It’s been a long time since my last post, but I have an excellent excuse. I’ve been preparing for the launch of Rereading Our Childhood, a podcast where my friend Deborah Kalb and I revisit books we read as children.
Deborah and I met in college and have been talking about books ever since. We’ll continue this conversation on the podcast, revisiting our childhood favorites (and sometimes not-so-favorites) and assessing how well they hold up from our present-day vantage point. We’ll delve into the lives of the writers, discuss what the kids in the books are reading, and weigh in on whether we’d recommend the books to children today (not always an easy call, even for some books we loved as children).
Deborah is the author of the series The President and Me, in which children travel in time and meet early American presidents. I’m not a children’s writer myself,* but children’s literature is a longstanding interest of mine, reflected on this blog with holiday children’s book roundups from 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1922 and my post on pioneering children’s librarian Annie Carroll Moore.**
We’re launching this podcast at a moment when, in the name of protecting children, books dealing with gender identity, race, and other “controversial” topics are being removed from the shelves of public libraries and school libraries around the United States. Most of the banned children’s books are relatively recent, but some date from our childhood. (A recent PEN America report provides an overview of the situation.)
On the positive side, children’s literature has become much more diverse since our childhood, when, as we’ll discuss, almost all children’s authors and almost all characters in children’s books were white. The recent graphic above shows that much has changed since that time, but that book characters are still (once you take “animals and others” out of the equation) mostly white. The lack of representation in the books of our childhood will inevitably be reflected in the books we talk about, but we’ll seek out the exceptions.
During the period when Deborah and I were growing up—the 1960s and 1970s—the shelves of school libraries and the children’s rooms at public libraries*** included a higher proportion of books that had been published a decade or more ago than seems to be the case today. Our childhood reading went back to the 1920s and 1930s, with an occasional pre-1920 classic. This gives us access, in this project, to books spanning half a century or more.
On our first episode, we discuss Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume’s 1970 classic of adolescence. We talk about our opinions of the book then and now (preview: I was and am a big Blume fan but not such a big fan of Margaret herself) and its impact on our lives. We look into the Blume moment currently underway, with a feature film of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in theaters now and other film and TV productions in the works. We discuss Blume’s advocacy against book banning, which her own books have been subjected to.
Preparing for the podcast has been quite a learning experience. Starting a podcast turns out to be way harder than starting a blog, although my memory of the challenges that presented may have dimmed. There’s editing**** and distribution and artwork and music and show notes and—something I never used to think about at all and now think about all the time—getting your chair not to squeak.
The world of a hundred years ago and the world of twentieth-century children’s books are different, but I imagine that there’s a lot of overlap in terms of people’s interest, so I hope some of you will join Deborah and me on our latest adventure. I don’t want to give away too much in terms of specific books, but I can tell you that spying and witchcraft and crime solving and dancing and haunting will be involved!
Rereading Our Childhood is hosted at Buzzsprout, and you can listen to it on Spotify, Apple, Google, and other podcast platforms.***** The website, with show notes and links to the episodes, is at www.rereadingourchildhood.com. We’re on Twitter at @RereadingPod. We’d love to hear from you with your thoughts about the podcast or memories of your own childhood favorites.
Now that the podcast is up and running, I look forward to having more time to return to the world of 100 years ago!
*Apologies to my childhood self for not living this dream.
**The artwork for the podcast and the podcast’s website, with the girl reaching for a book, is from a 1921 Children’s Book Week poster by Jessie Willcox Smith, whose work is frequently featured here. (The same illustration was used on the poster for the first Children’s Book Week in 1919.)
***I had access to wonderful public libraries in the various places I lived as a child, but the most extraordinary one was the I.M. Pei-designed library in Columbus, Indiana, with a Henry Moore sculpture in front.
****I got extremely stressed out over this before throwing up my hands and deciding to use a professional editor, at least for now.
*****If you can’t find the podcast at your podcast platform or if you run into any technical difficulties, please let me know, here or through the podcast website.