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.