By Bradin Farnworth
There are many things I love about my job, but reading children’s books on public radio sits at the top of that list.
On Monday afternoons, KUFM has The Pea Green Boat Show, hosted by the incomparable Annie Garde. For years now, she’s invited the children’s librarians of Missoula Public Library to join her for for the first part of the show.
When it’s my week (we rotate between the three of us), I pick two or three favorite picturebooks out of the dozens I’ve been reading, then I practice going through them several times out loud. I don’t like to be surprised by a word or name I’m not sure how to pronounce, which happens more often than I like to admit. And I usually leave sticky notes to myself in the pages as a reminder to add description of the illustrations, for when the text leaves something out. About fifteen minutes before I’m scheduled on air, I walk from the library to the University of Montana.
I always love being back on campus. I studied creative writing here from 2006 to 2009, and each time I return, it reminds me of those heady years when all my attention was on learning the art of fiction.
This is the building where I meet up with Annie a few minutes before we go on air. I won’t lie, at this point, no matter how many times I’ve done this, I’m nervous. I try hard not to think how many people might be listening. And I always make sure to grab a cup of water beforehand, because I get dry mouth as bad as Marco Rubio. But once I’m in my chair, headphones on, and the intro music to The Pea Green Boat Show starts playing, I’m calm and ready.
Annie’s a pro at what she does. I’m always a bit captivated watching her work the control board or cue up a song. Sometimes she admits to messing something up, but I or the listeners would never know because she segues so beautifully from prerecordings to live radio.
After some announcements and a song, Annie welcomes me to the show and we talk about upcoming events at the library. Annie’s true skill lies in how comfortable she makes me feel as her guest. I’m naturally a quiet sort of person, but she knows the right kinds of questions to get me talking, without making me feel like I’m being put on the spot.
Once I’m reading, I no longer worry how many people might be listening, I’m just immersed in the story. I love trying to get the cadence of the words right, which is an art in itself. Picturebooks are so dependent on knowing when to read the text quickly or slowly, loudly or softly. When I get it just right, it’s a great feeling. In the picture above I’m reading Philip Stead’s Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat. Because of its quick pace and various animal voices, it’s a good choice for the radio, I think.
Before I know it, the time is up and I have to head back. I always hope I’ve left the listener with a good impression of the books I’ve read, and that someone will to come to the library later to check one out. Sometimes patrons will stop by to tell me they heard me on the radio. I always enjoy that. And one October, after I mentioned on air that I was going to dress up as “stereotypical” librarian for Halloween, a sweet little girl brought me a pocket protector for my costume.
On my way back to the library, I cross this bridge that spans the Clark Fork river. It’s a not a far drop to the water, but there’s a sign to warn people that jumping off the bridge can result in injury or death. You can see flowers taped to the beam on the lower left of the picture above, memorializing, I’m assuming, someone who died after jumping from that spot. Still, in the summer months, there are always students on the bridge and below, laughing and daring each other to jump into the cold water. If there’s time, I stop to watch.