Favorite holiday tradition?
Food! I love to bake and holidays are the best excuse for baking! Peach cobbler for the Fourth of July, apple cake for the Jewish holidays, dozens and dozens of cookies for friends and family in December, and this killer candy that we call matzo toffee at Passover. I make a ton of it for friends and even send some to special editors. It’s the most addictive thing ever and it proves that chocolate makes everything better.
Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?
Mostly a teacher’s pet. I had poor eyesight and super-thick glasses and had to sit up front. But I also have strong opinions, so I’m sure I was a challenge as well.
What’s the first book report you ever wrote?
This is embarrassing, but I don’t remember book reports in elementary school. I remember reports on a town in Texas (I chose Mexia, pronounced Me-hay-a) and other subjects, and even a report on Nixon’s trip to China, but no book reports. Maybe I blocked them out! We did do them in junior high and I got in trouble for choosing a 1934 novel by John O’Hara that the teacher deemed too old for me.
Do you like to gift wrap presents?
That’s kind of a funny question. Yes, and no. Here’s why: For the last 12 or 13 years, my family has gift-wrapped books at local bookstores during the Christmas season to raise money for a literacy organization called First Book. Some years, we worked many shifts at several bookstores and some years, we worked just a handful of shifts. But nearly all of those years, we gift-wrapped on Christmas Eve, which is a crazy day when all the last-minute or visiting-from-out-of-town shoppers come in. By the middle of the season, I could hardly bear to wrap our family’s own gifts.
All together, our wrapping raised more than $20,000 for First Book. But we decided 2014 would be our last year. Our daughters, who were 12 and 14 when we started, are now grown and live on opposite coasts and we don’t get to spend much time with them. It was a great experience though, and I’m now an excellent wrapper!
What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?
Hmmm. I enjoyed writing at that age, but was becoming self-conscious about it, and I had classmates—including another Karen—who were more skilled. Probably I would tell her that passion and persistence are about as important as anything and to keep at it.
What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?
One of the really great things about being an author is that you get to meet other authors, and even have a meal with them. So I’ve gotten to meet some of my heroes, like Russell Freedman, Steve Sheinkin, and Susan Bartoletti.
Oh, this is so hard! Beverly Cleary, for sure, because she was one of my early favorites and still is. J.K. Rowling, because that would be amazing. And maybe John Green, because he’s so cool.
Where’s your favorite place to read?
Anywhere! Really! I’ll read just about anywhere, though I prefer a chair. I read a lot at my breakfast table, but also in a comfortable chair in our den, on the bike at the gym, on planes, and when I’m waiting for an appointment.
What lucky editors to receive matzo toffee! And how lucky that you DID keep at it when you were a young writer!
Great interview! I love that you and your daughters gift wrapped books to raise money for literacy. And I’m so glad your young self fought the fear and kept writing.