Czars and Czarinas: Interview with Deborah Prum

By Sama Imran Ilyas

Although it is categorized under children’s nonfiction, I found myself completely engrossed by Czars and Czarinas, a new ibook by Deborah Prum (ΦBK, University of Connecticut, 1973) released earlier this year. Prum is an award-winning author and founder of Still Mountain Bookworks. Czars and Czarinas is a captivating read for children and adults alike. It is funny, it is fresh, and Prum has spun decades of Russian history into an entertaining (and inconspicuously educational) tale.

Czars and Czarinias is downloadable and readable through Apple devices, both computers and tablets. iBooks, perhaps a newer descendent of the ebook, differ from the latter in that they envelop many interactive components. Czars and Czarinas is a lighthearted and amusing account spanning the first nine centuries of Russian history. Notable czars and czarinas showcased include Ivan III, Ivan IV, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great. Prum uses a variety of interactive features throughout the iBook, including speech, sound effects, and animations—making the book a feast for the senses. The periodic interactive quizzes are a valuable asset for adopting the book for educational use as well.


What age group is your iBook targeted towards and what purpose were you intending for it to fill?

PRUM: I wrote this book for people ages nine and up to adulthood. The book was written for anyone who would like to know more about the first nine centuries of Russian history. Czars and Czarinas is humorous and anecdotal, a painless way to learn lots of information. Although the format is entertaining, the quality of information is not compromised. (The text was reviewed for accuracy by scholars at Princeton and the University of Virginia.)

What inspired you to write about this topic?

PRUM: These days, Russia is much in the news. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has captured world attention. I believe that it helps to know the history of a country in order to understand its actions in the present. Secondly, I wanted to write an interactive and entertaining book that would capture the attention of reluctant and/or learning disabled readers without compromising the quality of content. My father had undiagnosed significant learning disabilities which went undiagnosed until I took a learning course in college and understood that he was dyslexic. So, at fifty years old, my father took a reading course at our town library and finally was able to read. I created this multimedia book for people like my dad, folks who may benefit from multiple ways to learn the material.

Tell us a bit about the writing style you incorporated in the iBook.

PRUM: Our minds are wired to absorb information in a story format, so I talk about history as story, in a humorous and anecdotal way. I find it is a great way to attract and keep readers. I used the same approach with my Renaissance book (print), Rats, Bulls and Flying Machines which was very well received and is in its fourth printing.

What advantages did you foresee in writing an iBook as opposed to a regular print book?

PRUM: I’ve written a lot of history for young adults. When I learned about the iBook application, how powerful it is and how many features it has, I became intrigued by all the possibilities it offered of novel and fascinating ways to present content. I created a humorous song, talking portraits, slideshows, goofy sound effects (Catherine the Great’s horse neighing, water splashing at Vladimir’s forced baptisms). The book is informative, but also a load of fun for both the young adult and adult reader.

Were there any unexpected challenges you came across while writing this iBook?

PRUM: Well, Russian history is complicated and much that is written about it is dense.  So, writing a book that is easily accessible to readers was a challenge. Also, I began working with the iBook template just after it was created. I am a techno-dope so I had to learn a lot and at the time the Apple technical support folks did not know much more about the program quirks than I did. That has changed now and the technical support is better, but back then, I used a lot of Bad Language as I tried to figure out the program.

What is the motivation behind the interactive quizzes?

PRUM: These self-tests help readers to know whether they’ve mastered the information.  My Renaissance book was used as a complement to history lessons in schools and also by home school families. So, I wanted to give these folks a tool to determine progress. Lots of the questions are a little joke-y, so as to entice a reader to get through the quiz.

Is there any other information you would like to share about your iBook?

PRUM: To my knowledge, there is not much else out there like CZARS. I would love for as many school systems as possible to have access to it and that’s why I priced it as low as I could. The book is an easy and wonderful way for students to learn about Russia.

Are you currently working on any projects?

PRUM: I am just releasing another iBook which I took in a completely different direction.  Back Talking on the Mountain of God is a poetry anthology. I invited four regional poets to submit their poems [and] asked a photographer to find an image each poem evoked in him. At the end of each poet’s chapter is a recording of the poet reading the poems. The iBook is a lovely synthesis of the work of multiple artists. My award winning humorous young adult novel, Fatty in the Back Seat is about a teen who successfully manages to face the challenges of his learning disability. It is available in print, as an ebook, and as an audiobook. I’ve also just released an audiobook of my humorous essays that have aired on NPR-member stations: First Kiss and Other Cautionary Tales.

Sama Imran Ilyas is a senior at the University of Florida. She was elected into Phi Beta Kappa in her junior year. The University of Florida is home to the Beta of Florida Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.