This week on the blog, I am honored to take part in the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. As part of this blog tour, I had the opportunity to interview Donna Gephart, Sydney Taylor Silver Medal winner in the Older Readers category for her novel, Death by Toilet Paper.
(BTW–I LOVE this cover! The author also emailed me the super cute cover for the German version of her book, and I included it below. Adorable, right?)
More about the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries website: “The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.”
Here are my 3 questions for Donna Gephart:
1) In the book, your main character, Benjamin Epstein, enters a contest to come up with a slogan for his favorite brand of toilet paper. Why toilet paper?
Donna Gephart: In this book, and sometimes in life, toilet paper represents money or a lack there of. For example, Benjamin Epstein knew things were getting tough financially when his mom had to switch to the cheap, scratchy, recycled toilet paper, so unlike the “good” toilet paper they used to be able to afford. Toilet paper has other, ahem, creative uses in the book, too, like being the material used for a zombie’s bridal gown. Look, when a book starts out with a kid’s letter to a toilet paper company, you know it’s going to be a little, um, unusual . . . in a fun way.
2) Are you Jewish? If so, was there ever a time in your life when you wished you weren’t Jewish? If you are not Jewish, was there ever a time in your life where you wished you were?
DG: I am Jewish. I grew up just like Benjamin did in the book. And I never had experiences which made me wish I weren’t Jewish, unlike my parents. When my mom was a kid, other kids threw stones at her after school and called her, “Dirty Jew.” And when my parents were on their honeymoon, they found discrimination when trying to book a hotel room. I’m glad, though, that my mom worked at a Jewish library when I was a kid because she brought home a lot of books about the Holocaust, and I learned early about prejudice and man’s inhumanity to man and the power and importance of kindness and empathy to counteract such insidious beliefs.
3) Your bio on Amazon says that you entered every contest you could find as a kid. What was the weirdest contest you ever entered?
DG: On a MUCH lighter note, since we grew up without much money, my sister, Ellen, and I sought out contests and sweepstakes to enter. She won things like concert tickets, and I won a trip to Great Adventure Amusement Park when I was a kid, but the oddest thing I won was a check for $1.98 from a Gong-Show type contest on the radio. I played the theme song from “All in the Family” on my toy organ and during the performance, the phone fell and crashed onto the keys, making a horrible bellowing sound — hence the silly amount of the check. Since then, I’ve won a couple amazing trips through skilled contest entries. But my sister, Ellen, to whom Death by Toilet Paper is dedicated, is the Queen of Contests and the Sultan of Sweepstakes. Her most recent win? A new car from The Price is Right game show. Yeah, she’s amazing like that, my sister.
Donna Gephart’s new novel, Death by Toilet Paper, combines humor, heartbreak and more toilet paper facts than you can shake a plunger at. Her other titles include: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, How to Survive Middle School and As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!, which won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. She lives in Florida with her family and speaks at schools, book festivals and libraries across the country. For free reading/activity guides, writing resources and more, visit www.donnagephart.com.