Author and Actor Isla Fisher on Storytelling, Her Favorite Children’s Books, and Her Series Marge in Charge
Marge in Charge is a hilarious, quirky, page-turning series by author and actress Isla Fisher. Marge is a mischievous babysitter with rainbow colored hair who gets into all sorts of trouble with her charges, Jake and Jemima Button. These fun and addictive stories will make you laugh and feel and are perfect for both reluctant and enthusiastic young readers. We got to talk to Isla about where the inspiration from Marge came from, how writing is like acting, and why writing children’s books is more important than ever.
I read in your bio that this book was inspired from stories you made up for your own kids at bedtime. Can you tell us more about this? It must be so cool for them that other kids get to read these stories too!
There’s only so long you can survive on impressions of your children’s friend’s parents or pretend to be Peppa Pig, and oink around their bedroom before you need new material. So I began making up stories in funny voices and Marge, this naughty babysitter who breaks all the rules, just became the most popular character for them. I also discovered that for emerging or reluctant readers, there weren’t that many comedic books, and laughter makes kids want to read more. It felt like there was a missed opportunity during this transitional phase of reading before kids are ready for more sophisticated authors like Roald Dahl, Jeff Kinney, and Francesa Simon. So I wanted to create material that would engage young readers but not push them beyond their years socially and emotionally.
I think a lot of young readers will wish they had Marge as their babysitter! Can you tell us a bit about her?
If my two best friends had a lovechild it would be Marge. One of them is the eternal Peter Pan who is in total denial about reality and the other tells magical amazing stories. The Marge stories are a bit like The Cat in The Hat meets My Naughty Little Sister. I find kids are used to other kids misbehaving but when grownups do it they find it hilarious. When Marge misbehaves it’s not in an intentional or mean-spirited way, but rather in a way that unlocks the other characters’ creativity. Marge does all the silly things that kids would secretly like to do, such as eating nine slices of cake at a birthday party or cooking the kids chocolate soup for dinner.
All the little problems that come up for the characters are grounded the reality and readers will take away morals from each tale. The books are split into three separate stories which makes them easily digestible for kids, while also leaving more material for parents to tell the following night. I look at it like a Netflix box series—you can binge read all the stories at once or save some for later.
What is the most fun part of writing these stories? Is there any part of being an actor that helps your writing?
All of the funny sayings, quirky incidents and moving moments in Marge are stolen from the tiny people in my life and their family and friends that I am lucky enough to know, because of that the most fun part is that I feel closer to them when I am writing from their point of view. Plus I can decide my own writing schedule around my family’s needs which is harder to do as an actress.
I suppose because Acting is also storytelling—it has helped me to create strong characters that have an emotional arc and keep all the characters’ voices sounding different on the page. As an actor, I prefer when scenes start somewhere and end somewhere surprising, so I have tried to do that with my books too. I love acting and writing equally. I get lost in both experiences—and I get to act out all the parts in my head as I am writing. Plus writing is not such a solitary pursuit as I have wonderful consistent dialogue with my editor.
What books did you love to read as a kid? Did any make you want to become a writer yourself?
I went to a different school every year from elementary through middle, so I had to learn to be funny and make friends quickly in order to shake off the stigma of being the short, red headed new girl with extra-large ears. But on the days that my comedy material sucked and no one wanted to eat lunch with me—I would hide in a book. I almost preferred reading a book to having friends as a kid. My first literary crush was on Winnie the Pooh who is STILL my favorite book character. He is just adorable—a lovable idiot. His lines are brilliant and no matter how many times I’ve heard them before I laugh. A.A Milne is one of my favorite childhood authors, along with Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton.
Books take tiny people to places they can’t go—on a pirate ship, inside a peach, through a looking glass. They help children find quiet time, provoke thoughts and discussions, and educate them. They are an integral part of childhood.
Writing kids books is a crucial endeavor, because it encourages child literacy—and as we know Child Literacy needs to be supported now more than ever.
Do Marge, Jemima, and Jake have any more adventures coming up? (We hope!)
I have a fourth and final book that came out in the UK last summer called Marge and the Secret Tunnel. There are three fun stories in that book; Marge and the Missing Kitten and Marge and the Great Shopping Race and of course Marge and the Secret Tunnel.
Marge in Charge and the Missing Orangutan is on B&N bookshelves now!