In Which I Conduct Many Interviews


The National Book Awards Ceremony is this Wednesday.

The Finalist Reading is tomorrow. (You can watch the webcast here.)

I interviewed all five finalist authors of Young People’s Literature, and I asked them about their first remembered bedtime stories. This is what they said.

(Click through the names for the rest of the interview.)

Kathi Appelt: My father read Rudyard Kipling’s poetry to me; in my deepest memories, I hear his voice reciting “Mandalay” and “Gunga Din” and all of those old poems. When I’m quiet, I can still hear my dad, still hear Brother Rudyard.  

Cynthia Kadohata: My father usually wasn’t around for bedtime because he worked such long hours, and I don’t believe my mother read to us or told us stories. I’ve told my son, Sammy, every story I can think of when we have our pre-bedtime life talk that I think we both really, really enjoy. 

Tom McNeal: My mother tells me that whenever she would take out a book to read to me at bedtime, I would say that I wanted a story “from her mouth.” Meaning a story that she made up. Evidently I knew even at that early age that she was the real storyteller in the family. And she made it even better by “drawing” illustrations or maps on my back while she told her tale. Her fingers would trace the progress of the story’s hero here and there, and draw the castle or forest or towering mountain that the hero was approaching. She continued this tradition with our sons, who would go to her house and ask for a “back story.” I suppose one of these days they’ll learn that backstory has another important, yet less charming, meaning.

Meg Rosoff: My mother was a wonderful reader—all our early bedtime stories were courtesy of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. To this day, iambic pentameter makes me incredibly drowsy.

Gene Luen Yang: My mom used to tell me Monkey King stories at bedtime. My favorite were about how he peed on stuff.

I didn’t get to interview the other authors on this year’s (first ever) NBA longlist. Instead I’ll list them yet again. Go forth and read them.

Kate DiCamillo, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures 

Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots

Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Summer Prince

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

Anne Ursu, The Real Boy