Fallen Star Stories: a blogs' tale and a life in childrens' books


It's been nearly 9 years since I started blogging as Fallen Star Stories. (Wow! Hardly seems possible.) And I thought I'd like to tell you a little something about this blog, which no doubt will migrate on to telling you a bit about me and my life in childrens' books; the whys and wherefores, etc. A friend of mine has been talking to me (quite a lot really) about writing 'my story', so I thought, why not? I hope some of you find it all of some interest, but first, the blog.
The picture above is an illustration by (the wonderful) Jessie Willcox Smith. It is the first picture I posted on Fallen Star Stories; a picture from my childhood and one that made a huge impression on me back then...and still now, if I'm honest. It is an illustration from Robert Louis Stevensons' A Childs' Garden of Verse for a poem entitled Picture Books in Winter.
"...We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies' looks,
in the picture story-books..."

Me and the (very tolerant) gang at Dubray
It struck me how much of that feeling I share when it comes to childrens' books; and not just picture books, but beginner readers ("chapter books"), middle grade, teen and YA books...all of them. And so, when I became a childrens' bookseller (the job of my dreams, incidentally), I was able to express to many my absolute love (let's be honest...obsession, really) with childrens' literature. The problem, as I saw, was there wasn't enough time in the working day to talk to everyone about this, and not everyone wanted to listen; so I needed a forum. Someone suggested a blog. Others were doing it; so again, why not? After much thought and deliberation, Fallen Star Stories was born.
When starting up, there were many questions in my own mind of what exactly I wanted to do. In fact, I had a better idea of what I didn't want to do.
First, I did not want to make it a blog that revealed everything about my day. You don't need to know what I had for breakfast, my latest grocery purchases or which bus I take to work...certainly not my every thought and feeling. And I didn't want to talk about those things. What I wanted to do was show you kids books; review them, recommend them, expose their glory...to reach out to more people than I could on the average day. And I am pleased to say, I think I've done that.
Then, there was the question of how; what kinds of things I wanted to say and why I wanted to say them.
Now, let me give you just a little bit of background on myself. With an educational background in fine art, craft and art history, I did a Masters degree in Visual Culture. What's that? Basically, it condenses down to everything we see and how it affects us as individuals and culturally. (Explains a lot about my passion and fascination with picture books and illustration....but more on this at a later date.) How we interpret what we see is hugely important and changes culturally. In fact did many years of theoretical essay writing; studying the theories of Marx, Kant, Hegel, psychoanalysis, linguistics, feminist theory and how it all applied to the visual, etc, etc, etc.... and so I am well acquainted with how to write about these things and many more. But here, I didn't want to do that. What I was looking for was something much more straight-forward, much less academic; something accessible.
A small portion of my overloaded bookshelf
I wanted to create a blog that simply talked about great books for children and their grown-ups.(Oh please, dear grown-ups, continue to read childrens' books...no matter how grown-up you are.) To have something that kids could look at, if they wanted to, for recommendations. And something that would reflect the books that children really liked. I have always said that if you want to know what would be a great book for a child, ask the children, the "target audience". They know what they like and they know why they like. So, I spend a lot of time talking to kids...what are you reading now, what's you're favourite book, why; all of these questions and more. I have been...quite rightly...accused of ignoring the adults in a kids book conversation and talking directly to the child. In this way, I am always 'updating' my knowledge of childrens' literature and the concerns it needs to reflect in order to be appealing, exciting and foster readers. Even the youngest child can tell you these things. You simply have to listen and really hear what they are saying (without putting a lot of your interpretation on top, I'd like to add.) And keep in mind, those interests and concerns change as they grow and gain more experience in life. So...I constantly strive to keep this blog "user-friendly".
Promoting and basically showing-off authors and illustrators is very important to me as I write this blog. There are so many wonderful producers of childrens' literature and I think it's valuable to see what they think, how they feel and what they up to. These are the primary 'gate-keepers' in kidslit. Without them and their incisive understanding of what it means to be a child, we would have nothing here. They need people to see them, so I do try to add some interviews and articles about creators. There will be more of this in the future...I feel I haven't done near enough.

I feel I may be banging on a bit too much here, so I'm going to end with the answer to a question I am frequently asked...why did I call my blog Fallen Star Stories?
Simply, it is an homage to my father. When I was very little (and up until the time he passed away), my Daddy was a primary influence on my reading habits, and the things that intrigue me in general. In fact, I owe him my name...Mary (as he told me) means 'star of the sea) and Esther is star. We would spend many, many hours sitting on the front porch or gazing out the window talking about books, discussing the merits and detriments and... looking for falling stars.
It has always been my wish that you, dear reader, find a few here.

Post-Script: a little later that same day....
After finishing this, someone contacted me (thank you for reading this by the way) with a very simple question that, no, I did not really address.
So what's next?
In thinking about Fallen Star Stories, let me assure I will continue to blog; reviewing books for all ages as long as I can get my hands on them...which should be a very long time. I will be adding more interviews with authors and illustrators (publishers too, if you like) and some 'opinion pieces' (I'm not sure that's exactly the right phrase. We'll work it out.)
And blog tours! I love to do blog tours! Fun and interesting and so many different perspectives...definitely blog tours.
If there is anything I think you should know about...book award ceremonies, incentives for young/new writers, library schemes, poetry slams, plays, exhibitions...I will inform you as best I can.
And you will find more of these little pieces about my life in childrens' books. Because I am constantly asked about it...all kinds of questions (mostly friendly and curious.)
Outside of Fallen Star Stories, I am thinking about a PhD in childrens' literature. I even have three possible avenues of exploration. (Please note; all of my degrees have one thing in common. They were done for no other reason than I wanted to. That's it. No prospects of opening doors and creating a sterling career or what I might gain from it in the material world. Simply because I want to. It's a lot of hard work and research and if I didn't want to do it for me, I wouldn't bother. Probably a semi-fatal character flaw, but there you go.)
And there is this mad notion of opening my own Childrens' Bookshop. I have been drawing and redrawing plans, figuring and re-figuring costings and developing strategies and all the other notions one needs for such an enterprise. There are colour schemes and possible fittings...it's dizzying really. If we meet, DO NOT ask me about it. It will go one for hours. (Ask me about books, instead.) Yes, it is at this stage simply a dream. It may stay a dream. But, if the financial backing for such ever finds its' way to me, I will not hesitate...just watch me run with it! (It's only the money that holds me back....isn't that the way it is?)
That's about it, for now...excuse me while I run to the porch. I've heard rumours of falling stars.

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