I’ve always loved to read. I stay up WAY too late to get my reading in. I remember going to the library as a child and getting so many Babysitter’s Club books at one time, I could barely get them to the car! Now as a mom, teacher and author, I have probably read thousands of children’s books over the years- and I LOVE reading them. When I visit the library, I’m not only loaded down with “grown up” books, but books to read to my students, my own children and to use for research as an author. Last week, I was struck by the thought- I want to review books. I read kid’s books all of the time and I enjoy reading book reviews. People ask me to recommend books for their children, so I decided to go for it! I am super excited for this opportunity to share some children’s books with you and to support fellow authors.
I’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Gerlach. Elizabeth was born and raised in Virginia (and now resides in the Chicago area). After college, Elizabeth began a career in marketing, then became a stay at home mom when she and her husband had triplets in 2012. Their son Ben suffered complications due to prematurity and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He passed away before his fourth birthday. To honor him, Elizabeth established the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation and developed the children’s book series Ben’s Adventures.
“My world came to a halt on May 2, 2016 in the PICU of Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. This is the day my young son’s heart stopped beating while I held him in my arms. Up until this moment, I was a mom to triplets, a mom to a special needs boy, a mom trying to keep up with the daily grind of young kids and managing a home, a mom struggling with her purpose in this world and her identity.
Who had I even become? And what was I meant to be … now?”
I asked Elizabeth some questions about herself and her author journey:
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Until now, my writing consisted of blogs, articles, press releases and marketing copy. My interest in children’s books came after one of my triplet sons died in 2016. I felt that a story needed to be told.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? I enjoy working out, running, and reading. I shuttle my kids to their activities, I enjoy traveling and I work on marketing my books.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? Read what you enjoy. Follow influencers and authors. Attend seminars or online courses (there are some free ones). Participate in groups (in person and Facebook). Network and make connections. You’ll become inspired by things around you.
Do you hear from your readers? I do. Many times, my readers know the books are inspired by my son Benjamin who died, so I get condolence type comments, about how nice a tribute it is and how it’s a heart-warming book. I’ve also heard from many that have said the book enables their kids to ask questions about disability, which really means a lot to me because it’s part of the reason I developed the books. My hope is that Ben can be relatable- that the books can show that he’s just a child who likes to dream and have fun.
What is some advice you would give your younger self? I used to always be the ‘it won’t happen to me’ kind of person, but that belief went away many years ago; I’ve been through some trials. My advice would be to breathe and figure out the best steps to move forward. Things happen for a reason; you just need to know your survival plan.
What is your favorite part about being an author? I LOVE seeing the book come to life through the illustrations. It’s exciting for me to get an email from my illustrator with a new spread. It starts to become real at that point.
Tell us about Ben Smiles. The Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation was established to gift adapted toys and devices to kids with motor challenges who are unable to access typical toys. Adapted toys are available but very expensive. We have given toys and devices to dozens of children over the past year. It’s important to impact others’ lives with positivity and important to me that I model that for my two living kids (Ben’s brother and sister).
What are you working on now? The second book in the Ben’s Adventures series is in the works. In this book, Ben takes us on an adventure to the circus, from the comfort of his preschool classroom. It’s a tribute to early childhood educators who invest so much in our kids’ development and learning. The book can be preordered now on Kickstarter. Your support, whether it’s a share, pledge or preorder, would be so much appreciated.
“After about a year of just making it through each day, I realized this was how things were meant to turn out. He was only meant to be mine for a short time. But he was going to have an impact on this world. He had fulfilled his purpose here and now it was up to me to see it out. I felt called to establish a foundation in his name.” -from Elizabeth’s website.