Monday, September 12, 2016

Interview with Children’s Author John Briggs

John Briggs is a former nationally syndicated children’s TV critic who now writes books for children. He is the author of the picture book Leaping Lemmings, as well as several middle-grade biographies, including Judy Garland: Little Woman, Big Talent and Mary Dyer, Friend of Freedom. A Pennsylvania native, John enjoys baseball, tea, and spending time with his children, ranging in age from thirteen years to nine months. He currently lives in New York’s Capital District, where, unlike his lemming characters, he has never, ever jumped off a cliff.

Welcome to my blog, John. Please tell us about your children’s book, Leaping Lemmings.

Thanks for having me. Leaping Lemmings is a fun story about a lemming who won’t jump off cliffs with his friends, even though they want him to. He thinks they’re nuts, and spends most of the book trying to stop them. The story teaches children to think for themselves and not give in to peer pressure, particularly if their friends want them to do something dangerous. Leaping Lemmings shows them, in a fun way, that they don’t have to be lemmings. They really should look before they leap.

Where did you get your inspiration for this story?

I was looking for an animal you don’t see much in picture books, and while on a long, four-hour drive, I thought of lemmings. Maybe it was all those cars on the highway, in a straight line, heading in the same direction, but that furry little animal really caught my attention. When I realized that lemmings are best known for jumping off cliffs (even though they don’t), I thought about how much pressure it would take to get me to do something like that. From there, it was a short leap (yes, pun intended) to writing a book about the peer pressure children face. By the time my drive was over, I had an outline for the story and a character I just loved – an independent lemming who could think for himself.

This book is meant for ages 3 – 8 and parents can read it to their children. Are the words easy enough to be read by young people, as well?

Three- and four-year-olds will most likely need help, but the older readers should have no problem. Fortunately, for the youngest readers, there are several sight words in the refrain (“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” “No!”) that will keep them engaged and joining in the story, and picking up a few short words along the way. I know with my own kids, I loved reading to them when they were very young, and then having them read the same book back to me when they got older. It’s wonderful to see that progress.

What other picture books have you written?

Leaping Lemmings is my first picture book, though hopefully not my last! I just love the art form. That interplay between the text and illustrations that lets you tell a complete story in so few words is exhilarating. I have written several books for older readers, though, including the first children’s books about legendary actress Judy Garland and civil rights hero Mary Dyer. I guess I’m just attracted to strong, independent characters (whether human or lemming!).

Haha! That’s wonderful! Where can my readers find you or your books online?

Thank you so much for this interview. I hope my followers will check this book out.


Stephanie said...

What a great concept for a story! I recently was brainstorming animals that aren't often featured in children's books. I came up with mosquitos....I'm still working on a story for that one. Maybe there is a reason some animals don't make it into a PB!

Anyway, lemmings are adorable. Looking forward to reading this book with my (nearly) five year old.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie,

I agree, lemmings are adorable, and you're right -- there's a reason some animals don't appear in picture books. When I was pitching "Leaping Lemmings" to various publishers, editors at two different imprints for the same company said they loved the story, but weren't able to do exotic or unusual animals. If I could rewrite the story using cats, dogs, sheep, cows, lions, etc. -- something commercial that kids know -- they'd reconsider the book. They just felt lemmings wouldn't sell. Fortunately, my publisher was more open-minded.

Good luck finding a way to make your mosquitoes work (and landing the right publisher)!

John Briggs

J Dawn King said...

How absolutely adorable! Well done, John, for the premise and the purpose in writing this story.

I have twin grandchildren who love books. In fact, we visited Powells Books in Portland, Oregon last week with them and they thought it was a library. Each one of them selected a pile of books from the shelves and sat themselves down at a table to read while their parents and I shopped. It was a delightful though expensive morning.

Best wishes for success.

Linda, great post and interview.

Linda Moffitt said...

How Cute! Thanks for sharing your book with us today. My email is iamabho (at) gmail (.) com

Library Lady said...

What a great book to add to our children's section of the church library.
Thanks for entering me in your giveaway.
Janet E.

Mutti said...

I love a good children's book! I love reading them to my grandchildren as well as to myself! I have quite a collection of delightful children's books! Many years ago, we knew a family whose last name was Lemming. I was always thinking of children's stories with lemmings! Not that there are many, if any others. I just kept thinking it was a perfect idea! Thanks for writing what looks like the perfect lemming story!

Emi Pearce said...

I really like the book concept to think for yourself. I try to teach my kids that and the sight words in the book will be helpful to my little ones too thanks for offering the giveaway.

apple blossom said...

oh, I'd love to be able to share this book with the students that I teach. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Imogene Drummond said...

What an insightful idea, meaningful message, and clever cover, John! Leaping Lemmings! is clearly needed in these modern times. I trust it will become a classic. Great interview, too. I enjoyed learning of the inspired genesis of this thoughtful, alluring book. I look forward to reading it, and appreciate the chance to win a copy!
imojeans at yahoo dot com.

Anonymous said...

Mutti -- there are only two other children's books about lemmings I know of: "The Lemming Condition" by actor Alan Arkin (yes, that Alan Arkin) and the soon-to-be-released "The Owl and the Lemming".

And thanks! I hope it's the perfect lemming story, too!

animalauthor said...

How cool, John, and intriguing insight into how you brainstormed this book starring an animal who isn't often in the spotlight. Congrats!

Eric M said...

My Daughter would Love this book Thanks for the chance to win emoffitt3859(at) gmail (.) com