Terri Libenson is the author of Becoming Brianna, the latest in her series of Emmie & Friends graphic novels for kids. The series also includes Just Jaime, Positively Izzy, and Invisible Emmie. She lives in Cleveland.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on Brianna's bat mitzvah in your new book?
A: Between the characters being the right age and my being Jewish, my mind automatically went there. All my family members have had bar or bat mitzvahs, so I had an abundance of inspirational material. Additionally, I think it’s a great way to add some cultural and religious diversity to the bookshelves.
Q: What was it like to return to Brianna's perspective a couple of books later? Do you think she's changed at all since Positively Izzy?
A: I really enjoyed returning to Bri and her family. I’ve grown to love and respect her personality. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
Becoming Brianna takes place over the course of eight months, so she goes through many changes. Changes in her belief system, friendships, family relationships, as well as her relationship with the “spotlight.”
Izzy takes place during one day in March, while Brianna concludes in June, so I think Bri has definitely grown as a person in the months between.
Q: The illustrations are filled with so many funny asides. Do you go back and add things in, or do most of your ideas come to you as you're making your initial drawings?
A: Definitely both. When writing the initial manuscript, I’ll insert ideas or rough art for the illustrations, but I usually refine or tweak them later on. Sometimes many times over. Often I’ll get better ideas as I edit the book.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I hope anyone having (or had) a bar or bat mitzvah feels this is helpful and relatable, and I hope kids who aren’t Jewish really enjoy learning about the process. Mainly, I hope they find Brianna inspiring and funny.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m doing many things at once. I’m writing book five in the Emmie & Friends series (out next May) and I’m starting to look at picture books (for younger kids) to get inspired to do one myself!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Sure. I have another book coming out this fall: a guided journal and activity book that’s part of the Emmie & Friends series, called You-niquely You. I had a blast creating it. You can pre-order it here.
Also, I have lots of new and fun info on my website, including games, videos, FAQ, and writing tips. I hope everyone gets a chance to check it out!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Terri Libenson.