Tuesday, October 30, 2018

GUEST POST: "The Book Lady" by Judy Newman

I go by three different names.

I am Judy Newman, President and Reader in Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs.I am also Pepper Springfield, author of the Bobs and Tweets rhyming chapter-book series, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. And if you come to my town, Montclair, New Jersey—especially this time of year—you will hear people call me “the Book Lady.”

Me and my alter ego, Pepper Springfield.

I started giving out books on Halloween instead of candy 25 years ago. I am a working mom who didn’t have a lot of time to hang out in the neighborhood, so I thought that if I gave out books, it would help me get to know the kids on our street a little better.I can always talk to kids about books—I love to hear what they like and don’t like to read.

I like candy as much as the next person, but I am not inspired to discuss it.

My friends and even my own children (who were very small at the time) told me no one would want books when they came trick-or-treating at our house. Books weren’t cool like candy.They were wrong.

We started a tradition, and today hundreds and hundreds of kids and their parents visit the “Book House” every Halloween.They start lining up on my driveway at around four in the afternoon, which means I have to leave work early to get there in time to greet them.

They also come to share with me, the Book Lady,why their chose their costume, what they are reading now, and what they liked—or didn’t like—about the books they got from the Book House last year.

They bring their friends from other towns and from the city. One of my favorite “regulars” is a young man who first came to get books as a child with a group from a community center in Newark years ago and recently came back to introduce me to his new baby daughter and get books for her.

We live on a long, flat street, which is perfect for trick-or-treating. At first some of my neighbors were not happy that they had to buy (literally) thousands of pieces of candy to support the trick-or-treaters who would come to their houses after visiting the Book House. But by now, most people are thrilled to get in the spirit—and if they don’t want to stay home and hand out candy, they can come over to our house and help distribute books.

The Montclair Police come and help with crowd and traffic control. And the officers get into the act too, helping kids with their books.

The goal of my work—as Judy Newman, the President of Scholastic Book Clubs (the monthly “book orders” kids get in school), and as Pepper Springfield, the author—is to help every child find books they will love to read.I want to get all kids excited about choosing, owning, and reading their own books.

We know from formal research, from visiting classrooms all across the country, and from seeing how kids talk with me about books each Halloween that when kids pick out the books they want to read—and don’t want to read—they read more.

According to the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report,6th Edition, the biannual survey of kids’ and parents’ views on reading that Scholastic produces, 89% of kids say, “My favorite books are the ones I have picked out myself.”

Children need to see themselves as readers in order to be successful in life. Nothing beats reading in its power to help young people build vocabulary,exercise imagination, express their ideas and opinions, and do well in school and eventually in their chosen field of work.

For “the Book Lady,” Halloween is a wonderful annual opportunity to support the power of books and make reading fun.

As Pepper Springfield, I poured lots of my Halloween Book Lady experiences into Bobs and Tweets: Trick or Tweet,the third book in the Bobs and Tweets series.(I was so nervous when I starting writing these books that I didn’t want to use my own name. I was afraid that I—someone who is supposed to be a real expert on children’s books—would get a bad review or not sell any copies and be exposed as a fraud.So I created my pen name and hid behind it for a long time. I was so shy about my books that I didn’t want to tell anyone about them, and that had the obvious effect: no one knew about them.So I am in the process of getting over my shyness.)

In Bobs and Tweets: Trick or Tweet, Lou does not want to wear a healthy veggie costume like everyone else in her neat Tweet family; and her best friend, Dean, does not want to be a Zombie from Mars, the chosen costume in his family. Plus this is the first year they are allowed to go out trick-or-treating alone with no grown-ups.

Dean is dressed as King Neptune. Lou, a vampire string bean. Of course, no costume is perfecto without Pretty Kitty and Chopper.

Lou and Dean create their own costumes, enter a “Best Halloween Block” contest, get all kinds of treats from their Bonefish Street neighbors, deal with runaway pets, make a new friend, and cope with a blackout.

The start of the spooky blackout on Bonefish Street.

In one way or another, all of this was inspired by what has happened to the Book Lady on Halloween over the years.

But as they do in all the books in the Bobs and Tweets series, the annoyingly slobby Bobs and the equally annoying but meticulous Tweets—along with all the other characters in the Bonefish Street community—learn to get along and work together. In the last chapters of Bobs and Tweet: Trick or Tweet, they figure out how to get along and host a super-fun Halloween neighborhood bash.

You’ll notice Captain Jo’leen closes Bonefish Street off to cars much the way the Montclair Police Department officers patrol my street.

I don’t have slime showers like they do at the Bobs’Halloween party, but we celebrate Halloween with the same excitement and joy as they do on Bonefish Street.

The Bobs’ funhouse being enjoyed by the whole neighborhood! 

The Bobs’ band plays a concert at the Halloween bash. Here are two samples from their playlist:

All of us wish you a very happy Halloween and happy reading!

Judy Newman
Pepper Springfield
The Book Lady

Check out the first two books in the series, Meet the Bobs and Tweets and Bobs and Tweets: Perfecto Pet Show. And get ready next year when Lou and Dean and all the gang head to Scout Camp!

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