Joan in Wonderland
Appointment to Newbery Medal committee is high point in professor’s lifelong love of children’s books
Photo by Dan Addison
By Brevy Cannon
Professor Joan Kindig loves reading books, especially children’s books. Shelves cover three walls of her office and hold well over a thousand children’s books and a menagerie of stuffed animal characters who sprang from those pages, including Winnie the Pooh, Toot and Puddle, the Cat in the Hat, Thomas the Tank Engine, Harriet the Spy, the Berenstein Bears, Curious George and Walter the Farting Dog.
She has spent the last 15 years working in the world of children’s books, as an elementary school librarian, a U.Va. professor of reading whose lectures are broadcast across Virginia and beyond, and as a nationally renowned lecturer who travels the country discussing every facet of teaching children to read. But the highlight of her career, as she describes it, is just ahead. From January 2006 to January 2007 she will serve on the committee that will decide the 2006 Newbery Medal winner.
The Newbery Medal is the oldest and most prestigious children’s book award in America. It is given annually, in January, for the most distinguished children’s book published the previous year by an American author. Parents put such stock in seeing the bronze Newbery Medal displayed on the cover of a book that Newbery winners never go out of print. Kindig will be one of 15 committee members who will decide the winner.
Kindig’s love of reading began when she was a child. She read all the time. She visited the library so often that, even today, she could draw a floor plan of the bookshelves in the children’s section, and point out where various books were. As a child, her favorite book was “The Ugly Cur,” essentially the ugly duckling story applied to dogs. She read it over and over. The story resonated strongly because she was the middle child and felt overlooked (though as an adult she knows she wasn’t actually overlooked). “What you read as a child is really a part of who you are when you grow up,” she explained.
Her love of reading has never waned. She majored in English at Hofstra University and then earned a master’s in English at San Francisco State. Her career after college veered away from reading for a time. In California she worked for rock ’n’ roll producer Bill Graham where she rubbed elbows with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Santana. She left that industry, in part, because as a woman in the 1960s, she was not encouraged to use her brain in her job.
After meeting her husband, Steve, and having her first child, the family moved to Charlottesville, where she earned a master’s degree in secondary English education and a doctorate in reading, both from U.Va.
While writing her dissertation, her son’s principal asked her to work as the librarian at Hollymead Elementary School. Taking classes on children’s literature at U.Va. and reading to her son had made her keenly interested in children’s literature, so she took the job and ended up working as a librarian for “eight terrific years.” Her contagious enthusiasm for reading helped some of the weakest readers in the school become hooked on books.
From there it was a natural step to take her current position as an assistant professor of reading. For the past seven years she has taught children’s literature at the University and for U.Va.’s McGuffey/TEMPO reading outreach program. McGuffey offers graduate studies in reading. TEMPO (Teaching Educators McGuffey Practicum Off-grounds) uses distance-learning technologies to offer the McGuffey curriculum to over 50 school districts across the state. Because TEMPO is a Curry School program, but the syndicating of the program is done by the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Kindig has a joint appointment with both schools.
Her taped book talks are circulated around Virginia by the TEMPO program. She gives talks state- and nationwide on all aspects of children’s literature, such as gender reading and motivating reluctant readers. She also maintains a Web site, the Virginia Center for Children’s Books, used by teachers statewide. Thanks to her unique career path, Kindig knows what kids need at the different stages of reading; she works with teachers all the time and knows what they need; and she is familiar with a huge repertoire of good books.
Her credentials have been recognized with a number of honorary appointments. She serves on the editorial board of Capitol Choices, a D.C.-based organization that makes lists of the best children’s novels published each year. Follet, the major educational publisher, asked her to create a list of books that would fulfill the requirements of the federal Reading First program. She’s also had two books dedicated to her, and another with her name hidden in the picture on the cover.
On Oct. 4 Kindig learned of her appointment to the Newbery Medal committee. “I’m still pinching myself,” she said. Her term of service will start in January. Every children’s book published during 2006 is considered for the award, and every book is read by all members of the committee. Kindig expects to read between 500 and 650 books, or more than 10 books a week. That will be more reading than she normally does, but she is all smiles at the prospect. “This will be an excuse for me to have my nose in a book all year.”
Most of the 500-plus books are weeded out during rounds of balloting, leaving about 50 books to be re-read. The three major committee meetings are held in January and June of 2006 and January 2007, when members select the winner.
Kindig has already received a schedule of the committee’s sessions during the final weekend when they make the choice — from 8 a.m. until late into the evening. But Kindig has been hoping for this opportunity each year for a long time and can’t wait to get started. “I do believe that things happen when they’re supposed to. … And this year is going to be absolutely wonderful … the highlight of my career.”
|The Newbery Medal, awarded every year since 1922, was named for 18th century Englishman John Newbery, the first bookseller and publisher to make a specialty of children’s books. The medal is awarded annually to an American author by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.