An Interview with the Children’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy blogger behind Charlotte’s Library

posted in: 2. Illustrators and Authors | 14

Today I’m delighted to bring you an interview with one of the three bloggers shortlisted this week in the Children’s Literature category for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award, none other than Charlotte from Charlotte’s Library.

Charlotte is an archaeologist, a president (yes, really!), a mum to two boys, a wife to an Irish piper/ethnomusicologist and a book blogger extraordinaire amongst other things. The focus of her blog is fantasy and science fiction books for kids and teenagers, though occasionally you’ll find other goodies popping up there too. Charlotte, being very active and respected in the kidlitosphere has been interviewed on multiple previous occasions (including here by Jo-Jo loves to read, here by Children’s Books and Reviews and here by Kittling: Books) so it was an (enjoyable) challenge to interview her today.

First I asked Charlotte to share with us a list of 8 books she couldn’t be without, 8 books she’d choose to take if she were going to be marooned on a desert island, 8 books that would provide her with sustenance. Here’s what she came up with…

Charlotte: I once spent a summer in northern Kenya doing paleoarchaeology, with only four books. One of these was Vergil’s Aeneid, in Latin–I was brushing up for a course the coming year. And, so help me, by the end of that summer I was reading it for pleasure….things were desperate. It was doubtless Good For Me, but I don’t want it to happen again. So this question is one I’ve worried a lot about!

I shall take:

The complete OED. Although this is clearly not escapist reading, it should at least serve to keep me from being bored out of my skull for a few years. Every day I could learn a few words and ponder their etymology.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Again, simply to keep my mind occupied.

Then, for escapism:

I shall take two books that will transport me to England, and away from my desert island–The Miss Buncle Omnibus, by D.E. Stevenson, writer of lovely mid 20th century English/Scottish famiy/romance/social comedy books, and Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge, because I love the pictures she makes in my mind.

Then, moving to fantasy, I’ll bring the omnibus edition of the Riddle-Master Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip (I’m going for as much bang for my buck as possible)–this fantasy series is one with lovely, lovely, details that stands up to repeated re-reading.

And a good choice, I think, is The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner, because even though I have read it a zillion times, I’m sure there are new insights to discover (MWT is one of the smartest writers I know). It’s the third of a series, but I have the first two memorized, that’s not a problem.

In a daring move, I’ll take a book that’s new to me–A Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett, because MWT recommends it, and it’s long.

In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden, is the story of a middle-aged woman becoming a Benedictine nun. It is beautiful, thought-provoking, and might be a help to me as I try to find inner peace alone on my island.

Oh dear. I hope that’s enough to keep me sane!

Then I asked Charlotte a few bonus questions:

What are your earliest memories of reading?

Charlotte: As far as I can remember I have always known how to read, and have always gravitated toward books, and wanted more books, and avidly re-read those I had, even if I didn’t actually like them, or found them down right disturbing….(The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, I am looking at you!). I used to sit on my mother’s lap while she read (something my children never were able to do, even when they were small enough to fit), and I would read what she was reading….of course, I only read the first two line on the left hand page before it got turned, but still. I vividly remember the two of us reading Gaudey Night, by Dorothy Sayers — scary cover! I don’t think my mother had any idea I was actually reading along….

Zoe: What books did you particularly enjoy as a young child?

Charlotte: Dr Seuss and Richard Scarry were my two favorites to read to myself when I was little — I loved I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sallew in particular from the former, and anything with Huckle and Lowly from the latter. I was very fond of Lowly — I wouldn’t call it a crush, exactly, as I was only two or three years old and he was a worm — but there was strong affection there.

When I was five we moved to Portugal, where we lived for the next three years. We didn’t have very many books, so it’s easy to remember the ones I loved: Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge, Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken stand out in my mind very clearly. It was also in Portugal that I met Enid Blyton — we went to a British school, and so she was hard to avoid. I was given all the Mallory Towers school stories, and my big sister got the St. Clares; I got the Secret Seven Mystery Series, and she got the Famous Five. I don’t think they did me any irreparable harm, and although my mother was kind of sneering about them (and left them all in the Bahamas when we moved from there a few years later), if she had really minded, she should have bought me different books.

Zoe: Given your day job is being an archaeologist, could you please suggest a selection of books for children about archaeology – either fiction or non fiction.

Charlotte: There aren’t that many fiction books about archaeology! Mostly it’s just archaeologist parents using going of on digs as an excuse to leave their children unattended. Two exceptions, in which the young protagonist get to go (unwillilling) on the dig that I can recommend are Country of Broken Stone, by Nancy Bond (Romans up by Hadrian’s Wall), and On Etruscan Time, by Tracey Barrett. I’d also recommend R.L. LaFever’s series about young Egyptologist, Theodosia–who works with artifacts in a London museum in the 19th century!

The books that influenced me to become an archaeologist are those that made the past come alive– Rosemary Sutcliff’s books, in particular Warrior Scarlet, The Eagle of the Ninth, and The Witch’s Brat, The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, and The King Must Die by Mary Renault.

Motel of the Mysteries, an archaeological spoof by David Macaulay, is great fun!

I don’t read much non-fiction about archaeology–too work-related! But David Macaulay’s books (Castle, Cathedral, Mosque, etc.) are excellent ones for a young would-be archaeologist to pour over!)

Zoe: I was intrigued by your comment in an earlier interview that you describe yourself as a “Good reader” by which you mean “I care for my books– I do not crack the spines of my paperbacks, or (shudder) bend the pages to mark my place. ” Whilst this is certainly my attitude to books I do not own (such as library books), for books I do own my attitude is about as different as it could be – I’ve written about it here – I like books to show they’ve been read and loved and become alive. For me a pristine book looks like an unloved book – so I’d love it if you could write a little more about your attitude towards caring for books 🙂

Charlotte: I’m a re-reader; if I have a book on my shelf, I’m going to want it to stay there for the foreseeable future (I still am really really cross at someone I lent a book to 18 years ago. It was just a paperback, but one I knew I’d re-read (Grass, by Sheri Tepper)–“I left it in my hotel room,” she said. “I assumed you wouldn’t want it back.”) So I want my books to look nice, books that show I care about them, much the same way that I try to keep my children tidy enough so as not to attract the attention of Child Welfare Services. Also, many of the books I own are not easily replaceable. So if I damage them to the point where they fall apart, that’s it. I have to be very careful, for instance, reading The Talking Parcel, by Gerald Durrell, or Marianne Dreams, by Catherine Storr. My paperback copies are now about 35 years old, and still intact…Some, like Black Hearts in Battersea, also from that time in my life, did get read to pieces. But I blame the binding, and not myself! And finally, in a much more mercenary vein, if you keep a book pristine and then decide you don’t want it, you get more in trade credit at the local used bookstore.

I am much more cavalier with library books…daringly eating chocolate ice-cream while reading them, for instance! (note–a drop of bleach removes a chocolate ice-cream spot very nicely. This technique does not, however, work on a more unfortunate coffee slop.)

Zoe: Thank you Charlotte! It’s been a pleasure interviewing you; in doing so I’ve discovered lots of new books and added many of them to my library reservation list.

Whilst Charlotte and I might disagree on how we express our love of books, do go and check out Charlotte’s blog and if you like what you read (and I’m sure you will), don’t forget you can vote for her here (the other two blogs shortlisted for the best Kidlit blogger award are The O.W.L and There’s a book).

14 Responses

  1. Andrea

    Thanks for an interesting interview! I’m always telling my kids to be kinder to their books (not leaving them sitting with their spines open, not eating messy snacks while reading a hardcover).

    • Zoe

      Do go and check Charlotte’s blog out Andrea, she’s got lots of lovely stuff going on there (as well as a healthy respect for the physical condition of her books!)

  2. Zoe

    Hi Charlotte, Oh, I know – I asked an impossible question really. I know at least some of my 8 books would vary from month to month!

  3. carol

    I enjoyed being reminded of some of my childhood reads.

    Richard Scarry stand out as being very busy books


  4. ~mwt


    Do you know Green Grow the Rushes by Elinor Lyon? It’s been a long time, but I think it had something to do with children discovering the remains of a roman road.

    And clearly, what you need is an omnibus book of Attolia! Maybe if you delay the trip to the desert island long enough, one will show up.


  5. Janelle

    Two powerhouses in the children’s book world paired up make for interesting interviews!

    I’m anxiously awaiting to see what sorts of middle grade/YA books my daughter and son will gravitate towards when they grow older. I know exactly where to turn if either takes a liking for sci-fi and fantasy.

  6. Roberta

    Absolutely lovely interview. Having done one myself, I know how much work goes into these. You’ve made it look effortless.


    Great interview. How fascinating to be an archaeologist. One of my favorites as a child was Dr. Seuss too, can’t go wrong with the Seuss.

    Thanks for sharing a new blogger with us.

  8. Zoe

    Thanks Roberta, Trisha, Janelle and Carol for your kind words. Scarry is definitely a fave of mine, and yes Shakespeare would be wonderful to really immerse oneself in, though i suspect I would need the OED with it as I’d discover so many new words and turns of phrase.

  9. Charlotte

    Thanks, Zoe, and all who stopped by!

    Megan–I’ve read some of Elinor Lyon’s books, but not that one–I’ll look for it. Thanks!

    And yes, please, it would be a comfort to have an omnibus edition of the whole series, preferably with lots of short stories I hadn’t read before!

  10. se7en

    Oh I love this… an interview swap is such a cool idea!!! I would also take Dorothy Dunnet for the “fatness” but they go so fast!!!

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