Today, I am excited to welcome Clara Hammett to the Cynsations Team! Clara joins us as a reporter-at-large covering the many facets of the children’s-YA community. I know that Clara’s enthusiasm for books and their creators will surely endear her to Cynsations readers.
Welcome to Cynsations! Could you tell us about your vision for your coverage here at the blog? Why did you decide to take on this role in the conversation of books?
First, thank you for inviting me aboard the Cynsations team! I’m excited to be here. Cyn was one of my advisors at VCFA and always an inspiration in her writing and the way she juggles many literary hats. I decided to take this role on because it gives me a chance to tap into my inner bookseller—or, I should say, book “matchmaker”—I am always looking for connections between books that people have enjoyed reading in the past in order to recommend a book that they will enjoy reading in the future.
This is why you should trust your real booksellers and never hesitate to give your local bookstore a call, mention what you’ve enjoyed reading, and ask for suggestions. It is also amazing when you discover a bookseller who has a similar reading taste…so anything they read, even if it is outside of your reading “comfort zone,” you might be willing to try.
As a child, trying many different books and many different types of reading is so important to cultivate good reading habits and encourage imagination and exploration through the written word. So the first thing I like to do to make a book match is ask questions. Does your child have trouble reading chapter books? Maybe they need to try a graphic novel, which is so much more visual. Perhaps they need to listen to the book at the same time they are reading the words, and that leads me to think about what children’s books are great as an audio book. Does your child only like sports books? Well, Dan Gutman has a series of time travel baseball books known as the The Baseball Card Adventure Series (HarperCollins 1997-2012), which introduces a different genre.
And now your child might be willing to pick up a book involving time travel—guess what—Dan Gutman has another series called The Flashback Four (HarperCollins 2016-2019) that involves other historical events such as The Titanic, Pompeii, the Alexander Hamilton-Burr Duel—cue the Hamilton soundtrack! These are the kind of questions I like to ask young readers and their parents in order to make a great “book match.”
Here at Cynsations I hope to be able to share books I’m loving in the hopes that you and your young reader might want to read them too.
So, you’ve worked as a bookseller and you are a writer. How have the two roles influenced or informed each other?
Yes! I worked at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi as the children’s book buyer in Oz, which is the name given to the children’s book section of the store. So not only did I have insight into what books kids wanted to read, it was also interesting to see what parents wanted to buy for their kids, and the sweet spot in-between. Adults want to read stories that they won’t get bored reading over and over again, and children love humor, adventure, and illustrations that help them feel like a confident reader.
Working at the bookstore, I was able to observe publishing trends, the various types of buyers, the books that came and went, and the books we wanted to hand to readers over and over again. As a writer, paying attention to the market is important, but more important is writing the story nearest and dearest to your heart.
As an avid reader, what two children’s-YA books are closest to your heart, those you’d lovingly place in the hands of kids in your family and community? What makes them so special?
E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (Harper & Brothers, 1952) and Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Granta, 1990) are both books that came to me at different moments of my life and influenced me as a reader, a writer, and a lover of stories. My father and I began reading Charlotte’s Web together and halfway through the book, I wanted to know what was happening faster than my dad could read to me. It’s the first book I remember holding in my hands, where words turned into characters and stories—the book that made me an independent reader!
In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Haroun’s father Rashid is a storyteller known as “The Shah of Blah.” Haroun overhears his neighbor tell his mother, “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” This story is wacky and bizarre, and as a child, the literalness amused me—i.e., the idea that stories came from an Ocean of Stories with a “story tap.” With plenty of wordplay, it is a book written for the author’s son; it is a children’s story and a story for anyone, and at the heart of it, this book is about the power of words, the power of storytelling.
This is a great interview with Vermont Public Radio if you want to know more about the book. As the book relates to me: I think I’ve been chasing that question “what’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” for the majority of my life.
What do you hope for the future of publishing for kids and teens?
It is my belief that there is a book for every child—that a “non-reader,” no matter the age, just hasn’t found the book that speaks to that child or teen. In my role here at Cynsations, I hope that my past experiences in bookselling and teaching can point you to the book you need at this moment in time.
And my hope is that publishing focuses on stories that encourage imaginative exploration and publish books that resonate with children and turn them into lifelong readers. There are so many books out there to be discovered!
Clara Hammett holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
She is from Jackson, Mississippi and is a former bookseller at Lemuria Books. She has reviewed children’s books for The Clarion Ledger newspaper and owned former children’s book review website Twenty by Jenny. She likes creating all forms of art and going for walks with her family. While she has held many jobs, her most recent one is that of mom. Her current reading stack ranges from Jane Austen to Jesmyn Ward and a lot of Sandra Boynton!
Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle-grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency. Connect with her at stephanimartinelleaton.com.