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Phillis Gershator





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ABOUT ME

Here is a photo of me as a baby,
Baby picture
Phillis
                                            reading

and this one shows what happens when
you’re a hair twister––you’re subjected to
strange haircuts! But as you see, I’ve got a
book to read,
so everything is alright.


     I loved to read. I was always reading. I read so much my mother would say, “Stop reading! Go out and play!” But my mother loved to read, too, and she read to me a lot when I was young.
     I was born in New York City in 1942 and grew up in Califonia. My three sisters and brother were nine, ten, eleven, and twelve years younger, so I did a lot of babysitting. I remember being a little bit bossy.
     When I wasn’t at school or doing chores, I’d curl up in bed with a dish of sliced oranges and a pile of books. Books transported me into other worlds, fantastical and magical, and into the lives of other families and other times. It’s not surprising that when it came time for me to go out into the world and get a job, I gravitated to jobs featuring books and book making.
     First I was an order taker in my aunt and uncle’s book business. After I got married, I wrote grants with my husband to fund small press poetry books, went back to school to get a library science degree, and worked in libraries and commercial publishing. When I became a children’s librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library, it was like coming home, a natural and joyous fit.
     While writing poetry, reviews, and articles––and stories for children, too, I fantasized that someday the library’s card catalog would include MY books. (You don’t see card catalogs much these days, but if I come across one, I always look for my books!)
     For three years, when our children, a son and daughter, were very young, we lived in St. Thomas; my husband, David, taught English and Creative Writing at the College of the Virgin Islands. Back in the states by 1972, we lived in New Jersey, and then Brooklyn, and then, after our children left home to attend college, we returned to the islands in 1984. I worked as a librarian with the St. Thomas school system and Enid Baa public library.
     In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit the islands full force. What a scary experience! We lost our roof and a lot of our stuff, but we didn’t lose our lives. Some people did though, and that made me think about the future and what I really wanted to do most.
     I’d published a children’s book in 1979, so I knew it was possible. I decided to give myself a year off from work to see if I could succeed as a children’s book author. I got lucky! I sold a story! That sale encouraged me to write more and more.
     Most of the stories I write do not get published, but I keep writing. I have to, just the way I have to read. And I enjoy writing––making up a rhyme, retelling a folktale, creating a fantasy, or re-imagining the lives of friends and family (in disguise, of course). Speaking of family, here is a photo of me and David and our children, with Cousin Jan in the middle. We’re in downtown Brooklyn, and it’s around 1992.

Family photo

Here's a more recent photo, at Brooklyn's Pier #6 in 2012, taken by our friend, artist and
photographer Joan Davidson:
Phillis & David







     I write for young children, and for myself, because writing is one of my favorite things to do. Here are more favorite things from when I was young and growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s:

Being read to:

Now We Are Six
When We Were Very Young
Dr. Seuss books
Winnie the Pooh
Alice in Wonderland

Reading to myself:

Oz books
Freddy the Pig books
Little Lulu comics
Fairy Tales, red, blue, yellow...
Books by Beverly Cleary, Carolyn Haywood, Noel Streatfield, Robert Lawson, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Robert McCloskey, Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth Enright, E. B. White...
Historical fiction by Howard Fast, Stephen Meader, Gladys Malvern...

Games:

Mother-may-I, jacks, Chinese checkers,
pick-up-sticks, hopscotch, paper dolls, jump rope

Records--story records and folksongs--and radio, especially “Let’s Pretend” while eating a bowl of cereal, the sponsor’s product. I sang along with the jingle: “Cream of Wheat is so good to eat, we eat it every day.” (I can’t cook Cream of Wheat today without singing that song!)

Food:

Raw carrots, Chinese food, animal crackers,
tacos, mallomars, and...oranges.