kid who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and a vampire." No one said to Dr. Seuss, "Ted, the world needs sneetches. There is not one sneetch-related book currently on the market. You've got to write one, and be sure to show the view point of the ones with stars on their bellies."For example, one of the things that is currently hard to find is picture books about football for the five and under crowd. But would I recommend writing one? No. By the time your football picture book was published in a few years, the market will probably be flooded with them. However, if there's something about football that inspires you and there's a story, angle, biography or piece of history that you want to pursue and would be good in that format and for that age group, I say go for it. I've been lucky enough to see a few Newbery and Caldecott acceptance speeches live and I've read countless others. And not once have I heard or read anything to this effect, "I wrote this book because there was a hole in the market."What can writers do to help their local libraries?Visit your local branch often and get to know the librarians there. Not because you want them to buy or promote your book, but because you want to get to know them and listen to their advice. Few people are truly as in touch with the market and with what the public really likes and reads than a librarian or an independent bookseller. You could ask the questions in this interview to virtually any librarian and they would all have great answers.Ask librarians for help with your book (which they'll be happy to give) and then be sure to thank them (individually and by name) in your acknowledgements. Even if the book doesn't get published, be sure to write a thank you note. Share the behind the scenes stories about how you wrote the book with a librarian who is interested in it, so that they can pass that story on to the readers they talk with every day.Please don't walk into a library or a bookstore and demand that they carry your books. Speaking a former children's book buyer at an independent store, I can tell you that selection is an incredibly complicated thing with many facets and factors and not nearly as simple as it might appear on the surface. And usually it's not in the hands of the person at the desk or on the floor that you're talking to. But it is occasionally, and you don't want to rub that person the wrong way by being pushy and making demands. If your work is published by a known publishing house, the selector is most likely aware of your book. They have probably already taken a look at your book in a catalog (far earlier than the publication date) or seen it at a trade show. Not always, but usually, especially for booksellers, they've talked about it with their sales reps, they've read a fold and gather version of a picture book, been sent an advanced reading copy or read a review. Trust their judgment. Maybe your book is a masterpiece, but it just wouldn't work in their market or community or fit their collection plan.The most important people to get friendly with, in terms of sales for both libraries and bookstores, are your publisher's sales representatives. These people are the ones who read every single book in the catalog every season, and the ones who actually go on the road and sell your book. They're also the ones who talk to hundreds of booksellers and librarians and receive valuable feedback about your book that could help you when you write your next one.Above all, include libraries in your work. Talk about them, speak at them and promote them. Writers who do this are greatly appreciated by the library community.Thank you so much for this opportunity, Amy. I really appreciate it!Thanks so much for all you do for Kidlit, Susan!!!