Seven Impossible Interviews Before
Breakfast #14: Jen Robinson

h1 March 19th, 2007 by jules

I say we tell you why Jen Robinson’s Book Page is well worth your time in the same manner in which we told you about Susan at Chicken Spaghetti last week: Let’s ennumerate in true 7-Imp style. For the record, Eisha is unable to contribute to this blogger interview (she’s still out of town), but I know she enjoys Jen’s blog and would pretty much agree with the following tribute (in seven parts, of course):

1>. Jen is a big ‘ol advocate of children’s literacy issues. At her site (and in addition to book reviews, of course), she features weekly Children’s Literacy Round-Up posts, where she links to “news stories about children’s literacy and/or programs that promote the love of books in children,” as she put it (here is her most recent one). Jen, as you’ll read below, is not a librarian, not a teacher, and in no way works on a daily basis with children. She is the co-founder of a software firm and has a doctorate in Industrial Engineering. Who knew? This is what we love about the blogger interviews (which, I swear, could go on forever, what with all the interesting bloggers out there) — finding out that someone like Jen, who passionately champions something like children’s literacy efforts, is a software expert by day and children’s lit lover by night (so to speak — we are sure she spends some sunlight time blogging, since her blog is always up-to-date, informative, interactive, and interesting). Here’s what she has to say about it at her blog’s Mission Statement:

I have an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering and a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering. I co-own a software company . . . that works with computer chip manufacturers to improve their manufacturing cycle time. I’ve never worked in a library or for a bookstore or for a school (except as a volunteer), and I don’t have children (though I do have four lovely nieces who live near Boston).

All I can say is that for my entire life I’ve loved children’s books. I was the child reading in the corner, or up in a tree, or even on the roof. I was the kid who couldn’t possibly go on a 20 minute car ride to Grandma’s house without something to read. I remember riding my bicycle to the public library in the rain. To this day, I can tell you which authors were located on which shelf in my elementary school library (and I am not ordinarily someone with a good memory). Books opened up new worlds to me, and I never tired of them . . .

That is why I’ve started this website. This site is for anyone who has an interest in raising children who love books. It is for librarians and teachers, and parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents. And it’s for people like me, who believe that the world will be a better place if more children grow up with the opportunity to love books. I hope to provide encouragement and education, a sense of community, and of course book ideas.


2>. She’s always detailed when she shares thing such as this (speaking of literacy issues) with those of us who couldn’t be there. We nerds gotsta have our details, so thanks, Jen.

3>. She does weekly “Sunday Visits” posts in which she “check{s} in on what’s going on around the Kidlitosphere” (here was yesterday’s). For those of us who get really slammed during the week with one project after another and feel behind on our blog-checking, don’t worry: Jen’s got your back on Sundays.

4>. She was administrator for the Young Adult Fiction category for the Cybils. Here’s what Little Willow — a member of the nominating panel in the Young Adult Fiction category — had to say about working with Jen: “Jen did a fantastic job overseeing the Cybils YA category. She was regularly in touch with committee members, even while she was out of town and away from her main computer, even if it was just checking in to make sure discussions and deliberations were going well.” As a result of her Cybils work, which she thoroughly enjoyed, Jen told us, “I write about the Cybils pretty often.”

5>. She’s one of those great list-makers, should you need such a handy, quick resource. She published the lists of Cool Girls and Cool Boys from Children’s Literature. This was followed by other lists on other sites, such as The Cool Teachers of Children’s Literature at A Year of Reading, The Wicked Women of Children’s Literature at Scholar’s Blog, and The Sassy Sidekicks at Bildungsroman. “I’m planning to publish updated ‘cool kids’ lists soon -– suggestions continue to trickle in,” she told us. “I also keep lists of Children’s Books that Adults will enjoy (and picture books) in my sidebars. I have some lists of recommended kids’ books and books for parents on my companion Growing Bookworms website.”

6>. Speaking of lists and sidebars on her blog, Jen also highlights adult books (as she briefly mentioned above). She has the following sidebars on her site: “Adult Books I’m Most Eager to Read”; “Some Favorite Adult Mysteries”; and “Recommended Books for Adults” at her Growing Bookworms site. And for parents and educators, she has a “Books on Raising Readers” and “Books About Books” sidebar.

7>. She’s really smart, very friendly, a true class act, and (obviously) works hard to keep the rest of us informed. Oh and she’s (also obviously) quite proactive. Up next for her? She’s scheduled to host — for the first time — the Carnival of Children’s Literature in April.

When we asked her about her blog’s title and history, Jen shared:

My blog actually arose, in part, out of a private Wiki that I maintained and shared only with close friends, on which I kept lists of books that I was reading and wanted to read. Because it covered both children’s and adult books, I just called it “Jen’s Book Page.” I made that more specific when I first started the blog by adding my last name. As soon as I started really working on the blog, and thinking about what I wanted it to mean, I realized that I wanted to focus primarily on children’s and young adult books . . .

Let’s get right to it then. Without further ado, here’s a little 7-Imp spotlight on Jen . . .

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

Jen: I’m co-founder of a software firm that helps companies that make computer chips to improve their cycle time (the time that it takes to manufacture the chips). The company is called FabTime, and we’ve been in business for eight years. I have a Ph.D. in industrial engineering.

7-Imp: How long have you been blogging?

Jen: Since December of 2005.

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

Jen: I had always had a strong interest in children’s books — reading them, recommending them, buying them for any and all kids that I knew. I kept telling people that I wanted to find a way to do something more with that, but that it was difficult because my job is very time-consuming. Two friends (thanks, Miles and Patrick!) independently suggested to me that I start a blog as an outlet for this passion for books. So, one weekend when I had a little bit of time, I just started it up. And I’ve never looked back.

I continue to do it because I’ve discovered this community of people -– the Kidlitosphere -– who care about the same things that I do. It’s been fun and rewarding and validating to be a part of that community. The first people I interacted with when I started were Kelly from Big A little a, Susan from Chicken Spaghetti, Camille from Book Moot, and Liz from A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy. Gradually, I’ve also come to know people like Anne, Little Willow, Betsy, Mary Lee and Franki, Michele, TadMack, Mindy, Pam, Colleen, Tasha, Jennifer, and Vivian. And of course that’s only the tip of the iceberg -– I’m leaving people out to keep the list from getting ridiculously long. I’m so grateful for the wonderful blogs and great people whom I’ve gotten to know since I started this project. Being involved with the Cybils was especially rewarding. And now through my blog I’m becoming involved with Readergirlz, and I think that what they’re doing is amazing, too.

Another thing that keeps me blogging is that I sometimes receive email from readers who don’t have blogs of their own, letting me know that they find value in my blog. Usually these are either other adults who enjoy reading children’s books, or parents who are looking for recommendations for their kids. Their messages make me feel like I’m making a tiny positive difference in the world and that keeps me going.

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?

Jen: As you can see from the above, I’m pretty prolific in my love of blogs, and would find it hard to settle down to just one. But I am especially attached to the First Book website and blog. First Book is a program that focuses on giving books to kids. The blog features inspirational stories, mini book reviews, and happy book-related news.

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

Jen: I enjoy taking trips to Disney World, drinking red wine, watching Red Sox baseball, and going for walks and hikes, all of which I like to do with my college sweetheart. (We also watch Patriots football games together, but that’s more his thing than mine.)

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jen: I taught myself to type when I was thirteen by typing a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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

Jen: I don’t listen to all that much music these days. I’m listening to London Calling by Edward Bloor on my MP3 player. Next up is The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart. In my car I listen to Left of Center and 1st Wave on Sirius Satellite.

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

Jen: Limiting myself to authors whom I don’t already feel like I know through email (or actual meetings), I would pick: Shannon Hale, because I love how she encourages kids to read what they like (rather than just the standard classics); Rick Riordan, because he strives to write books that keep kids who have reading difficulties turning the pages; and Stephenie Meyer, because I would love to try to extract some information from her about where the Twilight series is going.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Jen: “Chocolate”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Jen: “Expired”

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

Jen: Spending time with old friends, the people who have known me forever.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Jen: Strong smells, even ones that other people find pleasant, like incense.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word?

Jen: “Freaking.” As in, “I am so freaking busy!”

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

Jen: The sound of fans cheering a home run in Fenway Park.

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

Jen: Announcements over the loudspeaker at the airport. Any announcement. Any airport.

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

Jen: Head of a literacy foundation chartered with helping kids to grow up loving books.

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

Jen: I would never have made it as a doctor.

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

Jen: “Welcome! The library is that way, between the chocolate bar and the wine bar. Your grandparents are waiting.”

28 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before
Breakfast #14: Jen Robinson”

  1. Isn’t funny how nearly all of us said we couldn’t be doctors? Is there something about big readers and the medical profession? Hmmm….

    Cheers to Jen! I was lucky enough to meet her last summer and it was like meeting a long-lost sister or cousin. I felt I’d known her all my life.

    Great interview, Jules, Eisha, and Jen!

  2. Great interview ladies !!

    (and thanks for the shout-out, as you Americans call it, Jen !)

  3. What a great interview. Thank you! I love that Jen does what she does for a living, yet participates as much as she does in her passion for kids’ books. An unusual combination, for sure. And while all of the interview was wonderful, my favorite part was the answer about Heaven– wine, chocolate, and grandparents–perfect! It doesn’t get any more wonderfully indulgent than that.

  4. Great interview, I also love the sound of the cheers from Fenway, I used to live a block away and would hear the cheers nightly!

  5. Thanks so much, Jules (and with good wishes to Eisha, too)! I think you’ve managed to dig up every interesting thing I’ve done yet related to the blog. I’m blushing from all the nice things that you, and the above commenters, said. But I will say that this cheering for one another is a big part of why I love the Kidlitosphere so much (that and the books, of course).

    Kelly, I felt the same way when we met. Like we should have met years and years earlier, but knew each other anyway. And Michele, you’re very welcome for the shout-out. I love our email talks. Barbara, thanks so much for the feedback. If I could have books, wine, chocolate, and see my grandparents again (one of whom I never met), that would be a pretty cool day. And Kathy, if I had lived that close to Fenway, I might have been unable to tear myself away from Boston.

    Thanks again to all!! What a nice way to start the week.

  6. Hurrah for Jen! Great interview, Jules.

    Jen, I could just picture you typing out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That is a hoot. If I were a novelist, I would steal that detail for my book.

  7. Great interview!
    Jen-I want to come to your place when you have Shannon, Rick and Stephenie over. A night with all of you sounds like the ultimate blast!

  8. Great interview, Jules!

    Jen, I love your answer to the heaven question. Got me a little choked up, in fact.

    J & E, I know I say it every week, but I really appreciate you doing these interviews. It’s great to know more about the people we read.

  9. Jen said: To this day, I can tell you which authors were located on which shelf in my elementary school library (and I am not ordinarily someone with a good memory).

    Yes! I do the “mental walk-through” of the stacks of my childhood public library every now and then just to smile.

    Also, my daughter is big into science (astronomy and medicine) but she loves English/writing too. I want to show her Jen’s bio so she knows she can be a totally book-loving science geek.

    Great interview, jules. You know how to rock ’em.

  10. Jen wholeheartedly welcomed me when I first started blogging. I admire her so much and am so honored she mentioned me! And “Head of a Literacy Foundation chartered with helping kids to grow up loving books”…I can totally see that. Wonderful interview!

  11. Wonderful interview of my very favorite librarian! Keep up the good work, Jen. 🙂

  12. “…which authors were located on which shelf….”

    That’s my normal method for trying to remember the author’s name for books I want to reread – I think about where I’d have to go to find the book at the public library when I was in high school.

  13. Glad you all like the interview. I love what Jen contributes to the kidlitosphere, particularly the Sunday and children’s literacy round-ups.

  14. Jen was also the person who welcomed me so kindly when I started blogging. I am forever grateful for that!

    Great interview, and so much fun to read Jen’s responses.

    Even though I was raised a Yankee fan.

  15. Jen is fabulous! From the Cool Girls (and Boys) lists t the literacy round-ups, she’s got it covered. 🙂

  16. Great interview. I’ve really enjoyed this series; Jules and Eisha, you two have done a great job with it. It’s been fun to get to know all the bloggers. Jen, I enjoyed your answers. Great pic, too.

    Best wishes to Eisha.

  17. Ha! It’s obviously time to show off. Get this, my pretties — even though Jen now lives on the opposite coast, I got to meet her face to face. Introduce her to my parents. Pour her a cup of pomegranate juice. And give her a huge hug. Am I cool by association, or what?

  18. Jen was so kind to me when I began my blog-she’s fantastic! Great interview.

  19. Jen is an original member of my kidlitosphere circle of friends. She has a Texas connection which is fun too!

  20. Thank you all SO much for your supportive and positive comments. I can’t tell you how happy I am every day to have found the Kidlitosphere. Any welcome that I’ve shown to newer bloggers has been because of the warm welcome that was shown to me when I started out.

    I especially love that I’m not the only person who can remember which books were on which shelves in my elementary school library.

    Susan, I’m a little bit worried about getting in trouble for copyright violation on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory thing (ok, not really, but are we supposed to be typing out copies of books?). I still had misc pages floating around for the longest time.

    And Robin, my parents called me about the interview today, and I think they were a little choked up about the grandparent thing, too.

    And one last point: Mitali doesn’t need me to be cool by association. She’s already cool by virtue of her excellent books, and her focus on strong girls.

    Thanks again to everyone, especially to Jules and Eisha for hosting me with this interview. It’s been such a great experience!

  21. When you take this long to comment, all the great comments are already taken! It’s not freaking fair!

    (loved learning more about this sweet lady.)

  22. I finally made it over to read this great interview. Thanks, y’all. OK — and the Heaven question? Slayed me. Good thing that was the last one so I could sit here and sniffle a bit…

  23. What a great interview! Kudos to interviewer and interviewee. I learned a few new things about “Dr.” Jen.

  24. Jules here, adding one more thing:

    I had asked Tanita Davis (TadMack) at Finding Wonderland if she’d like to make a comment for the interview about Jen’s work as the administrator for the YA Fiction category for the Cybils award (TadMack was a nominating panelist), and she sent this a bit late but gave me permission to post it:

    “I really enjoyed working with Jen! As a team, the Cybils YA group really didn’t know each other well, so Jen was there asking those ‘talk amongst yourselves’ kinds of questions that required a reply from each of us in turn. Her leadership style is so deftly unobtrusive that we didn’t actually feel ‘led’ at all. She was this amazing go-to person who, if she didn’t know the answers right then, wasn’t afraid to say so and add, ‘Good point,’ or, ‘I’ll find that out – thanks for putting that out there.’ A couple of times we had editors or authors questioning our… right to be part of the nominating committee for the Cybils — people wanted to know our ‘credentials’ and Jen told them in a very firm but pleasant way that our membership was transparent, and they could check out our websites, but basically didn’t give them the defensiveness they were looking for, nor did she ask us for any kind of resume. I appreciated that; I’m sure we all did.

    It was kind of funny how much we missed Jen when we went into deliberations and broke down that long list of nominees into smaller and smaller sections. She was so much a part of the team that we really wanted to talk books with her, too!!

    Thanks for asking. Jen Robinson is one of my favorite not-yet-in-person-met people.”

  25. Thanks for the additional support, MR, Liz, and Jennifer! And Tanita, wow! Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful words regarding the Cybils committee. You all were such a wonderful group to work with that any leadership on my part was effortless. As for backing you up, in terms of “credentials” (or whatever we call them), that was a no-brainer for me. And you all held your own admirably, in the presence of start-up bumps in the road, and many, many books to read. Thanks for everything. I hope we’ll get to meet in person someday soon.

  26. PS, special thanks to Jules for taking the trouble to post this, and for the joy that this whole interview process has been.

  27. I’m sorry I missed out on putting this interview together, but it was great getting to know you better, Jen.

    Industrial engineering? Really? Dude, that’s intense.

  28. Talk about being a day late and a dollar short…I’m more than a week late to leave a comment! My life has been hectic recently.

    Just wanted to say I think Jen has a great blog. I love her Sunday and mid-week roundups.

    Thanks again, ladies, for another fine interview!

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