Book People: Judith Ridge
‘The Book that Made Me’ has been my constant breakfast companion for some months now. I like nothing more than taking ten minutes to read over breakfast and it’s always a non-fiction title which I can dip in and out of with ease (preferably this ten minutes is alone thank you small children who I love dearly…but please give me ten minutes with coffee, toast, book before I face the day).
‘The Book That Made Me’ is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. It contains personal stories by authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. AND…it features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan…bliss.
It has been an absolute delight to read ‘The Book that Made Me’ and it would make the perfect gift for lovers of literature. It has made me reflect on the book (s) that have made me, shaped me and inspired me, and reinforced to me the absolute importance of the role of the teacher librarian in matching the right book to the right child at the right time. The role of the teacher librarian is constantly evolving and you can read my thoughts on this here, but the very core of what we do is find books for young readers, and what a privilege this is. I could discuss this all day, but I digress. Today I’m so very pleased to introduce you to the editor of ‘The Book that Made Me’, Judith Ridge…a passionate children’s/YA books advocate if ever there was one. Read carefully all Judith has to say and all advice she gives…I plan on sending this interview out via our school newsletter as her words are wise indeed!
- Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is also my first book, although I have had articles and interviews republished in books, such as Viewpoint: 14 Years on Books for Young Adults. The Book That Made Me is a collection of 32 personal essays by writers for young adults and writers that young adults read. They were mostly written for the anthology; Shaun Tan’s was previously published on a blog. My own contribution also functions as an introduction to the collection. Given the difficulties involved in trying to split 10% royalties 32 ways, all contributors, myself included, have agreed to donate the royalties to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.
- How did you get started as a writer?
Most of my published writing has been critical writing and articles on children’s and youth literature, and interviews with children’s and young adult authors. One of my earliest interviews was with Melina Marchetta when Looking for Alibrandi was first published, and I had a lengthy interview with the great Diana Wynne Jones published that same year (1992).
As a child, I always thought I’d grow up to be a writer and spent a lot of my childhood and adolescent writing fiction, but I also began work on a Guide to Narnia when I was about 15, so even back then I was interested in writing about literature. I do have some fiction projects on the go but at the moment my main writing is for my PhD.
- What does a typical day look like for you?
I work full-time as the coordinator of Outreach Programs for Liverpool City Library, a large public library in south western Sydney (we have 6 branches). My days are incredibly varied and can include:
- booking presenters (including writers and illustrators, but also craft artists, magicians, dancers and animal exhibition shows) for school holiday programs
- consulting with teachers on delivery of project-based learning programs and literacy support programs in the library and delivering e:book training to students and teachers in schools
- developing partnerships with community organisations and other departments in Council
- working with the marketing librarian to develop promotional materials, including managing a lot of the library’s social media
- moving furniture to set up rooms for events
- ordering craft materials, Lego, puppets and other professional resources for our children’s services and branch teams
And that’s aside from my supervisory duties as the coordinator of a small team of library staff. It’s a busy, busy life but a very satisfying one, and we are developing some amazing new programs for our community. I’m also really keen to get involved with reader advisory, as although I’m not a librarian by training, I love talking with young people about books and reading.
- Can you describe your workspace for us?
I live in an old timber cottage in the north-west of Sydney. The second bedroom of the house serves as my study. My desk looks out over the front garden (covered in clover at the moment!) and I like to watch people walk their dogs and to and from their shifts and the railway station (my house is on the edge of a light industrial estate).
The room is lined with bookshelves, which mostly contains my professional library (my collection of children’s and YA books is in an outdoor studio). I have many books on the craft of writing, dozens of writers’ memoirs and biographies, books on literary theory, my large collection of books about fairy tales from my studies for my Masters, and now the books and papers I am using for my PhD. I also have an extensive collection of books about children’s and youth literature, my very precious and well-used reference collection.
My desk, alas, is very messy, but I do seem to be someone who works well in a slight amount of chaos!
My work space is also likely to contain at least one cat, sometimes two, although they don’t really get on, so try and avoid being in the same room at the same time.
- Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
It’s the same—read widely, read frequently, because if you’re a reader, that’s what you’ll want to do anyway, and if you want to be a writer, then you need also to be a reader. Many young (and not so young) writers are told to ‘write what you know’—I like to add some detail to that advice by saying what I think is most important is that you write what you know in your heart. Every story is fundamentally for writers and readers alike to explore the human condition, so stay true to what you understand about human emotions and relationships, and you won’t go too far wrong.
- Do you have a favourite book or character?
Many, many favourites, but some have stayed with me for most of my life: Judy from Seven Little Australians and Harriet M Welch from Harriet the Spy are two characters and books that mean perhaps more to me than any others.
- What is the book that made you?
You’ll have to read my contribution/introduction to the book to find out! (Truth is, there are many that have made me in different ways; one very important book in my life is The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones, which is the book that, as an adult, made me want to work in children’s books.)
Megan: one of my FAV entries in the book is by the divine Will Kostakis, who you can read more about here.
- What do you love most about the children’s and YA literature industry in Australia?
I’ve worked in the industry one way or another for around a quarter of a century now, and I think for me, the generosity of authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, everyone really, is what defines the best of the industry. Most people involved are genuinely and deeply invested in the importance of books in the lives of children, and what usually comes along with that is a real commitment to social justice, compassion, inclusion and diversity. Those are the values that I think are crucial to a happy and cohesive society, so look no farther than your local children’s bookshop and library!
- What advice do you have for parents who are looking for books that will inspire and engage their own children?
First of all, trust children to make their own judgements on things. Kids are excellent at self-censorship, so give them a free hand as far as is reasonable when it comes to self-selection. Sometimes they’ll pick books that are way too old for them, and sometimes they’ll want the comfort of an old favourite. Don’t judge their reading, but share it with them, and if you think they’re ‘stuck’ on a particular author or series, criticising their choices will only alienate them from reading. Read with them. Share what you’re reading with them. And find a great children’s bookseller, librarian or teacher who is equally passionate about kids’ reading and ask them for suggestions.
- If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
That all the billions of dollars we currently spend on locking up innocent asylum seekers were instead spent on making sure every school and public library had proper funding, and that every child owned at least a dozen books of their very own at every stage of their reading lives. (And it goes without saying that those asylum seekers would thereby be welcomed with open arms into a population raised with the empathy and compassion that we know reading from infancy develops, along with literacy language and brain development. Can’t be that hard.)
Megan: read about the Ben Law (one of my fav books of the last few years was one of his) and his entry in ‘The Book that Made Me’ here.