Charise Mericle Harper Interview: NY Children's Book Author-Illustrator and Mom on Her Five New Titles and Work-Life Balance
We're always thrilled when we get fan mail (fan emails?) here at Mommy Poppins. And a few months ago, we received a lovely note from a local mom who just happened to be a very prolific children's book author and illustrator. Charise Mericle Harper is releasing five—count 'em, five—titles this fall: Just Grace and the Double Surprise and If Waffles Were Like Boys, both of which recently came out, and the forthcoming The Power of Cute, Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S., and Henry's Heart: A Boy, His Heart, and a New Best Friend.
These titles are very diverse, including picture books, a graphic novel for the very young (my two-year-old loves it!), and a chapter book for emerging readers.
Harper lives in Mamaroneck with her husband, two children and various pets. She's one of those super-creative types who makes you wonder how she does it all. So we asked her, and she told us.
When do you work, and how do you keep your kids out of your hair while you do?
Well here is a great example of when I work: It's 5:40am and I am answering your questions! Before I had kids, I was a late night person. When my children arrived, that changed somewhat, but mostly it was the introduction of public school. School has an unwavering schedule, and it's hard to get there on time if you stay up until 3am the night before. For the first year of school, we were late almost every day! We've gotten better, but I still get my share of late notices from the school.
As for how I keep my kids out of my hair? They're still in my hair! But having two children is a blessing. Yes, I have to spend a fair amount of time with my referee stripes on, but I'm okay with that because overall, they play very well together. Of course I was sad and cried when they went off to kindergarten that first day, but by the second day I was saying, "Yay! The kids are gone from 9 to 3!" And when they are home, there are plenty of ways to distract them in our house. Some I am proud of, like the hundreds of books I have for them to look at. Others I feel guilty about, like the computer and its soul-sucking creative force. We also host lots of playdates. Having another kid over is an instant hair-freeing experience—until they want to be fed. And we've got plenty of toys. Saying, "Go play with your toys!" never works. But taking 10 minutes to set up the toys in some kind of scenario usually buys me at least 35 minutes of I'm-not-going-to-bug-Mommy time. Plus my husband works from home, too, so he's a huge help.
Do your kids ever help you with your creative endeavors?
My children are my creative inspiration. I watch them and listen to them. They give me ideas I could never think up on my own. My daughter was the inspiration for my Just Grace series of chapter books. She's a very empathetic kid, which is why I made empathy the title character's superpower.
My son is very interested in the human body and how everything works, which is the reason I wrote Henry's Heart [to be released on November 22]. It's a book about the heart, but it's also a story about a boy and a dog. The main focus of the narrative is healthy eating and life choices. I was really lucky with this book: I was given permission to work with an entire elementary school while I was illustrating it. I also wrote If Waffles Were Like Boys because of my son. Having a son was a very different experience from having a daughter, and I wanted to express that in a book.
My kids help me in other ways, too. My daughter is a shrewd reader and isn't afraid to be brutally honest. Being around kids also creates a portal back to my own childhood. What my kids do or say often reminds me of my experiences at their age. As someone writing for children, this is incredibly helpful.
What are some of your favorite places to go with your family in NYC?
We are not yet experts on NYC, but we are trying. Since we don't live in the city, it's a production for us to get down there, but coming into that beautiful Grand Central Terminal helps.
There's a great slide in Teardrop Park near Rockefeller Playground. My kids love it! We also love getting burgers at that secret place behind the concierge at Le Parker Meridien. And we enjoy Central Park: going rock climbing, visiting the zoo, taking a ride on the carousel and hanging out in the cool playgrounds. We also like the Brooklyn Flea and wandering around Dumbo and going to the powerHouse Arena bookstore and Brooklyn Bridge Park. We also see shows at the New Victory Theater and visit Books of Wonder.
We moved from Chicago to the suburbs of New York six years ago. While I love all the green and clean, I'm a city girl at heart. We moved here for my husband' s job, but I have never stopped campaigning to get back to the city. I am inspired by the city, but I've become used to all the space we have out here. If we ever do move back, I'll have a hard time giving up all the extra room. It would probably be a harder transition than I imagine.
To get my city fix, I try to drag my family into the city as much as I can. Yesterday we went to Astoria to see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image. That's one of our favorites. And MoMA. Plus they have that great cafe! Food and culture: That's my inspiration!