Episode 22: Kris @noextrawords | A Librarian Who Never Grew Up

On this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, we talk with Kris Dersch. She is a librarian, a mom, a reader and writer. We are friends because of #bookstagram, and we both pretty much have the self-proclaimed "reading tastes of a 12-year-old," meaning that we really enjoy middle grade and YA books.  You can find her on instagram @noextrawords, which is how we became friends. There are so many good books I’ve discovered because of her! I am so excited to share her behind-the-scenes stories and great book recommendations with you. We had a lot to talk about, so buckle up and let’s dive right in.


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Kris started reading very young, some of the first series she enjoyed were: 

  • Carolyn Haywood's Betsy books, starts with "B" Is For Betsy 
  • The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, which Kris preferred compared to Carolyn Haywood's Betsy books, and still really loves them. 
  • Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, which she received when she was 9 or 10. "I think that's when I graduated from a kid who loves books to, okay, this is going to be a lifelong set. I still have that set, they're completely trashed, and I now have a second set because I read them so much." 

After spending a lot of her twenties "between things," Kris ended up starting as a substitute book shelver for a few months at the library where she grew up. Soon after, her friend found her a job as a story time person at a library on an island. Kris eventually landed in that job, and from there went to grad school for a librarian degree. She's held many different types of librarian jobs since then. 

She said, "I think I became a librarian because I couldn't figure out how to own a bookstore. But it was the same kind of thing, they were going to pay me to be here ...I mean, I would hang out in a library if you paid me or not, so you might as well pay me."

I asked Kris to tell some stories of what people might not know about librarianship and libraries. She said one of the big ones is that librarians and libraries don't treat books as precious objects. "The content of books is precious." But....books fall in mud puddles, they fall apart, they get grimy, they get outdated. One of her first assignments as a librarian was to rip the title pages out of some obsolete large-print library books, then tear the pages out to recycle and through away the hardcover. She was blown away. But this is part of the lifecycle of library books. People always find this really weird and sometimes people really freak out! 

Not everyone who comes to libraries is a big reader. Libraries hold appeal to bookworms who love books. But libraries are really about access, information, and entertainment. Anybody can come and we aren't going to make you do anything. People may not come in as readers, but they may still be attracted to the environment and resources of a library. 

Not every kid is going to be a lifelong reader. And if you push that, sometimes you actually turn them off. You're just the book-pusher and nobody likes that. 

I mentioned that Shaun Bythell goes on a whole rant in The Diary of a Bookseller about how libraries treat books and what that means for selling them as used books. 

I also talked about how in Ex Libris by Anne Fatiman she talks about the "courtly love" of books versus the "carnal love" of books. You can read that essay here.

Kris talked about Altered books, where people takes books with intricate flaps, drawers, scribbled out words and painting. People will ask her "don't you think that people shouldn't treat books that way?" and her response is "No, I think they are beautiful and amazing!" 

Battle Bunny is a story about a kid who turned a cute children's book into a whole different story by altering it. Kris got to do an activity like this with her 5th graders one time and they thought it was great. 

We talked about the impact of COVID on our library systems. Libraries have had to change the way they offer their services, and pivot to offering more online content. Kris thinks that libraries should still focus on their in-person content because "we are really good at it." And she hopes that libraries can, by and large, do what they've always done. That being said, they will be facing a reinvention of services in many ways. 

Many libraries were closed for several months. Kris said her 6-year-old cried more about the library being closed than about missing his friends, the children's museum, swimming lessons, or not going to school. Kris didn't realize how much of her parenting was going on library adventures!  

We have both are participating in The Unread Shelf project. Kris said "I think I may have changed the way I buy books. I think I had the tendency to buy used books just because they are there." Many of her unread books are older (half were published before 1990). The first time she was in their used bookstore in the wake of COVID, she found herself not being as interested in taking the books home as she previously did. She also found herself buying more new release books during quarantine, since she wasn't able to get them from the library. She plans on buying less books overall and more new books going forward. She's also working on adding more diverse books to her library because she's becoming more aware of how her unread shelf lacks diversity. 

Wondering what The Unread Shelf is? Check out Episode 11. 

She did read a decent amount off her unread shelf as well during quarantine, but really wanted to mix in new books as well. "Reading just off my unread shelf makes me feel left out because everybody is reading the shiny new things." 

"The Unread Shelf has been really fun thing find because it has forced me to look at what is unread in my house and why, and what do I want to read. I do have a wealth of cool stuff at my house that's been sitting around my house not read. People who are not readers look at you and are like 'Really? You have 180 unread books at your house?'" 

Kris has been keeping a regular paper calendar to track her reading, in addition to her Goodreads account. She's really enjoyed seeing the data on her reading habits. 

When I asked her what she looks for in books to read she said, "I just have the reading tastes of a 12-year-old girl. I never really grew up. So I read a ton of middle grade and YA because I like it and I find it interesting. And because I worked in youth services and it was helpful to have those books in my toolkit. Especially middle grade and YA readers judge books by their covers, and I don't think there is anything in the world wrong with that. I love good covers, quirky titles, quirky characters." 

"People who haven't read modern children's books don't realize that there is so much going on in that genre. But it does have to kind of end on a note that takes you forward because your main character is 12 and they still have 65+ years of their life ahead." 

Kris had a professor in grad school who said that everyone gravitates to one of 4 doors to books: Plot, Character, Setting, or Language. 

She is primarily attracted by a good character. She always looking for interesting people, interesting secondary characters, someone you're going to care about, or a distinct voice. 

For example, she didn't really enjoy the 3rd Hunger Games book because Katniss's head wasn't a fun place to live. She also didn't particularly enjoy Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Where the Crawdad Sings, or Such A Fun Age.  She did like the Kiss Quotient because of the quirky character who is on the spectrum. 

I talked about how The Authenticity Project that I read at the recommendation of Whitney @theunreadshelf (and enjoyed!) was compared to Elenor Oliphant and A Man called Ove, which gave me pause because I didn't make it through reading the one, but really liked the other.  

"The first thing you learn on the first day of library school is that every book has a reader and every reader has a book. I don't want to slam the door on someone's love of a book." 

On the other hand, Kris loves that Jane Yolen will unashamedly tell people the books she doesn't like that everyone else likes. Her least favorites are Love You Forever (really creepy), Rainbow Fish (why does he have to give away the one thing that makes him special?), and The Giving Tree (she calls it The Taking Boy). 

Kris says her "sacred cow" is The Chronicles of Narnia. She just really doesn't like them or see what the big deal is. She's also not a huge fantasy reader. I, on the other hand, grew up with Narnia and love it. Meanwhile, Kris grew up with and loves Anne of Green Gables, and I thought it was okay as a kid but didn't love it. 

She read a sci-fi book called Ursla La Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness at the recommendation of her husband last month. She found herself trying to get through the world building to get to the plot. It felt like speaking a foreign language. That brought to mind my feelings of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. There was so much world building, which was great, but I was ready to move on to more plot and character details. Apparently Kris got to meet Sanderson at an event and got to tell him that she liked his book Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians

"Again, I have the reading tastes of a 12-year-old girl, so I'm going to read fantasy, I'm going to read Alice In Wonderland. Because that's a fantasy I can jam with! It's short, but inventive and creative and crazy. But, it's like for a kid. Apparently I just never grew up." I agree in some ways and I don't feel like I quite grew up either! Ha! 

Kris and I both read We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly last month. I didn't realize it was going to be as serious as it was. But I also loved that the middle grade characters were the perfect perspective from which to tell the story of the failed launch of the Challenger space shuttle. It's a great example of the value of middle grade books. Kris also really liked the interplay of the teacher with the kids, because as an adult reader she likes watching adult characters play off the main characters. She also said that, as an adult who has played those roles, you get a different perspective on those characters than a middle grade reader would. 

Books I've read because Kris loved them: 

Books Laura recommended to Kris: 

Books Kris recommended to Laura:  

We talked about the process of selection of Newbery Award winners (which I thought was super cool!). Kris is trying to read books more proactively this year that may be considered for the award. There's no short list and no way of knowing exactly what books are contenders. She's been following the School Librarian Journal's Mock Newbery blog which is where she's gotten titles to read like From the Desk of Zoe Washington and King and the Dragonflies. 

In 2017, I decided to catch up on all the Newbery Medal winners that I missed since I was a kid. There were some I found that I loved, there were a few that I really didn't. We talked about how we didn't really understand why The Higher Power of Lucky won, except that it explored hard issues that kids might be dealing with. Even though I didn't love this book, I know there's a kid out there to which this book might mean everything. This process informed my budding love of middle grade.  Now, I am planning on reading the award winners every year. 

Some years, Kris likes the Newbery Honor books more than the Medal winner. For example, we both really liked The Night Diary. For example, Jacqueline Woodson has won several Honors, but never the Medal. Kris particularly loves Brown Girl Dreaming

Elizabeth Acevedo, who wrote With the Fire on High, Clap When you Land, and The Poet X is on Kris's auto-buy list, along with Victoria Jamieson. There aren't very many authors on this list. 

We talked about listening to audiobooks and they role they play in our lives. I mentioned The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner was one I listened to recently on audiobooks. 

Kris wasn't ready to tackle the size of Stamped from the Beginning, but when they came out with a young adult remix, she was excited to read it, especially it's done in part by Jason Reynolds. 

Bookstagrammers we mentioned include @melanatedreader, @ponchospages and @blackgirlthatreads

We discussed how suddenly it seemed like everyone on bookstagram was talking about and reading the same 5 non-fiction anti-racism books. Which is valid! But also, everyone synthesizes information differently, and sometimes non-fiction isn't the way people best receive information. 

Kris said, "I think the bottom line is, read books by people who have different experiences. Read books by black people. It can be any kind of book. Read kids books, poetry, non-fiction. No one is asking you to get an advanced degree in black history. They're asking you to take the perspective of other people into account more and diversify the voices you're letting into your psyche. If you can incorporate those voices into books you'll actually read, then you're more likely to do it and learn from it. That conversation was a tiny bit frustrating to me because, just as a librarian, I want to give people as many doors as possible into which they can enter this conversation and not have it be 'if you haven't read this 5 books everyone is talking about then you're doing it wrong.'" 

She mentioned reading Felon: Poems by Reginald Dwayne Betts recently. I mentioned this article, which I found very insightful! It was Don’t Just Read About Racism—Read Stories About Black People Living in which Nic Stone, author of the best-selling young adult novel Dear Martin, explains why your anti-racist reading lists aren’t enough. I keep coming back to this idea again and again. I'm not a huge non-fiction reader anyway, so it feels more natural for me to approach this topic just like I would many others, through fiction and narrative. I talked about recently reading Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and how it engaged me both mentally and emotionally and was a perspective I needed to hear. 

"It was getting  heavy there for a while, not just with my reading, but other people's reading. The last thing that I want is for people to turn off and stop reading own voices books and being part of the conversation because it's too much. Read widely, and just include books by different voices in your reading," she said.

Kris mentioned the concept of de-colonizing your bookshelf, and that she is looking forward to reading Lose your Mother at the recommendation of another bookstagrammer, @blackgirlthatreads. Kris said, "If I'm going to spend time in this area, it's going to be something from a perspective that is diverse and that I need to hear more of."  

We don't always love the books from a different perspective, but there is something to learn. It's all just expanding your worldview and the way you read. Everything you reading is continually expanding your world. 

Kris just finished Ways to Make Sunshine, which is about a girl living her life in Portland. It was a great palette cleanser and still gives you a different perspective. 

She's also trying to diversify her son's reading. She loves the Little Leaders and Little Legends books for his age. She and her son just read Sadiq and The Desert Star, which he loved. But he was puzzled that there was not a civil rights theme to the book, or that he wasn't treated badly because of his race. That this little boy was just living his life and wanting to look at the stars. There are several more books about Sadiq as well by the same author. We need books of all kinds, for kids and adults!  

Meanwhile, I'm taking my role as "the fun aunt" very seriously by bringing books to my in-law's foster kids almost every time we see them. I'm excited about the kids books Kris recommended, and could imagine buying those in the next few years for the kids. 

Kris said, "I was the mom who read Charlotte's Web to my newborn in the NICU." I love this so much! 

Kris has created her own podcasts, No Extra Words  - flash fiction - and Seatbelts Everyone! - which recaps The Magic School Bus and is co-hosted by her 6-year-old. 

You can find her on Instagram at @noextrawords and her blogs are at https://hospitalvolunteermom.blogspot.com/ and http://noextrawords.wordpress.com/ 

Until next time, with lots of literary love from my library to yours! 



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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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