How Does Your Town Champion Children's Books?

As a first-gen American, the passion and support for children's books we enjoy here is breathtaking to me. In every corner of the country, you'll find someone who cares deeply about getting stories into the hands, hearts, and minds of young people. And then actually does something about it.

Okay, so your mind is racing to the complaints, cutbacks, and criticisms you've been hearing (or uttering) lately about the industry, but a New Year is a good time to take stock of the positives. I started a 12-week Tuesday blogging stint at yesterday, and here's my first stab at answering the question in the title of this post.

Admittedly, mine is an extremely lit-friendly town, but I'm fairly sure that every nook and cranny in the U.S.A. is home to someone who is dedicated to children's literature. I'd love to hear about some of your community's book champions, so leave them in the comments section and maybe I'll do a roundup post.

Our Hometown's a Hub of Children's Books

By Mitali Perkins

If you read Leonard Marcus' book Minders of Make Believe, you might start feeling wistful for the lost golden era of children's book publishing in Boston.

Gone is our heydey when Little Brown, Ticknor & Fields, and Dutton published the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Lee Burton, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Julia Ward Howe, and other local literary luminaries. It's 2009, and the heartbeat of the children's books industry is in Manhattan, not Massachusetts.

Lest you become too verklempt over this news, let me give you five reasons why those of us in Newton can still feel that we're on the A-list (okay, let's not get carried away, the B-list) when it comes to children's books.

#1: Bloggers

Within the "kidlitosphere," a thriving circle of online hubbub, you'll find links to Newton-based J.L. Bell's posts on fantasy literature for children in his Oz and Ends blog. There's my own little web-based corner, Mitali's Fire Escape, where I ruminate about "books between cultures."

And if you broaden your map search five miles, you'll locate the source of Roger Sutton's feisty, funny Horn Book blog and bookseller Alison Morris' timely ShelfTalker posts for Publisher's Weekly. Anybody else in children's book cyberworld want to confess your Newton location? I'll be happy to share your URL here.

#2: Bookstores

Newton is home to two fabulous independents recognized widely for their commitment to books and events: Newtonville Books on Walnut Street and New England Mobile Book Fair on Needham Street. Now that's richness. Oh, and we also have a Borders and a Barnes and Noble at Chestnut Hill. 84,000 people. Four bookstores with a wide selection of books for children and teens. Go ahead and brag about the ratio if you want, but better still, go buy a book or two.

#3: Library

The Newton Free Library. Our home away from homes. Browsing the new books section alone can make you pity those in other towns, and the children's section is a literary feast for families. I took our kids every Saturday when they were small, and now that they're teenagers they still love to come along (full disclosure: they head straight upstairs to check out the generous DVD collection).

#4: Authors

During a long JetBlue flight from Boston to Oakland, I tried to convince the person sitting next to me to write a teen novel. She was Newton-based Anita Diamant, author of the Red Tent, an adult book which many young adults have enjoyed.

But we already have several bona fide authors of children's books. Award-winning author Karen Day (Tall Tales and No Cream Puffs, middle grade novels published by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House) lives in Newton. And so do Sydney Taylor Honor Winner Sarah Lamstein (Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale, Boyds Mill Press) and Laya Steinberg, author of the bestselling picture book Thesaurus Rex (Barefoot Books). I'm sure there are other children's book writers and illustrators in town, so chime in and let us know of your/their existence.

#5: Publishers

Charlesbridge is still publishing books across the river in Watertown, thank goodness. A bit further, but still within biking distance, are Somerville's Candlewick, Cambridge's Barefoot Books, and Boston's Houghton-Mifflin.

But that's only a taste of why I'm glad I write, read, review, facebook, blog, and twitter from my writing nook in Newton, Massachusetts. Stay tuned over the next few Tuesdays as I share my thoughts on books and book-related events for children and teens, all from a one-and-only Newtonian's perspective.

To check out Mitali's website click here, and to follow her on Twitter click here.