Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Interview With Terry Doherty

One of the many fun actvities going on over for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, is Blogger Interviews. Participants are randomly paired with another to interview them about their book blogs. One of the major pros of BBAW is discovering how many fantastic book blogs are out there. I knew it was a large scene, but no idea how large and diverse it truly is. One of those discoveries was my interview-mate, Terry Doherty of Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, which sort of acts as a sister blog to her other website/organization The Reading Tub. Scrub-a-Dub-Tub focuses on children's literature, literacy, and other related issues. As a teacher and a parent, I'm glad I found this resource!

A few tidbits about Terry: She is a mother, a former research analyst, and the executive director of The Reading Tub. She also just had her 18th wedding anniversary, so you should head over there and congratulate her!

TBMS: Where did you get the idea for your blog title?

Most of my ideas come either while I’m weeding, cooking, or in the shower. When I decided to create a blog, I knew I wanted something that was emblematic of the “tub” part of The Reading Tub ®. I liked the sound of scrub-a-dub-Tub as a play on the nursery rhyme scrub-a-dub-dub, and ‘blog” wasn’t too awkward as a rhyme with “tub.”

Scrub-a-Dub-Tub is the official site blog, but I also wanted an outlet for expressing my thoughts, too. I created TubTalk to be a place for chatting about Reading Tub® stuff. I use it to share ideas on reading and literacy, as well as my Op-Ed page. When I sit down to write for TubTalk, I grab a cup of coffee and put on my editor-in-chief hat. I want TubTalk essays to resemble the letter in the front of a magazine: informative and welcoming.

TBMS: Could you describe The Reading Tub? How many volunteers does it have and how does one get involved?

The Reading Tub is a public charity for children’s literacy. We promote reading as a family activity. We offer tips and articles on how to encourage your kids to read (let them catch you reading) and through the reviews on the website help you find book that match your child’s interests … but that don’t have a commercial tie-in.

We have volunteers all over the country. Some of our adult reviewers are moms and dads, some are librarians, and a few are teachers. We also have groups of student reviewers as part of our Use Your ABCs program. Essentially, we send books to teachers who are working with at-risk readers. As part of their class assignment, they must read the book and write the review. We post their review on the website with their school’s logo. It’s a chance for them to practice comprehension and writing, and offers a little ego boost, too.

TBMS: Who uses Reading Tub recommendations mostly?

I don’t really know. We routinely get thank you notes, but they are just as likely to be from a parent as a librarian or a teacher. To be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time parsing and dissecting the traffic stats. I know our numbers continue to grow up and the inbox has more mail every day…even after you filter out the spam. I’m more interested in that.

TBMS: Why children’s books?

I have always loved reading. Our house is filled with books, and even before my daughter was born she had her own library. There are two reasons why I started the Reading Tub. First, finding good books at the library was hit or miss. Books that looked great – even ones my daughter picked out herself – often fell flat. Second, we are an adoptive family, and it isn’t easy finding children’s stories in the library. I was spending a small fortune trying to find good books.Just as you won't find many titles in the library, you won't find many in the bookstores either. So it's a continual cycle of ordering, waiting, and hoping you like it. I figured there had to be a better, more reliable way to find great stories. When I couldn’t find what I wanted, I created it.

Children love learning and exploring, and books are such a wonderful way to feed their natural curiosities. It is so important to engage kids in reading before they have to do it themselves. If we can get them excited about stories when they’re young, we have a better chance of keeping them learning later on.

TBMS: Any books you'd recommend dealing with adoption?

That's a hard call. Each journey to becoming an adoptive family is just a little bit different, and we all want to find a book that matches our story. Not everyone chooses international adoption; not everyone chooses to adopt an infant. We read lots of different stories so that families can see if this might "fit" their goal ... without having to buy it first. I'm still focused on good picture book stories or collections of short stories. Even though ours is not an international adoption, I loved Toni Buzzeo's The Sea Chest. The story is beautiful and the illustrations (oil) are just breathtaking. The story opens with a little girl listening to great-grand Aunt telling the story of her childhood and the day she found a sea chest that had washed ashore after a big storm. In it, of course, was a baby. Now, the girl is excited because she, too, is waiting for her parents to bring home a baby "from across the Atlantic."

I also like Beginnings: How Families Come to Be by Virginia Kroll. It's a collection of six short stories, each describing a different path to becoming an adoptive family. Every story opens with a child wanting to hear (for the millionth time) how they became part of the family. You're likely to find your story in the collection, but you also get a chance to share the idea that every family is unique.

November is National Adoption Month and I'm writing a piece now that talks about finding adoption books, particularly books for older kids with positive messages.

TBMS: Two of your features are “Book Bags” and “Reading Ahead.” How do you describe the goals of each, and how do you decide which books to include?

These are two of the more fun posts to write every two months. Frankly, I wish I could write them every month, but they are time-intensive and I prefer to spread that out a little bit.

The Book Bag is a round-up of some of our favourite books in the preceding two months. Our reviewers write between 20 and 30 books reviews per month, and all of those are posted on the Website. What we try to do with the Book Bag is highlight the ones that really stood out in our reviewers’ minds. I try to limit it to no more than 10 titles in any one age group.

The Reading Ahead post is my review preview column. This is a short list of some of the books we received in the previous 60 days. All of these books are in our TBR pile, but they made a great first impression. When I load books into our data base, I have a chance to read the blurb and scan the pictures. It could be the story looked unique; it could be that they would attract reluctant readers; or it might be beautiful art. There was something about them that made them stand out.

TBMS: I’ve noticed that some of your bag books come with age recommendations. How do you come up with these ages, and how important do you feel they are?

Good question. This summer we did a survey asking readers whether they thought the “ages x to y” printed on a book was the (a) reading level; or (b) interest level for the book. The answers told us there is some definite confusion. The short answer to your question is, I rely on the publisher/author for guidance, and then I do the math. When a new book arrives, one of my jobs is to determine the reading level. You would think that it would match the “ages x to y” on the book, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the reading level is much higher than the age; sometimes the reading level is lower than the age.

For my purposes, it is important, because we get requests from parents and teachers who want books at a certain readability level. They want books that will engage a high school student who is still reading at an elementary level; or they want books that are appropriate for a younger reader, but at a higher reading level.

Having that information is helpful. If you are trying to encourage a child to read, you don’t want to hand him a book that is far beyond his capability. It will only frustrate him. Knowing the reading level is a tool. You also need to know your child’s interests and maturity level. It just drives me nuts when I hear that an adult has told a child s/he can’t read a book because it’s not in their age group.

TBMS: What would your top 10 children’s books be?

Wow! My top ten. Can I list ten separate Nancy Drew titles? Just kidding. One of my all-time favourite books is The Scarlet Pimpernel. Coming up with rest of the list is a lot harder, because my personal favourites are crossovers: anything by Jane Austen, Silas Marner by George Eliot, Gone by Michael Grant, and stuff like that.

Here are some of the books I am happy to read every time my daughter picks them from the shelf:

The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom. A young boy is trying to find a good spot to read his new book. Then he finds the best place: Mom's lap.

My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry. Isabella is a young girl who changes her identity throughout the day. At any given time, she's Rosa (Parks), Sally (Ride), Marie (Curie), Annie (Oakley), and even Mom. This is a wonderful picture book for introducing girls to women who changed the world, as well as biography.

Miss Spider’s Tea Party by David Kirk. We love Little Miss Spider as an adoption book, and this is a great follow-on for friendship.

Time for Bed by Mem Fox My daughter is the queen of the procrastinators, so she doesn't often pull this out. When she does, we know she's tired and she will happily pretend to be the various baby animals getting ready for bed.

Ruthie Bon Bair: Do Not Go to Bed with Wringing Wet Hair by Susan Lubner Every little girl wants long hair, but not the tangles. That's why Ruthie doesn't want to dry her curly hair. This is a hilarious take on the consequences of not drying your hair.

Wild About Books by Judy Sierra We love the rhyme and the illustrations. There isn't much I can say new about this one.

Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair by Dotti Enderle This is a tall tale in pink. When Jake gets his cotton candy, catastrophe strikes: the machine won't turn off, so he's pulling the pink stuff through the fair grounds.

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach I wouldn't describe my daughter as a dinosaur fanatic, but she can name a lot more prehistoric creatures than I can. She LOVES this story and we do too. The story is cute, Mom shows how you can turn frustration into a positive, and the illustrations are very expressive.

Finklehopper Frog by Irene Livingston When Finklehopper decides he wants to be cool and jog, it doesn't work out well. He's not a good jogger, and other joggers let him know it in the meanest way. But he learns from a bunny friend that he's great at what HE does: hop! This has a good lesson about bullying, but it's not in your face like so many others we've read.

TBMS: Do you have any favourite Canadian children's authors?

I do! I just discovered Kathleen McDonnell, having just finished The Songweavers. It’s the last book in the Notherland trilogy, but the first one I’ve been introduced to. I’m excited to get the others.

The other Canadian author is Rebecca Upjohn. She wrote Lily and the Paper Man, which has on my daughter’s nightly short-list for the past two weeks.

Also, I love Just One More Book, with Mark Blevis and Andrea Ross. I have learned about so many great children's books and met lots of authors. Their podcast reviews and interviews are just incredible!

TBMS: When you're not reading children's books, what do you read?

Sports Illustrated! I love sports and I love sports journalism. You don’t find that kind of writing in our local paper. I also read cookbooks. My husband swears I never cook the same thing twice. I do, he just doesn’t remember!

TMBS: Thanks Terry!


max said...


It was great to stumble across this interview. As you know, I've always appreciated your interest, and the Reading Tub reviews for my action adventures & mysteries, especially written for tween boys.

Keep up your good work!

Max Elliot Anderson

max said...

Hi John,

Enjoyed your interview with Terry.

I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for tween boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at and my Books for Boys blog is at I also have a short story in a new book called LAY UPS and LONG SHOTS, published by Darby Creek Publishing. I'm also featured in an article in the 2009 edition of Children's Wrtier Guide.

My other books are all ranked by Accelerated Reader

Max Elliot Anderson

Jo-Ann said...

Great interview John. I will add Terry's blog to my daily reading list.

Terry Doherty said...

Thanks, John. The interview looks great. I've jotted down the titles in the list you gave me in our interview, but am always interested in finding new authors. I would love to expand my collection of Canadian authors!!

Chrisbookarama said...

Great interview! I didn't know about The Reading Tub. I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

(Btw, John, I reviewed The Gargoyle for the Challenge...I cheated a bit.)