Monday, September 9, 2013

KEEPER OF WONDER: An Interview with Natalie Lorenzi

Today I'm pleased to welcome school librarian (and author), Natalie Lorenzi, to the blog (@NatalieLorenzi). My CP and friend, Kip Wilson, connected us but I realized I "knew" Natalie from the Blueboards and the small kidlit world already. So without further ado, here's Natalie!


1. So you’re a librarian, how’d that happen? 
I decided to become a school librarian in November of 2010, a few days after Charlesbridge offered to publish my manuscript. I’d been a classroom teacher for ten years and was then in my seventh year as an ESOL teacher (English for Speakers of Other Languages). When it hit me that I would finally be a published author with revisions and edits and first page passes and book promotions to do, I was a bit overwhelmed. Happy, but overwhelmed. 

Since quitting my day job wasn’t an option (my husband is also a teacher and we’ll eventually be putting three kids through college), I sat down and took stock of what I loved about my job (working with kids, reading and writing) and what I didn’t love (paperwork, grades, standardized tests). Teaching is not for the faint-hearted; it takes lots of energy, which left my creative brain empty at the end of the day after my own kids’ homework, soccer schedules, etc. I wanted to find a way for my day job to feed the creativity I needed for my new job as a children’s author. And then it hit me: I’ll be a librarian! (Each subsequent interview has me wondering if one day I might leave the art room for the library!)

It was the perfect solution—I’d be around books all day, I could observe what kids love—and don’t love—about reading and stories, and part of my job would actually be to read new books. It took over two years to complete the coursework I needed for my LMS endorsement, but it was worth it. When our school’s population grew, my principal asked me if I’d like to be a part-time librarian (and part-time ESOL teacher) and work alongside our full-time librarian. I said YES! and fell head-over-heels in love with the job. This fall, with my courses completed, I’ll finally be a full-time librarian. (congrats!)

2. Tell us about your library.
The school where I’ve taught for the past five years is about a 40-minute drive from my house, so I made the hard decision to change schools for next year. I’ll now be 10 minutes from home at the school where my husband teaches. While I’m looking forward to that, I haven’t even seen the library there yet! My other school, though, was very diverse—over 1,000 students from over 50 countries and 39 languages spoken. Most (75%) were on the free/reduced meal program and 88% are immigrants. The library has a substantial collection of books in several different languages (Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean). We also have a large section of hi-lo books that we call “Quick Reads” which have older protagonists (upper elementary/middle school) but are written at a second or third grade level. With so many of our kids learning English, most read below grade level, and the Quick Reads section and the Graphic Novels shelves were the busiest by far.

3. What was the most recent book request?
Right up until the last day of check-out this year, we had requests for princess books, shark books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, Bone graphic novels and Justin Bieber biographies. (Ah, The Biebs.)

4. What was your most recent book suggestion to a patron?
I’ve done a lot of Quick Reads book talks and recommendations—the Field Trip Mystery series, Jake Maddox series, and the Library of Doom series were all huge hits—I was always handing them out to kids. I’ve also had lots of requests for scary books (I often recommend Breathe: A Ghost Story by Cliff McNish) and a lot of 5th grade girls ask for books with a main character who has a crush on someone (Wendelin Van Draanen’s Flipped and Audrey Vernick’s Water Balloon are both good picks.) (That made me smile - so kids DO use books to figure out their own issues.)


5. What was your most recent book suggestion to a friend?
My principal is an avid reader with sons of her own, so we’re always swapping book recommendations. I’m reading one of hers now, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. It’s the true story of an illegal immigrant’s journey into the US to find his mother—a situation that we see with many of our students all too frequently. I just read that there’s a young adult version of Enrique’s Journey, and I’ve passed that along to the high school librarian where our students will eventually be going. 

My last few recommendations to her were R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, and Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now

6. If you could sit down to your favorite beverage with any current kidlit author, who would it be? And why?
This is a hard question! I’d love to sit down and chat with John Greene, but I’d better not drink anything during the chat—I think he’s hilarious, and laughing while trying to swallow a beverage? Not a good choice. Ditto with Jon Scieszka.

7. What book do you wish you had in your library but don’t? (this can be something written or something you’ve never seen)
Books with characters from a wider variety of backgrounds. Multicultural literature is growing, but not fast enough or widespread enough. We have a significant Somali population at our school, for example, so Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave is a book I recommend to kids time and time again—not just for the Somali kids to see themselves on the page, but for non-immigrant kids to see a snippet of life from a Somalian refugee’s eyes. There are more and more books with Hispanic characters, Indian characters, etc. But I’ve yet to come across a middle grade book about a kid from Pakistan or a picture book about an Afghan family. (If anyone knows of any, I’d love some recommendations!) 

8. What’s the biggest librarian stereotype? How do you fit snugly within it? What makes you bust wholly out of it?
Aside from the horn-rimmed glasses on a chain (which I don’t have...) the biggest librarian stereotype that I’m guilty of is always having my nose in a book. Whenever I had hall duty after school during dismissal time, I’d take a book with me to read in between the waves of kids heading out to their school buses. 

As far as busting out of that stereotype, I don’t just read books; I blog about them and interview authors on my blog, I share book trailers, and I host author visits at our school. As an author myself, I visit other schools (in person and via Skype). In the library, I’m always trying to match books with kids and teachers—making connections from story to reader, from book to curriculum. 

9. Five favorite books of the past five years.
Only five?! *sigh*    

Okay, here goes, in no specific order:

1. Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
3. One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
4. Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown
5. Unspoken by Henry Cole

Thanks so much for stopping by, Natalie!

24 comments:

  1. Great interview! So glad you found your home in your new library, Nat. :-)

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  2. Maybe becoming a librarian is what I need also...for just the reasons you give. :-)

    Read your book, FLYING THE DRAGON, Natalie, and loved it!

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    1. Thank you, Barbara! And yes, you should definitely give librarian-ism some serious thought, because it's seriously the most fun ever. :-)

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  3. Love lovely librarians, they're our allies.

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  4. I keep coming across Home of The Brave, but haven't had the chance to read it. I'll have to put it to the top of my pile. Isn't it a novel in verse as well?

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    1. Oh, Jess, you'll have to read it one day! It is a novel in verse, which makes it even more perfect for new learners of English--meaty themes yet accessible text. And thank you for all YOU do in your library--the kids and parents there obviously love you!

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  5. Thanks for a great interview with a great writer. What lucky, lucky students, to have a librarian who knows and loves books the way Natalie obviously does.

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  6. Great interview aunt!Nicol

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  7. Great interview:) What a great work to be a librarian.

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  8. Graet interview:) What a great job to be a librarian:)

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    1. Thank you--the questions were fun to think about. :-) Being a librarian *is* a great job--I'm lucky!

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  9. Being a librarian just sounds like a dream job! I wish I'd realized there was such a thing as going to college to be a librarian when I was younger- I'd have jumped on that in a second. =)

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    1. Isn't that the truth?? I'd wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade, but it never occurred to me to become a librarian, Leandra. In fact, all of the school librarians I know are former classroom teachers.

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  10. How lucky I am to know you as friend, author, mom, and now librarian. Great interview!

    Phuong

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    1. Thanks, Phuong, but I'm definitely the lucky one. :-)

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  11. Wonderful interview! I hope you're enjoying your new library, Natalie! :)

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    1. Thank you, Meradeth--I definitely am enjoying it! I'm learning my way around the collection and the students' tastes in books, which takes time, but it's been fun so far. :-)

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  12. If there's anything I think I should've been, it's probably a librarian. So I adore this blog series. :)

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  13. Loved the interview -- thanks so much, Natalie and JRo! And congrats on the full-time position, Natalie! :)

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Hey, do you ever wonder why they call it 'your two cents?'