Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #68: Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

h1 March 4th, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

There is a reason you will hear a lot of kidlitosphere bloggers say that they wish Franki Sibberson (pictured right) and Mary Lee Hahn (left) of A Year of Reading were their children’s teachers (Jules has uttered that before, too. Or maybe muttered. Or both). If you’re not familiar with their blog, then know their tag line (if that’s what that is called at the top of one’s blog under the title) is: “Two teachers who read. A lot.” So, not only are they teachers who read, but they’re smart and funny and fun and passionate about books. And they have lots of devoted readers, too, as you’ll see in a minute.

newbtitl.gifFranki and Mary Lee’s A Year of Reading began as “a place where we could make public our conversations about possible Newbery winners,” they told us. “We had this informal contest going for years -– who could read the Newbery in the year before it was picked? We had totally given up on picking the Newbery, you see. We just wanted to have read it. So, ‘A Year of Reading’ became the place where we write about all the reading we do in the year that spans from Newbery Award to Newbery Award.”

Fortunately, for all us picture book lovers, Franki and Mary Lee also discuss picture books over at their spot in cyberspace. They also treat their readers to several other regular features, including their 100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature list, which debuted in July of 2006. “This was Franki’s brilliant idea (inspired by Jen Robinson’s lists of Cool Boys and Cool Girls of Children’s Literature),” Mary Lee told us, “and it is what really launched us into the Kidlitosphere. We are up to 110 teachers so far. We also keep a list of Books About Books and Reading, and maybe this summer we’ll tackle a list of Books about Writers and Writing.” Mary Lee is also a regular contributor to Poetry Friday.

And they’re active participants in the kidlitosphere as well: For last year’s Blogging for a Cure effort to benefit Robert’s Snow, Franki featured Jeff Newman and Mary Lee featured Matt Phelan; they have both been involved in the Cybils for the past two years (Franki on the Fiction Picture Book nominating committee and as a Poetry judge and Mary Lee on the Graphic Novels nominating committee both years); Mary Lee represented A Year of Reading at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Bloggers’ Conference in Chicago last October (“and we’re both hoping to make it to the 2nd Annual KBC, hosted by Jone, a.k.a. MsMac, in Portland this September,” they told us); and “together we brought the Kidlitosphere to NCTE in November 2007” (Franki invited Fuse #8 to do a session, and Mary Lee presented on blogging with Liz, Jen, and Susan); they’ve hosted a Carnival of Children’s Literature; and they’ve rounded up Poetry Friday. Whew.

Not to mention they throw really fun blog birthday parties (Year One and Year Two).

And if that makes you tired, just reading about it, there’s more: Mary Lee has served as advisor and mentor for the following three blogs: Read, Read, Read (“via emails between Dayton and Columbus,” she told us); Creative Literacy (“over frozen drinks at Caribou Coffee the summer of 2007″); and Literate Lives (“by the fire at Panera in February of 2008″). For this mentoring, she “is as proud as a mother hen.”

And, it goes without saying, they post their Newbery predictions in December and January. “This year, we invited some of our reader friends to contribute guest posts of their predictions.”

Jules had the pleasure of working with Franki on the Fiction Picture Books committee last year, and both Eisha and Jules had the pleasure of meeting Mary Lee at last year’s Chicago conference. They have a special place in our esteem as another two-woman kidlit blog. And we run the risk of sounding overbearingly This-Is-Your-Life, but ah, who cares? Mary Lee and Franki deserve the kind words. We asked some Cybils folks and fellow bloggers to share what they love the most about these two bloggers:

Liz Burns — “Mary Lee is amazing. I’ve worked with her virtually, with the Cybils; and in ‘real life’ with an NCTE presentation. The presentation was her baby; and wow, did she make it easy for the rest of us (and was very kind when I had timing issues during the presentation.) She is organized, knows her stuff, and is also fun to hang out with. Reading A Year of Reading makes me wish that Mary Lee and Franki had been my teachers; and I hope that my niece and nephew are lucky enough to have teachers like them.”

Sarah Stevenson — “I really can’t say enough nice stuff about Mary Lee. I’ve gotten to work with her on the Cybils Graphic Novels committee for two years in a row now, and she’s knowledgeable, reliable, enthusiastic, fun… It’s great to have a teacher’s perspective on graphic novels and other books, and she and Franki bring kindness, enthusiasm, and humor to A Year of Reading. Gold stars for both!”

Jen Robinson — “Mary Lee and Franki are amazing. They are tireless advocates of children’s books and reading, and provide a welcome teacher’s perspective on their blog. I worked with Mary Lee on a panel discussion for the NCTE last year (with Liz Burns and Susan Thomsen), and found her to be both quietly organized and fun to spend time with. I hope to get to know Franki better in the future, too. Both Mary Lee and Franki have been strong supporters of the Cybils, and of the Kidlitosphere as a whole.”

Susan Thomsen — “I had a great time with Mary Lee at NCTE. She’s smart and friendly, and I wanted to bribe her to come teach fourth grade in my town so that Junior could have her as a teacher next year. I only met Franki briefly, but I love her enthusiasm for books and blogging. They’re both very inspiring.”

Thanks to everyone who contributed a little Franki and Mary Lee Love, and thanks to the ladies themselves for taking time to hang with us and answer our questions (they opted to be interviewed as a team — aw!). They’re a class act, and we’ve loved getting to know them a little bit better.

* * *

7-Imp: What do you do for a living?

Franki: I’m a teacher. I have spent most of my career in intermediate classrooms, but I have taught K-5. Currently, I am teaching an intermediate multiage (3rd and 4th graders) for half of the day (I teach reading, writing, and social studies). The other half of my day is spent working with teachers in these areas.

Mary Lee: I prod, cajole, discipline, encourage, question, prompt, and teach 4th graders. Some of the other hats I wear include Paper Grader, Lesson Planner, Newsletter Writer, Detention Monitor, Safety and Service Team Advisor, Committee Member, Conference Planner, and New Teacher Mentor.

7-Imp: How long have you been blogging?

Franki and Mary Lee: Electronically, we have blogged since January 2006, but our conversations about books and reading have been going on for the past 15-20 years!

7-Imp: Why did you start blogging? Why do you continue to do it?

Franki: Because Mary Lee told me it was a good idea. I really had no idea what she was talking about, but I love email and it sounded enough like that that I thought I’d give it a try. I am totally (TOTALLY) addicted now because of all of the other blogs out there. I feel like I have met so many great people who love books and have learned so much about books and other things. It is part of my day now—reading what everyone else in the Kidlitosphere has to say about books they are reading.

Mary Lee: Neither one of us could have guessed two years ago that blogging would be so important to us now! I was coming really close to having a Sudoku addiction when our blog took off. Blogging seems like a MUCH better way to use all my spare minutes!

7-Imp: Which blog or site would you take to the prom to show off and you love it so much you could marry it?

Franki: I have several favorites, but I must say that MotherReader makes me laugh almost every day. You just never know what to expect from MotherReader, but she reads lots and is quite amusing. Her blog always brightens my day. I also love Jen Robinson’s blog. It is very friendly, and she has great reviews and links. There are several others that I am totally addicted to—Fuse #8; Big A, little a; Tea Cozy . . .

Totally harmless, really. (from Indexed - click for link) Mary Lee: I’ll pass on the prom. Instead, I’d like to work out at the gym with Liz and Sara. I’d like to write poetry in the library with Jone. I wouldn’t mind being an undergraduate again if I could be in Tricia’s classes, and I’d be a fourth grader again to be in Monica’s class. Bill and Karen, Katie, and Megan are all close enough to meet at Panera for coffee and go to Cover to Cover afterwards for some book-shopping. It would be great to eat Thai food again with Liz, Jen, and Susan (and even better if Kelly could be there this time!). I wonder if cloudscome would give me some photography lessons? And you ladies here at 7-Imp -– do you think you could bottle some of your energy and good ideas and share it?!?

Outside the Kidlitosphere, I am fascinated by the blog Indexed. Her simple graphics say as much on one index card as others would with hundreds of words.

7-Imp: What are your other favorite things to do, other than reading and blogging?

Franki: I am pretty boring. I have been looking for a hobby for so long, and blogging about books seems to be as far away from books as I can get. I love hanging out with my family (husband and two daughters). I LOVE shopping. For pretty much anything. I love teaching, so lots of my “hobbies” have to do with that, too. I also love to bake but don’t really get much time to do that. I would be really good at it if I ever had time to do it, I think.

Mary Lee: If I’m not reading or blogging, I’m probably swimming, taking dog walks (without a dog right now, but that should change this fall), fly fishing, or working in the kitchen -– baking bread, making a cheesecake, or putting the finishing touches on one of my famous 3-layer (from scratch) chocolate cakes.

7-Imp: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/ipod lately?

Amber SpyglassFranki: I am embarrassed to say this, but I would choose quiet over music any day. I am the only one of the four of us in the family who does not have an iPod with a great selection. So, I have nothing here. Very sad, I know.

Mary Lee: I am listening to The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman on my way to and from work right now. When I finish that, I have a bunch of podcasts waiting: This American Life, This I Believe, and The Princeton Review Vocabulary Minute. The Sunday morning rotation is typically Baroque, but depending on the mood, it might be Celtic or classical guitar.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Anna QuindlenFranki: Anna Quindlen would be my number one choice. Tracy Chevalier and E.L. Konigsburg would be in my top three, too. I have heard Anna Quindlen and Tracy Chevalier speak but have never met them. E.L. Konigsburg was a favorite childhood author, and I am amazed at every book she writes. These are my life-time favorites. Have loved their work forever and would love to meet them. If I got to pick some authors that I am just getting to know, I would say Wendy Mass, Cynthia Lord, and Marla Frazee.

Barbara KingsolverMary Lee: My three would be Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), Lynne Cox (Swimming to Antarctica), and Diane Ackerman (Cultivating Delight). But I’d love to go to Franki’s coffee, too!

7-Imp: What’s one thing that not many people know about you?

Franki: Well, my claim-to-fame is my movie credit. I have a movie credit in “Light of Day” starring Michael J. Fox. When a child is in a movie, there has to be a tutor on the set, so when they filmed in Ohio, I was the one-day tutor on the set for the little boy in the movie. So, I am on the list of credits at the end of the movie as “tutor.” I didn’t get to meet Michael Light of Day (eisha really loved this movie.)J. Fox (total bummer), but I did get to ride in a van from one set to another with Joan Jett (who was also in the movie).

Mary Lee: I have a mole on the palm of my left hand.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Franki: “Snow Day.” (Okay, so it is two words, but . . .)

Mary Lee: “Tegucigalpa.” So fun to say! And it’s the capital of Honduras! Get it? HON-duras?!? (My last name: Hahn. HAHN-duras is “my” country, you see!)

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Franki: I really can’t think of one.

Mary Lee: Not so much a word, but a tone of voice -– whining.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Franki: Family and friends and people with “Wish-I-Would-Have-Thought-of-That” kinds of amazing ideas. People fascinate me. I love learning about people who are doing lifework that they are passionate about.

Mary Lee: 1). Work that matters. 2). Teaching -– the act of helping someone to learn something they want to know or do something they want to know how to do. 3). Learning -– figuring something out by myself or with the help of another.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Franki: Programs and scripts for teachers make me absolutely crazy. Anything that makes reading as inauthentic, as it is becoming in some places. The whole thought that teachers do not know their students and that we need these “teacher-proof” things created by non-educators makes me absolutely nuts.

Mary Lee: Laziness.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word?

Franki: I like when curse words are in books and they are lots of random punctuation marks. Whoever came up with that genius idea for depicting these words in books deserves an award. They amuse me.

Mary Lee: “HeilundKreuzmillionenDonnerwetternocheinmal!” I learned this German curse from a friend, who learned it from his father. Said in a near-growl, it works wonders to communicate to a dog that it’s time to pay attention and behave. (“Donner Wetter noch einmal” means, literally, “thunder weather again.”) I laughed out loud when I read this curse for the first time in print, in The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Franki: I love chit-chat, that casual conversation among friends with lots of laughing. I also love the sound of a winning slot machine!

Mary Lee: A cat’s purr. Water over stones in a river.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Franki: Game-show noise on T.V.

Mary Lee: Cell phones ringing and/or people talking on cell phones in public.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Franki: An event planner would be fun.

Mary Lee: I would like lead nature hikes at an environmental education center or a park.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Franki: School Bus Driver—has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Mary Lee: Telemarketer.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Franki: “Hi! Your family and friends are in the room right there—(the ones who are already here). The room is filled with books, tea, and chocolate. Relax, have fun, and make yourself at home.”

Mary Lee: “Good job! You did your best -– you made a difference in many of the lives you touched.”

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18 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #68: Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

  1. Thanks for the fabulous interview and (blush) the bonus kind words from Liz, Sarah, Jen and Susan. It feels like a surprise party!


  2. Great feature! As one of Mary Lee’s “chicks” is that appropriate for a guy? I have to say I am loving the whole blog thing thanks to her. She and Franki are both stars in our school district.


  3. I got to meet Mary Lee in Chicago, and work with Franki on the Cybils Poetry panel, and I have to say that I love their—well, DEVOTION is not too big a word for it— to the things and people they care about. It shines through everything they do.

    Mary Lee, you must teach me how to say that German swear phrase correctly. I have a dog who DOES NOT listen, and I could use the help.


  4. Franki co-authered (with Karen Szymusiak) Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Transitional Readers in Grades 2-5, a book I consider my go-to authority as I’m working on developing a transitional readers week. Thanks for a great interview!


  5. Thoroughly enjoyed this interview! Wish I could be in both their classes. Thanks!


  6. Great Interview! So informative and I couldn’t have met a better mentor!
    Megan Germano
    Read, Read, Read


  7. Thanks for this great interview with the other dynamic duo–besides you two ladies–of the kidlitosphere. I have no doubt that Franki and Mary Lee are fabulous teachers and outstanding role models for their students and teaching colleagues. I had the great fortune to teach at a school with dedicated professionals like them for many years. I hope they continue to blog for many more years.


  8. Thanks for shining a spotlight on two such fabulous members of the Kidlitosphere, Jules and Eisha. The very inclusiveness towards other blogs (including mine) in their responses above tells you a lot about Mary Lee and Franki, and it’s all good. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the interview. And ML and Franki, you deserve the party.


  9. Another wonderful interview! I was so glad to meet both Mary Lee and Franki last fall.

    Yay for teachers!


  10. What a great interview with 2 of my very favorite people! I consider myself very blessed that they were/are a part of my professional life here in Dublin!


  11. If I didn’t get such a kick out of hanging around with my girls, I would (I’m not kidding) MAIL them to Mary Lee and Franki to educate. In lieu of this brilliant solution, I just read their blog and drool. LOVE these ladies. Thanks for the interview!!!


  12. What a fun, fun interview! Kudos all around.


  13. They also treat their readers to several other regular features, including their 100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature list, which debuted in July of 1986.

    1986? Really?


  14. Sarah, that’s what their response said, so I didn’t wanna edit it. I assumed someone started it way back then and then one day it made it to the Web?

    Mary Lee? Franki? Is that date incorrect?


  15. Yay for Mary Lee and Franki! I also love that Bill says they are famous in their district. It makes me happy they are appreciated for all they do. Yay!

    And, Mary Lee: I want to eat Thai food with you guys too. I was so sorry to miss that.

    Another great interview, Jules and Eisha!


  16. Okay, here’s the deal about the July, 1986 date that our list of Cool Teachers supposedly debuted: total brain fart. Try July of 2006. Sound more reasonable?

    Everybody, if I ever say or write anything that sounds that wack, PLEASE call me on it! (Jules, quick, fix it, please!)

    You want to know where 1986 may have come from? It’s the year I started teaching in Dublin. Do the math. This whole thing might just maybe be age-related. (I’m having a good laugh, but seriously, Jules, FIX IT!!!)


  17. All fixed, Mary Lee.


  18. Yay! I loved this interview. Thank you for bringing us hungry blog-readers more tidbits on these wonderful ladies.


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