Friday, October 26, 2012

Friendspiration Friday: Dr. Mira Reisberg

Dr. Mira Reisberg is known to many as the Picture Book Whisperer.  That is the reason why I decided to take an online class through her Picture Book Academy this past fall.  However, it is her generosity, her enthusiasm and her warmth that make Mira a Friendspiration.

When a writer shares their work with someone with the intent of critique it can be quite daunting.  Afterall, each writer thinks of their manuscripts as one of their children.  But in Mira's hands, manuscripts are nurtured and cared for. 

It is my great pleasure to introduce you to a truly fabulous lady and friend...Dr. Mira Reisberg!

What do you do in real life?
In real life I am the Director of the Picture Book Academy where I teach my own picture book e-courses. I also do individual consultations helping authors and/or illustrators create their own successful picture books. I’m kind of a one-trick pony - picture books, picture books, picture books : ) I also write my own stories and illustrate as well as make art for the sheer joy of it. I have a very rich life full of purpose, love, and joy.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I grew up in a very working-class neighborhood to Holocaust survivor parents who had lost everything during the war. We were greatly encouraged from very early on to be creative as a way of channeling feelings and dealing with life. I was always an overachiever, and besides getting in trouble a lot, I was often sent to the headmaster’s office to read my stories to him as everyone seemed to like them. Although I always loved writing, I was much more drawn to making art. I fell into illustrating children’s picture books from an exhibition that the publisher of Children’s Book Press saw and loved saw and from there I fell into writing as well.

I don’t think I was a very good writer until I studied for my PhD and developed more of my left brain because although I was always very creative and innovative, there were too many things that I didn’t know about being a good writer. I learned more about the formal structures of writing and how to read picture books much more critically. I now do this in my free picture book teaching videos every Monday at

How often to do you write? Where? What time of day?
I write a lot because I tend to do a lot of line edits for critiques in my courses and in my individual consultations. In terms of my own writing, this is totally weird, but I do my best writing when someone is driving in a comfy car and I’m sitting in the passenger seat on 1 hour or more freeway trips. Weird I know, but there it is. I still do most of my writing old school by hand and if my assistant Marge is there, she types it up for me then I revise. In terms of time, it’s pretty random but I do at least 6 hours of different kinds of writing every day.

What was your favorite story/book as a child? and why?
Growing up in Australia, our books were different than yours here and were mostly from England. The book that influenced me the most was The Water-babies by Charles Kingsley. It’s a Victorian era book that helped influence the Chimney Sweep Act of 1864 and is a mix of both progressive and regressive politics within a strange otherworldly densely written story. At the time I had no idea of the political subtexts in the story but wonder how much influence it had on my social justice orientation. Of course as a really young child, what impacted me most were the exquisite illustrations and dreaminess of the basic story of a young runaway chimney sweep who dies and is reborn underwater. I have no idea who the illustrator was as the book has been reprinted many times and I’ve never been able to find that version. I also wrote about it as part of my dissertation on children’s picture books and have since written a more in-depth article that I haven’t sent out anywhere yet.

What kind of stories do you like to write? Where do you get your inspiration?
I’m a bit all over the board in terms of what I write. I have a biography on Buckminster Fuller that’s in front of an agent panel right now, a simple rhyming animal book about actions and opposites for really young kids, an imagining of who Mona Lisa might have been, a fun insect book called “A Fly Walks into a Café,” oh and a super weird story called “10 Jews in Search of a Story” that I’m revising for the millionth time from a totally different perspective despite having dummied it up with illustrations twice - groan. I wish I was as good a writer for myself as I am an editor for others where it’s so easy to see what exactly is going on and what’s needed. I guess it’s like seeing and fixing other people’s problems versus seeing and fixing your own - sigh. I’m also pretty dreadful at sending my work out. Wondering if that’s familiar to others here?

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be an artist. This was in the days when being an artist was like being a criminal and pretty much confined you to a life of poverty. My dad who had been in Paris after the war and seen the starving artists there would say, “Artist shmartist. Be a teacher!” And here I am many years later - an artist, a writer, and a teacher to many award-winning and best-selling authors and illustrators.

If you could go back in time and tell your 8 year old self one thing, what would it be?
I’d use this great quote from my exquisite 86 year old mom-in-law’s fridge (she’s becoming a Buddhist). “In the end, everything will work out fine. And if it hasn’t worked out fine- then it isn’t the end.” This could apply to most kids’ picture books as well : )

What is the greatest piece of writing advice you have ever received?
This is such a hard one. Not sure if it’s the greatest or even where I heard it but one of my favorites that I tell my students is: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Now of course this doesn’t apply to non-fiction but it’s still pretty handy working with folks who are doing stories based on something that happened to them or in their families. Another one is the old KISS - keep it simple stupid, which mostly means for me simplifying and getting rid of anything extraneous that doesn’t move the story forward or isn’t of core importance. I find it super helpful.


Marcie - thank you for this. I really enjoyed taking a moment to reflect on things and love doing guest interviews. I also love it that we’ve become friends and can’t wait to celebrate your first big picture book sale with you!

Want to find out more about Mira and receive special offers?  Here’s the link to subscribe to her fun gift-filled newsletter

Mira's next online class starts on October 29th and there are only 6 slots left! Sign up at Mira says, "I won’t be running it again for a while because I’ll be developing and teaching an illustration e-Course next February." You don't want to be left out!


  1. Great interview, both of you! So good to get to know Mira a little better. I may have to print out the quote from your mother-in-law's fridge and put it on my own. That is excellent. So many other things I could highlight from this interview, instead I'll just say thank you to you both.

  2. Nice interview, Marcie. I enjoyed learning more about Mira. And Mira, I LOVE that quote! Your MIL sounds great.

    1. Thank you Carrie but not sure what MIL stands for... Masters In Literature? Mira's International Love?

    2. I think it's Mother In Law... just in case Carrie doesn't see your question.

    3. Thanks Beth : ) That made me laugh.

  3. Wonderful interview! Mira, you have done so much in your life. You should feel so proud. I love learning about you as a kid. I will never forget the story you once told of you reading in the bathtub. Congrats to you on the success of the academy. So happy for you!

  4. Love you too Elizabeth!!! And for those who might be curious, I shared a room with my twin sister and was always seriously nocturnal. She wasn't, so I would take my blankets into the bathtub so I could sleep there and read all night. Yep I had it bad from an early age.

  5. I know I posted a comment first thing this morning! Where did it go? I said it's lovely to get to know you a little better, Mira. I'm so impressed that with all that was going on in their lives, your parents still emphasized the importance of creativity. And I *MUST* write out that quote that your mother-in-law has on her fridge, and put it on mine! Thanks for this, Mira and Marcie!

    1. Thank you Beth : ) I'm enjoying getting to know you more too. And yes a BIG thank you to Marcie for running this wonderful blog. It's such a great resource for all of us.

  6. Fascinating interview ladies! It's always wonderful to know the stories behind the people who write stories. And to know more about Mira!

    1. Julie - Like many of us, I've had a pretty wild and sometimes challenging life. I think it makes us more empathetic and compassionate towards others and helps with the writing as well. Am looking forward to more of your stories : )

  7. This was a really wonderfully warm interview in getting to know Mira. I love her blog and videos. I could listen to her all A little surprised she thinks she's not as good a writer as she is an editor tho, must be a typing

  8. Nice interview. It is interesting and nice to hear more about you, Mira!