Interview Alert: Howard Pearlstein

It’s my pleasure to welcome multi-published children’s author and advertising creative director Howard Pearlstein to Frog On A Blog. Howard has four picture books coming out this year, so this is the perfect time to learn more about him and his books. Howard enjoys collaborating with his daughter Amanda Pearlstein, and two of his upcoming books, Tribeca and The Liebrary, are coauthored with her. Let’s chat a bit with Howard.

How did you begin you picture book writing career?

My picture book career began in 2018. I was an advertising creative director at the time, and still am, but I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work, and the guest said something along the lines of, “We spend our best years giving our creativity away to other people.” I can’t remember the podcast or who the person was that said that, but it struck a chord with me. Advertising is literally just that – giving your creativity away to other people. I looked back at my career and was proud of the work I had done, but I had nothing personal to show for it. I started thinking about what I could do for myself and realized that ads are like little stories, where the words and pictures have to work together to communicate a message. I figured if I could do these little stories, I could write little stories for children.

When I got home, I told my wife I was going to write picture books. She, of course, supported me, but I actually had no idea how to do it. So I Googled, “How to write a picture book.” That’s how my career began.

Why do you like to write stories for children?

I have precious memories of reading to my daughters when they were young. The thought that parents might be reading my stories to their children – and creating these memories – is pretty cool. If the stories teach children something along the way, entertain them, or make them feel some sort of emotion, even better. From a practical standpoint, I like writing stories for children because I can complete them quickly.

Amanda Pearlstein, Howard’s daughter and picture book coauthor.

How does your experience as an advertising creative director influence the way you write picture books?

My advertising background has been the perfect experience for writing picture books. In many ways, the process is similar:

  • You have to come up with a concept on how you will communicate an idea.
  • You have to understand who your target audience is and what motivates them.
  • You need to know what goals you’re trying to achieve.
  • You then need to create words and visuals that go together to tell the story in the most creative way possible.
  • You also need to use the fewest words possible to get across your message.
  • You want the final product to be something that speaks to the audience on an emotional level since that’s what sells.

I mentioned before that I write quickly, and that has everything to do with my advertising background. We work under extremely tight deadlines, and when there’s a due date, that’s when the project has to be complete. That structure forces you to be creative quickly.

What do you love most about picture books?

I love that picture books have limitless opportunities to tell any story in any way imaginable. The stories can be reality-based or complete fantasy. They can be wordless or rhyme or be told from any perspective. The possibilities for what a picture book can be are truly endless.

Who are your favorite picture book authors and illustrators?

My favorite picture book author and illustrator is Dr. Seuss. His work, both in the stories and the visuals, were groundbreaking, which is why they remain so popular today. Plus, he made rhyming seem effortless – something that is definitely not effortless.

Congratulations on your four upcoming books! Please give us just a little taste of each one and tell us what inspired you to write them.

My oldest daughter Amanda, a lawyer with the department of justice, called me one day and said I should write a picture book about the three-legged cat she and her girlfriend had fostered and that was eventually adopted by a family with a three-legged dog. I told her it was a great idea, but I’d only write it if she wrote it with me. She agreed, and we wrote the story from Tribeca’s perspective about the thoughts and fears a foster cat could have.

I realized one day that the word “library” sounds the same if it’s spelled “liebrary.” This was around the time that the term “fake news” was in the news a lot, and people tended to believe whatever story aligned with their viewpoints – no matter how fantastical or unrealistic the stories might have been. I thought it would be interesting to tell a story about the consequences of believing everything you read without thinking critically about what is actually being said. I wrote a draft and thought it was okay, but knew it could be better. So I emailed it to Amanda and said, “Make this better.” Sure enough, she took my Corolla of a story and transformed it into a Lexus.

My youngest daughter Emily has always been very empathetic. One of the things that upset her the most, from a young age, was seeing old men eating by themselves. I have no idea why. But I took this idea of an old man eating alone and thought about how I could transform this sad premise into something else. While the story has sadness and deals with dying, it gives the reader an opportunity to look at loss from a different perspective.

My wife and I went out to breakfast one day, and it seemed like every parent was on his or her phone rather than paying attention to their children. When the kids started getting antsy, the parents gave them their phones to occupy them. I thought this was incredibly sad to see families barely interacting with each other. I remembered a story from when I was little about a boy who pushed vegetables onto his fork with his thumb, even though his parents told him not to. He kept doing it and one day vegetables started growing from his thumb. At first it was cool, but then the vegetables grew out of control. I thought a similar premise could work for a boy who’s addicted to his device and then realizes the consequences. I wanted this story to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of choosing devices over people.

Where can fans connect with you or find your books online?

IG: howard.pearlstein

Twitter: @HowPearlstein

Howard Pearlstein is a picture book author and advertising creative director who has worked on some of the world’s most popular brands, including Toyota, Verizon, and Mitsubishi. A California native, Howard now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife Debi. Howard has three daughters, Amanda, Jacquie, and Emily, who live across the country, and one dog, Maeby, who still lives at home.