Sarah Aronson’s most recent books, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever (The Wish List #1, Beach Lane Books) and Keep Calm and Sparkle On! (The Wish List #2) are at once lighthearted and serious — stories that are fun to read and encourage working for causes that matter to the world. Sarah is widely known in the children’s book writing community as an enthusiastic and effective writing instructor. Thanks, Sarah, for taking a Skinny Dip with us in December!
Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?
This is an easy one! My favorite and most influential teacher during those first years of school was my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dan Sigley.
It was a year that began with mixed emotions. At that time, I didn’t really feel passionate about books. Oh, I liked books, but theater was my favorite story medium. I had also just returned from 8 months in York, England. I went to school there and was introduced to new settings (that you could visit) as well as writers like Charles Dickens. I read Enid Blyton. More important, I watched my friends take the 11 plus exam, effectively tracking and dividing them for different kinds of futures.
Mr. Sigley awakened my creative spirit in many ways. He got me hooked on books in three distinct ways. First, our class read and performed Romeo and Juliet—unabridged! He showed me that even if I didn’t understand the individual words, I could infer meaning in a text! Second, he tirelessly handed me books — he was determined to make me a reader. The book that did it was John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. That ending blew me away! It made me think! This was what I wanted from books! A chance to think about injustice and relationships and family … and how I could make it better. Last, he taught us how to make books — from writing to illustrating to binding. This first home-made book, The Adventures of Prince Charming, connected the dots. Books were like theater. Books were unique for each reader. I loved getting into the heads of my characters. I loved holding a book, too.
About the time Head Case was released, Mr. Sigley moved to the house next to my parents, so I got to see him many times and thank him for everything he taught me. He was a gentle, creative man. He was the first person who held me accountable and awakened my imagination.
All-time favorite book?
The word, favorite, is my least favorite word ever! Here are the books I keep on my desk—they are the books I love. They are the books I reach for when I’m stuck. These are the books that have taught me how to write.
- Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
- The Rag and Bone Shop (Robert Cormier)
- Monster (Walter Dean Myers)
- Clementine (Sara Pennypacker)
- Bunnicula (James Howe, Deborah Howe)
- What Jamie Saw (Carolyn Coman)
- The Carrot Seed (Ruth Krauss, Crockett Johnson)
- The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson)
- Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh)
- Blubber (Judy Blume)
- Officer Buckle and Gloria (Peggy Rathmann)
- Charles and Emma (Deborah Heiligman)
- Sandy’s Circus (Tanya Lee Stone, Boris Kulikov)
What’s your favorite part of starting a new project?
When I am in pre-writing mode, nothing counts! (I am one of those weird writers that deletes her first discovery draft!!!) I love writing without expectations! It doesn’t feel like work. It is all disposable!
Barefoot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?
You have to ask? I write books about fairy godmothers! I like shoes. Always shoes. I love shoes and boots and would even wear glass slippers if I didn’t think I’d trip and break them.
When are you your most creative?
First thing in the morning. Best advice I can offer: hide your phone. Be a word producer—not just a consumer. Get out of bed and create. Get someone to make you a coffee. Journal every morning. Or doodle. Get the pen to the paper. Find a way to transition from the real world to your imaginative state. The world and social media can wait!
Favorite flavor of ice cream?
In the winter: chocolate
In the summer: peach
But the gelato place around the corner makes Greek Yoghurt gelato. It’s sweet and sour and tangy! Yum.
(File under: this author has problems with favorites.)
Book on your bedside table right now?
I’m crying over Matylda, Bright and Tender, by Holly McGhee, recommended by Olivia Van Ledtje, also known as @thelivbits
What’s your hidden talent?
I can turn anything into a writing lesson.
Also: I can draw an elephant from behind.
Why do you feel hopeful for humankind?
Young people give me hope. They value kindness. And the environment. They stick up for one another. They exhibit a strong sense of goodness and a willingness to speak out against injustices.
That is what I have seen and learned from readers — to kids and teens — even the shy ones who wait until they can email me to ask a question. Our young people are growing up in a time where there are no barriers to information. Yes, there is a lot of misleading stuff, but the good stuff is at our fingertips, too. I could complain a lot about phones and the internet, but technology is also equalizing. We live in a time when we can interact with just about anyone. There are so many ways to learn.
In young people, I see motivated kids like Nora (from The Wish List). They want to make the world better. They believe in goodness. They are not afraid to speak out. They support each other. That gives me hope.