Though we are geographically widespread and our interests vary, all of us here at Literati are united by at least one fundamental quality: a powerful love of children’s books. Our curation team is always on the lookout for the the visual feast, the overlooked gem, the forgotten favorite, cheerful and melancholy, silly and subdued tales alike, to share with the children and families that receive a Literati box each month. Some of us are teachers, some are parents, some are both. Some are visual artists, some writers, some librarians. All of us, within and beyond these roles, are deeply invested in the constant search for great books.
With this in mind, it seemed only natural that Tisha Aragaki, chief children’s librarian for the State of Hawaii, would be an outstanding addition to the Literati curation team. We’re so excited to have her join us, and after hearing what she has to say about her own journey with children’s literature, we think you will be, too.
Welcome to Literati, Tisha!
You’re currently head of the Children’s Section at the Hawaii State Library, but you studied anthropology in the past. What inspired you to pursue anthropology?
I have always loved culture, and when I chose my major I already knew that I wanted my Masters in Library and Information Science, so I decided that I should be able to get my undergraduate in whatever tickled my fancy, so to speak. Anthropology, being the study of people, gave me the opportunity to take almost any class I wanted and still apply it to my major. I used my degree as a reason to take classes that otherwise wouldn’t have fit together. I took everything I could from Egyptian hieroglyphics to entomology. Also, I have always been something of an outcast, so I thought it was the perfect way to try to learn more about people and their social norms and expectations in an effort to better understand myself and others.
What’s the common thread you’ve found between anthropology and library science that lead you from one to the other?
Both fields require objectivity, curiosity, patience and an open mind. All things that are challenging to exercise on a day-to-day basis, but afford a richer experience in life. You could learn something new about a culture or maybe the people in your library. In any case, both areas require exercising care with judgment and response. Often times patrons do not know how to properly ask for things or sometimes don’t really know what they want and some people even become combative. On a daily basis you have to be able to separate yourself from a situation and analyze it or the people involved in order to best help both them and yourself.
In your position at HSL you oversee the largest collection of children’s literature in the state. What can you tell us about your daily work at the library?
Aside from developing and maintaining our collection, my staff and I strive to encourage the love of reading and education through hosting classes, programs and storytimes, and our regular, in-person reference interactions. By-and-large, we all place a high value on instilling a love of lifelong learning and our goals aside from promoting literacy are to expose readers of all ages to things that they may not be afforded through other media or life experiences. We select our books, partnerships and programming based on those objectives.
What has been your favorite interaction with a child at the library so far?
It’s impossible to choose just one. I have a favorite type, though. Those are when a child already has an incredible fascination with the world and wants to feed their hunger for knowledge by seeking answers in the library with fun and challenging requests. I love it when a child knows what they want and is completely committed to that search no matter how long it takes or how challenging the material; their excitement and joy is so rewarding.
What was your favorite book as a child?
That answer depends on the day, but one of the most favorite books until this day is People by Peter Spier! I remember my school librarian sharing it with my class in the 1st or 2nd grade, and I was so fascinated by it I regularly returned to the library to read it. That book sparked in me a love of picture book art, learning, and, of course, a fascination with the multitude of cultures out in the wide world I had yet to experience. In a way, it helped shape who I am today by highlighting how being so different from each other from culture to culture is a wonderful thing to be celebrated.
Was there a book you found hard to keep stocked because of its popularity?
There are numerous titles that become so popular with our young patrons that we go through months at a time when they are hardly on the shelves. The good thing is, in a system like ours, we are usually able to find a copy in another branch. It’s always great to see that our patrons have a such a strong passion for the written and printed word.
What do you wish you had more of on your shelves?
Interesting question! Part of a librarian’s job is to bring to the reader what they want, not what we think they should want. That said, we also try our best to “direct” readers to what we hope they’ll like. There is a lot of really wonderful narrative non-fiction for young readers out there for which I wish there was more enthusiasm. We pick up as much of it as we can. However, we can’t purchase or keep all of it if our communities don’t have a need or appreciation for it. One of the perks to being in charge of the collection for the Hawaii State Library, as the largest children’s collection in our 50 library system, is that we get to keep a great deal of what other branches in our system cannot, even if it doesn’t circulate well.
Is there an unsung book, author, or illustrator you wish was more widely known?
There are so many! I tend to lean toward illustrators. I have a particular love for Steve Jenkins and Barry Moser and the late David Wisniewski. All for very similar reasons. They are all accomplished artists in their own right who found illustrating for children to be a rewarding calling. Each of them have put their all into each pieces with the express purpose of bringing amazing art to young ones to tell stories and enhance learning. It’s funny how often such great work can be overlooked simply because it’s in a children’s book. Skilled illustrators can bring stories and information alive in ways that words alone cannot for children with comprehension issues. Illustrators like these three don’t underestimate a child’s ability to appreciate more mature style beyond super-simplified lines, design and color.
What makes a good children’s book?
Attention to detail, skilled writing, and good production value are all important criteria for a quality book. They’re more important in a children’s book because creators have to realize their audience is learning reading, writing, speaking, thinking and social skills from their work. I believe strongly that good stories are more important than “messages,” and an author’s ability to identify and play to their audience is paramount. I think it’s also vital that an author treat children with respect as readers. Finding the balance between imparting a new experience or information on developing readers and keeping the language just challenging enough to engage and not alienate them is an incredible skill.
If you were a character from any book children’s literature, who would you be?
Oh my goodness, what a tough question! I think the character I related with most as a child was the main character in Dr. Seuss’ story What was I Scared Of? I had my mom read that over and over to me as a little kid, I think because I liked the idea that the unusual and frightening didn’t need to be as scary as it might seem. I wanted to be the character that figures it out and functions on that enlightened level! One can dream, right?