On the Shelf with Nancy Pearl
Librarian Spotlight #6
By Bianca Schulze, The Children’s Book Review
Published: January 17, 2013
Nancy Pearl has worked as both a librarian and a bookseller and is the librarian equivalent of Wonder Woman. She has been gifted with a wide range of superhuman powers; including, but not limited to, a natural ability to book talk. You can often hear this heroine fighting to get the right books into the right hands, on National Public Radio’s (NPR) “Morning Edition.” The proof of her success is in her bestselling book Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason and is visible by her standing-room-only bookstore and library events.
In 2004, Pearl became the 50th winner of the Women’s National Book Association Award for her extraordinary contribution to the world of books and she has a monthly television program Book Lust with Nancy Pearl on the Seattle Channel. We’re so honored to have spoken with Wonder Woman herself and we are delighted to share her excellent book suggestions.
Bianca Schulze: Why did you choose to be a librarian?
Nancy Pearl: First, I became a librarian because when I was a child the most important people in my life were the two children’s librarians at my local public library (the Parkman Branch Library in Detroit, Michigan) and the librarian at my elementary school (Hally, also in Detroit). The three of them (and particularly Miss Frances Whitehead, at the public library) took a very unhappy child and opened it up through the books they gave me to read. I learned that through reading I could be anyone, do anything, and go anywhere. I thought that if I wanted to make the world a better place (I was that kind of child), there was nothing better I could do than become a children’s librarian.
BS: You are now a regular commentator about books on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and a Librarian Action Figure has been modeled in your likeness. How do you think you garnered this celebrity-like status among the bookish crowd?
NP: It sometimes seems to me that my life has evolved almost by chance. That is, I never set out to be anything but a children’s librarian, but fate and good fortune intervened at various points and expanded my life. That is, I never woke up one morning and said to myself “I want to be on Morning Edition” – my appearing on it grew out of the fact that for a number of years I reviewed books on the public radio station in Tulsa, OK, and then, when I moved to Seattle in 1993, I started appearing regularly on KUOW, the public radio station here. But everything I do is really just what I’ve always done, only greatly expanded: put people together with good books to read.
BS: Which books from your childhood would you say made the greatest impact on you?
NP: It sounds strange, but one of the books that taught me about acting honorably and honestly is Robert Heinlein’s Space Cadet. I first read it when I was about 11 and have never forgotten it. In fact, many of Heinlein’s novels—Between Planets, Red Planet, and Time for the Stars—taught me about caring about other people and doing the right thing.
BS: Book Lust, your bestselling book on what to read next, covers many topics; including mother-daughter relationships. Which children’s book(s) do you believe every parent should read with his or her child?
NP: I think there are many wonderful children’s books available, and I don’t think that I could come up with a list that everyone should read. Given that, here are some of my favorites: Ferdinand the Bull, Where the Wild Things Are, The Sky Was Blue, Frog and Toad Are Friends, and Rabbit Hill: I could go on and on, but that’s what my book Book Crush was all about!
BS: In light of the recent and devastating event that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, are there any books that you personally recommend for people who are dealing with grief and loss?
NP: There are two books that I find comforting – The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia (for both children and adults) and a novel for adults by Kevin Brockmeier called The Brief History of the Dead. I think most people will find some comfort in the Buscaglia book; I have no idea if anyone else will feel the way I do about the Brockmeier novel.
NP: For four and five year olds, a couple of my favorites are Magaret Mahy’s Bubble Trouble and Barbara McClintock’s Adele and Simon. For the very youngest, I still love Jamberry and Hippos Go Berserk. Also, Chicken Soup with Rice.
BS: I’m sure that you are asked many interesting questions on a daily basis. What would you say has been the most entertaining question asked of you by a parent or a child?
NP: The question I still remember best is the first one I was asked by a child on the first day of my very first job as a librarian on the bookmobile at the Detroit Public Library. A little boy asked me for a book called “Mush, the Male Mute.” It was his favorite book, he said, he had checked it out many times. After much mulling this title over in my mind – I hadn’t ever heard of the book – and trying not to embarrass myself in front of my new boss, who had accompanied me on the bookmobile to show me the ropes on the first day, I asked the boy to please repeat the title. He did so. I mulled some more. Now keep in mind that this was pre-online catalogs (and pre-Internet, for that matter). In fact, we didn’t even have a print catalog on the bookmobile, so I couldn’t look anything up. I mulled some more. Finally it came to me: The title of the book was Mush, the Malamute. And no, I had to tell him, we didn’t have the book that day, but we would get it for him and have it ready for him the next week when the bookmobile came to his stop. Which we did.
BS: If you could be any fictional character from children’s literature, who would it be? Why?
NP: Oh, there are so many! Of course, Jo March from Little Women (I also wanted to be a writer, just like Jo). More recently, I’d like to have been Hermione, from the Harry Potter books.
To find out more about Nancy Pearl, visit: http://www.nancypearl.com
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