Noted Children's Book Expert Anita Silvey To Speak At EPL

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local authors , Eldredge Public Library

Anita Silvey. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – Whether you are a child, a teen or an adult who loves books, an extraordinary opportunity is coming to the Eldredge Public Library (EPL) on Nov. 18 when Anita Silvey, probably the nation’s premiere expert on children’s literature, speaks at the library.

“The talk is for everyone with a love of literature and books,” says Tammy DePasquale, EPL’s assistant director and youth services librarian. “She’s such a phenomenal speaker—she’ll appeal to anyone who values books.”

EPL Director Amy Andreasson calls Silvey an “icon in the children’s literary world.”

The author of 11 books, Silvey writes for adults as well as children. The premise of her 2009 book “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People From All Walks of Life” is this: If you had to name just one children’s book that changed the way you see the world, what would it be?

Silvey posed that question to a number of prominent adults. A surgeon who performs heart transplants told Silvey that “The Wizard of Oz” stuck with him—in particular the character of the tin man. What is it that the tin man wants? A heart.

The idea is that the book you read as a child still resounds with you. In examining this issue, Silvey highlights the roles that parents, librarians and teachers play in shaping our national heroes by introducing them to books.

For Silvey, that special book is the 1911 “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Silvey received a copy handed down from her mother’s great aunt, born in 1865. Silvey’s mother read the book to her when she was a child. Silvey rereads her old copy of “The Secret Garden” every five years. As she said in a ReadingRockets.com interview, “When I physically touch that book, I’m connected to everybody in my family back to the Civil War.”

And by the way, as Silvey said in the same ReadingRockets interview, she does not believe that the physical book will ever be replaced by e-books. Silvey finds the power of the print book “extraordinary” and has “tremendous faith” in it.

While technology allows for a certain kind of reading, there is a place for the book itself, particularly when working with children. While people often forgot the author of a book, they always remember the person who shared it with them—a mother, teacher or librarian. “The memories are whole memories, it’s only half what the material is,” Silvey says. In “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book,” publisher Steve Forbes remembers what his mother read, but he also talks about what it was like to sit in his mother’s lap. “That’s what’s gets lost if you think all your reading is going to be on Kindle,” Silvey says.

Longing for “close personal interaction” goes back to the cave and technology will not replace that, she adds. “In the end I just think the power of the book is extraordinary.”

Silvey’s influential 40-plus year career has been unusual in that she has divided it among publishing, evaluating children’s books and writing. She frequently appears on NPR, “The Today Show,” “60 Minutes” and other nationally-broadcast programs. For 25 years she has taught modern book publishing and librarianship at Simmons University in Boston.

“She has been in every position and has a keen insight into each aspect,” DePasquale says. “She is quite the authority. This is really a career highlight for me to invite her to the library.”

To bring Silvey to Chatham, DePasquale received an LSTA grant, made possible with federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

DePasquale has heard Silvey speak twice, and “you can see her passion.”

“She’s the go-to person for this industry,” she said.

Silvey spent many years as a publisher of children’s and young adult books, and this offers her a different perspective from that of a teacher or librarian. For example, publishers love when someone tries to ban a book because sales of that book will increase. Also, Silvey knows the backstories of books. In one interview she related the backstory of Margret and H.A. Rey, authors of the “Curious George” series first published with Houghton Mifflin in 1941. The Reys, who were German Jews, were honeymooning in Paris when they were nearly trapped by Hitler’s 1940 invasion. Carrying the “Curious George” manuscript, they fled Paris on a makeshift tandem bicycle only hours ahead of the German Army. That backstory enriches the “Curious George” stories themselves.

“I have enormous respect and gratitude for her,” DePasquale says of Silvey. “Her life’s work has been devoted to promoting and advocating for quality children’s and adult literature. I am truly a fan.”

Silvey will speak at the Eldredge Public Library on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3 p.m. Where the Sidewalk Ends Books will sponsor a signing of “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book” immediately following the talk. The event is free and open to the public.