CHILDREN'S LITERACY FOUNDATIOJN

& Jason Chin

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Opening books, opening minds, opening doors

CLiF is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire a love of reading and writing among low-income, at-risk, and rural children up to age 12 throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. CLiF arranges for more than 60 professional authors, illustrators, poets, graphic novelists, and storytellers to give inspiring, in-person presentations for children. These memorable events help kids get excited about books, stories, reading, and writing. CLiF holds nearly 1,000 events each year.

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

So Jason, talk to us about how you got involved with CLiF.  

 

Jason Chin

You know, I was thinking about that, and I can’t remember who approached who first.  I think they asked me if I would do some school visits with them.  But, I know I had seen them, like they have booths around town at different events.  So, there was like a kid’s day event in the park and I know I had seen them there and interacted with them a little bit, so I'm not sure who approached who first about me participating.  But, I know I learned about them through that, and through their outreach, because they just go to these events and their booth has a ton of books and they just give them away.  It’s really fantastic.  

 

Molly Ness

So, as somebody involved in children’s book publishing, I assume you have a pretty packed schedule, and there are always demands on your personal time and your professional time.  Why is it so important to you that you do school visits and get involved with going out to districts and meeting kids themselves as readers?  What are the benefits that you see of your work in schools themselves, and with children?  

 

Jason Chin

So, you know, I love doing it.  I really like interacting with kids and being in schools and sharing my love of what I do, both love of reading and love of making books, and love of science, because I write about science.  With the kids, it’s always fun, you know, to be there, and it’s always very satisfying to share that with them.  I'm not sure, you know, every kid takes away something different from the visit, right.  But, my goal is just to make an exciting fun day and hopefully they’ll pick up on some of my enthusiasm for reading and learning, because a lot of what I do, and talk about, is I talk about doing research, and learning about the subjects I write about.  And yes, so hopefully, they pick up on some of that.  Oh, and become you know, start to see themselves as readers, or see it as a positive thing to be a reader, and maybe start to see themselves as writers too, as creators, and you know, take that next step from reader to creator in expressing themselves.  And, it’s pretty typical for a kid, or a group of kids, to come up and say, oh, I want to write books someday.  Or, I want to make pictures, illustrate someday.  So, that’s you know, really satisfying.  That happens while I'm on the job.  

 

Molly Nes

So, what do you…talk to us then, a little bit about what your time in schools look like?  What do you…?  How does the day unfold?  What can kids expect?  And, what’s that experience like?  

 

Jason Chin

So, I have…I do a variety of things.  But, the typical presentation is a bunch of slides.  I’ll show slides.  I talk about how I became an artist, how I research my books on the Internet, and how I create them.  So, I make the pictures.  How I write the words.  So, there is a lot in there.  We touch on, you know, revision.  Why it’s important to you know, try again, and try multiple times.  We touch on, or I touch on you know, failure, and how, you know, you don’t always succeed on your first try, and that’s okay.  And, nothing is ever perfect, and that’s okay too.  It’s important to just keep going and enjoy what you’re doing.  So, that’s my presentation.  I end the presentation by doing drawings for the kids, and with them.  Sometimes I do drawing games with them.  Sometimes I put a kid out of the audience and draw their portrait, and that’s always fun.  Sometimes art teachers or classroom teachers will ask me to do like art, providing workshops with kids.  So, I’ll work with the teachers to come up with a program that’s more interactive and where they’re actually participating more.  So, you know, it can take a variety of forms when I visit a school.  But, the general presentation is slides and a talk about that, or a lot of questions, questions, answers, and discussions.  That’s actually the best part of it, I think, anyway, the best part of it.  Some of my favorite experiences are when I get into discussions with the group and they ask interesting questions and we get to talk about whatever they’re interested in.  I think those are some of my favorite parts.  

 

Molly Ness

I'm wondering if you can share with us any memories or any experiences that you’ve had with kids in schools that have really stuck with you, or surprised you?  

 

Jason Chin

Yes.  So, let me think.  There are a bunch of them.  Some of them I'm trying to think of what would make a good short antidote for context.  So, I was in this school and it wasn’t with CLiF, but it was with a lower-income school.  They had a lower-income population, I think probably a higher poverty population.  One class came in and I was discussing my book, Gravity, so I read the book and talked about making it, then asked if they had any questions.  They started asking some of the basic questions, about like what gravity is, and why it makes you fall down, and I gave them some of the basic answers.  Then one kid said, okay, so you know, gravity makes me fall down, and then gravity, you know, the Earth’s gravity is pulling on the moon, and the Sun’s gravity is pulling on the Earth.  Okay, we got that down.  They said, so, if the Sun’s…if the Earth’s gravity, or the Earth and the Sun are pulling at each other, does the Earth’s gravity pull the light out of the sun and bring it to the Earth?  I thought that was such a great question.  I was like, well, no, but it actually does affect the light, it bends the light around the Earth, it’s affected by gravity.  And, from there, the questions just got more and more interesting, and the kids had such great intuitions.  It was wonderful.  We started talking about relativity and you know, how things are moving relative to each other.  It was really an amazing discussion.  It was just one of those moments where you just think, man, I just thought afterwards, those kids are so wonderfully curious and attentive, and they were sponges.  It was wonderful.  

 

Molly Ness

I love that choice of words of curious.  One of my favorite topics of discussion is what we can do in schools to harness and encourage kid’s curiosity as a way to engage kids in learning, because you’re right, kids are so curious, and it affords us such opportunities in terms of anything we choose to teach with curriculum.  

 

Jason Chin

Yes, I thought a lot about that too.  You know, how do you encourage curiosity?  I think encourage or foster is the right word.  And, the same with creativity.  Those are two things that people say, you know, how do I get my kids to be more curious, or to be more creative?  And I tend to think, and I could be wrong, but my thinking is that it’s less about teaching them to do something, and more about supporting them when they show curiosity, and encouraging them to show more curiosity or creativity.  And sending the message, you know, continuously sending the message that your curiosity, your questions, your creative ideas are valuable and important.  So, that’s my feeling about that.  

 

Molly Ness

Well, let me ask you in a time where school budgets are very limited, and school leaders have difficult decisions to make about where their funding goes.  Why should schools continue to prioritize author and illustrator visits?  Why is that an important part of engaging kids in book culture, and building life-long readers?  So, sort of imagine you have to convince a school leader, why this is a necessary thing to include in your school day?  

 

Jason Chin

I think…let me think, why is it necessary?  When you say necessary, it you know…

 

Molly Ness

Important.  

 

Jason Chin

Yes, I think important or valuable is a better word, I guess…okay, I'm stumbling with my words.  When I think about if my visits are necessary, I think, well, I don’t know.  It’s like a lot of things are necessary, and I don’t know if I want to put myself on, you know, value myself that highly, I guess.  But, I think it’s valuable.  Okay, so I think school visits are really valuable because it kind of completes the circle in a way.  You know, kids are introduced to books all the time.  They are consumers of books, right.  And when an author visits a school or does a Skype visit, when the kids get to interact with an author, I think it round out their understanding of what a book is.  The book is, you know, the author writes the book to communicate to the kids, and when kids meet the author, they can then begin to see themselves as authors, or as illustrators that can communicate their ideas through writing and through illustrating.  And so, I think it’s really important for kids to see themselves as readers, to identify as readers, but the next step is also important that they see themselves as creators.  And, they think, my story could be valuable too someday.  

 

Molly Ness

And, my hunch is that for so many kids who haven’t had the experience of an author or an illustrator visit their school, either because they live in a book desert or they live in a rural community that just doesn’t have as many folks from the publishing world in their backyard that they’re surprised with people come into schools that they’re normal people, they look just like you and me, and that there isn’t something that makes them different than anybody else.  

 

Jason Chin

Yes, definitely.  I think that that’s really an important thing, right, to see that they’re, you know, human too.  I’ll say another thing that I thought of to say, and you can include this or not.  I had, when I was growing up, in elementary school there was an illustrator of picture books who also wrote a few books.  But, he was primarily an illustrator who came to our school.  She lived in our town.  So, she came to our school every year.  And you know, that made a big difference for me, and it just made it seem like, oh, that’s a thing that, you know, people do.  I can see myself being an illustrator someday, because you know, she was a regular person in my town, and that’s an option.  So, that was important for me.  

 

Molly Ness

Let me ask you the question that I ask of every guest on the podcast.  I'm hoping you can share with us a book that has forever had an impact on you.  Something that has resonated with you in your past or present, a book from your childhood, or from now, a book that you just can’t seem to let go of.  What would that book be for you?  And, I know it’s impossible to narrow it down to one.  

 

Jason Chin

Yes, it’s impossible to narrow it down to one.  But yes, I have prepared for this question.  So, the book that I want to mention is Matilda by Roald Dahl, of course.  It was a book that was given to me when I was nine-years-old, in third grade at Christmas.  I got it for Christmas.  I remember it being you know, the gift that I opened and was like, oh, a book, and you know, put it aside for all the other toys.  But, I distinctly remember, you know, several weeks later realizing this was the best gift that I got for Christmas because I remember just enjoying it for, you know, two or three weeks while I was reading it.  And, you know, it was the gift that lasted, I guess, that I went back to it again and again.  So, that was an important book for me.  

 

Molly Ness

Well, you are…your choice is near and dear to my heart.  I have a fourth-grader at home and we have read Matilda and shared it in various formats.  We have seen the movie, we have seen the Broadway musical of it.  What I love about Matilda is what a great book, speaking to the power of reading culture.  Matilda grows up in a home where her family never watches…never reads books, all they do is watch TV, and Matilda is a bookworm and she finds a teacher who fuels that love of reading for her, and forever changes her.  

 

Jason Chin

Yes.  Yes, yes.  It is just a good story.  I just read it with my son, you know, a few months ago.  So, that was a just a great experience.  I loved it.  I love being able to share.  

 

Molly Ness

Well Jason, thank you so much today for your time and for the work that you do on behalf of CLiF and for the kids in New Hampshire and Vermont, that you are prioritizing, getting into their classrooms and their school libraries and spreading the love of books.  

 

Jason Chin

Thank you for having me on the podcast.  And thank you for your work.  It’s really great that you know, I’ve been listening to your podcasts.  It’s really great that you’re putting this discussion out there.  It certainly has inspired me to do more and see where I can give away more books into the hands of kids that need them. 

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