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Author Erica S. Perl Joins Us and Gets Creative!

August 15, 2013

Today we welcome to RAoR author Erica S. Perl whose two middle grade novels, WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. (available in paperback) and ACES WILD (new in hardcover), about a girl, a grandpa and a dog, are charming and funny with an accessible, authentic voice that will appeal to young readers ages 8-12.  For these reasons, and because they often inspire all sorts of creativity as you’ll read below, her books make wonderful choices for the classroom or book clubs.  We recommend you give them a read, or pass them along to a child in your life! 
















When I wrote When Life Gives You O.J. and Aces Wild, both of which are about a girl named Zelly, her grandfather, Ace, and a dog made out of an old plastic orange juice jug, my main goal was to get the books into the hands of kids who would read them.

I quickly discovered the best way to do that: with the jug itself!

My first inkling that this would be the case came when friends threw a book party for When Life Gives You O.J. Since we needed a craft activity for the kids, we decided to save our juice, milk and water jugs and set them out with craft supplies. Before the afternoon was out, we’d thrown a dog show complete with tricks, judging, and prizes (“Most obedient” was admittedly tough to determine, as all jug-dogs are great at sitting and staying). The kids loved it and parents mentioned how great it was that the kids were getting excited about reading AND recycling. Hmmm… wheels started turning in my head.

From there I built an activity and discussion guide that suggested making pets from recycled materials as a book-related activity. Before long, I was skyping with classes all over the country who wanted to introduce me to their “pets”, most of which started life in plastic form, filled with juice. The adventure continued when I was contacted by a guidance counsellor, Gary Traveny, who informed me that his school in Ohio had selected When Life Gives You O.J. for its annual One Book, One School program. This was a first for O.J. and for me, so I was very pleased by the news. The more we talked and the more excited he got about the kids making “pets” the more I realized I would need to travel there and see for myself.

I think this story tells itself best with images. Of the enthusiastic kids, teachers, and staff members. Of the practice pets the entire school made (the rubric required making a pet – incorporating at least one orange juice or milk jug – as well as its habitat, developing tricks for the pet to perform, writing a page about the pet and presenting it to a panel of judges). Of the children’s book theme decorated-bicycle parade (primary school kids held up “fiction” and “nonfiction” signs as bikes passed), complete with the theme from Batman and klezmer music, to match themes and scenes from the book. Of the non-stop fun we had all day, and it turned out they had been having all week (for example, the school welcomed over 200 grandparents and other “significant Ace”s to come join the celebration). Another special guest was a volunteer named Amy McCoy and her wonderful AKC Canine Good Citizen dog, Chloe.




This summer, my second book about Zelly and Aces – Aces Wild – came out and at the book party my friends threw we came up with more craft activities, including making dog treat sacks kids could clip to their waistbands for training their real pets. These were a hit… but kids still wanted to create orange juice jug dogs! Since we hadn’t saved enough recycling for this, a new inspiration took off: water bottle pets. Water bottles proved to be the perfect variation to offer when I did a series of book events at YMCA summer camp programs. Kids made water bottle dogs, lizards, birds, fish, elephants… even a platypus! And kids had a new appreciation for both of the books, since they had personally put themselves in Zelly’s shoes. Based on these events, I was invited to judge student projects at the YMCA’s Thingamajig Invention Convention (an incredible task considering that each one of these STEM creations built from recycled materials was more impressive than the one before it!) This really confirmed my growing appreciation for the value of hands-on creative projects that take books to the next level.




I highly recommend these activities to classes and book clubs (and pet-loving kids) – for those of you who are looking for fun ways to extend the book, and to do some writing and STEM activities while you are at it – and I encourage you to send photos of your creations to!

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