We love picture books, and it’s clear you do, too! What inspired you to write picture books?
I used to work in advertising where it was a marriage between headline, copy and graphic art. But the clients that I worked with weren’t very open to imaginative campaigns. So I got bored and wanted to be more creative. The part I liked about the advertising agency was working with the artists. And I’ve always loved picture books because they are the perfect marriage between text and art. So I decided to take the leap and try writing picture books and found out that I loved it.
When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
I’ve always liked physical books – holding them, reading them, escaping into their worlds. But I never made the connection that I could be an author until I was 32. I finally got up the nerve to try it.
You also offer school visits. What is your favorite thing about interacting with students?
My favorite thing is when the shy kid who hardly puts his or her hand up in class is the one who asks a question and you can see the joy and excitement of interacting with an author. I was a shy kid so I know what it’s like to work up to being brave and speaking up. It makes me happy when the child’s own teacher is surprised that their student participated. The other thing I like is when students and teachers offer new ideas for my Night Before book series. It’s a personal way to tap into what kids and teachers are interested in.
Be brave and if you want to be it then you have to do it. Don’t listen to people who don’t think you can write. If you want to write, then write! There are many ways to express ourselves so if you choose words, then let them speak for how you want to communicate with the world.
What advice can you give parents and teachers for reluctant readers?
Parents should model the reading behavior. If they don’t read for pleasure, their children will think reading is a chore. If you can take the “work” out of reading and add pleasure, there’s more chance a child will do it because he wants to, not because he has to. For teachers, I think the key is to have various levels of books available with topics that interest their reluctant readers. These days there are more forms of books – comics, ebooks, interactive books – that it’s a matter of finding the vehicle in which to deliver the story that appeals to the reluctant reader. When I was teaching ESL adults how to read, it seemed like if they could listen to the words while their eyes followed along, that they picked up on reading faster.
We love that your new book honors a Jewish holiday. Anyone who goes shopping at any big box retail store from Halloween through the New Years can see there is precious little retail space devoted to the Festival of Lights (usually barely an end-cap in a store). What kind of feedback are you getting from families regarding The Night Before Hanukkah?
The book just came out in October so this will be its first season in print so I usually don’t get feedback until we’re closer to the holiday. I typically get customer reviews via Amazon which I read religiously. That said, a few comments from my friends are: “I wish you wrote this 15 years ago when my kids were young.” “I read Hanukkah books to my kids even though we’re not Jewish.” “Best Hanukkah book ever!” (and no, I didn’t pay her to say that!) I’ve had some Jewish friends who are like finally, a book for me and my kids. It’ll be interesting to see what reviewers will say since the idea for the book came from The Night Before Christmas, and there are eight nights of celebrating versus one. I welcome feedback!