Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Get 'em While They're Young

I spent this past Saturday morning with a large group of "energized" kids and their parents. GPB hosted a Between the Lions traveling event which brought members of the PBS series's most famous family of lions to Atlanta.

Between the Lions is part of the PBS Kids schedule of TV programs and can be watched on GPB TV weekdays at 1PM. The program promotes reading among kids aged 4-7 with a family of puppet lions who live in a magic library. There's mom and dad, Cleo and Theo, and their children Lionel and Leona. Theo and Leona were able to join us at GPB.

I was asked to be the "Designated Reader" for the performance and had to come up on stage and, with Leona looking over my shoulder, read the kids in the audience a story, Is Your Mama a Llama?, by Deborah Guarino, with illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love kids even though I don't have any of my own, but I've always been very aware of the old showbiz adage "never work with animals or kids." Here I was working with both!

It really was a great event; the kids loved it; the puppets were hilarious; and the whole Between the Lions team were a joy to work with. Theo and Leona even agreed to have their photograph made with me afterwards (see photo above. Me between the lions: l-r--Theo, me, Leona).

This event came hours after what may well prove to be one of the biggest literary events of the century: the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

At 12:01AM on Saturday, July 21, bookstores all across the world opened their doors to millions of kids and their parents who wanted to be among the very first to buy and read the very last installment of one of literature's great characters.

I have a friend, Wil, who is the community relations manager for a Barnes & Noble store in Atlanta, and what he told me about what he was planning for last Saturday morning turned my hair grey. He was transforming his store into Platform 9 3/4 at London's Kings Cross Station (Potter aficionados will understand!). Thousands were expected to camp out outside the store in order to be sure of getting the new HP book.

I remember returning to the U.K. several years ago for a vacation. One of the Harry Potter books had just been released a day or so prior to my arrival, and my sister Caroline, who has 5 children, had managed to procure one single copy of the book which my nephews and nieces were having to share.

The household rules were that each of the kids could have the book for an hour a day and they were strictly forbidden from blurting upcoming plot details to those brothers and sisters who hadn't read as far. You can imagine the nightmares that ensured during the weeks that the five kids were attempting to share the book!

I mention these two recent events because of the critical importance of getting children to get into the habit of reading as early as possible. Between the Lions is committed to instilling the joys of reading and of words in children from an early age. Bravo!

Likewise, I have nothing but eternal admiration for J.K. Rowling whose HP books have almost single-handedly revived the desire to read among kids all over the world. Not only are these young 'uns picking up her books to read them, but they are completely oblivious to the fact that these HP books are generally 600-700 pages in length. Let me tell you that I would think twice before committing myself to a book of such length if I didn't have to!

IMHO, J.K. Rowling is a special type of hero (heroine?) and has a special circle of literary heaven reserved for her when she turns in her final manuscript and is received into the great book club in the sky!

They say children are our future. True. If they aren't in the habit of picking up a book and reading (as opposed to playing violent computer games) then societies all around the world are in trouble. It's all about what Barton Fink calls (in the movie of the same name) "the life of the mind."

If you have young children, record/TiVo Between the Lions (weekdays at 1PM on GPB TV) and plop them down in front of the TV when they get home from school and let them enjoy Theo, Cleo, Lionel and Leona. I certainly did, and I know how to read already (just!).