“E-mergency” by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer

E-mergency is illustrated and written  by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer.  It was inspired by Ezra, a 15-year-old student and an expert animator, who created a short animation video titled  Alphabet House.  Kids of all ages and adults will enjoy the wit and humor, and laugh out loud when they read E-mergency.  Lichtenheld used ink, pencils and pastels to create his very detailed, bold and colorful illustrations.  Brilliant and funny!

All the letters of the alphabet live together in a big house.   The letters  rush downstairs for breakfast one morning, when E tumbles down the stairs.  It’s an E-mergengy!  A takes action and asks J to call 911.  The EMT’s arrive and take E to the hospital.  But, who will take E‘s place?  The obvious choice is O, who is well-rounded.  All the letters jump into action.  An announcement is made on television shows and in newspapers to alert the public that E is out of service and O will stand in.  “Pormanont injury could occur if pooplo uso E.”  D and C “travol to Washington to alort the govornmont.”  For some reason, E, is not recovering and the other letters must find the culprit who has been “disoboying tho lottor law!”  E-mergency is a cleverly crafted and illustrated book.

Author Interview With Tom Lichtenheld

Tom has joined us today to discuss the intriguing story behind E-mergency and his collaboration with Ezra Fields-Meyer.   Released Oct. 19 by Chronicle Books,  E-mergency has been named one of the Best Picture Books for 2011.  It also received a starred review the Booklist.  He is the author of 15 books, three of which have been NYT bestsellers:  Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, Shark Vs. Train and Duck! Rabbit!  

How did you first learn about Ezra and his “Alphabet House” video?

Tom Fields-Meyer, a freelance journalist, decided to write a memoir about raising his son Ezra, who has high-functioning autism. As part f his research, Tom read other memoirs, among them Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.   Tom contacted Amy for advice and mentioned in passing that Ezra had an idea for a children’s book about animals.  Amy mentioned it to me and told me Ezra had done a video on YouTube called Alphabet House.

I viewed the video and was immediately intrigued by the idea of a letter being injured, wondering what would happen as a result.  Of course, everyone knows a person can’t work when they’re in the hospital, so I figured the same would be true of a letter; it would have to be taken out of commission while recovering and temporarily replaced by a substitute letter.  Chaos and hilarity would certainly ensue, especially if the injured letter was ‘E’, the most frequently used letter in the English language.

I contacted Tom and asked if Ezra would be interested in seeing what I could do to extend the story into a book, and he was very excited by the prospect.  From there, I wrote a first draft, sketched out the first half of the book, and put together a proposal for Victoria Rock, my editor at Chronicle Books.  Victoria loved the idea, so we were off and running.

Did you work closely with Ezra, and did he have specific ideas about what he wanted incorporated into the book?

Ezra’s big contribution was his video, which established the all-important, fundamental idea about of the story; one of the letters getting injured and being taken to the hospital.  From there, I had a pretty clear idea of what would happen as  a result of the mishap, so I wrote the manuscript then sent it to Ezra so he could see it taking shape.  One of the comments  I got from Ezra says a lot about him;  he asked that I give every letter a role in the story.  I took it to heart and, I think, delivered on it.  We’ve never met in person, but we had a wonderful Skype visit after the book was done, and I feel like I know him just from hearing stories from his dad and reading his dad’s book.

Were there any surprises for you?

After the book was done, Ezra went over it with his uniquely  analytical eye and, of course, found a couple of minor inconsistencies.  For instance, the front endpaper introduces the cast of the book, that being an alphabet, including  a question mark and an exclamation mark.  Ezra asked me why the period wasn’t included, since he appears once in the corner of a page.  I had to admit the oversight, but I wasn’t surprised so much as humbled by his exacting analysis.

I’m sure Ezra learned a lot from you, but what did you gain from the collaboration?

As much as I’m thrilled with the book we created together, meeting and learning about Ezra made the process of creating it a uniquely joyful and inspiring experience.  As I read Tom’s book, Following Ezra, I sent occasional notes to him about what I was learning.

  • I learned that The Social Contract, that unwritten agreement that allows societies to live in relative harmony, is a dauntingly complicated and contradictory arrangement when seen through the eyes of a literalist.
  • It occurred to me that people with autism are just doing in the extreme what the rest of us are doing every day; trying to find order in a disorderly world and seeking experiences that make us feel alive.
  • I remember thinking this after I read “The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime,” and learning about Ezra confirmed it;  we all exhibit traits of autism to varying degrees.  Who among us hasn’t been limited by some kind of social awkwardness, lack of self-awareness or irrational, ritualistic behavior?  Speaking for myself, there are times when I’ve felt like Ezra might be not only more well-adjusted than I am, but also more insightful!
  • I gained a new respect for Judaism, for its emphasis on memory, rituals, and healing a broken world.
  • Most of all, Following Ezra made me realize the healing power of patience, creativity, family, and community.

The Wall Street Journal  recently published an article written by Tom Fields-Meyer called “Embracing Ezra.”

Is Ezra still creating animations?  Is that his dream?

According to his father, Ezra created Alphabet House at age 12.   “Now he’s a tenth grader, and still very interested in animation.  He takes classes at a remarkable program in L.A. called Media Enrichment Academy, which trains special-needs children to use technology to express themselves in all sorts of creative ways.  He spent nearly two years on a detailed parody of the opening title sequence of “The Simpsons.”  He has a great sense of humor and a wonderful talent for drawing funny faces.   More recently he created a short movie based on a Shel Silverstein poem about two cardboard boxes who become friends.   He does dream about a career as an animator.  He also loves animals, and thinks about a career as a zookeeper.  Maybe he’ll end up animating animals.  Or zookeepers.”

What do you like best about your book?

I’d like to think it hits the sweet spot where silliness meets educational value.  I worked with a reading specialist to make sure it includes lots of language lessons within the jokes, so there’s some method to the madness.  If it’s embraced by children and teachers alike, I’ll know I’ve reached my goal.  As far as content goes, my favorite bit is where the letters are gathered around the Liberty Bell and they spell  out “THUD” while one of them says, “It just doosn’t havo tho samo ring to it, doos it?”  I giggled to myself as I drew that one.

Do you have any new books in the works that I can mention?

Yes, I have a book called Zero the Hero, written by Joan Holub, that will be released Feb. 28, 2012.  On my drawing board right now is a super-clever book written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Thank you Tom for the interview!  Best wishes to you and Ezra for a successful book launch of E-mergency!  


Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

34 thoughts on ““E-mergency” by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer

  1. Great interview! I just heard about this book yesterday when I read an interview with him on a different blog. It looks cute. I love his illustration work =)


    • Amanda, I’m so happy you heard/read about Tom Lichtenheld on another blog! This is an outstanding book and I want everyone to know about it and the story behind it! I was so lucky to have Tom agree to an interview. Thanks! Pat


  2. Patricia,

    Great interview. E-mergency sounds like a super fun book. I especially enjoyed reading about what Tom learned while reading Following Ezra. I’m intrigued by that book as well.
    Thanks so much for letting us know about both of these books.


    • Ruth, I am so glad you enjoyed the review and interview! This book really captivated me. I have ordered the dad’s book as I want to read it — especially since I review so many books on autism. I found what Tom took away very interesting. Again thanks. – Pat


    • Abby, So glad you liked the selection and the interview. This was such a great story to tell. Tom was so easy to work with and his book is funny but educational. Great fun! Being involved in the Platform Building Campaign, really helped me meet so many writers and blogger. And, I have learned so much from all of you about new books and authors. I hope it is mutual. – Pat


  3. Great questions Pat, and I love how Tom took real time to answer them in depth. I love all that he learnt through Ezra, the book ‘Following Ezra’ (which I would like to read) and the whole project. I do agree that we all have autistic traits to varying degree.

    I have already come across some of Tom’s work as some of his books have been translated into French. I love the humour in this one. I am pretty sure it is going to sell very well!

    I do hope Ezra continues to nurture his creative gift too.

    Thank you Tom and Pat!


    • I knew you would like his humor in this book Joanna! It sounds like Ezra really loves animation and I appreciated learning more about the Media Enrichment Academy that he attends. I hope he follows his dream. Yes, I think we’ll see it on the NYT bestseller list. I also liked his comments about the father’s book — made me think! I bet I know which books have been translated into French. Great book for the school room!


  4. Hi Pat, I love that you interviewed Tom Lichtenheld. E-mergency sounds like it would be a perfect read for my daughter who loves silly books.

    Also, thanks for the kind words you left on my blog today!


    • Jennifer, I’m happy you enjoyed the book and interview. It is very silly, yet educational. Tom is such a great illustrator — your daughter will love all of the detail! And, such a great story. Hope you viewed Ezra’s video. — Pat


  5. Pingback: ‘The healing power of patience, creativity, family, and community’

      • Patricia,
        Thank *you* for the wonderful interview and for posting Ezra’s video. Ezra is thrilled, and we feel particularly lucky that his partner in this project is Tom Lichtenheld, an lovely human being. People talk about “curing” autism or worry about how to “fix” their children. But how much poorer our world would be without people like Ezra, who think in their own unique and creative ways. Only a mind like his could have come up with the idea for “Alphabet House,” because that’s the way he think. It’s so much better — for everyone — to honor that than to try to change it.


      • Tom and Ezra,
        It was my pleasure. I was so excited when Tom Lichtenheld mentioned E-mergency to me in September, and his collaboration with Ezra. I couldn’t wait for its release! Ezra’s idea for the book is extraordinary. He is such a gifted young man. Ezra’s story is compelling and he’s fortunate to have you share it with the world. I couldn’t agree more with your philosophy about honoring those like Ezra. I look forward to reading your book. I know we will hear great things from Ezra as his hopes and dreams are realized!


  6. This is such an excellent review and interview — I was so impressed to see you’d interviewed the author! And the comments being left here must be really warming your heart. Ezra sounds like such a wonderful young man, and Tom sounds like a thoughtful, caring, and funny author. What a team!

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ll be sending the link on to Bev and Wendy, as I often do.


    • Thank you so much Beth. I knew you’d like the E-mergency and the story that inspired Tom to collaborate with Ezra. The book is very funny! I appreciate your sending the interview to Bev and Wendy, as I know of their interest. Looking forward to the upoming release of Bev’s new book “Falling for Henry.”


  7. I love Tom Lichtenheld – how cool that you got to interview him!

    And on another note entirely, if you still want to enter the Halloweensie Contest you can! Due to the impossible snow, the whole contest got delayed, so jump in!!! 🙂


    • Thanks Susanna for stopping by. I like Tom’s books too. This was such a fun book with a great bacjstory! Glad you enjoyed the review!

      Plan to review some of your books after the first of the year, as I have fallen in love with some of your work! I may still send the story — don’t know why I didn’t post on Monday. After I published this interview, I didn’t want to confuse people.


  8. Wow, what a great cast of characters! And such an original perspective on them. Great job, Patricia giving us this interview and video. Several interesting people you gave us a look-see at. Thanks for this post. 🙂


    • Clar, I thought you’d like this! Am so glad you enjoyed the story of Tom and Ezra’s collaboration. I hope you saw his Dad’s thank you and comments to me — he has such a beautiful outlook and perspective of autism. Again, thank you for visiting. – Pat


  9. Thankyou Pat for this lovely review and interview. You were right I was very interested in this as I have already read about this book on another blog, and I have visited Tom’s Blog and seen the trailer a few times already. Love his books. He has a very fun and gentle way with children, it shows in his books. Great interview Pat and loved that they commented here, so cool. Really appreciated this, thanks Pat.


    • Thank you Diane. Am glad that you E-mergency and liked the book! I agree his books are fun, but also have a sensitivity to them. Glad you checked out his blog. So much to learn from him on his site — especially about his wonderful illustratistrative work. He has fun with kids too. – Pat


  10. Patricia, I loved reading this interview! I have several of Tom Lichtenheld’s books in my school library. E-Emergency is going to be on my next order! Since I work with all grade levels in my school, I see our autistic students on a nearly daily basis. These kids are so dear to me, and I love that Tom collaborated with Ezra on this project-I have no doubt that it was a humbling experience for Tom. I learn something new from these children every day.


    • Kelly, I know, aren’t his books great. I’ve reviewed a number of them. I am so happy that “E-mergency” will find a place in your school library. You must find your work very fulfilling — I think many have a lot of talent and it will be fun to watch them transition into adulthood. Ezra is a good example. Glad you liked the book I mentioned. I’m reviewing it now and saving it for later. It’s a good book for the library. Most of the kids don’t know about the march. Thanks for stopping by.


  11. Pingback: Perfect Picture Books Friday-“E-mergency” | Clarbojahn's Blog

  12. Pingback: Following Ezra – Austism Spectrum « Children's Books Heal

  13. Pingback: E-Mergency – CYBILS Fiction Picture Book 2012 | Miss Marple's Musings

  14. Hi Patricia, I just got a hold of E-mergency and was intrigued by the fact that Ezra (who is unknown to me until now) illustrated a book by Tom Lichtenheld and was more amazed that Ezra is a teenager. So I Googled Ezra and found this wonderful interview by you. Thank you for this inspiring story. I’ve seen you in the kidlit community so it’s nice to run onto you again.


    • Romele, I looked at your blog and it seems like we know many people in common. Thank you so much for your lovely comments about my review of E-mergency and the interview with Tom Lichtenheld (who is wonderful to work with). Autism Awareness Month is launched worldwide next Tuesday, April 2 — so I will turn my website blue as I’m doing some book reviews and interviews. I received a note from a mother’s whose atistic adult son has written a quirky MG book. So will review his book, but also include comments from the mother and son about kids transitioning into adulthood. There are a lot of talented kids out there.

      Good luck with your book. I have gotten behind and forgotten Donna Martin will be doing the Book Fair. Thanks for the reminder.


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