Sunday, November 27, 2022

Q&A with Shirin Yim Bridges




Shirin Yim Bridges is the author of the new children's picture book, Eat Your Peas, Julius!: Even Caesar Must Clean His Plate. Her many other books include Go to Bed, Ted!. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: What inspired you to write Eat Your Peas, Julius!?


A: A few years ago, I wrote a book Agrippina, Atrocious and Ferocious, about one of the first Roman empresses. That nonfiction book featured, among many other things, a sidebar on what the Romans liked to eat. When I read that book at schools and libraries, this sidebar would elicit gasps and giggles from all the kids.


I always thought I'd like to come back and do more with this topic that was obviously so fascinating to children. So, years later when I was looking for a third book to follow Go To Bed, Ted! and Get Up, Elizabeth!, Eat Your Peas, Julius! naturally jumped to mind.


Q: How did you research Julius Caesar's life and times, including all the fascinating things Romans ate?


A: I already knew a lot about Roman history, and specifically about Julius Caesar, because I've always been a history nerd and Roman history was one of several topics of special interest for me. Then, of course, researching Agrippina's story led me to more rich material.


When it came to what Romans ate at banquets, there is a cookbook from roughly that period that still exists: The Book of Apicius. It's actually more like a menu collection. It mentions the names of the dishes and what went into them, but didn't give the measurements and recipe details you'd expect in modern cookbooks.


Q: The Kirkus review of the book called it “An entertaining, giggleworthy blend of gastronomic history and fiction.” What do you think of that description, and what did you see as the right mix of history, fiction, and humor as you worked on the book?


A: Well, I've written both historical fiction and creative nonfiction in my time, and there is, to my mind, a subtle but clear distinction between the two. I wanted this whole series to be historical fiction, which means to me that you imagine the individual, but you set the character in, as much as possible, an accurate historical context.


My goal was to have my young readers imagine with me what it might have been like to be a young Julius Caesar, confronted with Roman banquet foods that many of us might find a bit alarming—and the joke, based on the old chestnut that kids won't eat their peas, is that Julius is so alarmed that he wants to just eat his peas instead.


I wanted the giggles, because I believe you learn more when you laugh. What we find funny, we find memorable. Think of all those people who can recite Monty Python or Seinfeld. And I wanted kids to enjoy the read, to laugh about it, and then to be so fascinated by glimpses into a very different life that they don't realize they're learning a little history.


Q: What do you think Fiona Lee’s illustrations add to the book?


A: I love Fiona's illustrations. I think they are full of the warmth and humor that I myself felt while writing. Plus, I love her palette, and she added in some clever touches, also.


In Get Up, Elizabeth!, there's a little mouse hidden on every page. In this book, there's an owl, and what the owl is doing in the background is often very funny in the context of what you're reading. So, when Julius is being told about all the birds that are being served up for dinner, the owl is flying off the page as fast as it can!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm not working on a children's book, at the moment. I'm working on two historical novels for adults. There's still a long road ahead of those, so I'm all tied up in the adult world for now. But you never know when I might be back.


On the other hand, my first book, Ruby's Wish, launched 20 years ago. We celebrated its anniversary this year. So, it's been a nice long run, with a total of 21 picture books published in that time. It probably is time I took a break.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My favorite book as a child was People in History. I still have it on my bookshelf. So I'm very satisfied that so many of the books I've written have been about exactly that!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Shirin Yim Bridges.

No comments:

Post a Comment