It was really freaky, this Erica Perl thing.
A little over a year ago, my father asked me if I knew a writer named Erica Perl. I looked her up online, and while her books were familiar to me, she was not. Less than a week later, at the Princeton Children’s Book Fair, a lovely writer pretty much ordered me to give her my beloved polka-dot skirt, as her book was called DOTTY, and well, it really fit her theme better than it did, say, a buffalo theme. She had a point, Erica Perl did, but I kept my skirt. We compared funny hats.
About a week later, when visiting with friends in DC ahead of a bookstore appearance with Daniel Jennewein in Virginia, I was telling friends this story and learned that Erica Perl was a neighbor and friend of the good friends I was visiting.
Erica Perl: She’s everywhere.
And today she’s here on Literary Friendships, talking about her buzz-generating novel, WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU OJ.
How much did you know about WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU OJ before you sat down to write it?
I knew I wanted to write about a girl and a grandfather, and I knew I wanted the grandfather to be a lot like my grandparents (especially my Grandpa Alan). I had this idea for a story about a child asking for a pet and being given an inanimate object, like an orange juice container instead. Originally, I thought this would be a good picture book, but the more I worked on it the more I realized it was a middle-grade novel. I give Andrew Clements credit for this – though I’m not sure he knows it – since I heard him speak and he talked about being a picture book writer until someone pointed out to him that one of his stories was great, but it wasn’t a picture book – it was a middle grade novel. I believe that book was FRINDLE.
Where did Zelly come from?
Zelly’s name comes from my friend Mary Kay’s dog, Zelda. Zelly’s personality is a lot like mine when I was a kid. I moved to Vermont at the age of 8 (not from NY, but my parents were New Yorkers) and I desperately wanted to fit in. I also loved animals and begged for a dog for five solid years before getting one for my bat mitzvah.
What were some of your favorite books as a young reader? What children’s book character would you have liked to move next door when you were young?
I should probably confess that I am kind of obsessed with children’s books. I love so many books it is hard to limit myself to naming just a few, but I will try. Here goes: I loved A LITTLE PRINCESS, and I loved the Little House books, and I loved many Roald Dahl books though my favorite is DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. I loved Russell Hoban’s Frances books (and, more recently, I love Kevin Henkes’ books). I loved PIPPI LONGSTOCKING and also THE BROTHERS LIONHEART. I loved The Great Brain books and the All of a Kind Family books, and I loved HARRIET THE SPY and everything by Judy Blume and Norma Klein and E.L. Konigsburg and (please make me stop, because I’m just warming up…). I also love Dav Pilkey and Daniel Pinkwater and James Marshall… Oh, wait, and…
Can you tell everyone a bit about First Book and the work they do?
First Book is the award-winning non-profit organization that has provided over 85 million books to kids in need since 1992. One very cool thing about First Book is that First Book works as a resource provider to the local programs and schools nationwide (and in Canada!) that serve kids and teens from low-income families. This way, the educators and program administrators get to choose the books that they know will work best for their students. I first learned about First Book as an author doing a book signing to benefit First Book, and now I’m proud to be on staff handling our authors and publisher relations. It’s kinds of the perfect job for someone who is, like I mentioned, obsessed with children’s books. Check First Book out at www.firstbook.org!
What are you working on now?
I’m thrilled to be spending more time with Zelly and Ace, as I’m working on ACES WILD, which is the sequel to WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. I’m also working on more picture books, because I love writing picture books.
You can learn more about Erica by visiting her website.
Insider fact: she made all her book trailers herself! And that hand you see and voice you hear in the “training” scenes of the WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. book trailer are hers. You heard it here first, folks!