In the midst of all the fighting about how lit blogs were going to tear down the literary universe before print reviewers had a chance to save it (see posts here and here for more than you ever wanted to know about that) I realized that most print reviewers had very little idea of what goes on in the lit blogosphere. There were the absolutely crazy things like comparing lit bloggers to maggots, or assigning us all to basements in Terre Haute (and the fun just keeps coming with the recent Library Journal column that suggests we are all disturbed people with 18 cats) but more often than not I kept reading that lit bloggers didn't do enough critical writing or did too much linking or wrote reviews that were too short (or too long) and most commonly that none of us had qualified "experience". (Although to date no one has been able to explain just what the academic or professional requirements are to be a book reviewer.)
What everyone seemed to be missing is that the lit blogosphere (and I mean the functioning portions of it - the people that write five days a week on multiple subjects and are dedicated to publishing good solid content) works best when taken as a whole - when a viewer can build their own list of sites that includes blogs that publish literary criticism, blogs that provide assorted literary links, blogs that interview authors frequently and blogs that focus on the publishing industry. (Keeping in mind of course that most of the blogs I've linked to do almost all of these things on any given day.) (Jenny D.'s being the perfect example of this.)
In other words, you can't visit my site on any single day and think that you know what it's all about; Chasing Ray does not work that way, and neither do most sites in the lit blogosphere.
Beyond all that though, one glaring omission from the blogs and print reviewers debate was the significant contribution that the kidlitosphere makes to the national literary conversation. Everyone who reads book reviews knows that children's books do not receive the same attention as titles for adult readers and everyone who has children knows how frustrating it can be to find good books for their kids. We rely heavily on recommendations from friends, the help of librarians and the occasional print review. What we really want to know though, is where to find a list of good dinosaur books for a five-year old, or great historical mysteries for a 12-year old (or a unique summer reading list for teenage girls!)
We want specifics, and we would like it sooner rather than later.
This is the kind of information that is living and breathing in the kidlitosphere everyday, as librarians, booksellers, reviewers, writers, parents and fans of the young adult, middle grade and picture book genres read, review and recommend title after title after title. We do it on a scale that is not happening in print publications and because we do it real time, because Leila is reading a book that I'm reading and Kelly is thinking about reading and Gwenda is planning to read then we are all commenting at each other's blogs about what we liked or didn't like or were surprised by. We tell you who the book might work for ("recommended for fans of XXX") and what you should watch out for ("sexual content puts this title in the high school range") and we look off the beaten path - all the time. Those of us who occupy space in the kidlitosphere know that authors who write for children and teens do not get the level of attention they deserve, (and please don't throw JK Rowling in my face - yep, she deserves the love but she's not the only one deserving it!), and so we try to change that with every review we write.
Because I review both for children and adults (for example this month's Bookslut has my YA column like always as well as two nonfiction reviews for adults) I can see what the kidlitosphere does and how everyone else seems to be missing it. So I decided a couple of months ago to enlist several other kidlit bloggers (more than 15) into putting together a week of author interviews that would hopefully show not only what the kidlitosphere can do, but also what the lit blogosphere can do. Am I suggesting we are better than print publications with this project? No - but we are more versatile and with the Summer Blog Blast Tour (SBBT) I hope that we can show just one way that the blogosphere can accomplish a great and worthy task with relative ease, and get the word out on a lot of excellent writers in the process.
Seriously, just watch what we can do.
Starting next Sunday, with an interview posted at Finding Wonderland with 2006 NBA finalist and Printz Award winner Gene Yang, there will be multiple blogs in the kidlitosphere conducting multiple interviews for the following week. We will average ten interviews a day with authors like Justine Larbalestier, Brent Hartinger, David Brin, Hilary McKay, Christopher Golden, Kazu Kibuishi, Chris Crutcher, Holly Black, Kirsten Miller and Shaun Tan. Between Yang's interview on Sunday and the last one with Justina Chen Headley on Saturday there will be over 50 author interviews posted. These authors include multiple genres (SF, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Drama), multiple formats (prose, graphic novel, manga) and for mutliple audiences (boys and girls, straight and gay). Many of the authors agreed to more than one interview although fans should not be worried - the bloggers were careful to make sure that different questions were asked each time. In the end we hope to provide a wealth of information about how these authors create, the kind of books they write and what they have to offer to new readers and long time fans.
We plan, quite simply, to rock the literary world.
I know this is just one small step, that it is more of a beginning then a grand and majestic statement. But along with everyone else who writes about books for kids I also know that if they do not engage readers now - if they do not find books when they are young that they deeply love - then all the campaigns to save newspaper book reviews in the world will not matter. This generation, the young generation, must be readers if you want them to care about any sort of literary conversation as adults. We get them reading now by showing them books that are perfect for them - books that speak to them - books that will matter forever to them.
If they are book lovers at the age of 12 then really, they are book lovers forever.
This is the first big way I could think of to try and accomplish that goal; by shedding light on a big group of innovative and wonderful authors who have written a lot of great books. We decided to call our project the Summer Blog Blast Tour and we hope it is successful. Check back here on Friday for a full schedule of authors' names and links, by day, to the sites that will be interviewing them. Every participating site will link to the other interviews all week.
In the end I fully expect some people to comment that author interviews are unnecessary or that we are not critical enough or that we should have used our time differently. I do not for a moment think we are going to impress or even satisfy everybody.
But really - I don't care.
The SBBT is about showing what the lit blogpshere can do like no other aspect of the literary world and in this particular case, it's about how the kid lit bloggers can help to advance the cause of getting more kids to read. That's why we are at this party in the first place and if this is what we can bring to the table, well make room - because we are showing up in a very big way!