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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Interview with Steven L. Layne

Today we have questions and answers by Dr. Steven L. Layne author of 19 books including his first professional title that all librarians must have: Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers by Dr. Steven L. Layne. Stenhouse Publishers, ©2009. ISBN: 978-157110-385-7 Price: $19.00

Your first professional book Igniting a Passion for Reading includes "reminiscences from many of today’s well-known children’s and young adult authors—Mem Fox, Sharon Draper, Steven Kellogg, Candace Fleming, Eric Rohman, Neal Shusterman, and Joan Bauer—about the teacher or librarian who ignited their passion for reading." Did you choose this posse of authors and did any of their responses surprise you?

Dr. Layne’s response: Most of these authors are treasured friends though a few are more acquaintances (Kellogg, Bauer, Sonnenblick) whom I revere. That’s not to say I don’t revere the others, by the way, because I do. I selected these authors and illustrators because they have a heart for kids that beats like mine does. Given that, and their popularity with readers, I knew teachers and librarians would love to hear their tales. 

Pretend you are an imaginary student of yours who becomes an author and wants to honor you. What would this student write about you? 

It is a dream of mine that it will happen for one of my students one day – that their dream of writing a book will come true. I don’t need the credit, but I’d love to feel that I was one of the “players” who encouraged a student to follow the dream. A graduate student recently wrote of me. “Dealing with Dr. Layne is both infuriating and exhilarating. When you try to tell him, “I can’t do that,” his hearing shuts down. I predict this will become worse as he gets older.” I laughed when I read it, but it was a tremendous compliment because I have such faith in what my students can do. Those of us with more experience, more connections, and more opportunities must open doors to help others on their way. I’d like to have a student say I opened a door – or forced them through it! Ha! Ha!

Why do you advocate for reading lounges separate from school libraries? Since I’m trying to redesign my library and include lounging areas, I’m looking for justifications to include lounge areas in the library. Any suggestions?

In my dream school the reading lounge is connected to the library via a door; however, the reading lounge can also be entered from the outside hall. When I want to enjoy text that I’m reading silently, I don’t want to be interrupted. If I’m reading aloud to kids – I REALLY don’t want to be interrupted. If the library IS the reading lounge – or if the lounge is a “section” of the library – am I really going to take my class down there to read aloud? What’s the librarian supposed to do – close the library so no other classes or students disturb my class? It’s just not practical in my opinion. I think having some comfy lounge-like furniture in the library is great – because if a group is down for 20 minutes and some kids get reading material right away (or already had it) and want to crash and start reading, they can do some comfortably. Some kids can block out all the noise – so this can work well for them. More often than not, those who can block out the excessive noise are our fervent readers, though, not the reluctant ones who tend to be more easily distracted. I also think that despite a librarian’s best efforts, some hard-nosed staff members will still see the library as “owned” by the librarian. A reading lounge does not have a set “caretaker” in the same way the library does, so it is easier to get buy-in from the staff that this is “our” room.

I appreciate your candidness regarding your genre preferences. I noted you said you were not "intrinsically motivated to read nonfiction books" which does not mean you dislike nonfiction. It meant you had to seek out nonfiction books and deliberately choose to read outside of your preferred genre. I appreciate your genre adaptation charts (fig. 4.1-4.2) with the descriptions of genres (fig. 4.3). In your experience, which genres do classroom teachers neglect when it comes to choosing read-alouds?

In my experience, and I have not an ounce of empirical data to support me – just conversations with teachers and librarians – I’d say fantasy/science fiction/horror are most neglected as read alouds. Next would be nonfiction. I think the fantasy piece is tough because many professionals have never been taught how to read the genre themselves; thus, communicating it to kids is tricky. You can’t read it like a realistic fiction piece – lots of preparation is required to successfully deliver it. For nonfiction – I think it is simply that we grow up with so much narrative text that the sense of “story” feels more peaceful and familiar. The perception, true or not, by many is that nonfiction will be more work. 

How do you feel about author studies?  

I think they are terrific but should be embarked upon judiciously. The purpose has to be there – rather than just doing an author study to say you’ve done it. If I’m going to lead kids in studying an author – I’m going for whole thing. I’m going to pick someone with a wide range of books to explore. There’s nothing wrong with selecting an author who write basically the same genre, same age group all the time, but I find Candace Fleming’s (for example) range to be inspiring and I’d want kids to see that. If we’re studying Candy, then we’re going to look at everything she’s done. Obviously I’m not going to read one of her incredible biographies to kindergarten as a complete work, but I need them to see those books and know she’s done them. I ‘m going to see what I can share with them that is appropriate. Likewise, I’m going to read Muncha, Muncha, Muncha! Out loud to eighth graders and ask them why little kids adore this book – and what that tells about Candy’s ability as a writer when we compare it to her novels and biographies. We’ll chart just how many different genres she has hit and really look at them. We’re also going to dig as far into her background as we can – and prepare a KWL start to finish. Will we get all our questions about her answered – who knows – but we’re going to know what we want to know. I’m going to, of course, plan a video chat with her at the very least and an author visit will be my ultimate plan – to have her walk into the room and surprise them! Now – what I’ve described here is an author study. I should also mention that what I will NOT do is have them all write letters to Candace. I think that’s a set up. I’d rather read one letter from a child who really wanted to write to me than a hundred letters from kids who were assigned to write to me. I can’t imagine most authors and illustrators don’t feel similarly.

Do you think a teacher should read aloud more than one title by an author or should they broaden the listening experience in their classroom? What about series reading?

I think this greatly depends on what grade level we are talking about. Jr. High folks are fighting for every minute because when the bell rings – the kids walk out. In elementary school, I could “adjust” what time social studies began if I needed to do that so my read aloud time had more flexibility, and I read more books aloud. Having taught so many grade levels over the years, I’ve learned to be wary of blanket statements that suggest “one size fits all.” I think a broad listening experience is a great goal because reading from multiple genres suggests to kids who may love a certain genre (or learn to because of you) that what they love is significant. When a fifth-grade teacher or librarian reads a horror book out loud, he/she is honoring all those boys (and sometimes girls) who just can’t wait for someone to be captured, eaten alive, or tortured. Similarly, the eighth-grade girls need their male teachers/librarian to read what I call a “my best friend’s a dancer-who’s dying of cancer” story. I always challenge professionals to target the genre they would most likely avoid and be sure to find a gem in that genre that they will share with kids. 

Diane’s Note: YES! We need this broad listening experience. I would never have touched sports fiction if I hadn’t listened to a coach talking about the excitement of the action in a game.  

You asked about series books – I think they are FABULOUS! Frank Hardy was daring and Joe Hardy was handsome – but I was both! The Hardy Boys wouldn’t have solved half of those mysteries without me and believe me I was right there with them. One of the best things we can do for reluctant readers is get them hooked on a series – in my opinion. That being said, I have been known to read aloud “book 1” in a series and then half of “book 2” – promising to book talk and excerpt book 3 “in three weeks.” When that happens, I’ve had 85-95% of a class check out book two immediately. We must be strategic. I probably won’t read aloud multiple novels (picture books would be fine) by the same author in a year unless I am doing so with purpose to show range – meaning I will hit more than one genre by the author. I’d be more likely to read one great title by an author and then book talk other favorites written by the same person. 

Diane’s note: Actually I was there with Joe and Frank. Every time they sensed something behind them and were saved in the nick of time, that was me yelling at them. 

On the website the publisher states: Written with humor, grace, and poignancy, Igniting a Passion for Reading will have a profound effect on the teaching of reading in our nation’s schools.  What visible effect would you like to see from teachers and librarians who read your book? 

This book took me five years to write, and those who know me personally know that quite literally I nearly died twice over the period of time I was writing it—so it matters to me a lot. I want to see change in the way we educate children in terms of reading. I want teachers and librarians to raise their voice together loud and long and demand that the “will” of reading be given a measure of time and attention in the curriculum. It’s always been the neglected stepchild, but now it’s being shoved under the rug completely in some schools. Some people are so desperate to help children, and I truly believe that some of the politicians and school administrators (whose methods make me want to throw myself under a bus) think they are helping, that they will latch onto any system that is sold by a good spokesperson or delivered in pretty paper. We need to first understand what a reader actually is – someone who has the SKILL and the WILL to read. Next, we must determine if that is what we want to produce as part of the educational experience in our building/school/district. Then, we must target both areas, the skill & the will, K-12 in our instruction. My book is designed to help teachers and librarians know what instruction in the “will” might actually look like – practically speaking. 

Diane’s note: We have the new AASL guidelines and standards that correlate well with the "will" you are addressing. We talk of dispositions. 

At which library conferences have you presented lately and where will you be speaking next?

I was the keynote speaker at the Virginia Educational Media Association Conference this past November. WOW! Those librarians were incredible; it will remain one of my all time favorite events. I’ll be keynoting and doing breakout sessions at the Arkansas Association of School Librarians Conference this coming April 2010. Those are the only library conferences that have booked me for the current school year. I’ve done library conference in Texas, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Tennessee as well but much of the library world has yet to discover that I’m here. I will be appearing at several state reading conferences this year including South Carolina, Michigan, and Illinois, an NCTE conference in Ohio, and internationally at TARA in Saudi Arabia and the World Congress on Reading in New Zealand. 

Diane’s note – Silly librarians. The teacher and Reading Associations know how wonderful Dr. Layne is.  Get this man booked quickly for your keynotes. You’ll thank us later.

Are you reading your facebook page

I am so embarrassed about that! Okay, here’s the unbridled truth. I must somehow have TWO different FB pages. A student set them up for me because I am just too busy to learn more “new” all the time. I check my regular FB page a lot. This one (I just clicked the link YOU provided) I haven’t seen since a student created for me and told me I had a “fan” page. I struggle with the idea that I would have any “fans” beyond my dog and occasionally my family. I was wondering where this page went! Ha! Ha! I am so slow on the tech stuff. Now, I’ll have to get busy and make sure I know how to find it and what to do with it! 

Diane’s note: Oh, I was sent the wrong facebook page. What’s the correct page then? Perhaps you’ll share it with us so we can all befriend you.

What are you currently writing?

My wife and I have a new picture book coming out this May with Sleeping Bear Press – an alphabet book on Chicago called W is for Windy City: A Chicago Alphabet. Pelican Publishing has just released an audio version of me narrating two of my bestselling picture books, Love the Baby and My Brother Dan’s Delicious as well as 5-disc set of me narrating my young adult thriller This Side of Paradise. I am completing work on a sequel titled Paradise Lost, and that book is on schedule for a February 2011 release. After that, I have a new YA novel and two picture books that I’m ready to get busy on. I’d like to do another professional book, too, but let’s see if people like the first one!

Diane’s note: I messaged Anthony on facebook and he’s thrilled the sequel is coming out. Made his day in Afghanistan and he wants to remind you that is only 14 months away and where is the next Mergers sequel?

Anything else you wish you could have written about but couldn’t due to space in a printed book? 

There’s a lot more I’d like to have said about the topic of Read Aloud – but it was going to take another fifty pages to do it. We decided this book just wasn’t the place to exhaust all I had to say on the subject so I said what I could say in a way that kept things proportionate with the other topics. Perhaps in time, the parts I didn’t get to will find there way out.

Diane’s note:  I have blogged about Steven Layne before on my previous blog Deep Thinking when Dr. Layne keynoted our event at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians Libraries and Literacy Forum June, 2006. If you are looking for a dynamic speaker for a library or reading conference, Dr. Layne is your author. On SLJ, I blogged about his presentation at our TASL conference where he made me look good for bringing him in front of the school librarians.  

Publisher’s Biographical Information: 

Dr. Steven L. Layne serves as professor of literacy education at Judson University in Elgin, IL, where he teaches courses in children’s literature and directs the university’s Master of Education in Literacy program.  He is a fifteen-year veteran of public education serving as a classroom teacher and reading specialist in a wide span of grade levels.   

Steve is a literacy consultant, motivational keynote speaker, and author working with large numbers of educators and children during school visits and at conferences held throughout the world each year.  His work has been recognized with awards for outstanding contributions to the fields of educational research, teaching, and writing from organizations such as USA Today, The Milken Family Foundation, The Illinois Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, The National Council of Teachers of English, the Illinois Reading Council, and the International Reading Association. 

Author of 19 books including multiple award-winning titles in both the picture book and young adult genres, Steve has finally honored a promise made long ago to put fiction aside for a while and to bring to the printed page the very words thousands have heard him speak about for years. Igniting a Passion for Reading marks his debut in the professional book world. 


  1. Donna Phillips says:

    I love the idea of a reading lounge, though I hope we can find a way to win over “hard-nosed” colleagues to appreciate that the library is also OUR space, not the exclusive dungeon of a guard dog librarian. Those dark days of librarianship must be so over. Besides, I want that reading lounge door between the lounge and the library, and I hope I’m welcome to pass through it to the other side.

  2. When will Paradise Lost be finished?

  3. When will Paradise Lost be finished?

  4. Travis Cox says:

    I am reading this side of paridice it is a good book you rock!!!!!!!!!$$$$$$$$$

  5. Travis Cox says:

    Im Reading this side of paridice