Stephanie Whelan visiting the The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter, located at NYPL's main library on 42nd Street & curated by Leonard Marcus.Stephanie Whelan has been the Children's Librarian at the Seward Park Library since 2008. The branch is set in the east corner of Seward Park, the first permanent, municipally built playground in the United States.
This Lower East Side neighborhood is home to a bustling, ethnically diverse community whose children make the library one of their must-go-to places to visit. As a member of NYPL's Children's Books 2013 Committee, Stephanie was able to enlist the help of many of her most inveterate readers, who check out books by the armload, to road test many newly published books this year.
You read so many books this year, did you notice any trends?
There were a number of Victorian—turn of the century—settings in books for that more experienced reader. Particularly alternate history settings such as in How to Catch a Bogle, Wild Boy and Rose. Also, the occasional steampunk alternate history like The Mesmer Menace. I've also seen an increase in science fiction stories. We're seeing futuristics like Sky Jumpers and The Silver Six; military science fiction like The Planet Thieves; school science fiction in Jedi Academy and Hyperspace High; wild and weird Sci-Fi like Pi in the Sky; and invention/discovery Sci-Fi like The Water Castle. I hope it's a trend that will will become something more in time. It's great to have more of this genre available to the next reading generation.
What are some of the books children at your branch are talking about? Any hot titles?
Rick Riordan remains exceedingly popular with my readers, as do the Dork Diary and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. You cannot keep these items on the shelf. No sooner do I set one back on a shelf or display than new hands are snagging it to read. Younger readers are still in love with Geronimo Stilton and all his many adventures. Even some of my older readers will go back to this series favorite when they want something familiar to read.
What do you love about your job?
I love being able to discover new books and stay friends with old favorites while recommending them all to readers who are just on their first encounters. I love putting a great book in the hands of a hungry reader and putting the perfect book in the hands of the challenging reader. I love sharing stories aloud from folk tales and picture books and seeing kids respond to those stories. I love the trick of taking a cynical fifth grader and proving to them I can make them laugh with the story I'm sharing. I love filling in my bookshelves, and re-shelving things only to see them fly out of the library once again. I love to see the new readers graduate to competent readers and some of them turn into voracious readers. It's the ability to share what I know and see it help a struggling parent who is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of materials available. And the delightful occasions when one of my patrons comes back to me with a book I've handed them with the demand "have you got anything else like this?"
What is one of your favorite books of 2013 that you plan to share with the children at the Seward Park Branch?
Rose by Holly Webb. "Downton abbey meets Harry Potter" (EB)Can I mention two? The first is an odd little story by Kathleen Rundell called Rooftoppers. A slightly Dickensian style tale that takes place mainly within the city of Paris. Sophie was found as a baby floating in a cello case after a shipwreck and taken in by a most unusual guardian. Sophie is convinced her mother must be out there somewhere for her to find, that since it's not completely impossible, it must be possible. This sends her on an adventure across the roofs of Paris with a handful of clues and a fragment of music. It's an oddly beautiful book that isn't exactly fantasy, but stretches the idea of historical fiction. It hasn't gotten a lot of love, but I thought it was marvelous reading fun.
The second is Rose by Holly Webb. It's an alternate history England where magic exists. Rose is a down to earth orphan who is grateful to have employment—she doesn't need magic intruding. But working in the home of a famous alchemist brings her face to face with magic and magical things on a daily basis and Rose has to admit that she might just have a bit of talent for it herself...
P.S. Some of the top circulating titles at the Seward Park Library last month were: