WRADvocate profile: Caroline Leavitt

We are excited to introduce you to our WRADvocate in New Jersey, Caroline Leavitt!

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Pictures of You and 8 other novels. Pictures of You made the Best Books of 2011 List from the San Francisco Chronicle, Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus named it one of the Top 5 Books of 2011 on Family and Love. It was also a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick and a Costco Pennie's Pick. She teaches novel writing at UCLA Writers Program online and she is a book critic for the Boston Globe, People Magazine, Shoptopia and Dame Magazine. She lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband the writer, Jeff Tamarkin and their son Max

Caroline will be joining our March 7th World Read Aloud Day Celebration at Book of Wonder, where she'll be reading selections from her favorite children's books. We're looking forward to having Caroline as a special reader on March 7th!

1. Can you share some of your earliest memories of reading and how they impacted you?  

I read in the bathtub, under the covers, and with a book in my lap at the supper table.  With a book, I could go anywhere and be anything.

I was a lonely, severely asthmatic little girl and books saved my life. While the other kids were out playing, I stayed inside and read for hours and hours. I lost myself in books. I wasn't asthmatic when I read. I was a dancer in Paris or a pilot in Africa. Reading calmed me, and it also made me feel that anything was possible, that illness didn't have to define me. My parents took my sister and me to the library every weekend and we were allowed to take home as many books as we wanted. I still remember the smell and feel and color of the books and nothing made me happier than to see a huge pile on my bureau. Even better, reading stories sparked me into wanting to write them!
2. Is there a particular book that has changed your life in some way and why?

I was hospitalized for two weeks with a secondary lung infection and asthma when i was in 9th grade. My English teacher sent me over a book, A High Wind in Jamaica and I immediately started reading. I had never read a book like that before--where the morality was up for grabs (these were very proper English children with a decidedly mean streak), where the pirates were kinder than the kids, and where the writing seemed to grab you by the throat. That novel made me think about life in ways that I had never thought about it before. I couldn't forget this book, and in fact, in almost every novel I've written, i have a character reading it. I pay homage to a book that stayed with me.

3. What advice would you give to teachers, parents and caregivers who want to reach their struggling readers?
I didn't think my oldest son would ever learn to read.  It was hard and he had no desire to learn.  But that didn't stop me from reading aloud to him.  Finally, in fourth grade I read him Redwall.  But I didn't read it fast enough.  Before long, he couldn't wait.  He had to read ahead and find out what happened next.  That started an avalanche because he is never without a book now.  I believe the key is trying different types of books because each child will fall in love with a different story.  And my son who didn't want to read?  He is now getting his doctorate!

4. What do you think is most essential for teachers, parents and caregivers to do in order to nurture a child to become a lifelong reader?  Reading aloud stories that you enjoy will draw students into loving reading as well. 
Have all sorts of books around in every area. We have books in every room of our house, and before our son was even born, we put in a built-in bookshelf filled with books in his room. We thought this was the best "Welcome to the World" gift we could give him. Make sure kids see you reading and loving books. Get enthusiastic about what you are reading and share that enthusiasm. Read aloud passages. Find out what a child is interested in and you can find a book to match that interest. Above all, don't push. Don't make reading a chore. I know that our son saw our delight in books and he picked up on it.

5. What do you think the future holds for readers?

Some people think that paper books are on their way out and that may be true.  I have a Kindle and my husband reads his novels on his I-Pad.  But reading is reading, no matter what the form!
I think we are hard-wired to love stories and to need them. I don't think reading is going to go away, but I do think there will be different forms for it. When videos came out, everyone in the movie business was terrified no one would want to see films on the big screen, but they still do, and I imagine it will be the same for books.  I happen to love paper books. I love the weight of them, the smell of them, the way they look. I love the whole experience of browsing in a bookstore. My son grew up in bookstores, sprawled on the floor reading! But I admit, the last time I toured, I took a Kindle because I couldn't carry all the weight of all the books I needed to have with me, and it was incredible. It was so lightweight, so portable, and the only thing I hated about it was I couldn't use it at the beginning of my flight or at the end.

I also think the low price points of e-books garners more readers--and more kids. But nothing will ever replace a book with movable pieces for children (I'm thinking of Pat the Bunny), and nothing will ever replace for me the experience of holding a book in my hand.
To learn more about Caroline, visit her website at: www.carolineleavitt.com