In year five, I wrote an aspirational short story about becoming a famous biochemist and curing cancer. In high school, I took an introductory psychology course to get a head start on my career as a therapist. As a journalism major at Indiana University, I could clearly envision my life as a top political correspondent for the New York Times. It turns out I was completely wrong about all of my career futures. And I couldn’t be happier.
My first job out of university was teaching English to a few hundred year nines in south-east Los Angeles. The school was the third largest middle school in the entire US, with nearly 4,000 students. Most of my students were reading at least two years below their grade level. Reading for fun wasn’t a big thing for most of these kids. “Reading time” tended to elicit groans, all the books were “boring.”
So along with aiming to dramatically increase my students’ reading levels, I also took aim at the boring-book association. I filled my classroom with every book I could get my hands on, from illustrated pet-care manuals to graphic novels. I voraciously read young adult fiction, and made a habit of “selling” my weekend reads to my students every Monday morning. I eschewed the textbook and used The Republic of East LA by Luis Rodriguez and Thirsty by MT Anderson to teach reading skills. After a few months, I felt a shift in my students and my classroom. I felt triumphant when Eduardo, one of my most at-risk students, asked to take his copy of The Republic of East LA home with him over the weekend. Later when I visited Eduardo at the one-bedroom apartment he shared with his six family members, I noticed the only books he had on his shelf were his assigned textbooks and the few books he had nicked from my classroom. I was overjoyed to let him hang onto those.
When you see first-hand the transformative power of children’s literature, it’s hard to stop reading new titles in the genre. Even though I left my classroom after two years, I kept reading young adult fiction. I still felt responsible for recommending new books to the young people I met through my other education-related jobs.
When I moved to London and had a chance to pursue a brand new profession, it didn’t take long for me to decide on children’s publishing. I wanted to help make the books that I hoped would one day get stolen off a teacher’s shelf. I wanted to push the boundaries of what we could do with narrative, to create apps that teach kids to read while they reading a book they love.
And here I am, a year after moving to London, after ten months of work experience all over the London publishing world, in my brand new role as Hot Key’s digital coordinator. I am so thrilled to be here, working with such amazing people just days before the first two titles are set to launch. I can’t wait to get started on all of the exciting projects already in progress here, and I am excited to start working on some brand-new ideas. Years ago, I couldn’t have anticipated that I’d be in this role, but perhaps it’s time for me to recognize that it’s passion, not foresight, that steers my professional course.