Q&A with Elizabeth Briggs

Future Threat by Elizabeth Briggs is an action-packed adventure for teen readers about time travel gone awry. In it, Elena Martinez and a group of friends are required again by the Aether corporation to travel into the future and save another teen who has gone missing. They arrive in a future that’s amazingly advanced, thanks to Aether Corporation’s reverse-engineered technology. The mission has deadly consequences, though, and they return to the future to try to alter the course of events. But the future is different yet again. Now every trip through time reveals new complications, and more lives lost—or never born. Elena and Adam must risk everything—including their relationship—to save their friends.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Elizabeth to chat about Future Threat, finding inspiration, and writing routines.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: Future Threat is the second book in the Future Shock trilogy. The first book, Future Shock, was inspired by this question: what if you discovered something terrible was going to happen to you in the future? Would you be able to change your fate? In Future Threat I decided to take the opposite approach by giving the characters a glimpse of an optimistic future…and then took it away from them and made them fight hard to get it back.

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Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: I start with an idea and then I try to flesh it out by creating the characters, setting, and plot. I brainstorm for a while before making a scene by scene outline. Once that’s done, I start writing a really messy first draft, and my book usually changes a lot from the outline as I get new ideas. After that, I spend a lot of time revising the book to take it from a very rough draft to a polished manuscript.

Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: The easiest part is coming up with the idea, because I get ideas for new books all the time and each one sounds like it would be a ton of fun to write. The hardest part is writing the first draft and turning that idea into an actual book.

Q: What makes your book stand out?

A: There are lots of other time travel books out there, but very few of them go to the future, especially multiple times. The book also has a diverse cast and a Mexican-American heroine, which we unfortunately don’t see enough of in YA sci-fi.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: Right now I’m working on Future Lost, the final book in the Future Shock trilogy. It will be out in 2018 and asks the question: what if you discovered the world was going to end? Would you be able to change it, even if doing so required a huge sacrifice? It’s going to be a big, epic end to the trilogy and I hope readers will enjoy it!

 

Thanks, Elizabeth. Find out more about Future Threat and the whole trilogy on our website. And, make sure to check out Elizabeth’s events calendar for a chance to hear her talk about her books in person this spring!

 

 

Q&A with Elizabeth Briggs

Q&A with Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Still a Family, a picture book by Brenda Reeves Sturgis with pictures by Jo-Shin Lee, is a sweet look at a family who remains together, despite living at different homeless shelters.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Brenda Reeves Sturgis to chat about Still a Family, writing routines, and the importance of having a great team.

Q: Why write children’s books? 

A: I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I love children, adore them, and am a nanny for Portland Nannies in my other life. I am the mother of four children, and seven grandchildren. I love writing, and so writing for children combines two of the things I love most in this world. I believe children believe what we tell them and they become what they believe and if my books help a child to believe that there is hope to get out of a homeless shelter, that there is hope for their family to find and live a better life, that there is hope that things will get easier then it is nothing short of a gift for me to be able to write about it. This story has been a magical experience, I am so humbled and honored to be part of Still a Family.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: My inspiration in creating Still a Family ensued after a social media discussion about the plight of the homeless, and why there wasn’t a book to educate children about this very serious subject. I thought it was a meaningful subject, and one that I wanted to write thoughtfully and carefully, with a lot of heart. There are over six million children displaced into shelters annually, that’s a lot of people who are touched by poverty, or dire circumstances. It was my hope in writing this book that this story touches hearts and hearts change lives.

Q: What makes your book stand out?

A: This book is not merely about a child living in a homeless shelter, but a story about how a family remains a family while living in a homeless shelter. This gives it a sense of realism because everybody wants to connect with their own children or spouses. This book is a perfect marriage between art and text. The art makes this book stand out. Jo-Shin Lee did phenomenal work on this story, Albert Whitman couldn’t have chosen a more perfect illustrator to illustrate this very serious subject matter. It was illustrated in a non-threatening way to a child, in kid-friendly colors, and childlike illustrations. This makes this book visually appealing and I hope the text tells an important story to parents and for their children, and most of all, I hope it raises awareness to the journey of homelessness and gives everyone a desire to help, instead of roll up their windows, lock their doors, and avert their eyes.

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Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: I tend to be a fast reviser, spending hours and days at my computer until I get the subject matter, the text, and the story just right. I am in incessant researcher; I am always dabbling into my thesaurus or on Rhyme Zone to find new ways to say something. It is always my deepest desire that the text I write will sing to the reader. I hate to keep editors waiting for me, and so I often write in the middle of the night. My usual writing time is 3:00 a.m.

Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: I think the easiest part is my relationship with my agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary; she is an amazing agent and allows me the liberty of bouncing ideas off her, and she is always willing to look at my work and gets back to me quickly. The hardest part for me is always finding the problem in the story. I enjoy the process and I enjoy finding inventive language. It’s difficult to remain optimistic hoping that an editor will love what I have written and want to take a chance to see what I can bring to the table.

Q: Do you have any writing quirks?

A: I am a solitary writer, obsessive compulsive about getting everything exactly right. As I said above, I hate to keep editors waiting and so I tend to write quickly but carefully, always cognizant of an editor’s other commitments and time.

Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?

A: Working with Andrea Hall was a dream for me. She was very attentive, and thoughtful in her revision notes. We worked closely for a year on a rewrite and many revisions. She had a very clear vision for Still a Family and I trusted her implicitly from our first hello. She made every page better, every word count, and she was a delight. I am hoping that we can work together again because it was an amazing and surreal experience for me, and one for which I am eternally grateful. 9780807577073_int2

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: I am working on several projects presently. I’ve recently paired with a wonderful writer that I’ve known for years, and we have partnered and are creating stories together. She is a perfect Yin to my Yang, and she was my very first friend at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. We are in the process of writing fractured fairy tales both in rhyme and in prose.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: I loved all books that I could get my hands on, and would spend all weekend every weekend holed up in my room, reading and writing. When my friends were at parties, I was home reading. It was a normal occurrence in my house for me to read two or three books in a weekend. It is still my favorite way to spend a lazy weekend. Tea and books, books and tea, and occasional coffee. I love autobiographies, I love history books, I love a good YA, and of every picture book is a great book to read.

 

Thanks, Brenda! Learn more about Still a Family on our website.

Q&A with Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Q&A with Andrea Wang

In The Nian Monster author Andrea Wang and illustrator Alina Chau reimagined a Chinese folktale about the horrible legendary monster that returns at the New Year and is intent on devouring Shanghai, starting with little Xingling!

 

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Andrea to chat about The Nian Monster, food, and celebrating the holiday.

Q. What was your inspiration for your title?

A. Chinese New Year is one of my favorite holidays. Several years ago, I was looking for interesting information about the holiday to tell my children and I came across the folktale of the Nian Monster. I had never heard it before and I loved that it was a trickster tale. My husband’s family lives in Shanghai and I had been thinking about setting a book there to showcase this wonderful city. I was inspired to re-tell the folktale in a contemporary setting using some of my favorite foods.

Q. Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A. I always start out by writing my story ideas in a fresh notebook – in my case, I use composition notebooks. I brainstorm, free-write, and take notes on any research. When I feel like I finally have a good grip on the kernel or heart of the story, I start writing on the computer. Then I revise, send out the manuscript to my critique group, revise again, get more critiques, and keep revising until I think it’s ready to send to my agent.

Q. What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A. For me, the easiest part is coming up with a story idea. If you’re curious about the world, there’s an endless number of things to write about. The hardest part for me is making that idea into a compelling story with heart and underlying themes.

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Q. What makes your book stand out?

A. I like to think that it’s the contemporary Chinese setting that makes The Nian Monster stand out. Many of the picture books that are set in China show small villages with thatched huts and people wearing old-fashioned clothing. While rural places in China may still look like that, modern China is full of skyscrapers and people in current clothing styles. I think [illustrator] Alina Chau did an amazing job illustrating how vibrant and cosmopolitan Shanghai is, alongside the ancient parts of the city.

Q. Do you have any writing quirks?

A. I get obsessed with finding the perfect names for my characters. The name has to have a special significance or meaning that relates to the story. In The Nian Monster, Xingling’s name means something like “born with a clever nature.” Don’t you think that describes her well?

Q. Are you working on any other projects?

A. I’m working on two other projects right now – a nonfiction picture book biography and a coming-of-age middle grade novel about a young Chinese girl. True to my obsession, it’s about names and whether they define her identity.

 

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Q. What was the process of working with your editor like?

A. Working with Kristin Zelazko was a wonderful experience. As a debut author, I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be a lot like working with a great critique partner. I felt like we had a conversation going on through emails and comments in the manuscript. Kristin also asked me how I envisioned the illustrations for the book, and was very gracious when I deluged her with notes and photos of Shanghai. I’m so grateful for how receptive Kristin, Jordan (the art director), and Alina were to my suggestions!

Q. What is your favorite Chinese New Year tradition?

A. As you can tell from the book, I love food! We always try to have noodles, fish, and sticky rice cake for Chinese New Year. We often make Lion’s Head Casserole, too, and not just for the holiday. The whole book is really a tribute to all my favorite New Year foods. I love the symbolism behind the different dishes and trying different versions of the recipes. There’s a savory version of sticky rice cake, made with pork and pickled snow cabbage, that is popular in Shanghai and is also one of my favorite dishes.

Q. What would you do if you saw the Nian Monster?

A. It’s a toss-up between running away and petting him. Nian is so adorably ferocious – I kind of just want to cuddle him!

 

Thanks so much, Andrea! Find out more about the Nian Monster with this adorable trailer and more about the book on our website. Plus, get insight from the illustrator, Alina Chau, on how she created the illustrations here and here.

Q&A with Andrea Wang

Q&A with Andrea J. Loney

Bunnybear by Andrea J. Loney and illustrated by Carmen Saldaña tells a story of a bear who feels more like a bunny. Bunnybear prefers bouncing in the thicket to tramping in the forest, and in his heart he’s fluffy and tiny, like a rabbit, instead of burly and loud, like a bear. The other bears don’t understand him, and neither do the bunnies. Will Bunnybear ever find a friend who likes him just the way he is?

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We were lucky enough to sit down with Andrea and discuss Bunnybear, celebrating diverse stories, and being true to yourself.

Q: Why write children’s books?

A: Over the years I’ve been a poet, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a television writer, yet becoming a children’s book author was always my dream. Why? It was through picture books that I fell in love with words, reading, and the whole world around me.

Also when I was in the second grade, my family moved from a big city with many folks of all ethnicities to a small town with few people of color. I had a hard time fitting in. So I escaped my fear and sadness by reading. Books were always there for me. Books delighted me. Books saved me. By the third grade, I vowed that when I became an adult, I would never forget how it felt to be a little kid and that I would write the kind of stories that I’d wished were available when I was a child – stories that embrace the humanity of all children.

Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?

A: Usually, I start by getting to know the main character. I wonder how my character would see the world, speak, or handle different situations. Once I have a good sense of the character, I see the story in my head with as many of the words and pictures that I can imagine. I play it in my head over and over like a movie. I tell the story to myself out loud until I have much of it memorized. And only then do I scribble the first draft into a notebook. After revising it on paper a few times, I type the manuscript up and send it to my online critique group. After they give me notes, I make changes and share it with a different critique group. I do this over and over until I have a draft that feels like a real book manuscript. Sometimes it takes a long time.

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Q:  What was the process of working with your editor like?

A: Working with editors is always a fascinating process for me because they see the story with new eyes. As a picture book writer who is NOT an illustrator, I never know how my story will be interpreted visually – what if the artist doesn’t understand what I was trying to say? But with Bunnybear the editors and the artist visualized the story almost exactly as I did, and I was so thrilled!

Also at one point I was fussing over a clunky line in the story, and my editor Wendy McClure made a tiny change to the text and suddenly the words just sang! It was like magic!

Q: What makes your book stand out?

A: Aside from Carmen Saldaña’s adorably dreamy illustrations? Well, there are bear books, there are bunny books, and there are even bear and bunny books. But to my knowledge, this is the only story of a Bunnybear.

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Q: How do you stay true to yourself?

A: I stay true to myself by listening to that still small voice within me that says, “This is right for me,” or “This is not right for me.” Of course, the voices of people all around me are much louder than my still small voice. I love collaborating with others, so sometimes it can be challenging to stay true to myself – what if I end up all alone? But I find that when I follow what is true for me – no matter what people think – folks with similar truths show up everywhere.

I believe that we all have a story to tell, and no one can tell our story as richly and authentically as we can. But we can only tell those stories when we have the courage to be true to ourselves.

 

Thanks so much, Andrea! Explore Bunnybear’s journey to understanding his true self on our website.

Q&A with Andrea J. Loney

Illustrator Insight with Jordi Solano

Jordi Solano is the illustrator of Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang. He was kind enough to sit down with us to describe the process of illustrating Swimming with Sharks.

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Let me begin by saying that Swimming with Sharks is my first book with an international publisher. So when my agent Hannah told me about this one, the first thing that came was uncertainty, like the first day going to a new school, when you might be a bit scared but at the same time you really, really want to do well.

Then Jordan [Kost], the art director [at Albert Whitman & Company], introduced herself and told me what the book was going to be about. I remember her telling me about Eugenie Clark, who she was, what she did. She told me there were already several books published about her, and that we needed to make ours stand out from the rest. After some quick research, I told Jordan that all those books published about Dr. Clark had their focus on her being a scientist, on her amazing discoveries. Meanwhile, I was under the impression that Swimming with Sharks was a completely different thing: to me, it was the story of a little girl who had a wish, and of how she grew up to fulfill it. This has been my main thought while working on the pictures for this book.

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Jordan has really been very helpful throughout the process. She provided a ton of visual references, gave me useful advice every time I had trouble planning one of the images, and, in general terms, she has done an amazing job to make the book better and helped me save a lot of time by doing a huge amount of research.

And so the work began. I always start by doing lots of sketches, to make myself familiar with the stuff that will appear in the book. This means that I filled several pages with drawings of sharks, fish, and people diving. While most of them were left within the pages of my sketchbook, a few ended up being developed into some of the illustrations you can see in the book, because they already worked well enough on their own.

After this “let’s make myself familiar with stuff” stage, it comes what I consider to be the single most important part of the work. What I do at this point is print a layout of the book (that is, the blank pages with only the text with the final placement) and, while I read it time after time, I start doing very small rough sketches that show the composition for every illustration. After this two-inch sketch roughs are finished, the book is already in my head: I know how I want it to look. Afterwards it’s a matter of developing the idea and making the final result look as close to it as my own ability allows.

 

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Having the clear idea of what I want to do, now it’s time to start doing it. First thing here is the line work. This is important because it’s the first thing that Jordan and the rest of the team will see, and therefore I want it to be very precise. If I feel the drawing doesn’t explain the image in my mind well enough, when I send it to Jordan I would add a short comment, such as “this one will have a very strong atmosphere” or “a warm, yellow-ish light will come from that direction,” so the team can figure out what I am planning to do.

Once Jordan and the team had revised the sketches, they would send feedback and some adjustments would be made. They have usually been minor aspects of the drawings, things like “Make sure Genie’s eyes properly show that she was half Japanese” or “Beware! You’ve drawn the shark’s gills too close to the eyes.” After these arrangements have been made, it’s time to go on to the color.

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This is the stage that I’ll spend more time working in, and one that I really enjoy. I begin by doing high resolution scans of every drawing, since I’ll be using the computer all the time here. Even though I paint digitally, I like to keep it as natural as possible, much like when I used to paint with oils. This means that I don’t like to use lots of layers or digital effects, but still, working this way allows me much more flexibility, lets me try things I wouldn’t do otherwise (because there’s a very good chance that if I try them on paper, I’ll end up ruining the illustration I’ve been working in for so many hours). And last, but not least, I can work quicker this way, since I don’t need to clean the brushes all the time and wait for the colors to dry. This is indeed very good for the deadlines.

Once the color has been done and I’m happy with the result (I’m usually my own worst critic), it’s time to send the finished images to Jordan. She’d usually say how awesome they are and we would all be happy after a beautiful book has been made. Hooray!

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Thanks, Jordi! Dive into Swimming with Sharks today, plus find out more about the author, Heather Lang here.

Illustrator Insight with Jordi Solano

Q&A with Heather Lang

Swimming with Sharks by Heather Lang and illustrated by Jordi Solano explores the true story of Eugenie Clark, a groundbreaking female scientist from the 1940s who studied sharks and changed how we viewed the creatures.

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We were luck enough to sit down with Heather and discuss Swimming with Sharks, the importance of biographies about strong women, and her own experience with sharks.

 

Q: Why did you decide to write books about strong women?

A: My first picture book biography, Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion, came from a search for personal inspiration. I’d received tons of rejections for my fiction and was on the verge of giving up on becoming a children’s book author. Researching and writing about Alice Coachman, a woman who overcame poverty and segregation and discrimination, inspired me to hang in there and follow my own dream.

The women I write about motivate me every day to step outside of my comfort zone, be brave, and persevere. My hope is that my books will inspire boys and girls to do the same.

 Q. How do you do research for your books?

A. Every book is a different research adventure! I always search for historic newspaper articles, photos, videos, and oral histories. And I try to do experiential research. For this book, I learned to scuba and went diving and snorkeling. Sure there are tons of underwater videos online, but there’s nothing like experiencing it first hand!

Experts in the field can also be so incredibly helpful. In the case of Swimming with Sharks, I had the luxury of meeting and emailing with Eugenie Clark—an honor I will never forget.

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Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: The easiest part for me is diving into the research. The hardest part is directing my research. It’s amazing how short a thirty-two or forty page picture book becomes when you are looking at a person’s life. The challenge is determining how to focus the book.

For example, while researching Swimming with Sharks, I discovered so many amazing stories from Genie’s childhood that shaped who she became, and those alone could have been a book. I also considered focusing on the obstacles and the discrimination she experienced early in her life as a woman and as a Japanese-American. But when I met with Genie, it all became clear. She didn’t like to dwell on the discrimination. She wanted to talk about her work as a scientist and her love for and fascination with fish. I knew I needed to focus on her curiosity and her daring discoveries—specifically her work with sharks. That was the legacy she hoped to leave. Luckily there is room for some of the other information in the back matter, and I rely heavily on my website to share the rest.

 

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Q: Were you ever afraid of sharks?

A: YES! I grew up with the movie Jaws, and my fear of sharks was intense. If I couldn’t see the bottom of the ocean, I didn’t like to put my foot down. And forget about swimming out into deeper waters. My own fear is what attracted me to Eugenie Clark. She was never afraid of sharks and spent her life trying to replace fear with facts. It was challenging and rewarding to research and write about a personal fear—a fear I discovered was completely unfounded.

Q: What did you learn about sharks while doing research for Swimming with Sharks?

A: I learned so many cool and interesting facts about sharks. But most importantly I learned from Genie that sharks are “magnificent and misunderstood.” Sharks are an essential part of our ecosystem, yet approximately 100 million sharks are killed every year. Yes, 100 MILLION! That’s an astonishing number to me.

Many are killed just for their fins, because in some countries people believe they have special healing powers. People also kill them out of fear. As Genie said, “Very few people are ever attacked by sharks. It’s safer to dive with sharks than to drive in a car . . . Sharks should be more afraid of us than we are of them.”

 

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Q: What do you hope young readers will take away from Swimming with Sharks?

A: In addition to learning the truth about sharks, I hope kids will follow Genie’s example. She didn’t judge sharks based on what others said about them or the way they looked. She had no factual evidence to believe that sharks were vicious, unpredictable eating machines. She set an invaluable example to us all not to judge others based on rumors or appearance.

Q: Are you working on any other projects?

A: Always! My next book with Albert Whitman comes out in the spring—Anybody’s Game: The True Story of the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. I’m busy creating and adding content to my website for kids and teachers to learn more about Genie and sharks. I’m also working on a new picture book biography as well as a lyrical narrative nonfiction picture book about an animal. And I’m channeling the women I write about by challenging myself and writing some humorous fiction!

 

 

Thanks so much, Heather! Dive into Swimming with Sharks on our website, where you can also find a downloadable teacher’s guide. Plus, discover more about the beautiful illustrations created by Jordi Solano by returning to the blog on December 12 for insight into his creative process.

 

 

Q&A with Heather Lang

Q&A With Jessica Steinberg

In Not This Turkey! a family of recent Jewish immigrants to New York City get a taste of the American holiday, Thanksgiving—but when Papa is given a live turkey at work and Mel can’t bear the idea of eating the bird, holiday chaos ensues.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with author Jessica Steinberg to chat about Not This Turkey!, finding inspiration, and holiday traditions.

Q: What was your inspiration for your title?

A: Turkeys are such a central part of Thanksgiving, but in these times, not everyone actually eats them. So I wanted potential readers – that is, parents – to know that while this is a Thanksgiving tale, the turkey is saved in the end.

Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?

 A: She was wonderful, knowing intuitively where and how to tighten the prose. When you only have about 500 to 600 words in a kid’s book, every word counts, and [Editorial Manager] Wendy [McClure] spent plenty of time cutting and honing Not This Turkey! with me.

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Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?

A: The easiest part is editing; the hardest part is coming up with the right twists and turns that make the story work.

Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book? 

A: I’m a journalist in real life and this is my first children’s book, which was about a decade in gestation. When I am actually writing, I spend a lot of time staring into space, or out the window, and then writing furiously during those wonderful spurts of energy.

Q: Why write children’s books?

A: This particular story presented itself to me, as it’s based on an incident that took place in my friend’s family. When I first heard it, I could just see it as a picture book, even though my own children weren’t born yet and I hadn’t spent so much time reading children’s books. Now that I have my own kids and have spent hundreds of hours reading out loud, I know what I like in children’s books and want to keep on writing them.

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Q: Are you working on any other projects?

 A: I’m working on two other children’s books at the moment, loosely based on my own twin sons’ experiences.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?

A: As a young kid, I loved Blueberries for Sal, Corduroy, and Harold and the Purple Crayon, and I moved on to series such as All of a Kind Family and Little House on the Prairie when I was a little older. Now I’m a big fan of memoir, contemporary and historical fiction, and the occasional biography.

Q: How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?

A: With my friends and family, and my family usually hosts. I live outside the US, so Thanksgiving is a bit more of a challenge in terms of sourcing cranberries and a turkey, but we make sure to celebrate it each year.

Q: What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

A: I love the process of preparing the turkey, which becomes something of an all-day affair with my particular recipe. But I take my time, and try not to rush, and there’s no better feeling than sitting down with everyone to those traditional Thanksgiving dishes, each one prepared with love and care.

 

Thanks, Jessica! Find out more about life in New York, celebrating holidays in a new place, and that wild turkey on our website.

Q&A With Jessica Steinberg