I recently joined SCBWI and one of the many benefits is meeting children's writers from near and far. I was delighted to do a webinar with two amazing children's writers Erica S. Perl and Rajani LaRocca (coming soon) in February 2020 and, of course, I took this wonderful opportunity to invite both of them to be guests on gilagreenwrites. Welcome Erica!
Bio: Erica S. Perl is the author of popular and critically acclaimed books for young readers. Her most recent middle grade novel, ALL THREE STOOGES, won the National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature and the Sydney Taylor Award Silver Medal. Erica's novels for young readers include WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. (Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book, ALA Notable Book, P.J. Our Way, multiple state book award lists), ACES WILD (NPR Best Book of the Year, P.J. Our Way), and THE CAPYBARA CONSPIRACY: A NOVEL IN THREE ACTS (innovative script format). Erica also writes picture books - including CHICKEN BUTT!, GOATILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and FEROCIOUS FLUFFITY - early readers, transitional chapter books, and chapter books – TRUTH OR LIE!, ARNOLD AND LOUISE, and the CRAFTILY EVER AFTER (written as "Martha Maker) series.
GG: For the aspiring children's writers out there, do you think themed books are more likely to be published (holidays, for example)?
EP: In my experience, not necessarily. I have written some holiday books, but usually I find that publishers will only take a holiday book if it is not "just" a holiday book. For example, a book like Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas, written by Pamela Ehrenberg and illustrated by Anjan Sarkar, is desirable to a publisher because it is not just a Hanukkah book – it is also a story of a determined young girl in a diverse family (with Indian heritage as well as Jewish). My next book, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, is a holiday book but it is also a celebration of helpers and helping.
GG: What would you do for work if you weren't an author?
EP: I have always loved to write, so I would probably still be writing even if no one wanted to publish my work. I also love to draw, so hopefully one day I will add "illustrator" to my resume as well. I have done other things – including being a criminal defense lawyer – but I stopped because I enjoy being an author much more. And I sleep better at night now because, if I make mistakes as an author, no one goes to jail.
GG: Have you ever had any reactions from readers that surprised you?
EP: I'm always pleased to hear what readers think about my books. I find it particularly interesting that kids react to my books in different ways, depending on their age. For example, my book, When Life Gives You O.J., is for 8-12 year olds. Kids at the younger end of that spectrum love the humor, but don't notice how Zelly (the main character) struggles with her Jewish identity. Kids at the older end of that spectrum are much more attuned to the bullying Zelly and her friend, Jeremy, experience, which Jeremy perceives as anti-Semitic.
GG: "And books about parental suicide and mental illness are not just potentially helpful to kids who are struggling with those issues; these books can be helpful to all kids in fourth or fifth grade"
I took this from a post you wrote. Do you still agree with this? Or do you have a more nuanced view today? Have you ever spoken to kids who read such books and found out if it was helpful or harmful to read about such difficult topics?
EP: I still agree with this, 100%. In the same way that it is important to share the "facts of life" with kids, in an age-appropriate way, when they are young, I believe it is also important to be candid (again, in an age-appropriate way) about death and loss. My novel, All Three Stooges, is a funny book with a very difficult situation – a parent's death by suicide – at its core. I know that some parents have concerns that topics like this might be too scary or upsetting for their children. However, according to therapeutic organizations specializing in loss and healing (like the Wendt Center and the Eluna Network), sharing information about mental illness and suicide actually helps children feel safe. Please know that I am not suggesting that every book is right for every child – far from it! But I do believe that every child deserves to have adults in their life who are available to talk openly about difficult topics. And I do believe that the right books, especially when read together by a parent and child, can facilitate such conversations.
GG: What is the most difficult part of being an author?
EP: I think it is hard to keep pushing to revise your work to make it better. There comes a point where you feel like a project should be done, and it is hard to push through that moment and keep refining your work. But the best part is the moment when you see that all the tinkering paid off, and the book is so much better than it was when you first thought it was done.
GG: Anything you would like to add?
EP: Thanks for having me! My next book, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, is illustrated by Shahar Kober and will come out in September, 2020 from Sterling.
To follow Erica S. Perl