Can A Podcast Really Change?
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Matthew: I was 17 and I was a part time manager at a local record store.
Yes. An actual record store. That sold records. And CDs. And DVDs. And incense. And also some smoking paraphernalia.
But that’s not why we’re here.
My general manager sent out a weekly email to the 10 or so stores around the Baltimore beltway area, and each email started with the same line of green text on a black background from those early days, those dial-up days of the internet.
The text read…
“Ch ch ch ch changes”
It took me years to realize he was quoting David Bowie’s 1971 classic, “Changes”.
And it’s that song that’s playing in my head now while I write this intro.
Time changes all of us. But I’ve only witnessed time during moments of reflection. Of looking back. Of realizing how many steps you’ve taken since that first one. And how where you are doesn’t look like where you thought you might end up.
It’s the second episode in my mini-series: origins. The Children’s Book Podcast is returning soon, but it’s also going to be a different show.
I wonder if it will feel more different to me than to you. I wonder if my closeness to it makes the change feel radical, where you might experience the change more as natural.
Today… changes. This show is different now than what it first set out to be. And still, change is happening. So, today I’ll reveal the hidden thesis behind the show, in all its incantations. And how that thesis has inevitably morphed and changed as time and opportunity has demanded.
[So What's Next?]
There was this podcast I used to listen to a ton called Nerdist.
The interviews were informal. The co-hosts were clearly friends. The space they made for their guests felt welcoming and sincere. And all of this lead to guests talking about things they hadn’t ever shared in an interview before.
It was one of a small handful of podcasts I was listening to in 2013, along with This American Life, Radiolab, and 99% Invisible. There’s no question that these shows had an influence over the Children’s Book Podcast, or what it would become.
I was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2013 for some work I was doing with gamification and using video games in math instruction. That brought me out to Chicago that summer for the American Library Association’s annual conference. And with ALA comes lots and lots of library and author friends.
Conferences are great, but some of the best, most lasting connections I’ve ever made have been at the hotel bar afterwards, and this ALA was no different.
Travis Jonker, of 100 Scope Notes, was the person of note in this particular memory, though Kate and Colby and John and Donalyn and Aimee and a handful of others made the space extra cozy for sure.
Travis has a way of seeing the whole person and then of speaking straight to your core. We haven’t crossed paths a whole lot in real life, but it’s something I treasure about him from those handful of moments that we have.
And on this particular moment, Travis asked, “So what’s next?” And I mentioned that I had been listening to lots and lots of podcasts, but couldn’t find any in the children’s book space that felt conversational, like whomever the guest author or illustrator, you’d want to invite them to your school immediately.
And then, after some nods and “uh huh”s, Travis said, “So when are you gonna start?”
And that was the spark that I needed.
[Kickball and a Message]
The show, which was at that time called Let’s Get Busy, was a platform for celebrating voices from the library and for helping librarians and bookish people to determine who might be a good fit for an author visit.
It was about practice and craft and, to keep things light and fun, I ended each episode by asking guests the following:
I’m assembling an all-star kidlit kickball team. Who is the one person, alive or passed, that you’d want on your team and why?
That question ended up eliciting some amazing responses and even led to booking more guests and being invited to assemble a conference panel around the kickball theme for the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. We never got to play actual kickball with actual kidlit folks, which I still regret. But we came pretty close.
As I got my interview reps in and as the episode numbers started climbing into triple digits with some household names and literary legends, the show started to shift, too.
With a stronger sense of the impact of my platform and a greater awareness of the voices represented through my guest list, I committed myself to creating a show where my students could see themselves, their families, and their experiences reflected in the authors and illustrators who I invited onto the show.
With that, I sunsetted the kickball question in exchange for one that centered those kids.
I will see a library full of children tomorrow morning. Is there a message I can bring to them from you?
And that, I believe, set the show on a new course. Interviews still talked about craft and time and how the publishing industry works, but now they had something on which to anchor.
[Stories Worth Noting]
In 2021, I was hired by A Kids Co. as their Head of Podcasts.
Working for a publisher, it didn’t feel right to keep the Children’s Book Podcast going as-is, but I was also itching to do something else on the feed.
And when the Olympic committee ruled, in 2021, that the use of the swimming cap brand Soul Cap, a swimming cap made specifically for individuals with natural Black hair (that’s Black with a capital “B”), it felt like something we needed to talk about. Actually, it felt exactly like something my students and I would have been talking about had I still been in a school library.
So the show was rebranded. I called it “Worth Noting” and I used the episodes to explore current events through a lens of agency and empowerment for children and their grownups.
Maybe that’s what brought you here to this feed in the first place. Or maybe you’ve been here since the Children’s Book Podcast and stuck around through the change.
Regardless, it was a fantastic exercise to be processing current events in a way that makes them approachable and relatable to children and to the grownups who want to talk with those children about what’s going on in the world.
Books take a long time to come out, if they’re traditionally published. It can be hard to understand what’s going on in the world now through something that was written before the world changed in that way that events big and small are constantly changing and shaping our world.
But story has always pulled at me. And I find myself longing to return to children’s literature, to story, and to connecting with children.
And so, I find myself on the precipice of change once again.
[The Children's Book Podcast Anew]
The show I’m developing right now, the Children’s Book Podcast, is one that is made for kids. But it’s also made for their grownups.
It’s a show that focuses less on craft and more on connecting through experiences and through story.
It’s a show that will be full of brilliant authors and illustrators, luminaries, up-and-comers, and folks just out there putting their heart on the page for kids.
It’s a show where a kid can connect, can feel seen, can feel their experiences valued, can know they’re not alone in the world, and can walk away a little bit changed and a little bit more ready to face their next steps in life (and the steps after that).
It’s a show I’m really, really proud of. And I can’t wait to share it with you.
This podcast was written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.
Subscribe to The Children’s Book Podcast wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.
You can write to me at email@example.com or learn more about my work by visiting matthewcwinner.com.
Our music is by Podington Bear. Podcast hosting by Anchor.
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Be well. And read on.
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* Bookshop.org affiliate links provided for any book titles mentioned in the episode. Bookshop.org support independent book stores and also shares a small percentage of any sales made through this podcast back to me, which helps to fund production of this show.