ALSC Member of the Month – Jenna Nemec-Loise

Each month, an ALSC member is profiled and we learn a little about their professional life and a bit about their not-so-serious side. Using just a few questions, we try to keep the profiles fun while highlighting the variety of members in our organization. So, without further ado, welcome to our ALSC profile, ten questions with ALSC member, Jenna Nemec-Loise.

1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?

Courtesy photo from Jenna Nemec-Loise

Courtesy photo from Jenna Nemec-Loise

I’m a relationship architect, a community builder, and an early childhood specialist. I’m an Everyday Advocate for youth, families, and libraries. On occasion, I’ve been called Flannelboard Ace and Teen Volunteer Coordinator Extraordinaire. And I’ve been doing it all at school and public libraries in and around Chicago for 14 daring years. (You thought I was just going to say “children’s librarian,” didn’t you? Ha!)

2. Why did you join ALSC? Do you belong to any other ALA divisions or roundtables?

Doesn’t everyone join ALSC to be more awesome for the communities they serve? That’s certainly why I did! When I got my first job as a librarian at a small private school, I had no idea what I was doing. But I did know that in order to be awesome at my job, I had to do two things: (1) get an MLIS, which I earned two years later from Dominican University, and (2) join ALSC, which I did immediately. Guess which one started paying off right away?

I’m also a member of PLA and YALSA, and my involvement with both divisions has been equally rewarding.

3. What are you proudest of having accomplished in your professional career?

By far, it’s been my advocacy work on behalf of children, families, and libraries through ALSC-related opportunities.

Through a four-year term on the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee, I helped coordinate a 2012 membership survey on early learning partnerships. Our data not only contributed to the May 2013 IMLS Growing Young Minds report, but it also made it into the hands of a White House Domestic Policy Council member at National Library Legislative Day 2013 in Washington, D.C.

I’ve also been honored to serve as Member Content Editor of the ALSC Everyday Advocacy website and electronic newsletter since February 2013. Most recently, I had the privilege of representing ALSC and PLA during the 2014 Opening Minds Innovation Award showcase, where educators, administrators, policy makers, and funders voted Every Child Ready to Read @ your library as the next game changer in the early childhood field. What an incredible experience!

4. Favorite age of kids to work with?

Those babies! I can’t resist their fascination with everything and the sheer joy that comes from sharing books, songs, and rhymes with them. That magic is the elixir of my library life!

5. What’s one “rule” you wished every librarian followed?

People over paperwork.

In these days of budget cuts and staffing shortages, we have to arm ourselves daily with endless streams of facts, statistics, and anecdotes to ensure we stay relevant in our communities. It’s easy to get lost in this climate of urgency, bogged down by this report or that deadline. We have a choice, though, and it’s a simple one: Stay grounded.

The child standing in front of you deserves every ounce of your attention. For the precious minutes you have with him, make him feel like the Most Important Child in the World. The paperwork can wait; the child can’t.

6. What do you collect?

Is it too nerdy to say Folkmanis puppets? Because I’ve got about 50 of ‘em! They’re the biggest hit you can imagine at all my book sharing programs, and even the big kids get in on the fun when we bring them out at the library.

My first puppet was Mabel (a big wooly sheep), who was quickly followed by Snap (an alligator) and Wally (a camel). The fan favorite, though, is Otis, my big floppy sheepdog. The little ones love rubbing their faces in his fur!

7. Who is your role model? Why?

Hands down, it’s Fred Rogers.

As a young child, I desperately loved Mr. Rogers and his Land of Make-Believe. He piqued my sense of wonder and made me feel safe with his soft-spoken demeanor and familiar routines. When Mr. Rogers talked to me, I felt smart and important.

And that’s why I love Fred Rogers to this day. His respect for young children and every aspect of their physical, socioemotional, and psychosocial development inspires my adult passion for engaging in developmentally appropriate library practice.

(Funny Mr. Rogers story: My mom called the pediatrician once because she was concerned that I was talking out loud to no one. When Dr. Mabini asked what else I was doing, she told him I was watching Mr. Rogers on TV. Dr. Mabini chuckled and said, “Well, Mr. Rogers asks lots of questions. When someone asks you something, you answer him, right?”)

8. What’s the best thing you’ve learned this year?

I learned a new definition of advocacy that clarifies the whole murky business! During the ALA Advocacy Coordinating Group meeting in Las Vegas, Office of Library Advocacy Director Marci Merola defined advocacy as “turning passive support into educated action.” Awesome, right? (Thanks, Marci!)

9. Favorite part of being a children’s librarian?

Building relationships with children, families, and communities. My library building is starting to show its age, and our children’s collection could use some refreshing. But I know I’m doing something right when kids and families stop by just to say, “Hi, Miss Jenna!” I treasure those moments when I get to say in return, “I’m so glad you came by to see me today! Have I got a book for you…”

10. Do you have any pets?

I sure do! Trudy is my two-year-old mini-lop rabbit and the unofficial mascot of my library’s animal-themed summer program. Kids and families love hearing Trudy stories and seeing pictures of her various bunny shenanigans. (Trust me—there are many.)

I’m proud to say my little gal has inspired lots of reading this summer! Back in May, I challenged kids at my library to read 150,000 minutes as a group during our eight-week program. I promised that if they met this goal, I’d adopt a second rabbit as a mate for Trudy. With two weeks left to go, kids have read a whopping 120,000 minutes, so it looks like it’ll be double the bunny fun at my house come August!


Thanks, Jenna! What a fun continuation to our monthly profile feature!

Do you know someone who would be a good candidate for our ALSC Monthly Profile? Are YOU brave enough to answer our ten questions? Send your name and email address to; we’ll see what we can do.

Posted in ALSC Member Profile, Blogger Mary R. Voors | Leave a comment

Putting it in Writing

Have you worked in a library system where procedures and best practices weren’t written down? Have you worked in an environment where the organizational and institutional knowledge was in different employees’ heads, but nowhere on paper?

Putting things (procedures, best practices, responses to common questions, etc.) in writing is an important step to becoming a transparent and accountable organization. In an ideal situation, you will be part of a workforce that understands how a library functions, knows where supplies are, displays exemplary behavior, produces high quality programs and events. What happens when a person is hired – and there’s no training plan or written documentation to help them become acclimated to how the library operates? What happens when expectations aren’t in writing, and you need to correct poor choices and behavioral issues? What about retirement and having a succession plan?

In Youth Services, do you have a storytime outline or template that you use to train new storytime planners and presenters? Do you have anything in writing about how (and when) to book performers or special guests? Having documentation specifically for how things are done in your library is very useful for you as a manager, and your employees (both current and prospective). It is a great way to allow staff members to contribute and improve the day-to-day tasks in the library, as well as allow some input for how the library operations might be improved.

In certain situations, you might not be able to create policies without the approval of your stakeholders (library board and/or City Council), but you can instead focus on creating best practices and start putting in writing what has worked (and not worked so well) in your library. If the idea of writing a large document is overwhelming, start with small things and go slowly. Producing documentation doesn’t have to be done overnight, and there’s no reason to try to do it all by yourself. There are writers in your library – use the existing expertise that you have in your staff.

Documentation and putting things in writing helps take you and your library to the next step. What have you put in writing already?

Our guest blogger today is Claudia M. Wayland, the Youth Services Supervisor at the Lewisville Public Library in Lewisville, Texas, who wrote this piece as a member of the Managing Children’s Services Committee

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Serving Parents and Toddlers through Early Literacy Boxes

As a new parent, I was spending hours looking for new toys for my baby and searching books and other activities to pair with each toy.  I quickly realized that the toys I wanted were costly considering how quickly babies and toddlers grow. The toys and books that parents buy in one season may be completely irrelevant to their youngsters a month or two later. We want our children to benefit from these types of toys but it is just not economical for most families, mine included, to purchase all of them. As a librarian, I know that linking literacy and play is effective in building a lifelong love of learning. As a mom, I realized that not all parents have access to the necessary resources.  I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for the library to provide parents with more tools to encourage literacy and play.

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My proposal, which consisted of creating “Literacy Boxes” including one toy, one book, and one activity sheet for parents, was funded by our Library Foundation to the amount of $3000.  Our Heads of Youth Services worked together to select appropriate toys and books for 50 boxes and then created activity sheets for parents to help them use the literacy box contents with their child.  After a few months we quickly realized that these kits were a hit among our patrons and used some of our remaining budget to order the contents for 30 more kits, which we are currently in the process of assembling.

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While we knew that parents and children would love these kits, we also tried to keep in mind the work that maintaining them would put on other departments, mainly Circulation.  We tried to be cognizant of the number of pieces in each box, knowing that Circulation would have to count and clean those pieces every time they were returned.  We also chose not to select toys that required a battery or that were made from cloth.  This makes upkeep and cleaning a bit easier.  Kits are stored and checked out in clear plastic Sterlite containers.  These are also easy to clean and help protect the toys.

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                                                                                                 Photos taken by blogger

Each box’s book and toy pairs together either by theme or skill, and the activity card gives ideas on how to share the book with your child, linking the book and toy together, and different ways to enjoy the toy.  There are boxes appropriate for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.  For a list of all of our boxes, visit our catalog at and do a subject search for “literacy box.”


Kara Fennell Walker works as the Head of Youth Services at the Middlefield Library in Middlefield, Ohio. She is writing for the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. If you would like to learn more about her early literacy boxes, you can email her at

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Talking Dewey-Lite: A Solution to the Non-Fiction Problem – ALSC Institute Programs

2014 Institute LogoThe upcoming ALSC Institute in Oakland, CA, on September 18-20, 2014, provides an abundance of outstanding programs to attend, from exploring innovative ways for youth services librarians to engage with community to the latest in early literacy research and best practices.

Among the many programs offered will be Dewey-Lite: A Solution to the Non-Fiction Problem, offering solutions for increasing the browsability of non-fiction collections while enhancing the patron searching experience. Program presenter Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla gave us a few minutes of her time to talk about what Institute attendees can look forward to.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am the Collection Development Coordinator and Assistant Head of Children’s Services at Darien Library. My co-presenter, Kiera Parrott, was the Head of Children’s Services at Darien during our non-fiction reorganization and is currently the Reviews Editor at School Library Journal.

Tell us about your program in just 6 words.

Dewey is dead, Long Live Dewey!

What’s one thing you feel people should know about your program?

Kiera and I are not out to destroy the Dewey Decimal System. We have tried to create a non-fiction model that utilizes the best of Dewey while minimizing the things about it that can be confusing for patrons.

What’s one thing someone who attends your program will be able to take back to their libraries and use right away?

People who attend our program will leave knowing how to implement Dewey-Lite, or something like it, at their own library. Right away, they’ll have a better understanding of how their patrons browse and use non-fiction collections.

Looking at the list of other programs on the lineup, which one are you most looking forward to attending?

The program I wish I could attend the most is Easy Programming for Discerning Tweens, since that is an audience with have a yo-yo relationship with at our library, and I always love to find out what other libraries are doing to reach this unique population! Unfortunately, it’s at the same time as my own presentation, so hopefully someone will take excellent notes!

If you could be any kid’s lit character, who would you be and why?

I would most definitely be Hermione Granger, because she’s smart and capable and magical and saves the world. Plus, she has a cute ginger husband. Or I would be Betsy Ray, because she has amazing clothes and excellent friends and goes on a world tour and becomes a writer. Or Anne Shirley, for her imagination and her puff sleeves and her swoon-inducing romance with Gilbert.

Ted McCoy, ALSC Institute Task Force Member and Children’s Librarian at Springfield (MA) City Library

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You Would Be a Great Online Learning Instructor!

ALSC Online Education

ALSC Online Education (image courtesy of ALSC)

The great part about a professional association is that it brings together some of the best minds of one field. We have members doing some pretty incredible things. We also have members who would love to know about those incredible things that their peers are doing.

The ALSC Education Committee is adding to ALSC’s online course and webinar offerings. If you are interested in teaching a course or webinar, please fill out an Online Education Proposal. How does it work? We’ll for starters you’ll need an idea or topic that you’d like to work with. Then we’ll ask you to provide a few things like:

  • title
  • description
  • learning outcomes
  • target audience
  • course level and prerequsitites
  • instructor bio

You’ll also be asked to submit a few things that will help us get to know you:

  • copy of your resume
  • teaching references
  • course syllabus (only for online courses)

So what’s the compensation like? Online course instructors are compensated $700 for course development and 15 percent of registration fees for their first session; following sessions are compensated at 20 percent of student registration fees. Fees are $115 for ALSC members, $165 for ALA members and $185 for nonmembers. Webinar instructors are compensated $100 for webinar development and 10 percent of registration fees for each webinar presented.

To make it easier on you, we’ve provided a copy of the form below. You can fill this out right from the ALSC Blog. Please consider applying! It’s great to have options and the more proposals we get, the more quality options we can provide to members!


Online Education

Contact Information

This form can not be saved prior to submission. All required fields are marked with a red asterisk (*) and must be filled in; screen readers will say the word star.
First Name

Last Name

Job Title


Address 1

Address 2







My proposal is for:
 Online Course 


Learning Outcomes

Target Audience

Course Level and Prerequisites

Instructor Biography Information

Additional Information

Please upload a copy of the following documents.
Instructor Resume


Teaching References (name, relation, phone number, email address)

Please list up to three people who can describe your work as an instructor or presenter.

Online Courses

Please fill out this section ONLY if you are submitting a proposal for an online course.
Length of Course
 Four Weeks 
 Five Weeks 
 Six Weeks 
Please describe your pre and post course evaluations

Session Dates
 Fall 2014: Sept. 8 – Oct. 17 
 Winter 2015: Jan. 5 – Feb. 13 
 Spring 2015: April 6 – May 15 
 Summer 2015: July 13 – Aug. 21 
Instructors are not limited, but must pick at least three.

Posted in ALSC Online Courses, Blogger Dan Rude, Professional Development, Webinars | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlighting the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Operation Backpacks for Kids run by the Volunteer of America

The ALSC Liaison with National Organization Committee works to build liaison relationships with national organizations who serve children and youth and who share similar goals to ALSC.  Committee members work with these organizations to make them aware of ALSC’s activities and goals, and to involve themselves in the activities of these organizations.

One of the organizations that I work with is the National Association for the Education of Young Children. I have asked them to provide a brief description of the work they do for young children. Below is a description provided by Stephanie Morris from the NAECY organization.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) — the world’s leading membership association working to ensure that all young children, birth through age 8, experience excellence in early childhood education. NAEYC’s vision for excellence and equity in early childhood education is built on the framework of developmentally appropriate practice. NAEYC brings together early childhood teachers, administrators, professional development specialists, adult educators, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to share cutting-edge information regarding early childhood related research, policy, and practice and to work to advance each of these areas. To learn more, visit NAEYC online or NAEYC’s For Families website.

I am also presenting an initiative that I feel very strongly about. Each year the Volunteers of America – Greater New York  try to place backpack filled with school supplies into the hands of children living in homeless shelters. Below is a description from Colleen Magri.

“More than 22,000 children live in NYC’s homeless and domestic violence shelters, according to the NYC Department of Homeless Services. One of the most devastating consequences of homelessness is the impact is has on a child’s education. Each year since 2001, Volunteers of America-Greater New York has been collaborating with companies, community groups and individuals to distribute new backpacks filled with grade-specific school supplies to homeless children throughout New York City. A filled backpack relieves parents of a financial burden and provides a sense of normalcy to the otherwise chaotic lives of these children, helping them to look and feel more like their classmates. More importantly, a filled backpack allows these children to start the school year feeling prepared and confident, with the knowledge that their education is important and that someone believes in them.”

This program is run in other states as well, even though the needs and requests might vary. Here is a list of active states that provide a backpack or school program through the Volunteers of America:”

VOA – Chesapeake

VOA – Delaware Valley

VOA – Kentucky

VOA – Illinois

VOA – Michigan

VOA – Pennsylvania

VOA – Northern California & Northern Nevada

by Danielle Shapiro – Brooklyn Public Library

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Confessions of a Lazy Advocate

When I first received the email asking if I could serve on ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation Committee, I almost said no. It’s not that I feel that advocacy is unimportant. Quite the contrary, I’ve long romanticized advocacy. I had this vision in my head of the tireless, dedicated, and most of all, supremely well-informed volunteer, who spent her days storming Capitol Hill and her nights penning letters to Congress. As much as I admired all that, I was sure I could never be that person. My biggest fear was that I simply wasn’t well informed enough, and all my previous attempts to become better informed had left me drowning in a mire of acronyms and bill numbers. At the end of the day, however, I decided there was no better way to learn about something than to join a committee.

I very quickly learned two important facts that made the whole business much less daunting. First, you don’t have to join a protest on a weekly basis to be an advocate; you can fit it into your daily life quite easily. Indeed, as I discovered, I already am a powerful advocate. I am a school librarian, and a large part of what I would consider to be simply doing my job falls under the heading of advocacy. I keep my administrators and teachers informed about the value of the school’s library through a monthly newsletter. I keep parents informed through a website and periodic Family Reading Night events. And I push for our local public library at every opportunity, letting teachers, administrators, parents, and students know the value of their local branch.

Second, there is a well-developed and completely non-intimidating toolkit already out there for anyone interested in doing any advocacy. Candice Mack wrote about these resources in an excellent blog back in March: I invite you to take a look. Two of my favorite tools are the website Everyday Advocacy, which provides tips for on-the-ground library promotion, and Take Action Tuesday, a column in Everyday Advocacy that gives the reader simple weekly suggestions.

Knowing about these tools didn’t necessarily mean I’d use them, however, and even as a committee member, I let the five months between Midwinter and Annual go by still in a state of guilt-ridden inertia. I knew I should be reading Everyday Advocacy, especially on Tuesdays, but somehow never quite remembered to do so. (Yes, I was getting all those helpful reminders through ALSC-l, but my inbox is so choked with mail from ALSC that it’s hard to focus on any one message).

On the plane back from Vegas, I realized I would have to plot my own escape from Newton’s First Law. What could I do to make everyday advocacy actually happen? First, I placed a repeating note in my calendar for every Tuesday at lunchtime to check Take Action Tuesday. Second, I bookmarked Everyday Advocacy in Symbaloo, which means that I can access it regardless of which electronic device happens to be holding me captive at any given moment. Third, I liked the ALSC blog on Facebook and added it (@alscblog) and the Everyday Advocacy content editor Jenna Nemec-Louise (@alajenna) to my Twitter feed. Call me superficial, but I’m much better at getting to social media than I am to my inbox.

Finally, since deep down inside where it really counts, I still have visions of being that woman storming Capitol Hill, I added the contact information for my national, state, and local representatives to my electronic address book, so that I can fire off impassioned emails at the touch of a button. You can find contact information for your senators at and for your representatives at For local representatives just Google your state and local representative body (e.g., “New York State Assembly”); it should be easy to find the information from there. I also added a note in my calendar for early April to think about attending National Library Legislative Day, which takes place every year in early May in Washington D.C. This gathering is where ALSC members contact members of Congress personally to discuss why libraries provide vital services to all.


Eileen Makoff is a school librarian at P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School in Coney Island, NY. She is writing this blog on behalf of the Advocacy and Legislation Committee.

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Beware of Open Manholes: An Interview with Daniel Handler

I had the opportunity to meet with Daniel Handler at the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas last month to ask him a few questions about Intellectual Freedom and some other stuff.

Do you have a favorite banned and/or challenged book? What is it?

Well, Lolita is one of my favorite books in the world, so that would be my favorite in terms of the literary quality of the work being challenged. But the fact that there are forces keeping Lolita out of the hands of young people doesn’t sound like the most dire battle I’ve ever heard in my life. In my neighborhood in San Francisco, the closest library to me is the Castro branch which has a wide assortment of books for queer youth, both fiction and non-fiction. They always have a little flyer about how many times this has been challenged or where it’s been challenged and if you work at a table at the library, as I do, you see the number of people who check those books out, young people and their parents, and that’s what I think of when I thing of banned books; Books that are really crucial to someone who is trying to find their bearings, so that seems like a more poignant fight than Lolita. But if you ask me what my favorite banned book is, it’s not one of those.

What inspired the creation of “The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity”?

I guess noble librarians faced with adversity and the fact that the success of the Snicket books has been driven by librarians all across our great country. The plight of librarians has been on my mind all the time. I visit countless libraries and the number of libraries that say “Everything is great, no one is giving us any problems” is pretty few and the number of libraries that say “We’re actually having a problem or two” is large. It literally feels to me that librarians put money into my hands, so to not put money into their hands seems rather silly. I’ve been a donor to libraries all over the place, but I felt like this prize was a fun way to single somebody out and certainly our first winner is a pretty amazing story. I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of amazing stories.

Librarians do face adversity every day and they have been known to try to protect themselves by guessing what their community is going to get upset about, by not buying a controversial title or tearing out pages. I just heard a story today about a school librarian who tore out page 36 of a particular book because she didn’t want kids to see what was on that page. What words of wisdom would you have for librarians who are tempted to censor in this way?

Words of wisdom? Gosh, now they have to be wise words! I have utter sympathy for librarians who are working diligently and sensitively with their community. I don’t have the temperament to be a librarian who would be challenged a lot on those sorts of issues. I would become short tempered and stubborn. I always like to hear the stories of librarians who are solving those problems through whatever means they can. I wouldn’t tear out page 36 of a book particularly if it sounds like the page isn’t worth tearing out, I don’t know what page would be worth tearing out, but I’m often not the best poster boy when banned book week comes along. When I was in middle school, if someone had asked me what I would like to see in the library, it would have been a lot of dirty magazines that would have been great. The fact that those aren’t widely available in the school libraries, I don’t find to be shameful censorship and so I think librarians have to make a lot of tough calls.

I attended the Guys Read event at ALA in 2012 where you read aloud the sex scene from The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Could you tell ALSC Blog readers about why you chose to do this?

My mother was going through bookshelves at my childhood home and she gave me this stack of books and said, “These were really your books and here they are.” They were kind of my favorite novels from age seventeen to twenty and I re-read them. One of them was The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and I found to my amusement and surprise that all of the books that were my favorite books were filthy. And the thing is they were all high works of literature, not cheap trash at all. I was a serious reader by then. What I remember was, I really liked Robert Coover’s novel Gerald’s Party, but what I didn’t remember was there is a ton of sex in it. That was interesting to me. I was called on to be on this panel and talk about what guys want to read and I thought if you say one book that I think guys want to read would be The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love you might say “Why particularly that”, but if I read that scene you would think “Oh my god, that’s the truth”. I thought it would be fun to read it and to read it with no introduction whatsoever so people would think, “Oh my goodness what is this person saying.” Then I would say “HA! It’s from a Pulitzer prize winning book.” That was interesting to me.

Out in the audience, I observed that some librarians were extremely uncomfortable and some reacted quite emotionally to your reading. Did you hear from librarians after the event?

No, I certainly didn’t hear any complaints. Sexuality in literature is something that is interesting to me and I think that one of the things that we are concerned with is boys falling off the wagon of reading at a certain age and we know that this is a large slice of what they are interested in. And this is exactly the kind of book that gets pulled off the shelf, that’s interesting to me.

As an author, do you approach a book differently if it has a potentially controversial theme? Meaning, do you consider the censor as you write or re-write?

No. I don’t have much of a sense of what offends people, is what I’ve found out. So I don’t think I can second guess people at all. By far the most controversial thing that we’ve gotten letters about in A Series of Unfortunate Events is that there is a building demarcated in The Unauthorized Autobiography as “The Church of the Alleged Virgin”, which I just thought was funny. And they said, “How dare you say that Mary might not be a virgin?” and I say, “But alleged means you think it happened, right?” So the answer is: I don’t know what would offend people.

How much did you think about and or/discuss with your editor the use of the word “damn” in The Reptile Room?

There have been a few little challenges. There is a small sex joke in one of the other volumes. Challenges to Snicket have been small. It’s the other reason why I’m not a good poster boy for banned books. People assume that my books have been banned all over the place, but in fact it’s kind of here and there, very small. For instance, the use of the word damn in The Reptile Room comes with this long explanation about whether you should say the word damn or not and it concludes that you should not. It really couldn’t be a stronger object lesson on not using that language. There are many books I would challenge in terms of say, gender roles. I don’t know that I would challenge them as in take them off the shelves, but I would not push them towards my son.

Has an editor ever asked you to tone down a potentially controversial scene?

No, not my book editor. A couple of magazines have asked for Lemony Snicket pieces and then not been comfortable with them. It wasn’t because of outright sexuality; they weren’t comfortable with them at all. The Lump of Coal was originally commissioned for a magazine and they ended up kind of running it, but they didn’t like it at all and they couldn’t put their finger on what they didn’t like about it.

Tell me about the first time you heard that one of your books had been challenged.

Well the first time I heard about it was on a very early book tour and I was in Decatur, Georgia. I arrived at a school to do a school visit and I was met out front by a principal and the principal said, “We’ve canceled the school visit, because of the incest.” That was the first I’d heard of it, it’s a very jarring feeling to literally not be let in a building. I don’t mean to make it more dramatic than it was, but as a Jewish person, it kind of gets my dander up. It feels almost instinctual to me. It felt really awful, but I went to lunch with the people who were running the bookstore there at the time and they were full of stories about all the work that they have to do when books are challenged or banned for one reason or another. I was so new to children’s literature then that I didn’t really think about it being part of the job, but it’s a huge part of the job if you open a bookstore in Decatur, Georgia to be sensitive to what that community is going to be prickly about. I always thought, just have a bunch of books in your store and then you’re all done

Do you feel that the presence of censors has impacted the quality of writing for children?

What I actually think has impacted the quality of writing for children, maybe quality isn’t the right word, but what has impacted children’s writing in recent years is the influx of attention. I think that children’s writing for a long time was in kind of a ghetto in terms of public attention. The practitioners who came to it felt like they could do whatever they wanted to do because no one was paying attention. Now a lot of attention is being paid. Other writers I know have said that and I think that. The notion that you could sell a YA book on a pitch and get $500,000 had way more effect on what kind of YA is being written than any kind of censorship. The best writers who are tackling controversial topics are all doing fine. I haven’t heard anything about them giving up or hiding or anything like that. But I think the notion that this is something from which you could make a nice living has probably had more of an effect.

One problem that librarians are facing right now are the leveled reading programs currently used by many schools, which require children to read only titles at a particular reading level. I’ve seen books kids ripped out of kids’ hands “You can’t read that yet, it’s not on your level.” What are your thoughts on this?

I’m against it. I find it hard enough to see children’s literature and adult literature kept in different areas. For instance The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love which could find a wide readership for adolescents. Despite a very moving speech at a recent ALA, I don’t think it is being offered to teenagers. I have enough trouble with that. I think the reading level thing is pretty silly.

They put A Series of Unfortunate Events at 6th and 7th grade and kids are reading it much earlier than that.

It’s not noticeable, but we had a big push to put an age range on A Series of Unfortunate Events when it was first being published. My editor was against it. I didn’t know about children’s publishing at all so I said “Whatever they need to do on the back of the book, what do I care?” So what it says there is “10 up”, but it looks weird, it doesn’t say “ages recommended” or anything, so you might not know what that means. In one way I’m sympathetic because I think there are a lot of middle-schoolers [who want to read] A Series of Unfortunate Events and you don’t want to say “That’s a 4th grade book” to a 7th grader who wants to read it. So it works that way too. In general the categories seem pretty silly to me.

I heard there is a drink called the “Lemony Snicket”, what is in it?

There are many drinks called the “Lemony Snicket”. The original “Lemony Snicket” was made [because] my friends had an overactive lemon tree and this was before I was writing books as Lemony Snicket, it was just kind of a name that was bumming around with me and my friends. We had a bottle of white rum and we just did like a mash of lemons in the bottom of it and we would just put in rum and soda. There are all kinds of “Lemony Snickets” now and rum is no longer my go-to hard liquor so I don’t like to spread the original “Lemony Snicket” around.

So what’s your favorite “Lemony Snicket”?

I like a “Lemony Snicket” that has a little brandy, bitters and lemon. That’s what I like.

Anything else you want to tell the ALSC Blog readers?

Beware of open manholes.

Heather Acerro, Chair of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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