Author of children's picture books as well as books to help teach literacy, Esmé Raji Codell will sit on the panel at the IRA Annual Convention's closing general session on Wednesday, March 2, with Laura Numeroff, Linda Sue Park, and Rita Williams-Garcia. Reading Today asked her about her passions, favorites, and perspectives on reading and literacy education.
Reading Today: What got you interested in writing books for children and/or young adults?
Esmé Raji Codell: I started writing intentionally for children (especially intermediate aged children, ages 9-12) after I wrote my books for adults, Educating Esmé and How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. I noticed as a result of writing books for grown-ups, I ended up talking to adults a lot, which was okay...but I was an elementary teacher at heart, and missed talking with children. So I started focusing on creating books for that audience, so I would be sent to speak with them more often. That trick worked.
RT: What do consider your best book to date and why?
ERC: Come on, not a fair question, anyone knows that. It's like asking about a "favorite" book or song or person; different ones work at different times in life. I am very lucky that all of my books so far have been my best for someone. I am personally very especially proud of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, because it was a labor of love and I really believe it is more than a book, it is a remarkable tool for using children's books to equalize education, and to make anyone who reads it an expert in children's literature. My picture books, The Basket Ball and Fairly Fairy Tales, are what I would want to read in the school library story time. I think Sahara Special speaks to a lot of kids who feel labeled and to urban kids, and Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year reached a lot of readers and helped them feel less alone through a very difficult and universal teaching experience; I think with the new guide full of pragmatic advice for first year teachers in the new edition, it will help even more. One of my personal favorite books I wrote, and one of my best, Sing a Song of Tuna Fish, about growing up in the 1970's, is out of print. I wrote it to be used as a mentor text to help kids write and celebrate their everyday lives. Whatever book I am writing, I have teachers and how books are actually used by teachers in the forefront of my mind. I hope each book will be helpful and make someone laugh through challenge or adversity. Then I know that book is the best.
RT: What can attendees at IRA Chicago expect to hear from you?
ERC: As a dedicated Chicago Public School educator with one foot in the thick of teaching and another in the world of publishing, I think I bring a unique perspective to conversations about children's literature and how it comes to life in schools and homes. I look forward to sharing a panel with talented children's book authors, and talking about how my own Chicago Public School teacher inspired me.
Esmé Raji Codell Will Be There…Will You?