Those tween/teen years can be so difficult and scary—we can all remember feeling lost and alone and like we didn’t fit in. Donna Gephart remembers, and through her books that amuse, touch, and inspire, she helps to make those years just a little less scary.
When the team at School Library Connection and reVIEWS+ met her latest characters, Lily and Dunkin, we knew Gephart was someone we wanted to get to know.
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Like so many bibliophiles, Gephart’s love of books began at an early age. When her mother took her to the Northeast Regional Library, she “felt like the whole world had opened up for me. Throughout my childhood,” she tells us, “that library was a mecca to me.”
At age ten, Gephart decided to become a writer and, after “only thirty years of writing practice,” she sold her first children’s book to Random House.
When asked what inspires her to write, Gephart replied, “I write for the lonely girl I was, growing up in Philadelphia with my sister and single-parent mom. We didn’t have much money, and I didn’t have many friends back then. Books provided me companionship, wit and wisdom, and roadmaps for how I might navigate a rich, fulfilling, and creative life.” This inspiration is evident in her books. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly frivolous titles, these books deal with some weighty topics—tempered with humor and compassion. Tween/teen angst, broken families and friendships, death, financial difficulties, mental health, and sexual identity are just some of the subjects encountered within the pages where you will also find geeks, factoids (most toilets flush in the key of E-flat, a person must be at least thirty-five years old to become president of the United States, Mount Everest is on the border of Tibet and Nepal), trivia buffs, and a sweepstakes junkie. And no matter the emotional ups and downs throughout her books, you will always be left with hope when you’re done reading.
Gephart’s books are aimed primarily at middle schoolers—in fact one is titled How to Survive Middle School—but they will resonate with students both younger and older. In an election year with a woman nominee for president, As If Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President is a particularly timely one as is her latest book, Lily and Dunkin, whose main characters are a transgender girl and a bipolar boy. Gephart had this to say about how she came to write Lily and Dunkin:
In 2012, I watched a short documentary at LunaFest called I Am a Girl with my neighbor Pam. It was about a trans girl who was painfully aware of what it might mean growing up trans, but she eloquently expressed how she couldn’t be anything other than exactly who she was. When the film ended, I looked at Pam. Tears streamed down her cheeks. I was awash in emotion, too. I knew I had to write about this. It took a few years to gain the knowledge through research and the guts to write this book. Lily and Dunkin also fulfills a promise I made to our son, Andrew, who deals with bipolar disorder…I’m hopeful that some young people will find a mirror to see themselves reflected in the story and others will find windows to see the wider world with a greater capacity for understanding, empathy, and kindness.
Gephart’s ability to connect with kids through her books also makes her a perfect candidate for school visits. She loves “everything” about her visits, “the energy from the students and the enthusiasm from the faculty…seeing sparks ignite inside students…leading writing workshops in which participants are wildly creative and disarmingly honest.” And, of course, she loves the librarians about whom she says, “You are the heart of the school. You provide a safe haven and you change lives in ways you may never know. You and your library are passports for your students to explore the wider world and their interior worlds as well. YOU are my rock stars!”
You can read more about Donna Gephart and her books at http://donnagephart.com where you’ll also find reading guides, resources for writers, links for students, and a singing/dancing hamster.