Friday, 7 September 2012

What does a children's book specialist do?

We interviewed Amelia Vahtrick who is the children's book specialist at our local bookshop Better Read Than Dead. Amelia has helped us select many books and she also hosts a great party at the bookshop on National Bookshop Day (she even dresses up!).

This is a photo of Amelia at work, dressed up for the release of a book called The Night Circus.

What does a children's book specialist actually do?

Well my main job, the one that makes sure I can continue to keep myself in books, is that I am the children's manager of the bookshop Better Read Than Dead. At the shop I am responsible for choosing which books we stock, meeting with publishers to hear about new releases, organising author visits to schools, talking to librarians and of course, being on hand for customers who need any advice about children's books. A huge part of the job is reading the latest children's books - we will hopefully get copies about three months in advance of publication so that by the time the books are published I know which ones I like and want to recommend.

I have other side-things going on which are outside the shop such as freelance reviewing of children's books, working on a board of children's booksellers who write a 'Kids Reading Guide' every year and working with the Children's Book Council of Australia. The Kids Reading Guide comes out in November each year and has reviews of recently and soon to be published books which as a group we have decided are our picks for the end of the year.

I used to work with the Northern Sydney branch of the CBCA when I lived in that area and we organised author talks at schools, afternoon tea with an author events and a big 'Lunch with the Stars' during Children's Book Week - the third week in August each year. Basically all these different jobs involve reading a lot of children's books and really getting to know what is being published.

How did you become a children's book specialist?

In the suburb where my parents live was a bookshop and a children's bookshop owned by the same man. My sister had worked in the general bookshop for a few years so I knew the owners and when they needed someone for the children's shop they thought of me. I was just happy for a job in any bookshop so I didn't mind that it was the children's bookshop or anything like that. Once I started working there I completely fell in love with children's books as a whole. What started as a weekend job while I was going through uni transformed into a real passion for me. 

What are your favourite books and tell us a bit about why they are your favourites (we know this is a hard question! It's so hard to decide favourites, we find).

Well one of my absolute favourite authors is Tamora Pierce. She writes fantasy novels set in a Medieval-ish setting where some people have magic. Her protagonists are always girls who defy the norm. Her very first series is about a girl called Alannah who, when told she has to go learn to be a proper lady so she can bag a husband, cuts off her hair, poses as a (scrawny) boy called Alan and trains to become a knight. All Tamora Pierce's series have really amazing heroines in them and I pretty much read her over and over from the age of twelve to about fifteen. I still get excited about new Tamora Pierce books coming out in fact!

In the world of picture books, I love everything by Oliver Jeffers, particularly Lost & Found, everything by Colin Thompson - a great author who demonstrates that picture books are not just for little kids, and Tohby Riddle. [Lemonade Learners: we like all of those authors, too!]

One other teen novel I just adore is called The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E.Lockhart. Frankie is a fifteen year old budding feminist who, when told that the secret society at her school has always been boys-only and will continue to be boys-only, decides to take it over from within. Frankie has such an authentic voice for a fifteen-year-old girl who wants to be taken seriously but also has a boyfriend for the first time.

Oh and one more! I just listened to the audio book of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and it was just brilliant. It is written in letters from a Scottish girl who has been taken prisoner by the Nazis in occupied France. She has decided she can't take the torture any more, is giving in and letting them know what they want. A really amazing story of two girls in WWII. I listened to the audio as I was given it for review and let me tell you, you get some strange looks when you just start crying on the bus with earphones in and no book in sight. Got a few strange looks that day.

You can probably see a bit of a trend here - I just love love love anything with fantastic females in it. [Lemonade Learners: So do we!!]
What is your favourite city in the world and why?
So much easier than the favourite book question to answer! Paris Paris Paris! [Lemonade Learners: Did you see Madeline there, or her dog Genevieve?] My dad lived in Paris for a couple of years and as a family we would visit about four times a year and ever since then I have been obsessed. I try to save enough to go over every couple of years now. If you look at the fact that my two majors at university were French and Art History you can see that Paris is a pretty perfect meeting of those two things! It is such a great city to walk in, it has my second favourite bookshop in the world (after mine of course!) Shakespeare & Co, and it has such a fascinating history. And amazing food! You can never underestimate the importance of good pastries. [Lemonade Learners: we are agreeing again!]

Thank you, Amelia.
Have a look at Amelia's blog Heroines I Met and Loved where she has written about some heroines we love too, like The Paper Bag Princess and Princess Smartypants.


1 comment:

  1. What an amazing woman Amelia is! Sounds to me like she needs to be a heroine in a book herself!