Terri Libenson: Writing Books Through A ‘Kid Lens’
Terri Libenson is the creator of the syndicated comic strip The Pajama Diaries (the complete collection consists of The Pajama Diaries: Déjà To-Do!, The Pajama Diaries: Having It All…and No Time To Do It, and The Pajama Diaries: Bat-Zilla) as well as the author and illustrator of the middle-grade graphic novel series Emmie & Friends published by HarperCollins, the newest of which is Remarkably Ruby. For a while, she was writing both the comic strip and the graphic novels simultaneously, so we asked her a little bit about the similarities and differences between the two.
“Serious or sensitive subjects are always leavened with humor,” she said. “Also, they’re both pretty autobiographical. Unlike the strip, where I used my adult viewpoint…I’ll write the books using my ‘kid lens.’ For example, although I don’t remember what I did on a typical day when I was twelve, I still remember many of the feelings I had (especially as an insecure, artistic kid). I also remember my friends’ personalities at that age, which helps. The major difference is that the comic strip was so short—just three or four panels. It was hard at first to switch gears and go into ‘long form’ story mode. But now that I’ve gotten in the groove, I find it pretty freeing.”
She also said she was “both sad and relieved” to transition from writing both the comic strip and the books to just the books. “Sad because it was hard to let go of something I loved for so long. But I knew it was time…I was already getting antsy to start my next chapter—no pun intended. It was a relief simply because it was getting so hard to do both the strip and the books. It’s funny, though: once I retired Pajama Diaries, I unintentionally started writing longer books. I guess I needed to fill the void a little!” With six books now in the Emmie & Friends series, it looks like she’s done a pretty good job.
But as an author who went from an adult writing for an adult audience to an adult writing for a middle-grade audience, there were bound to be difficulties, even writing through her “kid lens.” Her greatest challenge, she said, was “fleshing out new main characters (often two per book!) while making sure their distinct personalities and stories resonate with middle-grade readers. At the same time, that’s also what I love about writing them. It keeps it so fresh and interesting.”
The Emmie & Friends series is going strong, and Libenson said “there will be another book after [Remarkably Ruby] and hopefully more down the road. I absolutely love writing and illustrating these books.” Outside of the series, Libenson says that she’s “been starting projects here and there…but I haven’t had much time to finish anything yet.” Whatever comes next from this author, there’s a good bet it will be just as good as everything else.
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