Culturephile: Kid Lit with Kitty Felde

Veteran radio journalist and UC Irvine alum Kitty Felde hands the mic to young readers on the “Book Club for Kids” podcast.
Kitty Felde Kid Lit Podcast Culturephile Orange Coast Magazine
Kitty Felde.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

After a career in public radio covering news in California, politics in Washington, D.C., and hosting the “Talk of the City” show on KPCC, Felde now chats with children about their favorite books on her podcast, named one of the Top 10 kidcasts by the Times of London. She’s also the author of a children’s book series set in Washington, D.C., the Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

How did the podcast start?

When we had the talk show, once a month we used to throw the adults out of the studio and invite in middle school kids to talk about a book. The conversations were always interesting, surprising, and rich, and I thought that was the most fun. In July 2015, I started the “Book Club for Kids” podcast, and we’ve been going strong ever since.

How do you find the kids?

Generally, it’s word-of-mouth. We always put a pitch on the podcast: If you’re interested, contact us. It’s gone international. We worked with a school in New Zealand and one in Ecuador. There’s a group in the Philippines who wants to be on the show. There are a surprising number of kids who have book clubs of their own that their parents run. There’s one in Orange County. One of the episodes was with them. (The Rocket Readers, seven girls from Newport Beach, who talked about “Hello Universe” by Erin Entrada Kelly, on Episode 84.)

What’s the format?

We start with the book, just like you would in a grown-up book club. It’s not an English class, so I don’t care about themes or idioms. I want to talk about why this book means something to you. We start with the plot just so people will have an idea of what the book is if they haven’t read it. The conversations always seem to take a left turn. One time, there was this group of squirrelly fifth-grade boys. Five of them. The book was Kwame Alexander’s “The Crossover,” which is a beautiful book about brothers and basketball. We started talking about basketball, and in the book, the father has a heart attack, and that really hit home with the kids. They started talking about their own relationships with their siblings and their parents. And those little toughies started crying and then they broke into song. It was such magic. It’s never happened again. Who could predict that? That’s why I do it.

Have you been in book clubs yourself?

I have, and they’ve all broken up. Don’t ask me why. The last one ended like a bad boyfriend breakup. It was the week that we did a combination of “Handmaid’s Tale” and a Cormac McCarthy novel. It was so depressing, and everybody fought, and nobody met again after that. Don’t ask me to your book club if you want it to be a success.

Where did the idea of the Fina Mendoza Mysteries come from?

(The series) is about looking at D.C. from a Southern California girl’s point of view. That’s who Fina is. She’s the daughter of a congressman from Southern California. It’s a way for me to hopefully inspire kids to want to do something in the public service realm. When I was growing up, everyone wanted to be an astronaut. I want to create that same kind of excitement about the U.S. Capitol, about Congress, about decision-making and making a difference in the world.

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