Vicki Palmquist, Co-founder of CLN
Julie: Welcome to KidLit Central, Vicki!
Vicki: Thanks for talking with me, Julie. I’m a big fan of your two middle grade novels. I think the voices you’ve achieved are universal and yet uniquely their own—an admirable feat for a writer.
Julie: Thank you for your kind words about my books, Vicki. You describe yourself as a “children’s literature enthusiast.” How did you become interested in children’s literature? Where has that interest led you over the years?
Vicki: I worked as a page and clerk at a library, managed a B. Dalton bookstore, hosted a radio program about children’s literature, and studied library science and children’s literature. Somewhere along the way I thought I would write books for children.
I’m an avid reader of many types of books, but I’ve always been drawn to the quality of the story in children’s books. I think that some of our best writers create clear but complex stories that are ideal for readers of all ages, but they’re published as children’s books because of the age of the protagonist or the subject matter. I often talk with senior groups about stories they’d enjoy, such as Dear Papa by Anne Ylvisaker or The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt or Killing Miss Kitty by Marion Dane Bauer. Picture books and nonfiction, when they’re well done, are interesting to many ages as well. Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh and The Lincolns by Candace Fleming are good examples.
Most importantly, however, is this mission we’ve adopted to make good children’s books known to the adults who influence what children read. Steve, my husband, and I firmly believe that “reading is the cornerstone of democracy.” If we can encourage all children to become avid readers, then they’ll continue their education, explore possibilities, and keep an open mind through their reading. Schools have a mandate to work on reading skills, but it’s critical that we keep excellent stories and intriguing nonfiction in front of everyone.
Julie: How did your mission lead to the formation of CLN? What has the CLN journey been like so far?
Vicki: Back in 2000, we realized that many children’s authors and illustrators work alone, without a supportive network. Their families, friends, and employers seldom valued what they were doing. And we knew that children’s literature enthusiasts are some of the most intelligent, fascinating, kindly, and thoughtful people on earth—they deserved to know one another.
By becoming involved with teachers’ groups, librarians, media specialists, booksellers, and talking with them at their conferences and workshops, we realized that they seldom talk to each other. Few of those groups realized that they had talented children’s book creators in their midst. When they thought about bringing an author to speak to them, they looked first to big-name authors, not being aware that there were resources close at hand, people who could talk about the creative process, writing skills, art, and publishing from firsthand experience.
We were also aware that publishers were printing more books and promoting them less. It was harder for teachers, librarians, parents, and readers to find the good books among the plethora of new and old titles. Authors and illustrators needed an opportunity to promote their books to readers in a non-commercial, friendly, and newsy way. A website, still a fairly new idea in 2001, seemed like an ideal place to do that—and Steve and I know how to create websites.
We decided to form a network that would offer connection, encouragement, and a supportive atmosphere to the groups who work with children and books. On February 1, 2001, Children’s Literature Network was named by a group of twenty board members, vowing to work with authors, illustrators, and children’s literature enthusiasts in the Upper Midwest: Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Ninety percent of the authors and illustrators in those five states quickly became members because they understood the value of this type of promotion—and being a part of a network and community.
In 2003, at an IRA conference in San Antonio, Steve and I were working in a booth, handing out information about Children’s Literature Network. We had so many teachers say that they and their students visited the site every day, but they wished that all the authors and illustrators in their states were on our site. We talked it over with the board for a long time before we decided to open membership nationwide. Since then, we’ve been adding members steadily … and we still have a goal of having 90% of all the authors and illustrators in every state listed on the CLN website. We want children’s literature enthusiasts to have excellent information about the people and institutional resources in their area. And to know about the books! Books are always at the center of everything we do.
Julie: Can you give us a peek at the CLN roster? Who is involved? What do members bring to the organization?
Vicki: We have first-time authors such as Kurtis Scaletta and Eileen Beha; authors with two or three books under their belts, such as you and D. Dina Friedman and Karen Day and Helen Hemphill; authors and illustrators who have many books published, such as Melissa Stewart and Candice Ransom and Karen Ritz and Robert Casilla; authors who write about children’s literature, such as Rob Reid and Anita Silvey; and award-winning authors, such as Kate DiCamillo and Karen Hesse and Karen Cushman.
We have public librarians such as Wendy Woodfill and Susan Carr Brown, media specialists such as Julie Reimer and Kate Eelkema, booksellers such as Amy Baum and Bev Bauer, editors, children’s literature professors, readers, parents, and members of the media—all as members who value what CLN is doing.
Members act as resources for e-mail questions, workshop leaders, interview subjects, article writers, and they contribute news so that other members are aware of what they’re doing and what’s happening in their lives. Members share ideas about promotion, teaching, and reader’s advisory.
Julie: CLN hosts a variety of events for its members. What were some of the highlights of 2008? What can members look forward to in 2009?
Vicki: In 2008, we hosted Conversations with Allyn Johnston, Nikki Grimes, Megan McDonald, Debra Frasier, and Linda Sue Park, just to name a few. These are evening events with a potluck dinner where those who gather can engage in casual conversation while soaking up information from the guest of honor.
CLN attends many conferences and festivals throughout the year, where our booth features learning activities about our members’ books and the visits they make to schools and camps and workshops. Whether we’re playing Pin the Tale on the Author, having Rick Chrustowski teach drawing to parents and children, or conducting an hour-long workshop on Authors from Your State, we worked hard throughout 2008 to engage readers.
In September, we launched a monthly Chapter ‘n’ Verse Book Club for adults who are interested in discussing children’s and young adult books. This is something we’re looking forward to replicating around the country, with each book club meeting the same evening and reporting on the CLN website what they’ve learned about the books they’ve read.
In this economy, conferences have been a challenge, but we’ve been hosting workshops with a maximum of eight participants. So far the topics have been “Promotion without Tears,” “Publicize Your Book,” and “Web 2.0.” These are five-hour, intensive workshops which have been widely praised by the authors and illustrators attending.
Look for more events in 2009, spread across the country. For example, in May, Annie Barrows, author of the Ivy and Bean series, will visit the Twin Cities to talk with CLN members at a casual Conversation. The “Promotion Without Tears” workshop will be held in San Jose, California.
Julie: You mentioned that you have plans to host more events for members who live outside of the Twin Cities area. What are some other ways you serve members who don’t live close to your headquarters?
Vicki: One of the services CLN provides is to provide recommendations and referrals. We are frequently asked by teachers, librarians, booksellers, and the media for information about our members. We participate in preparing reading lists and providing referrals for magazines, newspapers, and websites. Teachers and parents ask for suggestions for authors and illustrators to visit their schools. Media specialists ask for help in preparing specialized reading lists. Once we’ve pulled the list together, we post it on the CLN website so everyone can take advantage of it. Recent lists are “mysteries for enthusiastic readers,” “sick parents,” and “bullying.” These were all created in response to members’ requests.
Of course, having an author, illustrator, or organization page, posting photos and news and articles, and providing book news … these are available to site visitors throughout the world thanks to the Internet.
And, we’re planning to replicate our events throughout the country in 2009. Watch for plans to be announced.
Julie: The CLN website is so well organized and inviting. Who is visiting the site? How much web traffic does the site receive?
Vicki: CLN has more than 40,000 unique site visitors each month from everywhere in the world. In December 2008, our visitors came from Japan, Canada, Taiwan, Sweden, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon … and those are just the top ten. Our statistics show that many visitors spend more than five minutes on the site, with nearly 20% spending an hour or more. That’s a long time in WebWorld!
We’ve had a lot of teachers and media specialists tell us that the CLN site is the home page for the computers in their schools. They trust the books and information we have listed on the site … we take that responsibility seriously.
Julie: You work to advance the careers of many children’s authors/illustrators through CLN and through your authors’ promotion business, Winding Oak. What advice do you have for writers and artists who are just starting out? For those who are published?
Vicki: Just recently, we’ve had the mutability of the publishing world underlined for us once again. We talked at our book club about the big changes at children’s book publishers in December 2008 and one media specialist asked, “This doesn’t mean the end of children’s books, does it?” No, because one way or another, there are children’s literature enthusiasts who understand how important books and reading are to the future of our world, and we know that new books must be published to keep readers’ appetites satisfied.
When CLN began in 2001, we saw that publishers were pulling back on their support for authors, illustrators, and books. We knew that these services were essential and they’d have to be provided by others. Writers don’t write books because they want to become promoters, publicists, or graphic designers. Illustrators don’t work diligently on their art in order to be talk show guests or worry about maintaining a website. We believe that the more room we provide for book creators to do what they do best, while letting supportive experts help with other parts of the business, the more quickly and reliably we’ll read new, wonderful books from our favorite authors and illustrators.
Advice? Treat your work seriously. Understand that it is a business. You’re good at writing, art, creativity, and you may not enjoy accounting, legal matters, publicity, and promotion, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore those aspects of your business. Get organized. Set up a schedule for doing what you can to promote your work. Be prepared well in advance of your book’s release. Budget your expenses so you can hire experts to assist you. Make it easy on yourself. Seek out the company of other professionals who treat you as the artist you are. Be confident. Respect what you do so others will do the same. Preserve lots and lots of creative time … the best way to move your career forward is to publish more good books.
Julie: How does one become a member of CLN? What are the benefits of membership?
Vicki: You can join online at www.childrensliteraturenetwork.org by clicking on “Join.” Basic membership is $40. If you’d like an author or illustrator page, or an organization page (your organization has something to do with children’s literature, reading, or writing), then membership is $90 per year. We have web editors who will set those pages up for you and maintain them.
Benefits of membership include members’ news, an online magazine called RADAR, members-only events, discounts on books, and the support of a networking organization that understands why you love children’s literature.
Julie: Thanks so much for being with us today, Vicki, and for all the work you do within the children’s literature community!
Vicki: Julie, thanks for asking me. We admire the work that you, and the people involved with children’s and teen books, do on a daily basis. You’re our heroes!