By Laetitia Clayton - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- As part of the winter reading program at Handley Regional Library, two children's authors will visit this month to read and sign their books and interact with children.
"Chicken Butt!" author Erica Perl will be at Handley Library in Winchester on Saturday at 1 p.m. to read, play games and sing.
Perl, who lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children, said by phone recently that "Chicken Butt!" -- her newest picture book -- will be the main focus of her visit.
It has dialogue and is a book that parents and children "can really read together," she said. "Usually when I do an event, it's family participating with the kids."
The title for "Chicken Butt!" comes from an old childhood joke, "You know what?" "What?" "Chicken Butt!"
The book focuses on a young boy trying to get his father's attention away from reading a newspaper. The child gets sillier throughout the book, coming up with new jokes along the way. There are call-and-response parts for parent and child.
Perl said her own children, who are 6 and 10, help her with the writing process.
"They're always my first audience," she said. "I read [the books] aloud and find out what's funny. They give me ideas, too."
Perl said she has been writing since she herself was a child, and her first poem was published in the children's literary magazine Cricket when she was 8 years old.
"I guess I always wanted to be a children's book writer," she said. "I've always had a passion for children's books. I guess because when I was a kid reading, it was one of my favorite things."
Her other books "Chicken Bedtime is Really Early" (2005) and "Ninety-Three in My Family" (2006), also involve chickens and are for readers 2 to 8 years old.
"Chickens are funny," Perl said. "They were never my favorite animal. They're just silly."
Perl also has written a young-adult novel, out this month, called "Vintage Veronica." It centers around a 15-year-old girl who has a job at a vintage clothing store, Perl said. It includes some dramas at the store, and ultimately leads to Veronica learning about herself and "finding her way socially," she said.
"I always try and lead with the story and the humor, and I always sort of like there to be some sort of message underneath," without being "message-y," Perl said of her writing style.
When she isn't writing, Perl said she enjoys visiting with groups to read her books and "being able to connect with kids on that level."
She said she also hopes to create an opportunity for parents to get together with their children through reading.
"I always want it just to be a positive experience for kids about books and reading and what a joy it is," Perl said. "Anytime you sit down with a child to read a book, it brings you closer."
Also this month, author Cece Bell, who wrote the Sock Monkey series, will visit Bowman Library in Stephens City at 1 p.m. on March 27. She will read from her books and take the children through a drawing period. Bell's most recent book, "Itty Bitty," is about a tiny dog who finds an enormous bone and turns it into his new home.
Both authors will read and sign their books, which will be for sale on site by Winchester Book Gallery.
The authors' visits are sponsored by a grant from Target and are part of the statewide winter reading program from the Library of Virginia, said Jennifer Sutter, the children's librarian at Handley Library in Winchester.
The state program's theme is "Snuggle up with Peter Rabbit," and focuses on children 18 months to 4 years old, with an emphasis on having the child's parent or other special adult read to them.
Sutter said Handley's theme is "Read to Your Bunny," and is for babies through early elementary. All three Handley branches will have events going on throughout this month, she said, and participants can register for the program at any of the three branches -- Winchester, Stephens City or Clarke County.
"When they register, they'll get a book log," Sutter said.
Participants take the book log home and use it to keep track of what they read during March. For every book a child reads, he or she gets a sticker to place on a sticker sheet supplied by the library.
"There are also activities for children and parents to do together, and they are bilingual" for the Spanish-speaking community, Sutter said.
But the authors are the highlight of the monthlong program, she said.
"It kind of brings the book to life in a different way," she said. "It's a little more exciting if the author who wrote the book is presenting it. [The children] can meet them and get their autograph."
For more information on the winter reading program, visit www.hrl.lib.state.va.us/handley or www.lva.virginia.gov. For information on the authors, visit ericaperl.com or cecebell.wordpress.com/.