by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
When I go to reset my password, I always struggle with that security question that asks what you wanted to be when you grew up.
At one time or another, I wanted to pursue many careers—politician, writer, musician—and I often have trouble remembering which answer I chose. Most of the time, I default and select “writer,” and that usually works. So either my memory of my childhood career goals…or the website security algorithms…are really not that precise.
While I’ve had a wide range of career interests over the years, my reality is that I have worked in children’s book publishing since 1985 (and adult book publishing for six years before that). I love it all: my career in publishing, my current job as President and Reader in Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs, and, most importantly, what we do every day: connecting kids, teachers, and parents to great children’s books.
But even with my total commitment to my current work, there are some weeks when I listen to the news and I think, “Wow, that sounds like a cool job.”
I’ve learned that in order for me to fully understand something, I have to experience it firsthand. So I think I translate that into (temporarily) wishing I were an expert in every field I’m curious about.
For example, this week I was blown away by the Book Boys’ latest song, “Jump Around.” Jamie and his creative partner, Aaron, consistently surprise me with their musical talent (and rapping abilities). Even my husband loves them—the other day I caught him singing the “We Are the Crayons” song around the house! When I was young, I dreamed of writing music, and hearing the Book Boys reminded me of my childhood interest.
Also featured in the media a lot lately is Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry. Although I am not fanatic about following the British royal family, I do enjoy reading about this latest betrothal. I agree with some writers who say that Princess Diana (who I did love) would be very happy about this news. Meghan inspires me. She seems fearless, intelligent, and passionate. She is well spoken and analytical and is a true advocate for people’s rights.
When I was a kid (in the ’60s and ’70s) I did not want to be a princess—or a duchess—when I grew up. And today, decades later, “member of the royal family” is definitely not a reset-your-password-security-question option. But I can see that Meghan Markle will inspire many young people—and even some older ones—to dream about being a member of the royal family with a fresh, new voice committed to making the world better for all people…while changing some of the old-fashioned monarchical institutions in the process.
In this video, which has gone viral on the Internet, Meghan speaks at the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Fourth World Conference of Women in 2015 about how, as an 11-year-old girl, she wrote to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, Linda Ellerbee, Gloria Allred, and Procter & Gamble to get a soap commercial changed from “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “People all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” Not only did they make the change, but she got letters of encouragement back from all three women!
I subscribe to the Nerdy Book Club blog and the November 27, 2017, post by Malia Oshiro made me want to be a teacher. Malia is a high school teacher, and she writes about how she unlocked her best teacher-self when she “reestablished her identity as a capital-R Reader.”
I work closely with thousands of teachers each year. Along with everyone at Scholastic, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the inarguably-most-important-work-on-the-planet that teachers do every day in their classrooms.
I don’t know if I would make a very good teacher, but I have always wanted to try. Malia’s post got me thinking about ways to get into the classroom—if not as a fourth grade teacher (my dream grade), then maybe teaching a children’s literature course to eighth graders or high school students, or even at the college level. We’ll see.…
Last week, I was at an event at the Pajama Program reading room in NYC. I told a group of truly brilliant, inspiring, and joyful fourth graders that I could not draw and thus never aspired to be an illustrator.
They were hearing none of that.
Hands went up in the air and they started telling me—emphatically—that I should not say that. That everyone can draw and that I should not put myself down and that I should just try.
I can’t begin to express here how moved I was by this group of kids, who don’t have much in the way of material possessions but have an abundance of passion and determination. They bowled me over.
Speaking of which—Scholastic Book Clubs’ annual Pajama Program pajama and book drive is in full swing. Your class donates brand-new pajamas for kids living in shelters, and Scholastic Book Clubs matches each pair of pj’s with a brand-new book. Our goal this year is 100,000 pairs of new pajamas and 100,000 brand-new books to help kids in need have a safer and cozier good night. So if you are able, please join the pajama drive.
As I do every week, I asked my colleague David Vozar to weigh in. David and I have worked together for so many years that we can finish each other’s sentences, but I actually did not know what he wanted to be when he grew up. (Or how he answers those security questions.)
Here’s what he said:
“I remember my kindergarten teacher asking us to draw of picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up.…
“As soon as she put up all of our drawings, I was surrounded by a bunch of boys from my class. They were all pointing at me, saying things like, ‘You don’t want to be a singer!’ I was confused.
“I asked, ‘Why can’t I be a singer?’
“They all answered in unison, ‘Because all the girls will like you!!!’
“I remember not having to think very long for a response. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll be a mailman.’
“As it turns out, it was better that I didn’t pursue a career as a singer. I actually have a horrible singing voice.”
I am really happy David is neither a mailman nor a singer, and rather chose to be what he is: a brilliant Creative Director and a passionate advocate for Scholastic Book Clubs and its mission.
Which brings me to this week’s Dollar Deal.
Even though—as I make my way through my daily life in our complicated world—I am interested in assorted jobs, I can say with confidence that I have never wanted to be a frog.
Dev Petty and Mike Boldt’s funny—and surprisingly thought-provoking—picture book I Don’t Want to Be a Frog stars a young amphibian who is underwhelmed with his species. One day, young Frog puts down his book with a cat on the cover and declares, “I want to be a cat!” to his bespectacled frog father.
“You can’t be a cat,” young Frog is told matter-of-factly, “because you’re a frog.”
From there, young Frog runs through a list of creatures—a rabbit, a pig, an owl—that he would rather be than a frog. But each time, his father reminds him of why he can only be exactly who he is.
This simply told story reminds us that there are pluses and minuses to everyone’s life, even if it’s not always so clear looking from the outside in. For example, you may think you want to be a fly. But a fly’s life is not so easy when a frog is around.
“Now the frog sees his existence in a delightful new light. The story might create similar gratitude in the minds of readers—or it might just make them giggle.” —Publishers Weekly
To help you use and love this book, we are including videos from author Dev Petty and illustrator Mike Boldt; the Book Boys’ new hip-hop song, “Jump Around” (you’re going to love this); a bug-licious classroom activity; and a fantastic teacher review.
At Scholastic Book Clubs, we’re always looking for books that help kids learn about themselves and the world around them. In addition to just being a lot of fun for kids to read, I Don’t Want to Be a Frog speaks to the journey of discovering who you really are and learning to embrace yourself. Once you find your place in the world, you can become the very best you can be and make a good and kind difference.
I’m so happy to be able to offer I Don’t Want to Be a Frog as our Dollar Deal of the week! I hope that after reading it, you, your students, and everyone you share it with will discover that as fun as it is to imagine all of the different things you could be, it’s also wonderful to be exactly who you are.
I really am happy to be who I am: Reader in Chief and President of Scholastic Book Clubs.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs