Erica Silverman (1955–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1955, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: Attended State University of New York, Albany; University of California, Los Angeles, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1982. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Psychology, politics, wildlife, ecology, social history, women's basketball.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Macmillan Publishing Co., 866 3rd Ave., New York, NY 10022.
Freelance writer, 1982–. Teacher of English as second language, Los Angeles, CA, beginning 1982. Manuscript consultant and speaker.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, Sierra Club, Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People.
North Carolina Children's Book Award nomination, Books for Children designation, Library of Congress, 1992, and Children's Choice designations, Children's Book Council and International Reading Association, both 1993, all for Big Pumpkin.
Warm in Winter, illustrated by M. Deraney, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
On Grandma's Roof, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
Big Pumpkin, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
Mrs. Peachtree and the Eighth Avenue Cat, illustrated by Ellen Beier, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
Don't Fidget a Feather, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
Fixing the Crack of Dawn, illustrated by Sandra Spiedel, Bridgewater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Mrs. Peachtree's Bicycle, illustrated by Ellen Beier, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1996.
Gittel's Hands, illustrated by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, Bridgewater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1996.
The Halloween House, illustrated by Jon Agee, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 1997.
On the Morn of Mayfest, illustrated by Marla Frazee, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Railel's Riddle, illustrated by Susan Gaber, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 1999.
Follow the Leader, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Farrar Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
(Adapter) Sholom Aleichem, When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashanah Tale, illustrated by Matthew Trueman, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
Sholom's Treasure: How Sholom Aleichem Became a Writer, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Partners, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.
Contributor of stories to periodicals, including Scholastic Scope and Schofar.
Erica Silverman is the author of picture books for young readers, most of which feature themes such as friendships and family relationships. In Silverman's first book, Warm in Winter, Rabbit tells her friend Badger that the best experience of warmth comes in winter. While Badger finds this difficult to believe on a sunny, summer day, she learns the truth of Rabbit's claim when she visits Rabbit during the winter's first snow. After Badger travels through the blustery storm and is offered a seat next to the fire, she agrees warmth is best appreciated during winter. Commenting on the relationship between Badger and Rabbit in a Booklist review, Julie Corsaro called Warm in Winter an "affectionate tale of friendship." In a School Library Journal review, Marianne Pilla found the "narration descriptive," and also complemented the witty conversations between the book's animal characters.
Silverman once described her work to SATA: "Without consciously deciding on it, my books seem to touch on the need to be connected; my characters seem to be concerned with the question of needing others and being needed…. In Warm in Winter, a lonely Badger must confront a blizzard in order to find the warmth of friendship."
On Grandma's Roof follows a young girl and her grandmother through a day's single activity: hanging laundry out to dry. Emily and her grandmother take a picnic basket along with the laundry, and spend the day on the roof of the grandmother's apartment building, where the chore is transformed into an expression of the loving relationship between the two. Mary M. Burns, writing in Horn Book, described the combination of text and illustrations as "superb," and went on to praise Silverman's "childlike celebration of life and love" as particularly suited for its intended audience. The story "vibrates with the delight the characters feel in each other," noted Virginia Opocensky in a School Library Journal review.
"My grandmother started me on the road to reading before I was in school," Silverman once told SATA. "She took me to the public library on 23rd Street in Manhattan, up the endless staircase to the children's room and let me pick out books to take home. I particularly loved folk tales. One of my favorites was an East European folk tale called 'The Turnip.' Years later, I walked into a library and heard a librarian reading 'The Turnip' to a group of children. I started wondering how I could adapt it in order to tell my own story."
In Silverman's version of the traditional tale, titled Big Pumpkin, a witch grows a pumpkin too large to move. After encounters with a cast of Halloween characters, none of whom can move the pumpkin, a little bat suggests that they all work together. "It is only by working together that the boastful characters finally have their pumpkin pie," the author explained. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the dialogue creates "a pleasantly sinister mood that stops just short of being scary," while in School Library Journal Elizabeth Hanson called the book "rousing good fun for the Halloween season and far beyond."
"I didn't set out to write stories about teamwork or interdependence," Silverman recalled to SATA. "That would have resulted in an essay rather than a picture book. I generally start with a setting, the voices of characters, and an unidentified mood or feeling that I am trying to bring into focus. Part of the fun of starting a new book is finding out something new about myself along the way."
Critics often describe Silverman as a good storyteller. For example, Susan Scheps called Gittel's Hands "a charming tale … told in the careful words of a storyteller, with a bit of repetition thrown in for good measure," in her review for School Library Journal. Booklist contributor Ellen Mandel remarked that the book has "much to occupy the eyes as well as the hearts of story lovers" and holds a "satisfying conclusion." Gittel's Hands portrays the dilemma a young girl faces when her father brags about her sewing and cooking talents to the man who holds her father's debts. When Gittel is forced by the man into an impossible claim upon her handy talents in order to repay her father's debts, she unwittingly saves herself with an act of kindness to a stranger.
Silverman tells another good tale in Mrs. Peachtree's Bicycle, and also offers readers new ways to view people and their behavior by calling into question narrow patterns of thinking. According to a critic for Kirkus Reviews, "Silverman's story makes statements against sexism, ageism, and mindless adherence to convention." It's the turn of the twentieth century, and Mrs. Peachtree, white-haired and female to boot, takes on the established way of doing things with a show of open determination to ride a bicycle in order to make delivering food an easier job for herself. Silverman doesn't use heavy-handedness to tell her story but rather a "light, breezy tone throughout," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic. "Kids will relate to the intrepid, grandmotherly Mrs. Peachtree," predicted Carolyn Noah in a reviewer for School Library Journal.
With The Halloween House Silverman offers readers a humorous tale of two escaped convicts who seek shelter in a deserted house but find they are not alone on Halloween night. The escapees become the target of numerous creatures who make it their business to scare the living daylights out of these two criminals. And scare them they do, right out of the house and back to their prison cell where they find safety in "home sweet home." Susan Dove Lempke declared in Booklist that The Halloween House is a "very funny story" and predicted it will be a "story-hour hit all year round."
In When the Chickens Went on Strike: A Rosh Hashanah Tale Silverman borrows a story from Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem, adapting it for a younger audience. The tradition of Kapores, a once-common way to honor the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, was practiced by holding a chicken over someone's head so that all of the person's misdeeds from the year would be passed along to the chicken. In the story, the chickens are tired of people using them in the ritual of Kapores, and they refuse to participate, "a scenario Silverman develops with great glee" in the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer. No amount of pleading with the chickens will make them change their minds. Told through the perspective of a young boy witnessing the poultry rebellion, When the Chickens Went on Strike features "understated yet humorous text," making it a "perfect choice for holiday read-alouds" according to Kay Weisman of Booklist. Nancy Palmer of School Library Journal considered "Silverman's addition of a young narrator lends immediacy and empathy, and streamlines the story with no loss of flavor and point."
After adapting one of Aleichem's stories to picture-book form, Silverman wrote a picture-book biography of the author. Sholom's Treasure: How Sholom Aleichem Became a Writer tells the history of the Russian boy who grew up to be a great comedic writer. "Silverman's text combines a storyteller's narrative with dialogue based on Aleichem's own words," informed Teri Markson and Stephen Samuel Wise in a review for School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic that "Silverman's accessible prose keeps a narrative dense with incidents and people moving along briskly." Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper observed that while Aleichem's biography takes place in a Russian shetl, "as in Aleichem's own stories, there's a universality here that transcends the borders of time and place."
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa introduces readers to a girl and her talking horse and also initiated a series of chapter books about the friends. Cowgirl Kate takes care of Cocoa, but Cocoa worries about Kate's adventures when the horse isn't around to protect her. Written for beginning readers, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa features characters with "enough star power to ride the range together in subsequent sequels," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Simple sentences and lots of repetition make these tales accessible, while occasional cowpoke vocabulary establishes the locale," noted Carol Ann Wilson in School Library Journal.
"As an only child, I spent a lot of time in pretend worlds, talking to imaginary animals and people," Silverman once told SATA. "Now, many years later, when I am working on a story, I feel the same sense of total absorption as I create a world, fill it with characters and watch and listen to them interact.
"Mother Goose rhymes gave me my first awareness of the pleasure of language. My father had a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. Together we recited Mother Goose rhymes onto tape. As I grew older, our reciting material changed to include all kinds of poems and stories. Those hours of reciting onto tape nurtured in me a love for the sounds and rhythms of language."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 1, 1989, Julie Corsaro, review of Warm in Winter; March 1, 1990, p. 1349; April 1, 1995, p. 1409; May 15, 1996, Ellen Mandel, review of Gittel's Hands, p. 1594; September 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Halloween House, p. 141; October 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Follow the Leader, p. 447; February 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Sholom's Treasure: How Sholom Aleichem Became a Writer, p. 960.
Horn Book, July, 1990, Mary M. Burns, review of On Grandma's Roof, p. 448; July-August, 2003, Lauren Adams, review of When the Chickens Went on Strike, p. 448; March-April, 2005, Susan P. Bloom, review of Sholom's Treasure, p. 218.
Kirkus Reviews, March, 15, 1996, p. 452; May 1, 1996, review of Mrs. Peachtree's Bicycle, p. 693; June 15, 2003, review of When the Chickens Went on Strike, p. 865; February 1, 2005, review of Sholom's Treasure, p. 182; April 1, 2005, review of Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa, p. 425.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April, 14, 1996, p. 10; July 7, 1996, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, July 20, 1992, review of Big Pumpkin, p. 248; August 25, 2003, review of When the Chickens Went on Strike, p. 61; January 31, 2005, review of Sholom's Treasure, p. 68.
School Library Journal, October, 1989, Marianne Pilla, review of Warm in Winter, p. 1332; March, 1990, Virginia Opocensky, review of On Grandma's Roof, p. 201; September, 1992, Elizabeth Hanson, review of Big Pumpkin, p. 211; November, 1994, p. 90; January, 1995, p. 93; June, 1996, Susan Scheps, review of Gittel's Hands, pp. 109-10; July, 1996, Carolyn Noah, review of Mrs. Peachtree's Bicycle, pp. 72-73; September, 2003, Nancy Palmer, review of When the Chickens Went on Strike, p. 191; March, 2005, Carol Ann Wilson, review of Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa, p. 188; April, 2005, Teri Markson and Stephen Samuel Wise, review of Sholom's Treasure, p. 127.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Books for Young Readers Web site, http://www.fsgkidsbooks.com/ (November 7, 2005), "Erica Silverman."
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