Who makes you laugh like no one else? Who do you have an unshakable bond with, that lifts you up, even in your most difficult moments?
For Montreal teacher Emilie Plank and award-winning author and journalist Liz Plank, that person is each other. “She’s my best friend,” Liz tells me over the phone. The three of us are talking about how the sisters influenced each other to become authors.
Little Goofy Women
“We were like Little Women when we were kids. Little Goofy Women. We wrote plays. Our brains together are like creative fusion,” Emilie shares. This makes Liz laugh.
“I love how my sister’s brain works,” Liz states. “Little Goofy Women. It’s true. We wrote magazines. We put on plays. And now, we both write books. My sister always made me feel seen. She was my original hype girl. I don’t know who I’d be without her. I’d probably be a more watered down version of myself. My sister is enchanting, and she is enchanted. She has a childlike innocence about her. She sees the best in everyone. She is a teacher and a caretaker. I think she’s a creative genius.”
“A lot of people ask me if I get jealous of Liz because she’s so successful,” Emilie tells me. “But I can honestly say, I don’t. She wrote a book (For the Love of Men) and I’ve always wanted to write books. Seeing her do it made me say – I will too. My sister is a badass. She takes risks. She is adventurous. I don’t get jealous, I get inspired.”
A Book Born Over RamEn Noodles
It was over ramen noodles when Emilie was visiting Liz in New York that the two said they wished they could order men, like they could order soup. “Men are always telling us how we should look, and what we should do. Why not make a menu of men, written by a woman?” Liz says. “That was the conversation that gave me the idea for my book.”
“I was going through a difficult time when I visited you in New York,” Emile tells her. “Being creative with you made me feel better.”
“Awww. It’s true. When we were kids, creativity was our escape. Emilie is so playful. I don’t think you even realize how playful you are Emmy. She makes connections to things that happened 30 years ago, and brings them back. I love sister humour. It’s very specific. It’s a little absurd. Sometimes I’ll meet a random woman at an event, and we will just get each other’s sense of humour. I know right away that she has a sister.”
I Can’t Lie to You
It’s not just a sense of humour and abundant creativity they share. They are also each other’s go-to person. “You were the first person I told I am bisexual. Do you remember, Emmy? We were looking at dating apps and Emmy asked – why are there pictures of girls? I thought, I could lie, but why would I lie to you Emmy? And you were great. You made it easier to tell the rest of our family.”
I ask them how they take care of each other while living in two different countries. “Facetime,” Emilie quickly responds. “Sometimes I hesitate to reach out because she’s so busy, but Liz says ‘No, don’t do that’. She wants to know if something is going on.”
You Saved My Mind
“Family is the most important thing. We have an unshakable bond,” Liz confirms. “When I was writing my book, I almost didn’t finish it. It was Emmy who gave me the best advice. I was crying so much; I couldn’t even see the words on the screen.”
“Why were you crying?” I ask.
“I was having such a hard time finishing it. Like, I had to take medication. I was terrified that it was terrible, and that everyone would find out. As a new author, you don’t know going in that those feelings are normal, that every author feels that way. Emmy said to me ‘If you don’t want to write it, don’t write it. Only go back to it when you want to.’ And that’s so counter-intuitive, right? Don’t write the book. It lasted 24 hours. Then I wrote the introduction, which was where I was stuck. My sister saved my book. She saved my sanity. That’s why I’m so excited about her book and all the success she’s having.”
Carrying on a Legacy of Empathy
Emily Plank’s debut children’s book Les Galettes de grand-maman is a diamond. It carries a crystal-clear universal message that makes adults cry, present company included. Based on Emile and Liz’s grandmother Elizabeth Plank, it tells the story of a wolf who immigrates to a new country where she faces discrimination. For anyone who has ever felt different, who has faced discrimination, this book will ring true. It also reminds us that we aren’t alone.
“In 2016, when I started writing the book, immigrants were being dehumanized by governments. People forgot that these people who leave their country need help. They need food and homes. My own grandmother left Hungary and spent four years in a refugee camp. She worked as a house cleaner until she found a community and started her own business. I am so inspired by her strength. She raised my father to have empathy. When I was thinking what I would write about, I thought about my daughter. I thought about what legacy, and what values, I want to leave behind. Empathy is so important. It’s what I teach my students, and it’s what this book is about.”
It’s not a mistake that the main character is a wolf named Lena. “I was listening to a podcast about wolves in Yellowstone National Park before I wrote the book. When the wolves were removed from the park, it changed the eco system. Once they brought the wolves back, it removed some of the deer, but it helped the grass and the flowers. Diversity in nature is a good thing. In schools, diversity means less violence. Everyone discriminates against wolves, so it made sense to make the main character a wolf. The other animals would be afraid of her.”
How do children react when they hear the book? “I’ve had amazing experiences reading the book to children. When Lena is making cookies with her grandmother using a whisk, all the children, even the 3-year-olds, know that moment when you get to lick the spoon. We also talk about how important it is to ask for help from the teacher if the other kids are making fun of you. One little girl from Haiti raised her hand to say ‘That’s my story.’ I even heard one child say ‘It’s not fair, I was born in Montreal. I didn’t get to immigrate.’ The book is making children understand that being an immigrant is a good thing.”
The book is doing so well that Emilie has another book coming soon. Stay tuned for more from this Little Goofy Woman.
You can order the book here: quebec-amerique.
Listen to my sisterhood podcast here:
Additional resources from teacher and author Emilie Plank
How to welcome a refugee child to school: Accueillir un enfant réfugié à l’école
Les Gallets de grand-maman guide for teachers by Benita Kanozayire:
- J’enseigne avec la littérature jeunesse
- Planification de la littérature jeunesse
- Entrevue avec Emily Plank
Follow Dr. Becky, aka the “millennial parent whisperer”: Dr. Becky Kennedy