February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YMA Medalists Applegate, Klassen Say Librarians Are Marketing Mavens

As School Library Journal caught up with Newbery and Caldecott Medalists Katherine Applegate and Jon Klassen this week—following their respective Youth Media Award wins for The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins) and This Is Not My Hat  (Candlewick) during ALA‘s annual midwinter meeting Seattle—a common theme emerged in our talks. In what surely comes as no surprise to SLJ‘s readers, both authors credited the library community for helping to champion their books to a wide circle of readers.

Plush gorilla Ivan visits his book at the Indianapolis Public Library. Photo credit: John Schumacher.

“You know what’s interesting? I’m sort of a Luddite about technology, but I embraced Twitter this year,” Applegate tells SLJ, noting that immediately after the YMA announcements, she viewed “a scary amount of tweets” discussing her win.

It’s this interactive community of online librarian fans, both independent bloggers and Tweeters, that helped boost Ivan’s visibility, she says. “It’s helped tremendously.”

Leading the charge for The One and Only Ivan has been the Nerdy Book Club as well as popular book blogger and K–5 librarian John Schumacher, who has “a huge online presence,” Applegate says.

Once Applegate’s Newbery win was announced, “My students clapped and clapped and clapped. Incredible,” Schumacher tells SLJ. “Ivan will never be forgotten.”

Applegate says she was honored when she learned that Schumacher chose Ivan as the inspiration for his book-character-on-vacation trip in 2012, an annual event that he blogs about for the kids back home. “Every year he takes a plush character from a kid’s book around on adventures, and this year he selected Ivan!” Applegate says. “He took him to meet the actual Ivan at Zoo Atlanta. John was able to go in with a couple of friends and have Ivan sign his book with a green thumbprint. Isn’t that cool?”

(“You have no idea how hard it is to find a T-shirt for a stuffed gorilla,” Applegate adds.)

Looking ahead, Applegate says she hopes her Newbery recognition means even more children will now learn the story about the real silverback gorilla named Ivan. “It’s a chance to really connect with kids and that’s really wonderful. I’m really gratified,” she tells SLJ. “I wish I had been in Seattle. But it makes me very happy that this story could make it into the world in some way.”

Meanwhile, relative newcomer to kid lit Jon Klassen says he was surprised to learn, just in the past few years since the publication of his picture book I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick, 2011), how determined librarians are in their efforts to get a book out to readers. “It’s a big deal,” he tells SLJ.

So far, the illustrator, who began his career in animation, has been relying on children’s book collaborator Mac Barnett—who was also named, along with Klassen, winner of a Caldecott Honor this week for Extra Yarn (HarperCollins)—to help guide him through this “crazy” new world, he says.

“Librarians are very important!” Klassen adds. “It’s not a marketplace angle; librarians are looking for what’s best for kids, so they have different criteria. The opinions that they give out are really thought through. They’re very passionate.” Author events have been eye-opening in this regard, he tells SLJ. “(Librarians) are very organized and they’re quick and super sharp—and smarter than you.”

And as it turns out, the experience of being an author is much more expansive—and involves much more community-building in these areas—than he originally expected.

“I like making the books, but if you get lucky with one, you end up talking about it more than you thought you would,” he tells SLJ. “There’s a cycle that I’m slowly learning about.” However, Klassen says, “Being busy following these books around? That’s the best problem to have in the world.”

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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