Here’s what Jesse Wilson, a dad, children’s author and teacher had to say about his love for children’s books!
Do you consider yourself an avid reader?
I am, indeed, an avid reader. I love reading so much I have an ongoing fantasy of this enormous snowstorm locking me in the house for days so I can get caught up with all the books I want to read. This may sound like Jack Nicholson in The Shining , but I assure you it’s a benign passion! The irony is that I used to read a lot more before I became a professional author and storyteller, so now I’m down to about 2 books a month. I try to balance out my reading with novels/essay collections/short story analogies. I usually will read about 5-6 children’s books a month.
What were your favorite books as a child?
I’m lucky to report that I had a great childhood (even though when I was in the grip of adolescence I thought you had a to have a bad childhood in order to write great books!) but the funny thing is, most of my great childhood memories have to do with the books that I read or that were read to me. The books my parents read to me are the ones I treasure the most. I know exactly how I felt when I listened to them still and I can even remember the way the pages smelled in my mom or dad’s hands. “Goodnight Moon,” certainly, “The Runaway Bunny,” and everything Maurice Sendak wrote, especially “Outside Over There“– so darkly brilliant, dangerous, and cozy all at the same time. These books taught me the intimacy of great stories– that words truly had the ability to make you feel wrapped in a blanket, and that these words could grow inside you and never go away, as you grew further and further away from childhood.
What are your favorite kinds of books to read to kids?
Books that are theatrical, books that are musical in their use of language, books that inspire “real-life” discussions, but mostly books that do two things: allow kids to feel like kids but also to be kids on a “higher level” where they’re reflecting on ideas that tap into a greater pool of intelligence than they were even aware of. Maurice Sendak’s work does that, for certain. I know, because I’ve tested it out on so many children I’ve worked with over the years in writing/performance workshops.
What do you think makes a good children’s book?
I also think what makes a great children’s book is that any “adult” reading it would get something out of it… in fact, maybe even more than children! That’s one of the best kept secrets, I think, of the glowing cauldron of great children’s books– they are universal and they are for everyone because they speak so richly without being so obvious (the good books anyway) about what it means to be a human being and to live a loving life full of imagination, humor, and kindness.
What are some of your kids favorite books today and why are they your favorites?
I have a step-daughter who is now 12, but I’ve had the privilege of seeing her growing up since she was 7, and she’s gone through the normal book phases that any child with an interest in reading has gone through… including the phase of not wanting to read books at all! The style or the genre may change (from fantasy to autobiography, etc), but the tone of “vulnerability” in the writing doesn’t. Since she was a little girl at 7, she’s always responded to stories that are from the heart. She switches off automatically when the writing feels too showy–I’ve seen it. Even stories that I’ve loved over the years and wanted to share with her that I thought were terrific, I’ve had to admit didn’t have that “vulnerability” that she’ll respond to with her whole being. So the best stories, the best books, are always the ones from the heart that feel like your best friend is talking to you. I think J.D. Salinger had a line about that in “Catcher In The Rye.” I have my step-daughter to thank for that.
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