Day 23: Teresa E. Harris

Teresa E. Harris counts Katherine Paterson, Mildred Taylor, R.L. Stine and Judy Blume among her best loved children’s book authors.  Now, she’s creating books destined to become favorites herself.

With pointy high heels, a blazer and loads of sass, her elementary school character Summer Jackson struts out of the pages and into our hearts. In this interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Harris says that she was inspired to make children’s literature her career focus as she considered the books that left a lasting impact: “When I look back on my life, it seems that the books that had the most effect on me were the books I read when I was young.”

Praised for its humor and spunky characterization, Summer Jackson: Grown Up, illustrated by AG Ford and published by HarperCollins, is a great start for an exciting new voice.

We’re happy to celebrate author Teresa E. Harris on Day 23 of our campaign:

The Journey

My journey began to publishing began at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I received my masters of writing for children there in 2007, and it is not an overstatement to say the faculty there taught me everything I know. I worked with some of the best in the biz—Jacqueline Woodson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Margaret Bechard, and David Gifaldi. I also met my literary agent at a writer’s retreat at Vermont College, the incomparable Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary. Sarah sold my first novel—tentatively titled Treasure in the Past Tense—to Clarion Books. It will pub some time in the near future—I’m working on revisions right now. Sarah also helped me to sell my picture book Summer Jackson: Grown Up to HarperCollins, and I imagine her involved in my writing life until the day one of us dies—she is that awesome.

The Inspiration

When I sat down to write the manuscript for Summer Jackson: Grown Up, I read more picture books than I ever had before, and developed a (somewhat obsessive) love for Kevin Henkes and Mo Willems—I live for their deliciously naughty characters, and I tried to infuse Summer with a little delicious naughtiness of her own.

The Back Story

I sold Summer Jackson: Grown Up, fittingly, in the summer of 2009. While an editorial assistant at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, my boss Katherine, ever committed to diversity in children’s literature, wanted badly to publish a commercial picture book featuring an African-American girl. The catch: She didn’t want the focus of this book to be on the character’s race. But first, we needed this character. Enter New York Times bestselling author AG Ford, who sent us an illustration of the most adorable little girl, pink-clad and with ponytail and attitude to spare. When I left Harper the summer of 2009, Katherine said to me, “Why don’t you try giving this little girl a voice and a name?” I did. And that’s how Summer Jackson came to be.

The Buzz

Summer Jackson: Grown Up has received favorable reviews from Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly:

“With a little bit of sparkle and a whole lot of sass, Summer will be right at home with any young girl eager to enter the work world.”

— Kirkus

“Summer Jackson’s parents have always told her that she can be anything she wants when she grows up. The problem is, the seven-year-old does not want to have to wait until then. “From now on, I will wear very high heels with very pointy toes. And maybe a blazer. I’ll get a cell phone. It will ring all the time.” Summer imagines all of the important things she will begin doing, such as making a to-do list, reading the newspaper over breakfast, and becoming a consultant. But when she meets with several of her clients (fellow schoolmates), and begins to charge them for her services, she runs into a bit of trouble with Principal Cutter, who calls her parents. When they talk things over, her parents agree to let Summer take over the adult responsibilities, which frees them to have some fun. All too soon, the child realizes that being a grown-up is not all its cracked up to be. Ford’s charming and humorous cartoon illustrations are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, ranging from three pictures on a page to full-page images . . . ”

— School Library Journal

The State of the Industry

I’ve seen the industry from so many different angles: from the editorial side, the author side, and the librarian side—I worked as a children’s library assistant for a year and a half—and I know how hard it is to get a book on all kinds of shelves these days. Harder than it ever was, perhaps, especially for little books that don’t involve teenage girls falling in love with supernatural creatures, or teenage girls falling in love while navigating a poorly-constructed dystopian world. But there are undeniably some great books being published, overdone trends aside, and I’m as excited about the industry as I ever was, though I’m too much of a realist not to acknowledge that my path as an author may be full of more lows than highs, but there is not another career I would rather pursue. Even at its worst (bad Goodreads reviews, anyone?), writing for children and writers for children continue to excite, motivate, and inspire me.

Find out more about Teresa E. Harris here.

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