Draped in daring, bright colors and adorned in her trademark jewelry rings on every finger with gems of all kinds, including, of course, amber Paula Danziger arrives on the scene undaunted, jovial and fearless.
Danziger has several reasons to be jubilant. Since the 1974 publication of her first novel for young teens, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, her entire library of books has been continually reprinted (a situation unusual to most authors). "I'm very lucky. I'm very fortunate that my books have never gone out of print none of them," she says.
Her newest bundle of joy comes from a dear old friend, a friend many parents and older kids will remember as the spunky nine-year-old fourth grader, Amber Brown. The original Amber Brown series has quite a history, is loved worldwide and has been translated into several languages. "Yeah, a lot of languages," Danziger affirms, beaming. "It's fun to pick up a book and see her in French, or Hebrew, Spanish or Portuguese. I love it! And she's got different names. In French, she's called Lili Graffiti, in Spain she's Ã§mbar Dorado and in Brazil, she is Clara Rosa."Today, although Amber is still Amber, Danziger is introducing her to a whole new and even younger generation. Originally a chapter book series, Amber and her best pal Justin are now bouncing into the little hands of beginning readers and this time in full color. The illustrator, Tony Ross, has added another dimension to Amber Brown's world. His artwork "adds even more humor to the story," according to Danziger. The first two titles in the new A is for Amber series, It's Justin Time, Amber Brownand What a Trip, Amber Brown are written with second graders in mind, but are by no means any less saucy, perky or lovable than the originals. Given the abundant changes in our lives since the original Amber Brown stories, such as cell phones, e-mail, etc., how has Danziger had to modify the new Amber Brown from the original? "I try to be careful because technology changes so much over the years," she says, "but some things don't change. Kids and parents have disagreements, kids try to manipulate, parents try to sit down with rules and regs. That part never changes."Danziger is also sensitive to the ever-changing structure of a "typical" American family. "I thought the first one, Amber Brown is Not a Crayon, would be a Ã”one-of,'" Danziger confesses. "I didn't expect to be doing a whole bunch of Amber Browns. And because it was just one book, and the father had moved away, I didn't realize I was going to have to deal more with shared custody, divorce and all those issues." But she does courageously and always with just the right amount of humor, and reliably, in perfect kid-speak.
With a reach that spans from picture book readers to young adults, Danziger's characters have always fallen into timeless themes of growing up and learning lessons. None of her characters are flawless, and none are villainous to the core. This is especially true in Amber Brown's world. "Amber Brown is not a perfect child. She doesn't always use her best judgment, she gets into jams and makes lots of mistakes." Danziger quickly interjects, "And Amber's parents make goofs, too. Probably why so many kids identify with her and her family. She doesn't always say or do the right things, and she doesn't have to. Mistakes are growth and we learn not to do it again. But it doesn't make you a terrible person. That's important to me."That also seems to be important to Danziger's worldwide audience. She's well published in England where she had a regular television segment in the UK, and her books are found on tape and in multi-title collections. Danziger's books continue to impact real lives. She still receives letters about Amber Brown is Not a Crayon, a story about best friends moving away. Parents will buy two and give one to each child when that same situation arises.
Look for the next two A is for Amber Brown titles in 2002, plus other books for older kids, too. "I've just finished another book with Scholastic about a sixth grader, The United Tates of America," she laughs. "That was fun." Then Danziger continues in a more serious tone, "So there's a range, but I will not do a book about Amber when she leaves sixth grade. These new books are easy-to-reads, then the next level up are the chapter books, and that's where Amber will stay."Sharing the A is for Amber series with beginning readers could be a trip down nostalgia lane, reminding the older generation of the terrific humor and the ease with which Danziger writes, juggling some very serious topics with silly puns and believable character relationships. A dazzling writer, that Danziger.