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Paula Danzinger and ''Amber Brown''

The children’s book author uses her 11-year-old niece’s experiences — and her own — in her latest story

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Maybe it’s her honesty or her respect for young people. Then again, maybe it’s her penchant for slipping gross jokes into her stories.

Whatever her secret, Paula Danziger speaks kids’ language. When the successful children’s book author (The Cat Ate My Gymsuit) visits grade schools to talk to youngsters, she begins with a preemptive strike: ”Please do not play with the Velcro on your shoes.”

Of course she’s joking. Danziger, 49, regards children as friends. This holds especially true for her niece, Carrie. The spunky 11-year-old once told her about a pizza party at school. ”It was a going-away party for her best friend,” Danziger says, ”and [as she was talking about it] she started to cry.” What began as a two-page sympathy card of sorts became Danziger’s latest book: Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon. Both poignant and playful, Amber Brown evolved from Danziger’s desire to make kids feel better while acknowledging the sadness of losing a friend.

Amber Brown also made Danziger feel better. ”For the year I was working on the book, I thought it was about Carrie,” she says. ”But I had a friend who was dying of AIDS. I didn’t realize it was really about me.” Danziger says people pester her to write an adult work or a serious children’s book. With Amber Brown, she’s done both.