Here, Children’s/Young Adult Specialist and Events Coordinator Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas, writes about her introduction to author Isaac Fitzgerald, who will be the keynote speaker at this year’s virtual Children’s Institute. (Registration is open now.)
Isaac’s been part of our industry for a while, working at The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, and BuzzFeed before entering the kidlit world this spring with the publication of How to Be a Pirate, his picture book from Bloomsbury that made the Indie Bestseller list upon its release in March 2020.
He’s right at home here. He brings his career experience of editing early work by authors like Roxane Gay and Cheryl Strayed and enthusiastically amplifies new voices in the children’s book world, whether it’s by cheering them on through social media or supporting their events, as he did when he appeared in conversation with Phil Stamper for the release of Phil’s YA novel, The Gravity of Us.
My colleague Eugenia Vela, BookKids Director of Events and Marketing at BookPeople in Austin, sums it up thusly: “You may be lucky enough to host Isaac in your own bookstore, where he walks in and greets every person in sight, thanking individual booksellers for their important work. It was a treat to see him read his book, How to Be a Pirate, to an audience of young readers, reinforcing the power of storytelling through generations.”
Isaac’s voice is candid, heartbreaking, and true. He grew up in somewhat challenging circumstances, which he details in his upcoming essay collection Dirtbag, Massachusetts (2021) and in an untitled YA novel (2022). He makes readers feel seen, much like Matt de la Peña and Loren Long did in the pages of their picture book LOVE.
Isaac is an unapologetic supporter of indie bookstores and booksellers. You may have seen his video about supporting the #SaveIndieBookstores campaign. Watch it any time you’re having a bad moment. It can cheer you up and remind you why you love being a bookseller. He was an incredible collaborator on the entire #SaveIndieBookstores campaign, emceeing the #SIBYAAfterDark Twitter event with YA authors that raised more than $13,000.
I spent a day with Isaac on tour this spring. He caught an early morning flight out of Boston, landed in Houston, and headed immediately into school visits. He held the audience in the palm of his hand as he delivered two fantastic presentations full of emotional intelligence and hilarity to more than 500 students. He made children feel valued and seen. At the second school, Isaac told the audience, “I kind of tricked you. This book isn’t really about pirates,” and a little boy shouted out, “No, it’s about love!”
Love is one of the best things Isaac brings to the world, and to the children’s bookselling community. Isaac’s friend John Stanton has said, “It’s a rare talent to walk this earth eyes wide open like he has and still feel to your … bones joy and kindness.” Isaac walks through the world and sees readers, booksellers, and authors. He shows all of us love, truth, and appreciation. That’s a very good way to move through life, especially now.