Following Your Passions

About a week and a half ago, Reads 4 Tweens went public. I’m going to take some time here to reflect on it—this is more personal than I usually get, but perhaps some of this will be helpful if you have something you passionately want to share.

A little background

I’ve long had an interest in children’s literature. I was a voracious reader as a kid, usually sticking with the stuff aimed at me rather than trying to snag my mom’s mysteries off her nightstand.

In college, I took an anthropology class on folktales and how they’re used to teach kids about their culture, and suddenly my world blew wide open (I’m forever grateful, Professor Taggart!). My lovely liberal arts college let me combine two majors—English and anthropology—and I designed a course selection that looked at how literature both reflects and is reflected in society.

I got my masters degree in education, mostly because the faculty in that department was flexible enough to allow me to continue exploring how we socialize children through the stories we share with them. I loved it. My advisor hosted a children’s literature conference every year, and I had the chance to meet some of my heroes, hanging out with them for a weekend. It was pretty amazing.

There are, however, no jobs in that field I kind of made up. So I became a teacher, an editor, and a mother. My interest in children’s literature continued, and I read lots of books with the vague idea that I was previewing them for my kids to read someday.

Then my own voracious readers caught up with me. Their interests diverged from mine. Trying to find suitable books for my precocious readers that still had suitable content became a challenge. Talking to other parents, I learned I was not alone in this. And the idea of Reads 4 Tweens began to form.

Reads 4 Tweens comes to life

First I needed to figure out what exactly I wanted the site to do. The crowd sourcing was invaluable—my sincere thanks to those of you who gave me feedback. I think and hope I’ve created something that addresses most of the criteria we discussed.

I was lucky to have some people willing to help me with getting the site set up—Ryan Macklin took care of hosting the site and Stefanie Kyle is my awesome web designer. Guest reviewers, a new logo, and business cards will all be coming. Having help with the technical stuff has been amazing, since that’s beyond my skill set.

It was hard to know when exactly to take the site live. At what point was it done enough to start sharing? I took the leap before it was quite done, mostly because I was eager to talk about it. And so far I think it’s worked out pretty well, even though there are still a few pieces being worked out.

I started out with about 2 dozen reviews written, but only 6 of them posted, hoping to find a balance between having enough stuff to be interesting and being able to add something new every day to keep traffic coming to the site. So far we’re up to 13 reviews and 4 blog posts, still small but growing all the time. I don’t know that I can keep that pace up, but hopefully by the time I slow down I’ll have other contributors!

I’ve been using social networking to get the word out—you can follow Reads 4 Tweens on Twitter (@reads4tweens). I’ve been posting all new reviews on my personal Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts. I look forward to having business cards so I can hand them out to all the parents and teachers I know. Please feel free to spread the word!

I’ve also been seeking out the Twitter accounts of the authors whose books I’m reviewing, which has been fun. It lets me get to know the authors a little, and occasionally even interact with them. When I posted a review of Sarah MacLean’s The Season, she tweeted back to me. I told my daughter (who absolutely adored the book) and my girl launched herself into my arms, squeeing the whole time (and yes, apparently a tween girl does literally “squee”). It was worth it for that alone. And just today I got a #FF from Reader To Reader, a charity that Norton Juster (author of The Phantom Tollbooth) supports! These little encouragements are exciting.

I’m also starting to collect review copies! It’s always fun to get free books, of course, but it’s also fun interacting with the authors. It’s something I’ve missed. I hope to someday edit fiction as well as gamebooks, so this feels like a good step.

It’s been fun sharing books with my daughter, who keeps me well supplied with books she thinks I ought to review (soon I hope to get her writing her own reviews!). An extra bonus is that reading with my kids and talking with them about books is more of a priority now—it’s not just a luxury for when we find time, but something that helps me with the site.

Of course I’m still basking in the glow of finally starting to do something that I’ve been thinking about for years. But I appreciate the excuse to give myself permission to be passionate again about something that was a primary focus of my life for 6 years.

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