There’s one question I get asked repeatedly — and it’s the same question I often find myself shying away from answering: why did you start reviewing children’s books? There’s a simple answer, I suppose. But there’s also a very long one. So long, in fact, that sometimes giving you the simple answer feels like a cop-out. I’ve been at this blog thing for nearly three years now, and I’ve built up quite an incredible and loyal community, so I guess it’s time to share the long and short of it.
The short answer is easy: I love the written word. Ever since I was a little girl, reading was a visceral experience for me. I found power in books — a transcendent force that plucked me from my pink flowered bedroom and placed me squarely in the midst of every story I read. I found pieces of myself in every book I picked up, and I loved reading so much that I began writing my own stories too. Words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. They were, and still are, an integral part of my life.
But I’m not giving you the whole truth if I stick to this response. So here’s the long answer.
Though I loved reading, I couldn’t actually make it my career, right? I couldn’t read for a living. Or could I? Be a lawyer, some said. All you’ll do is read and write, they said. So I listened. It seemed like a perfect fit, and I thought being an attorney would be incredible. Reality check? It was not. For me, being a lawyer was wholly unsatisfying, and I felt stifled by my inability to be creative. My career felt like a chore, and while I know many people feel this way, I really struggled with it.
But then I got married, and I shoved that dissatisfaction away. Shortly thereafter I had my first beautiful boy (who we call “Pickle” on the blog) and then a second one (“Bo.”) And then the walls came crashing down around me when, at ten days old, Bo suffered from a perinatal stroke. A stroke? I didn’t even know kids - much less infants - could have strokes. But there I was, with a baby that needed significant intervention, and that was my new reality.
Instead of Mommy and Me classes, I spent every day rushing my sweet infant across town from therapy appointments to doctor appointments and then back for more therapy. I learned more about the inner workings of the brain, gross and fine motor skills than I’d ever cared to know, and I came home every day feeling lost and scared. Only one thing felt right during these hellish months: story. Reading to my sweet boy seemed like the one thing in our suddenly off-kilter world that I could make sense of. It was the one thing I could still control. We read about the significance of perseverance and the importance of embracing our unique characteristics. I put much emphasis on the notion that however we may look, whatever challenges we may face, we are all human, plain and simple. And of course, I read him stories to make sure he knew how much he was loved: truly, wholly and deeply.
I went back to work when Bo was about six months old, only to rediscover an old friend: dissatisfaction. It manifested in a different way though. Here I was on a daily basis asking Bo to put his best self forward. I was challenging him with exercises, pushing him to learn to crawl, walk and simply move appropriately, making him work when I knew it was downright hard. Yet all this time, I was pursuing a career where I knew I wasn’t the best version of me. I wasn’t challenging myself, I wasn’t pursuing my passions, and I wasn’t chasing my dreams because of one simple fact: I was terrified.
And then it hit me. I was a total hypocrite.
How could I possibly ask my son to persevere when things got tough, to be the best kid he could possibly be, when I wasn’t doing those same things myself? It was an awakening. As I grappled with these tough questions, I began reading and writing profusely. I bought way too many picture books, picked up old manuscripts, began new ones and, kind of as a fluke, put together a private facebook page where I began sharing our favorite picture books with friends who were constantly asking me for recommendations. It felt gratifying to share the stories that helped my own family grow and laugh. And every day that I wrote, I felt stronger, happier, less afraid, and more grounded.
When that small facebook group went from 20 friends to 200 group members in the span of two days, someone told me to start an Instagram page. So I did, and when that took off, I began my blog. And guess what happened next? The school where both of my kids were in the early childhood program was looking for a librarian -- someone who knew children’s literature, loved kids, and had a passion for reading and literacy. I got the job. It would be a huge change, but Bo was doing great, and I felt ready. A month later, I traded in the courthouse for the schoolhouse, and from the very first second, I knew I was home.
Months later, my husband and I decided our marriage was no longer working, and we got a divorce. The feeling that I’d failed my boys was excruciating. But, once again, I found solace in story — and in sharing the stories that helped us with others. Seeking out picture books to help us find our inner courage, cope with challenging emotions, and accept a new family structure became even more important than ever, and I credit extraordinary books with getting us through these challenging times. Truth be told, books still get us through the tough days, because that’s what story does. Whether we have physical or mental differences, non-traditional family structures, fears about going to bed or school or the doctor — every time we opened the cover of a book, we were on level playing field. We were all on the same first page. There was nothing more magical - or more meaningful - than sharing stories with my boys and letting the words and illustrations gently spark important conversations we needed to share with one another. Stories became the foundation of our home and the heart of our little threesome. They helped us heal. And there has become nothing more fulfilling for me than sharing the stories that have crept their way into our hearts with you, in the hopes that your children and your students will find as much meaning - and as much hope - in them as we have.
So there you have it, the (extremely) long and (not at all) short of it, the perfectly imperfect path that got me here, with you, doing what I love. And even though it’s had ebbs and flows, even though some days I’m scared out of my mind, I’ve never looked back. I’m all in. And I’ve never, ever felt happier.
Thanks for letting me share the whole truth.