Sunday, June 18, 2023

Q&A with Erica S. Perl


Erica S. Perl is the author of the new children's picture book The Three Little Guinea Pigs. Her many other books include Goatilocks and the Three Bears. She lives in Washington, D.C.


Q: What inspired you to write The Three Little Guinea Pigs, and how did you create your characters Rosie, Minty, and Pumpkin?


A: Well, the names came easily because the characters were inspired by three of my own guinea pigs: Rosie, Minty, and Pumpkin (see photo of me, above, with the three of them – from left to right, it’s Rosie, Minty, and Pumpkin).


The personalities of the characters in the (fiction) book, and each of their distinctive looks, do not all match their namesakes. For example, in the book, the character called Minty is black and white and has a “tough girl” personality. The actual Minty was all black and was a sweet and gentle creature who never tried to intimidate anyone. The way Amy Young drew Pumpkin, though, does look a LOT like her.


Q: What did you see as the right blend of the original Three Little Pigs and your own take on the story?


A: When I do a fractured fairy tale or reinterpretation, I usually start by saying “what if…?” and changing one detail. In this case, it was “What if the three little pigs were guinea pigs?” So I challenge myself to figure out ways to use the qualities of guinea pigs to take the story in a new direction.


In this case, many aspects of the classic tale already fit guinea pig behavior… they do live in social groups, they do like to have structures in their habitat, they do have hair on their chinny-chin-chins, etc.


And the fact that they have no tails to speak of is not universally known (most rodents have some sort of tail), so I figured it might be a way to trick the fox.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Realistic details about guinea pig behavior add interest, too, as detailed in the back matter’s Fascinating Facts.” Did you need to do any research to write the book, or were you already a guinea pig aficionado?


A: I am very much a guinea pig aficionado. I received my first guinea pig when I was 7 years old, and I’ve had many guinea pigs over the years.


One of the reasons this book happened, actually, is that my editor, Joy Peskin, is also a guinea pig owner and aficionado. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and when she said she was looking for a guinea pig book, I was happy to reply, “I have one!” We also involved our guinea pigs in the writing and revising. See attached photo of them participating in the editorial process.


Q: What do you think Amy Young’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Amy Young’s illustrations bring this story to life! She’s incredibly talented, especially for someone who – believe it or not – doesn’t have guinea pigs. Joy and I provided her with photos and videos and she studied hard. We now consider her an honorary guinea pig person. And her fox is amazing, too.


I especially love the color scheme she brought to the book – it’s so bright and warm, yet it heightens all the emotions in the book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Too many projects! I’m revising a picture book and an early reader, plus I’m working on a new middle grade novel that I will be illustrating as well as writing.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve done some fun co-author projects recently, including a picture book with Dolly Parton (Billy the Kid Makes It Big) and a middle grade novel with R.J. Palacio (White Bird: A Novel). I love collaborating, and look forward to doing more!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Erica S. Perl.

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