In this episode of Causecasts we welcome the host of Book Club for Kids, Kitty Felde. Kitty started the podcast a few years ago as way to create lifelong readers out of middle schoolers, a cause that we fully support! Coming from a career in public radio broadcasting and talkshows, Kitty was perfectly positioned to make the change to the podcast format, something that she views massively suited to the communication of ideas and the forwarding of causes. The idea of this podcast actually dawned on Kitty while she was still hosting her, adult aimed, radio show and she noticed how many children would end up, unwillingly listening to the radio with their parents. This prompted her to want to create something geared towards the younger generation and when the opportunity for a career change presented itself, Kitty chose the path to do just that.
In our discussion we look at the reason why Kitty thinks conversations with middle schoolers are important and how this grew out of her own experiences as a child. We also chat about some of the most memorable and surprising discussions she has facilitated on her podcast before moving onto some thoughts about why reading is important at any age and in particular just before high school. We also chat about the usefulness of the podcasting medium and the joys that are now afforded those wanting to create and broadcast content in the contemporary climate. Towards the end of the interview, Kitty is kind enough to share some of her expert radio and broadcast knowledge with us in the hope of inspiring anyone considering the idea of starting their own Causecast and getting their ideas out into the world. So for all this and more, be sure to tune in!
How Kitty wound up creating a podcast about kids’ books. (01:27)
Having interesting and adult conversations with middles schoolers. (03:28)
Some of the most surprising conversations Kitty has hosted. (04:37)
The events that have grown out of the podcast itself. (07:10)
The gift of instilling a love of reading at an early age. (08:26)
The key to getting kids to pick up and books and discuss them. (10:24)
Why podcasts are such an effective way of communicating. (13:30)
Considering the future of podcasts for the younger generations. (15:06)
Kitty’s advice for prospective podcasters. (17:52)
Some insider knowledge and tricks to improving your content and delivery. (18:58)
Things to avoid when starting up your own podcast. (20:28)
How to get involved with Causecasts! (23:29)
And much more!
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See the show notes and a transcript at http://www.causecasts.org/podcast/kitty-felde
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[0:00:02.6] MP: Hi and welcome to Causecasts. I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at Causecasts, we have one simple mission, to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes. Whether that’s a non-profit they work with, a charity they support, a social justice campaign they are championing for, a medical condition they are battling or someone who is just looking to make a positive impact on their local community, state, country or the world. These are podcasters with a positive mission.
Along with raising awareness for our guest’s favorite causes, we’re also going to see if we can raise some money to support their efforts. So make sure you check out the show notes for each episode at causecasts.org to learn more about what they’re doing and how to help them achieve their goals.
[0:00:50.4] MP: Very excited here on Causecasts, to have a broadcasting veteran who is a really cool podcast with the objective of turning middle graders into lifelong readers, we are chatting with Kitty Felde, she is the host and creator of Book Club for Kids, you can learn more at bookclubforkids.org.
Kitty, thank you so much for joining us here on Causecasts today.
[0:01:13.4] KF: Thanks so much for asking, I really appreciate it.
[0:01:16.6] MP: You have a very varied background in broadcasting and that eventually led you to podcasting. But just real quickly, take us back, what led you to this particular project?
[0:01:27.3] KF: Well, you know, when I was doing a talk show on a public radio station in Los Angeles, we used to go out to the LA Times Festival of Books. The station had a booth and people would come up to you and say, “I love this station, I love your show,” and sometimes they’d be dragging their kids with them and the kids would say, “Well I listen to your show too.”
“There’s absolutely nothing on it for you because we did politics and serious issues and grown up arts stuff.” And the kids said, “Yeah, we know. But we’re in mom’s carpool and we have to listen to whatever she puts on the radio.” I said, “Well gosh, as long as I have this captive audience,” because it was an afternoon show that pretty much ran when moms were taking kids from school to home. “What would you be interested in?” I asked them.
Because we were at a book festival, they said books. Once a month, we would throw the adults out of the studio and just invite kids in and they would discuss a middle grade novel with me and we would have the author listening in on the phone and because we were an LA radio station, lots of celebrities came in and out and I’d grab one of them at some point to do a recording of a little bit form the book and that was the show we did.
The station went nuts about it because they kept saying, “Well why are we running this? Who is the audience for,” and I said, “Well it’s the next generation of public radio listeners.” And an old program director said to me, “We don’t care about the next generation, baby boomers are going to live forever.”
[0:02:52.4] MP: Yeah, right.
[0:02:54.8] KF: Yeah, right, exactly. We did it for a number of years and then we moved it to cable TV. Then, as a reporter, I was moved to Washington DC to cover Capitol Hill and I just didn’t have time to do it anymore.
When I stopped reporting, I got to ask myself, “What did I enjoy the most?” It was talking to kids about books and because the technology had changed, I thought, “My gosh, I got to do this as a podcast,” and we started in 2015 and here we go, three years later.
[0:03:20.4] MP: You mentioned right there, you love talking to kids about books, what was it about that experience that made you love it so much, why was this such an engaging experience for you?
[0:03:28.9] KF: Well, it’s that age group that I really identify – I say, identify with I guess. I can remember being about 12 and if only an adult would treat me like I had a brain in my head, I would tell them anything. That’s the same thing I find in kids that age, in middle grade kids is that if you have an adult conversation with them, they respond in kind.
Because they haven’t hit full on puberty yet, they’re not super concerned about, you know, trying to impress boys or trying to impress girls and they have some knowledge of the world so after 5th grade and onwards, they have a sense of where they are in the world and opinions about the world.
They’re really not hesitant at all about telling you about them and so that’s what I love was just the conversations. You start with the book but then you just never know which way the conversation’s going to go and I just follow along wherever they want to go and that’s what we talk about.
[0:04:27.4] MP: What were some of the, like you said, you didn’t know where the conversation was going to go, what were some of the most memorable moments, one of the most memorable conversations that you had doing this project?
[0:04:37.0] KF: Well, I mean, some of them are jumping off of whatever’s in the news, we had done most recently, on the podcast version of the book club, we did A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and you know, a scene that I hardly remembered in the book about her being chased by a – I think it was a flash or suddenly prompted this whole discussion of #MeToo from these seventh grade girls.
Another group of seventh grade girls, I asked them, why dystopian novels are so popular and they said, “Well it’s because they’re hopeful.” I said, “What? What do you mean they’re hopeful there’s this bleak view of the future,” and they go, “No, they have girls as protagonists and all those boys treat them with respect?”
I thought, as supposed to the seventh grade boys you guys go to school with? I think the one that surprised me the most was, this happened twice, once with a group of kids in perhaps, you know, one of the most safe suburbs of Virginia and the other one with kids who lived on Capitol Hill where they have to be – you know, it has to be one of the most secure places on planet earth, given all of the police all over the place.
Both of them, really got honest about insecurities as far as security goes. Maybe it’s all the school shootings or maybe it’s just the world we live in but both of these kids, these sets of kids were really sort of antsy about their sense of security in the world. In Virginia it was prompted by a book by Jack Gantos called Dead End in Norvelt and it’s his weird, twisted, interesting, funny memoir sort of growing up in this odd community in Philadelphia.
They only had, as their police force, this elderly gentleman who wrote a tricycle of sorts, a motorized tricycle and the kids were like, the conversation was – well, what do you need to create an idyllic community? They said, “You need more than a guy and a tricycle.”
They were really insistent, you must have a full police force, you must do this and that and I’m thinking like, you guys have to live in this really super safe community and yet that’s their number one concern. That really kind of surprised me.
[0:06:41.0] MP: I’m always amazed when you talk to kids or when you talk to people who work with kids, just how smart and insightful they are and I take it that’s a big thing of what you’ve learned over the years doing this project?
[0:06:53.4] KF: No kidding, they really are – they’ll come up with things you can’t even imagine.
[0:06:58.2] MP: But the nice thing is like, you said, this sort of started when you would go to the events and the project itself is more than just the podcast itself. You are going out and you are meeting with people and you are creating these interactive events, right?
[0:07:10.6] KF: Yes, we usually take in school libraries or in public libraries but we’ve been invited out to book festivals and done live shows. We did one at the National Archives last summer. Susan Stenberg who we always call the mother of public radio was our celebrity reader and we have the author on stage and we had six or eight young people, in front of this giant auditorium full of people.
You think, my gosh, the kids are going to be nervous, I’m the one that’s nervous, they’re just fine. But it’s fun – I come from an acting background so I love to perform, that’s sort of my way of getting up in front of an audience and keeping it funny and keeping it light and keeping it moving and all of those sorts of things.
That’s the one thing I miss from my talk show days was getting up in front of an audience because we used to do remote shows there as well. Here, I get to do it again.
[0:08:01.1] MP: Well, I guess, obviously because it fits the format and you need to have the kids there to be a part of the interaction but I also imagine too that being out there and meeting kids and being able to shake hands and give hugs and you know, take pictures of them. I imagine that’s also really helpful for the podcast itself.
We all want to meet the people behind the mic and on the camera and so, anytime you meet someone like, it’s hard not to become an instant fan of what they do.
[0:08:26.5] KF: Yeah, I guess you would say that about the podcast in general, you know, it’s not like we’re doing something that’s making people mad. Who could not get behind the idea of trying to turn kids into lifelong readers? I mean, that’s our – you know, raison d’être is to try to catch them at that really vulnerable age which is middle school.
There was an NEA study many years ago that showed that I think the numbers were about seven out of 10 kids in middle grade would read 10 or more books a year but by the time they got to high school, that number just fell off the map.
The idea is if you can get them to love reading, to read for enjoyment, to make it a habit, something they want to do and instill that during that critical period in middle school that that will hopefully be able to carry on into adulthood and make it through that horrible period of your life and you read nothing but what they assign you in high school and college.
[0:09:21.6] MP: I know you’re not doing the public radio thing anymore like that you’re doing this podcast project but I imagine, doing that at the same time. You would talk to the kids but then the parents will get to meet you and then the parents might seek you out in radio when you were still doing that, right?
[0:09:35.7] KF: Sure, I think it brought more propel to the station because you know, what was our mission in public broadcasting was to serve the community and this was serving an audience that I felt was being underserved and those were the younger listeners who were – to whom public radio was being inflicted upon.
[0:09:54.2] MP: Going back to the mission of the show, as a parent of very young kids who hopefully I can get them on the right path to reading early and they’ll stay there but what is the key to getting middle schoolers to stay engaged with reading?
How do you make that experience fun and worthwhile and something they want to do beyond what they have to do because we know they’ve got homework and assigned reading and you know?
Maybe they’ve got a million sports that they’re doing. How do we get reading to be fun and something they want to be doing when they have the time?
[0:10:24.2] KF: You know, it’s the question that everybody keeps asking and it’s – we do a newsletter every other week with tips for parents mostly who are struggling with reluctant readers and I mean, there’s all kinds of things you can do to get kids to read like having books around, like giving them a gift certificate, they have to spend on books on the bookstore.
Like keeping things handy, graphic novels, magazines it doesn’t matter, just anything around to get a kid to pick the darn thing up. Maybe wait till the devices run out of juice to do that if you have to do it that way. Hide the extension cord!
But the podcast is a way to give importance. If you’re on the podcast, this kids feel like they’re rocket stars, like they’ve gone on you know, America’s Got Talent or something like that. They all want to hold the microphone, they all feel very important and because I listen to them, that also gives credence to the fact that their opinions matter and that’s connected to the reading.
The other thing is, books have gotten – there’s so many more wonderful novels that are out there for this particular age group. I think when you and I were growing up, the choices were kind of slim. But there’s just hundreds of really good, middle grade novels out there that are a joy to read.
I think that by doing the podcast, even if you’re not on it, if you’re listening to it, the idea is to read as a jumping off point to doing something with the reading besides you know, looking back at the grammar or looking for theme or some of the things they make you do in school. It’s a jumping off place to have a conversation and to express your ideas and to talk about your own personal experience which we all love to do.
You know, it’s just like, I always describe it as, it’s just like a grown up book club where you start with a book and then the conversation goes crazy. But without the alcohol. You know, the enjoyable part of a book club is generally those conversations that happen after you’ve gotten through the basics of the book. I think that’s what we - that’s sort of the underlying cheating that we give. Yeah, you’re reading, yeah, this is great. But you use books as a way to inspire thought, to share ideas, to have arguments.
In one case, we had kids who composed a song from what they had heard and what they had read. You never know where it’s going to go and the book is sort of – it’s like they always say, it opens a door to the rest of your life and so instead of it being this assignment that you have to do, it’s something you look forward to and we hope that’s what people take away from the podcast.
[0:12:58.7] MP: Now, I know, coming from a public radio background, obviously, doing a podcast was sort of a natural fit, it makes a lot of sense, there’s a lot of synergies with public radio and podcasting but now that you are out of the broadcasting game, as like a full time thing, what is it about - why do you think that the podcast medium is so effective for – I would say, your cause but just causes in general, like what is so great about spoken word content delivered this way that is a great way to share your message?
[0:13:30.9] KF: Well, the one thing you learned doing radio was that you’re not speaking to like thousands of people, you’re speaking to one person. One person at a time and it’s very personal. For me, in radio, it really hit home right after 9/11 when myself and the gentleman at, Larry Mantle who hosts the morning show came in that weekend following 9/11 and we just opened up the phones. And people just called in.
Because they felt that they knew us, they felt they could trust us. We felt like friends to them, you know, someone they could talk to and it was incredibly moving and emotional and therapeutic and it really reminded me that that’s what we’re doing, we’re really just speaking to one person at a time.
I think that’s why podcasts work so well. It’s again, you’re speaking to someone in their earbuds or in that car radio where they’re plugged in their iPhone. You're listening to one person talking to one person and you're connecting. There’s an emotional connection that happens there. It’s very intimate and I think that’s why podcast in general work but I think especially when it’s something that I should say matters to people. It’s a really effective way to communicate.
[0:14:46.9] MP: Because you're engaging with them, talking to kids and you know, honestly, sometimes you’re talking to the parents of these kids, do you think that podcast are a good medium for kids? Do you think that the generation that is in middle school that would be your audience, that they’re listening to podcasts? That they’re you know, potentially big consumers for this stuff?
[0:15:06.0] KF: I think the future is very bright. Where we’re at right now is just the beginning. As far as middle grade kids go, some of them have their own device, usually they have something, it could be an old iPod or something else but usually they have something. But I think as we go on, more and more kids are just going to have phones it’s just the way things are moving because everything’s available on a phone.
But our gateway to find these kids is always through parents, teachers and librarians, at least to this point in time. Kids on their own don’t go out and seek this stuff. I know we know this because I’m on the board of this organization called Kids Listen. You may not know this but there are almost a hundred kid focused podcasts out there right now.
They’re just exploding all over the place, everything from science to history, to ethics, to music, you name it, there’s a podcast for it. Most of them are geared towards much younger ears. Either preschoolers or early grades and so again, within that niche, we are sort of a niche within a niche.
I forgot what you asked. You said – as I said, usually it’s the parents for all of these age groups, the connect kids to the podcasts. Although, what’s happening, sort of interesting because it’s not what we expected at all, what’s happening is you’ve got a whole bunch of kids who like podcast and therefore, they want to do their own.
There are three podcast that have started basically that are – because of book club for kids. Kids that I can do that and sure they can, there’s several other podcasts, very similar to book club for kids that are kid run. They have a parent of course who helps out with the editing but it’s the kid who is the host of the show.
[0:16:59.5] MP: Yeah, I am so glad you brought up Kids Listen and I had a chance to talk to a lot of those folks in my previous podcast. So I was talking more about the industry and whatnot and I am so encouraged and excited that this organization exists and that there are so many not only adult podcasters but kid podcasters who are looking to put out content to target that audience and we can grow a future generation who are going to seek out high quality audio content on their mobile device through podcasting and through other different ways so that is very, very cool.
So as someone who has this great background on public radio, you have this great podcast, it’s talking to kids and you are on this mission to encourage more kids to have a lifelong passion for reading, what would be some advice that you would give somebody else who is thinking about using podcasting specifically to share their cause’s message to get their story out there?
[0:17:52.8] KF: Well I think the key is to try to really think about who will be consuming your podcast. I hate to use that phrase because it makes it sound like you are eating the record reel or radio but you have to figure out and it took me a while to figure that out. I had a friend who her husband is the media marketer for a television station in Albuquerque and he sat me down and basically read me the riot act of you don’t know who you’re working -
You know, who’s that person you are marketing to? You are not really marketing to the middle grade kids, you are marketing to who? And then I thought about it like, “You’re right. I am not. I am marketing to their mom and dads. Well, how do I reach their moms and dads? What’s the best way? How can I provide?”
I hate this word too, “How can I provide value?” In other words, what can I do to make their lives better and how can this forward, the cause of which we all support of trying to get kids to read more. So that’s what I think you have to do first. It’s to really think about who it is that you can be serving.
[0:18:46.6] MP: And once you figure that out, what are some specific, now I am going to tap right into your expertise in public radio, what are some specific tips and tricks to make sure that you are telling your story effectively?
[0:18:58.8] KF: The difference between podcasting and, for example, public radio, public radio I guess is more like a screenplay and that there is a very – there is a template. You have to follow the template. You only get a minute and a half to three minutes which sounds like an enormous amount of time but compare that to a podcast where you have an unlimited amount of time. You really have – it is more mobius, you can make it whatever you want.
You can pretty much decide to do it whichever way you want and the thing is, if it doesn’t work the first time, you can reinvent it. It doesn’t matter, nobody is standing around cancelling your show because they don’t like what you’re doing. It’s your show. You get to make that decision. So in many ways and it is not too expensive to do compared to so many other things we could be taking up. So I mean there is a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities that are out there.
And I think that you just have to give yourself permission to try it and if it doesn’t work, as my next door neighbor the handy man says, “You know you just slap some putty on it and put the paint on and start all over again.” It’s not rocket science, you know you try and fail. It’s what we all do.
[0:20:03.9] MP: Very cool, so any other advice that you would give to someone who has a cause, someone who works for a non-profit, somebody who is on a mission to help their local community, their country, the globe and they are thinking about using this medium to get that message out there, to raise awareness potentially raise funds like any other last minute tips that you would say to them like, make sure you avoid doing this?
[0:20:28.1] KF: Yeah, I will offer a couple of things. One the practical side of things, I would say make friends with your local grant center or foundation center or - there is a lot of organizations that are out there to try to help non-profits if that’s the route you’re going. The other thing is what used to be called the service core of retired executives is now just called SCORE. You can get a mentor and you can get a non-profit mentor or a for profit mentor.
Who will work with you on the practical side of the business, you know the business plan, the marketing, all of that kind of things. So that’s the business side of it. You can find resources that are really out there and most of them are free and very low cost. I would really recommend that. The other side is partnerships. I live in Washington DC for almost 10 years and the thing I discovered was it’s a coffee town. If you go into a Starbucks there, everybody is having a meet.
To talk about if they’re not applying for a job, they’re trying to network or they are exchanging ideas, I mean everybody is doing coffee in Washington DC and I would suggest that same thing. Think about the people who you could partner with. Think about the people whose mission is similar to your’s and reach out to them. For me, it was the public library system, the public school librarians. They have an organization, try to think of the other organizations that you guys share the same passion and cause for because you can help each other out.
You can become the official podcast of a particular organization, you know they don’t want to do the work. They might be happy to have you. It is those partnerships that double your efforts without doubling the number of hours you have to put into the podcast.
[0:22:09.3] MP: I think that is such a great idea that there is tons of resources out there and like you said, you want to bring as many people into this as possible. It’s not you are doing something for all community and so, it is sort of one of those it takes a village to raise a village. Not just to raise a child but to raise an entire village. It takes everybody and so I think that’s a great idea to go out there and find other people who are interested. Who are just as passionate and who want to help you succeed and form those partnerships and get the help that’s going to help you get that done. So I think that is just great advice for everybody.
Well it has been such a pleasure chatting with you about this. If you are interested in hearing more, if you are interested in checking out the show, if in fact you have a child who has a favorite book that wants to join the show, you can find out more at bookclubforkids.org.
There will obviously be a link to the show notes, you can check it out, subscribed, join Kitty on the show and there is also going to be a link - we are going to try to raise some awareness for Access Books. It is a literacy and access, non-profit based out in California. A very important cause for Kitty, we want to help raise awareness and raise some funds for them and of course, please go checkout bookclubforkids.org.
Kitty, we want to thank you so much for taking some time in joining us here on Causecasts today.
[0:23:24.5] KF: Oh I sure appreciate your asking, thanks so much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:23:29.4] MP: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Causecasts. Again, if you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes in your podcast app or head to Causecasts.org. There you will find links to the work of our guest and a special donation link set up to support their favorite cause. All the proceeds are going directly to that cause minus any administration fee on the platform that they set up. None of the money is coming here to the Causecasts production.
Also while you’re at causecasts.org, make sure you follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you enjoy your podcast show and follow us on social media as we’ll try to provide updates on what is going on with our guests and some other folks who we’ll be featuring on the show and any other efforts that we have to support the community of Causecasters that are out there.
Now there is also going to be a special Facebook group dedicated to Causecasters. So if you already have a podcast for a cause or you’re thinking about launching one, join the group. It will be dedicated to providing resources and answering questions specifically for Causecasters. Hopefully we can do things like arrange some special non-profit pricing of various podcast services to help you with your venture and keep you under budget because we know a lot of people doing Causecasts are not going to be reaping in the money. So we want to see what we can do to help you produce a high quality product, get your story out there, get people inspired and not break the bank.
Lastly, if you are a Causecaster and you want to join me here on the show for an interview, please head to causecasts.org and fill out the interview request form. We’ll take a quick look at it and if approved, we’ll schedule you for chat and show the amazing work that you are doing with Causecasts, raise some awareness for what you’re doing and ideally, raise some money as well.
Thank you so much again for staying with me and we will see you next time on Causecasts.