Erin Danielle Russell is the co-author of the Dork Diaries series of illustrated middle grade novels along with her mother, Rachel Renée Russell. Told in a journal format and featuring art by Erin’s younger sister, Nikki Russell, the bestselling books star Nikki Maxwell, a tween girl coping with the awkwardness of middle school. To date, there are 12 titles in the series. This spring, Erin is making her solo debut with How to Trick the Tooth Fairy, a picture book about a girl named Kaylee who faces off against the Tooth Fairy in an escalating battle of pranks. We spoke with the author about her new book, the joy of connecting with young readers, and future adventures for Kaylee.
How did the idea for your first solo book emerge?
As a child, I knew Santa Claus was awesome, but I identified with the Tooth Fairy more because she was a girl like me. The idea of a magical girl or fairy who could give you gifts was exciting. I was kind of obsessed with her—a fangirl.
What I’ve taken from Dork Diaries is that you should work with your strength. And my mom has always said my writing strength is my sense of humor. So I tapped into that a lot. I thought about the stuff I would do as a kid, and the stuff I would find fun to read.
I also thought about my love for the Tooth Fairy. How awesome would it be to actually meet her? And one childhood memory I have is that I would wake up after the Tooth Fairy “visited,” and there’d be a trail of glitter from my bed to my dollhouse. It blew my mind; it made her more real to me. I’m bringing that kind of excitement to the book.
Were you a mischievous kid like Kaylee the prankster?
I was a little mischievous. I did like to joke with my sister and my parents. I remember I had some fake ants, and I made a trail of them, leading into my parents’ bedroom. I’d yell, “Oh my God! Look at all these ants!” But I’m pretty sure my parents knew they were fake because they weren’t moving.
How was it for you, to transition from collaborating on the Dork Diaries series into writing independently?
I have so much respect for my mom because she made it look easy to write and market a book. It’s definitely a learning experience, but she has been a great help in guiding me and giving me good advice. I recently shared the book with my family and they loved it. They’re really cheering me on, and I’m so thankful to have them in my corner.
Working on a picture book was a bit different because the artwork is so important. I had to think about how to make sure that the words matched the images, to show and not tell. Jennifer Hansen Rolli, the illustrator for the book, did an amazing job interpreting what I wrote. Simon & Schuster and Jennifer were very generous in listening to my ideas. They would send me artwork and let me give them my feedback. I would give a few notes like, “In this scene, I envision food flying everywhere.” And they would go with it. Jennifer then made a great picture of Kaylee with ice cream all over her. We worked really well with each other.
Do you see this being a standalone book, or might there be more stories for Kaylee?
Right now, I am working on a possible sequel to How to Trick the Tooth Fairy. She’ll be meeting new mystical and mischievous creatures.
Starting May 1, I’ll be visiting schools and bookstores, and doing a few festivals. I have fond memories of meeting young readers for the Dork Diaries. We would have fans tell us that reading the books got them through really hard times in their lives, or helped them adjust to middle school. To have that kind of impact on a reader is very inspirational to me. I’m honored we can change lives.
I started writing and drawing at a very young age, so to all the children who say they want to become an author or an illustrator one day, I say: don’t lose that inspiration. Keep drawing and keep writing.
How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell, illus. by Jennifer Hansen Rolli. Aladdin, $17.99 May ISBN 978-1-4814-6732-2