As a dad of a 6 month old baby boy, there’s only a few things that matter in terms of my son. Is he eating enough? Is he going to the bathroom enough? Is he sleeping enough? Are we talking enough to him? And of course, are we reading enough? As a teacher, the last one is extremely important. I want my son to be fascinated with books and let his imagination run wild before they become mandatory text books when he is older. Not to mention I want to be able to read comic books with him and enjoy the love of superheroes as the dynamic duo that we are. One of his favorite books at the moment is the Superheroes: Opposites book. Destined to find more books like this, I spoke with publisher/author, Julie Merberg, to find out what makes these books the perfect addition to a growing kid’s library.
How did you get started writing board books of superheroes?
So when my son was four, my husband came up to me and was like “When can I read him comic books and when can I feed him steak?” So we have 4 sons, and my oldest now is 17 and he’s written a bunch of these books. He would come to me and say “Mom I think you should write a sleep book!” And I say, “Great! Write it.” So it’s funny that you mentioned wanting to read comics to your son too because the whole idea behind it was to get people like my husband to read to their kids. We are big believers of early literacy so when you said that your son was turning the pages, it likes the second your kids is big enough to sit in your lap they should be reading.
Growing up, what were some of your favorite books that really got you into reading?
That’s a good question. It’s so funny because everything now is framed in terms of what my kids love and what I love reading to me kids. But I do remember Goodnight Moon from growing up and that is of course shared with my kids. I was not a comic book geek and it was my husband who influenced the rest of us. My mother would read to us every night and I remember I started reading very early. I’d remember The Little House on the Prairie books, which I got my little one to start reading. Pippy Longstockings I remember as well.
So you already mentioned your husband and your son as big parts of your inspiration, is there anyone or anything else that inspired you?
Well Girl Power kind of came about because our line was feeling very boy heavy. Like I said, I have four sons, but it was really important to me that they grew up understanding how powerful women were and that they needed to respect that. So that’s were Girl Power grew out of. Once we immersed ourselves in this universe, we realized the emphasis was so much on boy stuff, but there were a ton of female fans. You know, I even made the mistake of “Oh I want to make these books so dads can read to their kids” and then we had all these moms calling use telling us that they were big fans too.
That’s that such a good point because I noticed Girl Power on your stand and it really stood out as being unique and different from the rest of the books.
Well as you know, you have to do the reading. And kids want to read the same thing again and again. So to get parents committed to reading to their kids, you have to make the books fun for them and be just as excited about pulling out the books just like the kids.
So my son loves the Opposites book in the series. Was it hard or is it hard coming up with any of the material?
Well we initially licensed the art from DC because we wanted to license the classic art. It was really important to me because I wanted parents remembering it and feeling nostalgic about when they read comic books and not really tie it in to the latest movies or live action or even the animated stuff on television. So we were just using style guide art. They have decades’ worth of art but they were already created and we have access to. But then when we started making the picture books and getting into making Girl Power, but there was not an extensive amount of art to work with. We also wanted to represent non-white characters and there was just very little to draw. So then we started to commission original art and in that style.
Is Girl Power your favorite book that you have done so far?
I think it is. Haha. I love all of my babies but Girl Power in particular. It was a big breakout book for us as well.
What makes comic books so important for kids as an introduction to reading?
I think seeing with my own boys, they (comics) are really cool and interesting and exciting. They really open the door for creativity. The conversations around my dinner table about what kind of superpower you would have or what kind of gadget or weapon you could invent or who would beat who in a fight. They are terrific role models. So when we took it down a notch in terms of age, and we had to eliminate any violence from the equation, you are still looking at a group of characters who are just good, caring people who want to take care of others who can’t take care of themselves. There’s a lot of good messaging in there.
Any new books in the works or stories you are working on now?
I think we are going more in the direction of books like Big Books of Girl Power and Superpowers. I feel like we, not necessarily saturated, but we’ve done a really good job of covering the basics with the board books and now want to create more for older kids. We started with the Big Books, where we get deeper into the back stories, the origin stories, and you get more information about them and their world. We have coming out in January, a Girl Power Journal, that is a guided journal and activity book. We’ll then follow it up with a Superpowers journal and activity book. I think something that we have always done is to use superheroes, DC superheroes in particular, as an access point for kids to be creative so the activity book is fantastic in that way. You’ll have kids drawing and thinking about themselves, about the characters, and about the writing. So I am excited about those books.
Any advice for future writers?
I would say, and this is what I say at my alma mater, is to write from a place of passion. For sure. Writing is an art and publishing is a business. So think about your audience. If you don’t have an audience and a way to get to them, then it’s just writing in your room. Which is fine, it’s a beautiful thing, but then its art and not a business. So that’s my advice.
Julie and her son Morris
Julie Merberg and her son, Morris Katz, have a great selection of books. Check out Julie’s Big Book of Girl Power and Morris’ Big Book of Superpowers at www.dtbwpub.com. Don’t forget to check out the DC Superheroes: Little Library that comes highly recommended by my 6-month old son as well.