Welcome to Library Lions interviews. Author, Debby Dahl Edwardson, has joined us today to Roar for Libraries!
Debby is the author of My Name is Not Easy Marshall Cavendish/Amazon 2011, A National Book Award Finalist. (Click HERE to hear Debby reading from the book at the National Book Awards)
We'll explore more of Debby's books below. First let's hear her Roar for Libraries!
Library Love When You Were A Cub
One of my earliest memories is a vivid memory of standing before a tall wall filled with books. I didn’t know how to read but I understood, even then, that books contained codes, keys to stories and invitations to wonderful journeys. Oh how I longed to crack those codes and accept those invitations! As I grew older, I discovered that books were indeed passports to new worlds and I savored the experience of getting lost within the covers of a book.
The smell of a library was like an exotic tonic to me.
Today, when I sign books for young readers, I often write, “Read the world!”
Whale Snow cover
More Library Love
I often wish I had chosen to be a librarian because libraries feel like home to me and, in fact, many of my writer friends are librarians. When I visited my daughters at Dartmouth a few years ago and walked into Sanborn Library, with its deep easy chairs, sheltered spaces and green vistas (with afternoon tea!) I thought for sure I had died and gone to heaven. In my theology, heaven looks a lot like a good library.
I guess you could say that libraries are at the metaphorical center of my world; a visual representation of my place in the world. I live in a very remote area of the country—Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost community on the North American continent. We are far from the publishing centers of the world but we do have a good library and I’ve have had the privilege, over the last 35 years, of watching this library grow from a one room collection of books in the front of a Bingo hall to a spacious and beautiful facility overlooking the stunning tundra of the high arctic.
Tuzzy Library is now a consortium library serving a region the size of Minnesota. I always feel a sense of homecoming when I walk into this library.
The walls of my home look like libraries too!
Funding for libraries, especially school libraries, is currently under threat. As an author, what are your thoughts about that?
Oh dear. Don’t get me started. I tend to get rabid on this subject. I have testified at the state level about library funding, blogged about it and ranted about it at the local level as president of the school board.
Libraries are the foundation of education. With commercialized reading programs that turn reading into something akin to a health check up involving testing and probing and the prescriptions, it should be no surprise to any of us to learn that we are turning out fewer and fewer students who read for the sheer joy of reading and are able to engage in the critical thinking a good book engenders. Why can’t people understand that there is only one prescription for turning children into readers and lifelong learners? It’s an old one but it still works.
All it takes to turn a child into a reader is one good book. And all it takes to connect children to books is one good library and one good librarian. Every school should have this as a bare minimum because every child deserves it. It is the promise of public education and the fact that we are moving further and further away from this promise should be a call for national concern. If we are not willing to fund libraries, we will get what we pay for—or fail to pay for.
A Lion’s Pride of Programs
I write from a remote and marginalized culture, the Inupiat (Inuit) culture of northern Alaska. My first two novels, Blessing’s Bead and My Name is Not Easy, were historical novels set within this cultural context. I happen to believe that the history of Native American peoples should be taught in every school in the country. Maybe teachers don’t teach it because they never learned it themselves and it is hard to find books that portray it in ways that are accurate and authentic. I hope that my books help fill in this gap in some small way. I have appeared in libraries from Hanover, New Hampshire
(Hatsy MacGraw, writer and librarian at Bernice A Ray School in Hanover, New Hampshire),
to Ketchican, Alaska and I am forever grateful to the librarians who read, blog about and book talk my books for the benefit of both students and their teachers. And I thank those who have hosted my visits. I know it makes a huge difference when students get to meet a “real” live author. It makes books come alive for them, I think, and it validates their own writing, as well.
Librarian Erin Hollingsworth and Poet Joan Naviyuk Kane.
I’d like to give a special shout out to Alaskan librarians who have put two of my three books on Alaska’s Battle of the Books list. We Alaskan children’s writers are not a huge group and I love knowing that our books are celebrated in Alaskan schools. I always say that books are both mirrors and windows. The window that opens the world of reading for a young child must also be the mirror where that child first sees his or her own reflection between the covers of a book.
Marginalized cultures and communities often have few books that serve as mirrors for young readers and reading rates reflect this. I am glad to see that my books, thanks to the help of librarians, are reaching these readers. And I am glad to see, as well, that my books are opening the world up a bit wider for readers everywhere, again thanks to librarians.
I recently spoke at the Pacific Northwest Library Association convention. I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about one of my passions—multicultural literature and the growing multiracial/multicultural face of this country. During this talk, I showed the cover of my book, Blessing’s Bead.
Blessing’s Bead is the story of an Inupiaq girl but the cover features a photo of a girl who does not look the way we expect an Inupiaq girl to look. Some people thought that perhaps the cover of this book was “white washed” by the publisher. In fact--as I told the audience at PNLA--this girl is Inupiaq. She is my own daughter and is part Inupiaq and part white.
To me, her photo is reflective of the new multiracial face of America. I was heartened by all the people who came up after my talk to share their diverse multiracial and multicultural heritages, heritages which we are just beginning to see, in increasing numbers, reflected in books. My thanks to those librarians who celebrate these books.
In closing, I have one parting memory from my time at the National Book Award ceremony in New York City where I was honored as a finalist for the National Book Award for my book My Name is Not Easy.
Debby with author Nikki Grimes at National Book Awards.
What an honor it was sit at Cipriani’s that November evening surrounded my many of my own writing heroes and mentors—people like John Ashbery, whose poetry was one of the beacons along the long and sometimes dark road of my writing apprenticeship. My heart was filled with gratitude at the fact that I had been invited to sit at the table with such a distinguished audience, to watch a writer like Ashbery accept the 2011 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In introducing Ashbery, Ann Lauterbach mentioned the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration, which was happening right across the street from where we sat. “We are occupying Wall Street,” she announced and everyone cheered.
May libraries, books and book people continue to occupy our hearts and minds!
Let’s Link Up
Link to the reading at the NBA: http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2011_ypl_edwardson.html#.UqIr9GRiJws
Link to the My Name is Not Easy trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcsxHUgdymQ
Link to my school district:
Thank you, Debby, for your terrific interview! It was an honor to have you here on Library Lions.
Love Libraries? Give a Roar in “Comments” below.
Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Contact Janet at firstname.lastname@example.org for an interview slot.