When Oliver grew up … she became a children’s author

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — When resident Erica Brown Oliver saw her children being asked the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as young as 5 years old, she had flashbacks to trying to answer the same question as a young person and not knowing what to say.

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know. Am I supposed to know?’” Oliver, who works in marketing, said in an email interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Aug. 3.

So to try to solve this problem, Brown wrote a book. “When I Grow Up … Just Imagine” is a children’s book aimed at children ages 7 to 13, or approximately second through seventh grade. The book describes different careers and leaves space for young readers to take notes and record questions.

“I didn’t want my children or any other child to feel the pressure of that question at such a young age. I wanted to give them exposure to as many professions as possible,” Oliver said. “When my children were in elementary school, I was heavily involved in the PTA and coordinated a few career days. … This has always been important to me.”

The author’s children were also given exposure to the publishing process of the book, which was self-published. Son Brendan David Oliver illustrated, and daughter Madison Michelle Oliver edited it.

“When I visualized the book in my mind, I knew I wanted to have illustrations. My son Brendan sketches, therefore asking him if he wanted to work on illustrations was a no-brainer,” Erica Brown Oliver said. “In thinking of who could proofread the book, I immediately thought of my daughter Madison. She has always excelled in grammar and English language arts. Why not have my smart and talented children help out?”

Both Brendan and Madison Oliver enjoyed being a part of the project, especially as it gave the youngsters a chance to get hands-on experience with some possible future professions.

“I liked thinking of ideas of what to sketch for each profession,” Brendan Oliver said in an email to the Chronicle on Aug. 3.

Madison Oliver said that while reading through the book and looking for grammatical errors, she learned about careers that had been previously unknown to her.

“It was fun,” she said in an email to the Chronicle on Aug. 3. “It was interesting reading through it and checking for errors. I learned a lot about many professions.”

Having her children be part of the process was one reason Erica Brown Oliver enjoyed self-publishing the book. She was able to have total control, from writing the first draft to when the book became available for purchase.

“It was an amazing experience. I wanted to have full control and that’s what self-publishing allows,” she said. “You can write what you want, set your own pace and publish when you are ready.”

She wanted to put the passion that many adults have for their careers on the display, and to do that she started talking to her friends. The book features artists, lawyers, producers, physicians, entrepreneurs, business executives and engineers all giving young people insight into what they do for a living.

“I’ve had conversations with friends on whether they are doing what they truly love to do, pursuing their passions, if they even know what they’re passionate about, what it feels like to work your passion,” Erica Brown Oliver said. “And because I enjoy what I do I could attest to the feeling of doing something you truly love to do and what it feels like. I wanted to put that into words and try to explain to the reader, how to identify that feeling, how to tune in to their passion. I started with my friends. I have some awesome friends in some great professions. Every featured professional is a friend or a friend’s friend.”

Included with each professional’s interview is a photo of them when they were around the reader’s age — middle school yearbook photos are scattered throughout, allowing young people to visually relate to whom they are reading about, according to Erica Brown Oliver.

Though the book is geared toward elementary and middle school students, the author has found that they are not the only people finding it helpful. High school students can benefit too, as well as adults reading it with their children.

“I am receiving feedback from parents that they themselves are benefiting from the book,” she said. “I start the book introducing ‘14 Thought Bubble Tips’ — ideas and concepts to help the reader find and pursue their passions — that are relevant for any age. I also included a letter to parents and guardians letting them know that it is not too late for them to find and pursue their passions. I also have parents getting the book for their high school child.”

The local author is getting interest from schools across the country that want to incorporate the book into their classrooms, and she already has professionals in mind to write a second edition. Until then, she hopes “When I Grow Up … Just Imagine” can be a resource for young people to return to again and again.

“I wanted the young reader to be open to learning about as many professions as they can find on their own, starting with their own parents,” Erica Brown Oliver said. “I want this book to keep the reader engaged. I want them to continually refer back to it.”

“When I Grow Up … Just Imagine” is available for purchase at amazon.com and at www.whenigrowupjustimagine.com.