Sunday, May 19, 2024

Q&A with Anna E. Jordan




Anna E. Jordan is the author of the new middle grade novel Shira & Esther's Double Dream Debut. Her other books include This Pup Steps Up!. Also a fifth-grade teacher, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to write Shira & Esther's Double Dream Debut, and how did you create your characters Shira and Esther?


A: The original seed for the project was on a trip I took to the Society of Illustrators museum in New York City. The exhibit at the time was Drew Friedman’s book Jewish Comedians, and one of the illustration tags mentioned a comedian whose father wanted him to be a rabbi but he wanted to be a comedian.


What if, I thought, there were two characters and each wanted what the other had? Shira and Esther were born from this “what if,” but it took a long time to find each of their independent mannerisms and voice.


A lot of the work I did with my editor centered around making each girl distinctive so that when they switched places, the reader knew it was Shira pretending to be Esther or vice versa. Shira is a little more bold and Esther is more bookish. Some of the heart and humor of the book comes from each of them embracing a characteristic that is foreign and through that, learning more about themselves. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it “a wonderful twist on the Freaky Friday switcheroo.” What do you think of that description?


A: First, I love that Kirkus Review gave it a starred review and included the book in their favorites of 2023. What a magical day that was!


Freaky Friday is a specific magical child-to-parent switched identities story while Shira and Esther are two children who trade places. I usually compare it to Parent Trap. However, there is a bit of magical realism in the fact that none of the adults realize the girls are misplaced. When readers hear the trolley clang, that’s a sign that there’s magic in the air.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Oh, my goodness! If you could see the pages of possible titles for the book… This was a hard one to title. I’ll let your readers in on a little secret. Originally, Idylldale (the fictional city setting of the book) was Vaudeville and Vaudeville was the working title. Because Vaudeville has some connections to racist performances, I decided later in the revision process to delete that reference, but it was hard to replace.


Our goal was to make sure that the title hit a few criteria: 1) that the Jewish themes and Jewish joy of the book were relatively obvious, 2) that the theatrical nature of the book was clear, and 3) that we hinted at the double-the-fun switched identity trope. Thus: Shira & Esther’s Double Dream Debut! I also love the alliteration. Shout out to my Chronicle editor Daria Harper for that! 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: I think each reader will have different takeaways. I’ve learned that books written with some sort of message come off as didactic, and that’s the last thing an 8-12-year-old reader wants.


As the author, I was exploring the themes of my own Jewish journey, of dreams, and of family. My father died in 2020 so my grief and the blessings from remembering him were very present in the revisions I did before publication. I wish he’d gotten to see the book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Ooo! I’m working on a summer camp meets Midsummer Night’s Dream fantasy for upper middle grade/lower young adult readers. I’m also working on getting through the school year. I teach fifth graders and it takes a lot of my writing time and energy. Summer is prime time to get a lot of writing work done.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You may be interested to know that the trolley references in the book are a homage to Mister Rogers. I was a huge fan of the show as a child and that trolley clang before we went to the land of Make-Believe was one of my favorite parts of the show. “A place where anything can happen and anything can be talked about.” I hope readers feel a little of this when they read Shira and Esther’s Double Dream Debut.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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