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  • Writer's pictureStephanie

Let Me Tell You a Story

Last year, I was on a run, zoning out, and listening to an episode from the Picturebooking podcast that dated back to 2015 when suddenly I heard something that made me stop running completely and snap to attention.


Not by name, mind you, but Julie Danielson, who was the guest on the podcast, was telling the host about an article she had read in the New York Times written by a mother who was tired of reading out loud to her kids.

I was that mother. I wrote that piece. I admitted to being tired of reading aloud to my kids.

Julie went on to say that because of that piece, she wrote one in response at the Kirkus Review of Books.

Now, Julie's piece wasn't a takedown attacking me for writing what I did. Instead, it pointed out how the books I railed against in my Motherlode piece were twenty years old and went on to talk about how many amazing books are being written and published today. All of this is what she discussed with the Picturebooking podcast host.

Standing there in the middle of the sidewalk, earbuds in my ears, and hand over my mouth, I had to laugh at the craziness of life. Because four years after I wrote that Motherlode piece, I was writing picture books of my own. In fact, I was listening to the Picturebooking podcast because I was lapping up anything about the children's book inustry I could find in order to learn even more.

I had to write to Julie:

"Dear Julie,

There is nothing more surreal than listening to a podcast that talks about your industry and hearing a column you wrote mentioned. Granted, the column I wrote for the NYT Motherlode is four years old by now, and the Picturebooking podcast that you were where you mentioned is two years old, but it's still surreal.

Adding to the surreal is that you wrote about my cranky Motherlode piece at Kirkus!

Thank you for that, honestly. Thank you for your kindness and for your plea not to pile on with criticisms of my parenting. (I didn't read the angry, horrified, lambasting comments at Motherlode or at Kirkus; I've spent 15 years writing online and I had long learned it was best not to.)

I'm writing to you today for several reasons. First of all, you were 100% correct in your assessment that there were modern children's books out there to enjoy and I needed to discover them. That is so very much what I needed to do. Reading Oliver Jeffers and Peter Brown and Julie Fogliano and now so many others has brought delight to my life, not just when I am reading to my children, but also when reading them on my own.

I was so enthralled by these new books and by the new, beautiful, and complex ways people were creating children's literature, that I even wrote a piece a few years back for Avidly/LA Times Book Review about reading children's books as an adult.

In that piece, I fully admit that I had been harboring a bias against new picture books and that the bias said more about my feelings of anxiety surrounding motherhood than anything else. Thank god I had fellow mothers who had given me children's books that weren't decades old, because they were the ones who really opened my eyes to what else could be out there.

Now I go to the library and bring home slipping stacks of new books for my boys. I'm reading new MG to recommend to my 8 y.o. -- sometimes he accepts the recommendations but even if he doesn't, I got to enjoy Orphan Island or Gustav Gloom anyway -- and new picture books for my 4 y.o.. I even have a rule where I won't read a new picture book WITHOUT my 4 y.o. even if he's not yet home from school when I get back from the library. That way, I get to savor the true delight of reading a new book to him and with him.

But this is where the surreal becomes more so. The reason I was catching up on a several-years old podcast is because listening to these podcasts and reading about children's literature is now what I do professionally. I have become a children's book writer. I don't have anything out there that I can talk publicly about yet, but pretty much ever since I wrote that Avidly/LA Times piece, I have been actively pursuing this new facet of my writing career.

So once again, Julie, thank you. Thank you for your understanding and your kindness. Thank you for considering how to reach out to parents like me who were/are stuck in the dark about the new glory of children's literature.

I don't know if you ever thought twice about what happened to the mom who wrote that horrible piece for the NYT, but now you know. For the record, I don't regret writing that piece. There are still books I'd rather not read to my kids, but I can't tell you how happy I am to have now come out on the other side of it."

She wrote a very lovely response, and we had a nice back and forth about all the books we loved. I think about this podcast and email chain a lot especially because I now have two picture books coming out.


And in spring of 2021, Little Brown Books for Young Readers will publish HELLO, STAR.

Life is funny like that.

Maybe I'll write a book about it.

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