Julie Sternberg received her MFA in writing for children from the New School. She is the author of LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE and LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER. She lives in Brooklyn. Visit her at www.juliesternberg.com. Your new book, LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER, is the sequel to 2011’s LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE. In the past, you’ve described Eleanor as an amalgam of your daughters and yourself as an 8-year-old. Did you write the character as a role model for them and other young girls?
I don’t think I’d get much writing done if I considered Eleanor a role model for other kids. It’s too much pressure! I just try to put her in situations that are hard for her and figure out what happens. For each scene, I ask myself these sorts of questions: Could this really happen? Would Eleanor really do that? Would readers care?
I revise until the answer to all of my questions is yes. Then I keep going. (This is not the most efficient way to write! But it’s the only way I seem to be able to do it.) LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER finds Eleanor navigating another unfamiliar situation. What is it about summer camp that gives rise to character-building lessons?
For most kids, sleep away camp means leaving behind everything that’s familiar. No television, no computers, no video games, no favorite restaurants, no bicycle, no play dates, no air conditioning. No parents! Instead, teenaged counselors, color wars, cabins, bunk beds, camp food, outdoor overnights, muddy lakes, goats to feed, horses to ride. A bus to camp is like a portal to a different world. So it’s a terrific setting for a book. Illustrator Matthew Cordell’s work lends a lot to the enjoyableness of both LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE and LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER. How much creative control did you have over the pictures that accompany your story?
Matt deserves full credit! Our editor, the fabulous Tamar Brazis, runs Matt’s sketches by me at various stages. If I see an issue (for example, if an illustration is inconsistent with a detail in the text), we figure it out together. But for the most part I do nothing more than admire Matt’s work. I love the illustrations in both books, and the ones in LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER never fail to make me laugh. Having written both books in poetic form, how do you think young readers engage with verse as opposed to prose?
I’m always thrilled to hear my writing described as poetic, and I know both books are sometimes referred to as free verse. But I never set out to write poetry. I chose frequent line breaks for the books because they help me track the rhythm of Eleanor’s thoughts, and because I wanted the books to appeal not just to strong readers, but also to kids who struggle with longer lines. I hope that for all readers, the short lines and short chapters generate a momentum for turning pages. What are you most hopeful that your audience will take away from Eleanor’s experiences in LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER?
I hope some kids will relate to Eleanor and think— I know exactly how she feels! And, well, if she made it through, I could too.
I hope others will think—Huh. I would’ve loved that camp. But I can see why she didn’t. And I liked reading about her.
I’d count either of those reactions a success.
© 2013 International Reading Association. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. 5 Questions With... Denise Brennan-Nelson (MAESTRO STU SAVES THE ZOO) School’s Out for the Summer Book Reviews