November 30 – Get Ready for Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish wintertime celebration that commemorates the victory of the small Maccabean army over the much more powerful Greek/Syrian forces and the rededication of the Holy Temple during the second century BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days in remembrance of the miracle of the oil lamp, which at the time only held enough oil for one day yet burned for eight days. This year Hanukkah takes place from December 10 through 18.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

Written by Erica S. Perl | Illustrated by Shahar Kober

 

A family has just moved into their new apartment. It’s the first night of Hanukkah, but they can’t find their Hanukkah things amidst all the boxes. So, without the menorah or delicious latkes, Mom, Dad, Rachel, and Max sit on the floor eating pizza. “It was nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” On the second night, they still hadn’t found the menorah, but Rachel and Max made one from a piece of wood, their jar of nuts and bolts, and some craft paint. It was all ready to light, when Mom discovered that they didn’t have the candles either.

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the stores closed, Rachel and Max went next door to apartment 2C. They introduced themselves to Mrs. Mendez and explained their situation. She offered the only candles she had—a box of birthday candles. “Dad lit the shamash. Max and Rachel each used it to light a candle.” Then they opened presents. While it was nice, it still “didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.
On the third night, the “lucky latke pan” was nowhere to be found, but Max appeared with a steaming plate of French fries from Joe, the super, who lived downstairs.

By the fourth night of Hanukkah, Mom and Dad were beginning to think the box with their Hanukkah things had gotten lost. Max wanted to play dreidel, so while Mom called the moving company, Max and Rachel met the Watson twins, who didn’t have a dreidel, but they did have a toy that spun and spun. On the fifth night, Rachel and Max had made their own dreidel, “which meant they needed gelt.” On the fourth floor, Max and Rachel met Mr. Patel, who handed Max the only chocolate he had—a bag of chocolate chips. All of these substitutions were “nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Each night of Hanukkah Max and Rachel missed a different part of their Hanukkah celebration, and each night a new neighbor did the best they could to supply it. On the morning after the eighth night of Hanukkah, a delivery person showed up at the door with Mom’s guitar. She suggested a sing-along, but Rachel reminded her that Hanukkah was over. Max, however, had another idea and pointed to the ninth candle on the menorah. This gave Rachel an idea too, and she and Max whispered and planned. Then they waited. Soon “there was a knock on the door. And another. And another.”

When all the neighbors had gathered, Max and Rachel explained their Shamash Night celebration. Like the Shamash candle “helps light all the other candles,” they said, their new neighbors had helped them celebrate Hanukkah. “‘So we wanted to say thanks—to the Shamash and to you,’” Rachel said. Just then the delivery person appeared with the long-lost box. On the ninth night in their new home, Mom and Dad, Rachel and Max ate, played, sang, and danced with all of their new friends, “and best of all, it felt exactly like Hanukkah.”

An Author’s Note following the story tells about the history and tradition of the shamash candle and the idea that sparked the writing of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah. Erica S. Perl also provides a guide on how families can hold their own “Shamash Night.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Community, resilience, and children’s creativity infuse every page of Erica S. Perl’s story that’s a wonderful Hanukkah read as well as a story families will want to share all year around. The apartment-house setting and the family’s just-moved-in situation combine to create a charming microcosm of making friends, getting to know new neighbors, and discovering the generosity of strangers. Rachel and Max, creative, close-knit, and accommodating, will captivate kids as they go along on their scavenger hunts for the makings of a homey Hanukkah celebration.

Perl’s substitutions—from birthday candles to French fries to a ukulele will appeal to readers. The repeated phrase “It was nice, but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” applies to many make-do conditions and will resonate with children. It also provides suspense and a nice counterpoint for when the night does finally fulfill the Hanukkah feeling. Max and Rachel’s “Shamash Night” offers a message of gratitude not only for things but for friendship.

Shahar Kober’s warm-toned illustrations mirror the heartfelt story and the kindness of the diverse group of neighbors as they provide workable solutions to Max and Rachel’s requests. Images of Rachel and Max creating a homemade menorah, dreidel, and wrapping paper may inspire kids to design their own Hanukkah or other holiday decorations and traditional items. Kober’s cartoon-style characters are expressive, demonstrating their disappointment in missing their well-loved Hanukkah things but more so their cheerful acceptance of what the neighbors can provide. Kids will enjoy watching the antics of the family’s cat, who likes to be in the middle of the action, but also is happy to make do with a moving box as a new napping spot.

A heartwarming and joyful Hanukkah story with messages of kindness, generosity, acceptance and a loving sibling relationship, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is highly recommended for all home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454940883

Discover more about Erica S. Perl and her books on her website.

To learn more about Shahar Kober, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Ready for Hanukkah Activity

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Star of David Ornament

 

Kids can add a bit of sparkle to their Hanukkah celebrations with this Star of David ornament craft.

Supplies

  • 6 mini craft sticks
  • 2 round lids from clear plastic deli containers
  • Silver glitter
  • Blue craft paint
  • Clear-drying glue
  • Thin ribbon or string, 8 – 10 inches long

Directions

To Make the Star of David

  1. Paint the craft sticks with the blue paint, let dry
  2. Glue three of the craft sticks together to form a triangle; repeat with the other three sticks
  3. Glue the two triangles together to create a Star of David
  4. Glue a short length of ribbon to the top back of the Star of David

To Make the Case

  1. Apply a thin layer of clear-drying glue to the top, indented side of one of the lids
  2. Sprinkle the lid with the glitter, let dry
  3. When the glue is dry, center the Star of David in the lid with the ribbon trailing over the rim of the lid. The Star of David will be free hanging inside the case from the ribbon.
  4. Glue the rim of the indented side of the second lid to the rim of the first lid
  5. When dry, tie the ribbon into a loop for hanging

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You can find The Ninth Night of Hanukkah at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

 

Celebrate Hanukkah with These Books and Activity

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About the Holiday

Celebrate the history, meaning, and fun of Hanukkah with your family and these books that are funny, moving, and full of kindness. Click on the title to be taken to the full review of each book. There’s a printable word search puzzle to enjoy too!

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Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Andy Rowland

Jane Sutton brings humor and meaning to her Hanukkah story that reveals the true nature of the holiday and friendship. With clever gift choices and a sweet plot twist, Sutton’s Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster will have kids giggling and empathizing as Esther’s plans go awry. Her easy-going delivery invites kids along on Esther’s shopping trip and sets up the jokes and final swap in a natural and engaging way. Sutton’s inclusion of Esther’s and her friend’s honest reactions to the gifts encourages discussion of how to choose gifts, how to make up for mistakes, how to graciously accept gifts, and more topics surrounding gift-giving.

Andy Rowland’s purple gorilla Esther is sweetly expressive even as she is a bit oblivious to the needs of her friends and clearly disgruntled when her gifts don’t work out. Kids will love the brightly colored illustrations loaded with details appropriate to Esther’s world, especially the bowls, drawers, and hangers of bananas, banana cookbooks, banana-decorated table cloth and even a banana-shaped teapot in her kitchen. The Jungle Store is a riff on big-box stores with multiple departments where shoppers finding everything from fish for a pelican to a book of Antelope Recipes for a lion to Ele-Wellie boots for an elephant.

Esther’s nighttime neighborhood is likewise beautifully drawn with lush foliage; hanging lanterns; wood, bamboo, and stone homes; and even a waterfall. The window of each friend’s home frames a menorah.

With its humorous take on a common mishap and loveable characters, Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster is a book kids will enjoy no matter what the gift-giving occasion is!

Ages 4 – 7

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2013 | ISBN 978-0761390435

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Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles

Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler

David A. Adler’s touching story about a little girl who sees someone in need and generously provides help is a heartening story for Hanukkah and any time of year. Adler’s straightforward storytelling, told from Sara’s first-person point of view, invites young readers to look out the window with her and join her as she saves a cookie for the old man and goes on to provide more food and finally companionship to him. The fact that Mr. Berger is a member of Sara’s synagogue reminds readers that people in need of help of all kinds are part of our community, are part of us. Readers will be charmed by Mr. Berger’s circus past and will learn from him that the gifts we have to share with others do not always need to be monetary to have value.

Jeffery Ebbeler’s enchanting illustrations of the city, complete with an adorably narrow Sol’s Market, take readers into Sara’s world, where she sees examples of people in need and those who have plenty. Sara’s contemplations about Mr. Berger and his plight are shown as she considers the full bowl of fruit on her kitchen table, watches someone ask for two hot dogs at the corner cart, and decides to save her cookie at school while the other kids eat theirs and reach for seconds. These same kids, however, happily give up their snack the next day to fill Sara’s bag for Mr. Berger. Classroom scenes and the image of Sara showering her cookies with sprinkles are familiar for all children celebrating holidays at school and at home. The family’s joyful Hanukkah dinner is doubly fun as Mr. Berger performs tricks that even the cat tries to do.

A moving story for Hanukkah and for sharing the spirit of giving all through the year, Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles is a fantastic addition to all home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Apples & Honey Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1681155005

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Hanukkah Hamster

Written by Michelle Markel | Illustrated by André Ceolin

Immersed in the special yearning for family and togetherness the holidays bring, Michelle Markel’s touching story glows with kindness and empathy. The growing friendship between Edgar and Chickpea will tug at readers’ hearts just as it does for Edgar, who so hopes to keep the little hamster but also knows there may be someone in the city missing him. As the days pass, and Edgar, alone for Hanukkah, shares his traditions with the hamster, readers also become participants in the holiday. Children will be riveted to the increasing suspense, and the pitch-perfect solution is joyful and satisfying. Realistic dialogue and honestly portrayed emotions provides depth to this moving story.

From the tiny white lights lining main street to the first glimpse of the little hamster to Edgar’s cozy apartment with his menorah in the window, André Ceolin’s richly colored illustrations invite readers into Edgar’s life with his new friend, Chickpea. Chickpea is adorable as it nibbles on salad, poses for pictures, and curls up in its shredded paper bed. Images of Edgar lighting the menorah are luminous, and the Edgar and Chickpea’s smiles will spark happiness in readers’ hearts.

The portrayals of friendship, generosity, empathy, and family make Hanukkah Hamster a poignant story for all children to share not only at the holidays but all year around. The book would make a wonderful gift and much loved addition to home and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363995

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The Story of Hanukkah

Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jill Weber

With his exceptional storytelling skills, David A. Adler reveals the history of Hanukkah to children. In simple, yet compelling sentences, Adler clearly depicts the faith of the Jews and the dangers they faced from Antiochus and his army. Children will marvel over the astounding defeat of Antiochus’s soldiers at the hands of the Maccabees and be filled with awe as the Temple is rebuilt and the small amount of oil sustains the flame in the ner tamid for eight days. Children unfamiliar with Hanukkah celebrations will discover the meanings behind the traditional foods, dreidel game, and lighting of the Menorah in clear language full of the pride and emotions Jewish families feel during the holiday.

In her bright acrylic paintings Jill Weber brings to life the story of the Jews and the Maccabees, allowing children to fully experience the environment and perils of the time period. Her patchwork fields tended by farmers and shepherds give way to the majesty of the Temple with its central altar and glowing eternal flame. Weber’s battle scenes are particularly effective in presenting the destruction, fear, and final victory experienced by the Jews. Readers will be cheered by the joy depicted in the faces of the people celebrating the restoration of the Temple and the excitement of families observing Hanukkah today.

A recipe for Latkes as well as instructions on how to play Dreidel follow the text

The Story of Hanukkah is a wonderful introduction to the holiday for children learning their own heritage or for children discovering the traditions of friends, family, and others.

Ages 5 – 8

Holiday House, 2012 | ISBN 978-0823425471 (Paperback) | ISBN 978-0823440320 (Board Book)

Hanukkah Activity

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Festival of Lights Word Search

Find 20 words related to Hanukkah celebrations in this printable Festival of Lights Word Search puzzle. Here’s the Solution.

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November 18 – It’s Picture Book Month and Interview with Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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About the Holiday

There’s still time to celebrate one of the best months of the year—Picture Book Month! If you’re in shopping mode, be sure to put plenty of picture books on your list for the kids in your life. And don’t forget the littlest readers in your life. Sharing board books, with their sturdy pages and just-right size, is the perfect way to get babies and preschoolers excited about books, reading, and the special times in their life – as you’ll see with today’s book.

Happy Birthday, Trees!

Written by Karen Rostoker-Gruber | Illustrated by Holly Sterling

 

Three children are excited to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat together. One boy shows the others the little sapling they can plant then the three dig in with their shovels to create the perfect hole to nurture it. When the hole is just the right size, they carefully place the tree in it and tell readers, “then, we’ll fill the hole with dirt. / (An extra shovel doesn’t hurt.) / We’ll fill the hole with lots of dirt!”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

When the tree is all snug in its new home, it’s time to feed it (and have some giggly fun). “Then, we’ll spray the garden hose, / and wet the tree (and soak our clothes). / On Tu B’Shevat we’ll spray the hose! Throughout the year, the kids watch as their tree grows taller and sturdier. When the weather turns warm, they play around the tree, singing “for all the trees” with delight as they await the day when Tu B’Shevat comes around again and the tree’s blossoms “fill the air with sweet perfume.”

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Image copyright Holly Sterling, 2020, text copyright Karen Rostoker-Gruber, 2020. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s celebration of Tu B’Shevat takes little ones step-by-step through the thrill of planting a tree and watching it grow. Her breezy, exuberant verses incorporate simple rhymes and repeated phrases that will allow even the youngest children to join in after a first reading. In her sweet board book Rostoker-Gruber captures the excitement kids feel for special holidays and the pride they feel when participating in their family’s or friends traditions. The cyclical nature of her story will also inspire children to want to plant and tend to their own tree for Tu B’Shevat (celebrated beginning at sundown on January 27, 2021 through nightfall on January 28) or when weather conditions permit.

Bright and filled with the high spirits of childhood, Holly Sterling’s illustrations of three adorable kids working together to plant a tree will captivate little readers. Decked out in their gardening clothes and each with a shovel, the three crouch and lie on the ground next to the hole to make sure the tree goes in straight and safely. Sterling has an eye for the kinds of realistic details that define children’s behavior: to make sure the hole is filled to the brim, one little boy pours on dirt from two shovels—one in each hand; and under the arched spray of the hose, the girl raises her arms to welcome the cool spray while a boy sticks out his tongue for a sip. Sterling’s lovely color palette and graceful lines create a cheerful, fresh story that adults will want to share with their children again and again.

A joyful and lively way to celebrate and/or introduce Tu B’Shevat to little ones as well as a charming story for young nature lovers any time of the year, Happy Birthday, Trees! would be an enchanting addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 1 – 4

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2020 | ISBN 978-1541545649

You can download a teacher’s guide to Happy Birthday, Trees! from the Kar-Ben Publishing website here.

Discover more about Karen Rostoker-Gruber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Holly Sterling, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Karen Rostoker-Gruber

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You have a very interesting and varied career! Before you wrote books for children, you published several humorous books for adults. Your children’s books also incorporate humor. Can you talk a little about your style of humor and how you’ve expressed it throughout your life?

I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old. I wanted to write for children, but the adult humor market was easier, at the time, to break into.  

I started writing humor when I began college. Things were so strange at Trenton State that I had to start writing things down. The first humor book I wrote was called The Unofficial College Survival Guide.  

I had worked in the kitchen as a waitress for the college serving alumni dinners—sometimes to 200 – 300 people. I needed the money and it was the only way to secure edible food. 

 
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One night, while piling my tray with plates of food for the next alumni dinner, I noticed a sign on a barrel that said, “grade D,” but edible. I opened the barrel and there were thousands of hot dogs. I had no idea what “grade D, but edible” meant, but I no longer wanted to find out. After that day, I started eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also kept finding humor on campus—mostly in the cafeteria; it wasn’t hard. There was literally humor everywhere I looked.  

When I got married, my humor book, Remote Controls Are Better Than Woman Because. . . became a HUGE hit.  I was on the Ricki Lake Show back then and over 60 live radio shows.  Then came my book, Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . . I wrote both of those books on sticky notes in my car because I had a stop-and-go, 45-minute drive to work every day. I’d write new quotes down on a sticky note and fling them around in my car.  

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My book, If Men Had Babies, (lullabies would be burped… Prenatal vitamins would taste like honey-roasted beer nuts…, Golf carts would come equipped with car seats…”) was hysterical to me as a first-time mom. I wrote in between my daughter’s nap time, doing the laundry, the dishwasher, cleaning the house, and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

image.pngAs far as incorporating humor into my children’s books, sometimes I use puns, which is why my characters are mostly animals. Animal puns are fun. I would sit on my driveway for hours, while my daughter drove her Barbie car, looking at the dictionary to find good cow, sheep, goat, chicken, and cat puns.

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I also use a bit of adult humor in my books. There should be humor for the adult reading the book, too. In my book, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match my favorite line is when the sheep say, “Her name was Polly Ester, she was a faaake,” baaed the sheep.

(Get it?  Polyester is fake vs. wool from the sheep!)  

Here’s also a favorite page from my book:

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You’ve had a long and steady career as a children’s author. What first inspired you to write for children? What’s one thing that has changed for writers since you began? What’s one thing that has stayed the same?

I’ve been writing for children since I was 8 years old. The only thing that really changed was that I actually started sending out my work in 1988-ish instead of just keeping manuscripts in my drawer. But from 1988 until 2000, I mostly received rejection letters—nice ones (that are now in my oxymoronic rejection letter binder), but rejection letters nevertheless.

My path to publication changed once I went to a conference and met with editors.  After attending the conference, each mentee was able to submit directly to their mentor and other editors that you met there. And, you were able to write “requested material” on the outside of the envelope. This was important back then because all “Requested Material” manuscripts passed the slush pile and went directly to the editor it was addressed to. (Back in 2000 you submitted via snail-mail and there really were slush piles.)  I saw them! For real!

The conference that I went to was the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. At that conference my mentor (Karen Riskin from Dial Books for Young Readers) took two of my manuscripts back with her to Penguin Putnam (it’s called Penguin Random House now). Both manuscripts wound up getting published: Food Fright was published by Price Stern Sloan in 2003 and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was published with Dial Books for Young Readers in 2004.  

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After the success of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, (selling 250,000 copies) I met another editor (Margery Cuyer) at an informal conference.  She went on to acquire five of my books for Marshall Cavendish: Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

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The difference from then to now is that these days you need to meet editors one-on-one or you need to have an agent. I can’t get into the big publishing houses that I used to submit to before because their policies have changed.  I had 14 traditionally-published books out there with great houses before I got an agent. I’m NOT an overnight success story—far from it. 

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The setting for Happy Birthday, Trees! is Tu B’Shevat or the Jewish Arbor Day. Can you talk a bit about this holiday, it’s meaning, and how it is traditionally celebrated?

Tu B’Shevat is basically Earth Day. I think the PJ Library says it best on my teacher’s guide:

“The Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as the Birthday of the Trees, celebrates the critical role that trees play in life.” Jewish concepts: “Trees and the environment have particular importance in Jewish thought. From the very beginning of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we are taught to respect all things that grow, as Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). The value of bal tashchit, which translates from the Hebrew as “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish ecology mantra. Put into action, this concept means we are all partners in preserving the beauty and sustainability of our world.” “Traditionally, Jews eat the fruit of a tree only after it is three years old. The 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, called Tu B’Shevat, became the trees’ birthday to help people determine when to first harvest their fruit. This holiday is gaining significance today as the Jewish Earth Day.”   

I love the structure of Happy Birthday, Trees!, especially the rhythmic repetition that’s so enticing for little ones to join in on. There’s also a playful humor that kids will love. What was your writing journey for this book?

I love bits of rhyme, repeated refrains, humor, and animal puns, so I always try to incorporate a few of these things in my books. I also know that kids love predictability. The journey for the book, “Happy Birthday, Trees”:  

I was invited to a luncheon in NY for the PJ Library.  About 20 other authors were there. At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

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They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time. I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best. At that time it was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-happy-birthday-trees-coverMonths later (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award—2,000 dollars. Then my agent (I now had an agent) Karen Grencik found a publisher for it.

Holly Sterling’s illustrations are adorable and really capture the delight of the children. What was your first impression when you saw Holly’s pages?

I was super-excited about Holly’s illustration sample that Joni Sussman from KarBen showed me, so I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with this very simple board book. I LOVE the illustrations. The children look like they are having a blast on the front cover.

A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale definitely combines humor with a heartfelt message. The story is a retelling of a traditional Yiddish tale. What about this tale really resonated with you for today’s kids? How did you make it your own?

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I was reworking a folktale for one editor, but by the time I found a folktale that I liked and reworked that editor had already taken on a story too similar to it. I remembered this story as a child, but I wanted to make it a folktale for everyone, so I took out the Rabbi and added a wise woman instead.  Every story that I read had a wise man—times have changed.  

I also added a bit of rhyme and a repeated refrain.  The story is basically about being grateful for what you have, which is perfect for COVID times as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl with family members working and learning in the house; it’s too crowded.

If you had to live with three groups of animals like the family in your book—small, medium, and large—what would they be?

I love hamsters (They’re sooo cute and fuzzy).

Goats crack me up; they always look like they’re up to something. 

As far as large animals go, there are too many that I’d like to have: elephants (I could teach them to paint), dolphins and gorillas (I could teach them to speak—I’m fascinated by Koko the gorilla), and pandas—just because they look so cuddly.

Oh, and unicorns (because they’re magical).

I love Kritina Swarner’s whimsical-yet-realistic illustrations, especially as the house becomes more and more crowded and chaotic. Do you have a favorite spread?

I love her work. There’s so much detail: in the wise woman’s dress, the fabric on her chair. Also, if you look closely, the plants are growing in her window from scene to scene, there’s a mouse under a bed, and my favorite spread is the toilet paper scene. However, I also like the expressions on the cat’s faces throughout the book. They are NOT amused at the amount of animals in the house.

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You’re also an accomplished ventriloquist and have an adorable puppet named Maria who accompanies you on visits to schools and libraries. How did you get involved in ventriloquism and can you describe your program briefly? How do the kids respond to Maria?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist. I used to talk for my sister’s blanket, her food, and her dolls. She was 5 years younger than I was so she was the perfect audience.  

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I take Maria to every school visit–even my virtual ones (I just did one with 600 children). In my program I talk to children about every step I take from sticky notes at 3 am, to revisions, to submitting a polished manuscript to an agent or an editor.  

Maria is my side-kick, because you had better be funny if you are in front of 350 – 600 children. Plus, kids LOVE Maria! Some don’t know how she talks; it’s magical to them and I don’t want to ruin that magic.  

If Maria and I are doing “high tea” at a tea house or a public show at a library, I have to bring Maria’s car seat, eye mask, and blanket. Children follow me out to my car to watch me buckle her in with a seat belt. 

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One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could “buy” him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet. Enough said. 

Here’s Maria as Alice in Wonderland for another show that we did.  She likes to dress up. (It took me three hours to sew felt Mary Janes onto her white socks. Ugh!)

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One day I had to take Maria shopping to Walmart to get her PJs because we had a bedtime, bears, and books show. I didn’t know her size. I held Maria up in the seat of the cart with my right hand while pushing the cart with my left hand. We had quite the following that day up and down the aisles.  Kids just wanted to follow her around. 

What do you like best about being an author for children?

My favorite part is when I get to see the illustrations; to see if the illustrator took my words to a new level. And, I LOVE seeing children enjoying my books and laughing at the puns.  

What’s up next for you?

I’m always working on something, but it’s always a waiting game.  Anything can happen on any day. An editor can email me from a year ago to tell me that something that I sent them is now a go.  I’m not going to lie— 

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every day is full of surprises and disappointments.  Being an author is very emotional. You have to have thick skin.

Thanks so much, Karen, for this awesome discussion about your books and sharing so much about your life as an author! I wish you all the best with Happy Birthday, Trees!, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, and all of your books!

Picture Book Month Activity

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Plant a Tree! Activity Pages

 

Whether you need to wait awhile before you can plant a tree or are in a warm-weather locale that allows for planting now, you can enjoy these two tree activity pages!

Plant a Tree Coloring Page | Stately Tree Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Happy Birthday, Trees! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound