UW prof Eliza Dresang is a champion of children's literature
A chat with UW professor Eliza Dresang, who chairs a national committee that chooses the American Library Association's list of notable children's books.
Seattle Times book editor
Lit life |
Imagine there's something you just can't live without. Chocolate truffles. Aquamarines. Books. Then imagine that every delivery day of the year, the postman dumps a half-dozen packages of same on your doorstep. Soon you're looking for places to put them until you can find time to open them. Soon you may wonder if love will endure.
Eliza Dresang is such a person, and so far, she still loves books — to be specific, children's books. A University of Washington Information School professor, Dresang chairs a prestigious and influential literary committee that chooses the American Library Association's list of notable children's books. She traveled to Boston last week to lead a four-day marathon discussion that will determine which of 2,000 or so books submitted in the past year will be named one of 80 or so Notable Children's Books.
Today the American Library Association announces the winners of the Newbery and Caldecott medals and other top awards in children's literature (go to www.ala.org). Tuesday, Dresang's committee will announce their more extensive list of "notable" books. Winning the Newbery is like winning the lottery, but getting on the "notable" list is still harder than getting into Harvard. It means your book winds up on purchase lists of schools, libraries and bookstores. Indeed, the committee seeks out creative or cutting-edge books that "might not come to the attention of teachers and parents and librarians without this recognition," says Dresang.
Like many bibliophiles, Dresang's devotion to books began early; as a child, "I wanted to be a teacher, but I always loved libraries." She's written books about children's books; she was teaching at Florida State University when she was recruited by the UW to become the first Beverly Cleary Professor in Children and Youth Services at the Information School (which includes the library school), landing at the UDub in January 2009.
Dresang's committee does some winnowing throughout the year — the final discussion starts with 180 books (each book gets six minutes). Like almost no other literary competition, the four days' worth of three-hour meetings are open. Publishers are there with their notebooks and their Blackberries, and they "get very upset if something is said that's not correct ... an editor could be Twittering or texting to an author, 'You won't believe what's being said about you.' "
Despite (or because of) the deluge, Dresang is bullish on the evolving scope and form of children's books. People you "might never have heard about" have become subjects of nonfiction books, such as Annette Kellerman, an Australian woman with a crippling childhood illness who became a champion swimmer (the biography "Mermaid Queen"). They have necessarily become more like information on the Web, more interactive and appealing.
"I don't think there's any war between technology and reading," says Dresang. "Reading is becoming a much more social activity. It always has been, but more so now."
The 2010 list of notable children's books will be posted sometime this week at www.ala.org/alsc (click on Breaking News).
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@
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