…and the “I. Am. The Bunny.” scene where Bunny is NOT very happy!
Speaking of emotions, in the middle of the day, sadly there were some TX school cancellations, due to ICY conditions, but we have rescheduled!
Then it was time to read to the Kinders from Eastern Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School, Silver Spring, MD, just outside of Washington DC. (Thanks to Lori Tecler, Media Specialist!)
Last but certainly not least, I celebrated the end of my #WRAD adventure with two California schools! First up was Greenhills Elementary where I read to Mrs. Hopping’s Birdies. After I read THE HALF BIRTHDAY BOOK, I read Mr. Schu’s THIS IS A SCHOOL (Candlewick / Illus. Veronica Miller Jamison).
PS John’s next book THIS IS A STORY(Illus. Lauren Castillo / Candlewick) will release March 14th and we’re having a Book birthday party on the blog! Don’t miss it!
OK… where were we?
Are you ready for the BIG discovery?
During my last WRAD session, I was reading THE HALF BIRTHDAY BOOK to Mrs. Fong’s students at Mather Elementary, near Sacramento, California, when they saw a SNOWGLOBE on the shelf in one of the illustrations!
The students asked if it was the same snow globe from SNOW GLOBE WISHES(illus. Claire Shorrock/ Sleeping Bear.) —> CHECK IT OUT!!!!!! Even the two girls look alike.
As far as I know the two illustrators did NOT plan this, but I certainly plan to ask!
Thanks again to ALL who made #WRAD so…WRAD!
Special thanks to Kate Messner who takes the time to share a list of Authors who Celebrate #WRAD.
You can order these upcoming books and more (signed copies!) by Kate Messnerhere.
And THANK YOU to Litworld who spearheads this wonderful event each year.
See you next week for a GreenPB2023 interview with TWO kidlit authors and their books:
June Smalls / HEAR THEM ROAR: 14 ENDANGERED ANIMALS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
No matter how you slice it <–(food puns, of course), an interview with Katelyn Aronson is always a feast!
Let’s dig in!
Q. 1 What was the creative spark for this book? (Growing up, did you ever experience a Fridgers vs. Cupboard Crew situation on the playground, or at school, or was your inspiration found elsewhere?)
Katelyn Aronson: As a kid, I loved collecting play food and serving it up at make-believe restaurants with my sister. I also loved watching an animated short on Sesame Street called Teeny Little Super Guy. It was all kinds of kitchen utensils and glassware having adventures in a kitchen.
(Of course it’s pretty ancient of me to reference that so click the link above or –> here’s a pic for those who have no idea what I’m talking about!):
K.A. — So those two childhood loves must have fused together in my imagination: play food + kitchen utensils coming to life when humans aren’t watching. Then I mixed in a little Romeo & Juliet / West Side Story tale of feuding families and out came When PB Met J. It’s an origin story about how “the best friendship since sliced bread” came to be.
The fact that Sesame Street artist Sarah Rebar agreed to do the illustrations brought this project full circle and made my childhood dreams come true!
Q. 2 The story arc and the clever solution to PB & J’s problem (NO spoilers, doggone it!) are delicious! Did you know from the start that this was how the story would go?
Katelyn Aronson: Well thank you, Erin! Honestly, that solution happened organically. At least in my mind, it seemed to be the one practical way the jar community could “save” itself—by creating a noisy distraction!
Q 3. Since you live in France and teach in Switzerland, I have to ask—WHERE do you even find peanut butter? (I’m sorry, but Nutella is not the same.) Also—Extra Crunchy, Crunchy, or Smooth?
Katelyn Aronson: Oh, we have many American things in France and Switzerland now. That wasn’t true 15 to 20 years ago, mind you, but now one can find peanut butter at the regular grocery store! I have yet to meet a French person who actually likes the stuff, though (while Switzerland is full of internationals). I certainly never have to worry about my French husband dipping into ANY of my nut butters, be they peanut, almond, or cashew!
I grew up loving crunchy peanut butter, but since adulthood I’ve crossed over to smooth. I’m sure there’s a philosophical explanation behind that… I’ve come to appreciate life running smoothly. I’ve had enough of crunchy resistance, HA!
Q. 4 What surprises did illustrator Sarah Rebar bring to the book?
Katelyn Aronson: The best surprise was the delicious cover art she designed! I just fell in love with it when my editor revealed it to me. PB and J are so colorful, wide-eyed and endearing, and I love how the backdrop behind them is a piece of toast. I hope it appeals to kids as much as it does to me!
Q. 5 Can you share any new projects you’re working on?
Katelyn Aronson: What I’m most excited about is my first book starring humans (and mermaids), Orpheline, to be illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, which sold to Candlewick in 2021 yet won’t release until summer 2025(!)
The story follows lonely Cora, who finds a merbaby washed up on the shores of her home and becomes convinced that the merbaby is hers to keep. It’s very different from my other books—quite serious and poignant—as it’s a story about being lost and also being found.
I can’t wait to see Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations for Orpheline. Her mermaid illustration (above) is what prompted my editor and I to ask Dow if she’d take on our project in the first place. Aren’t we so lucky she said yes? I love the mysterious, glow-y ambiance here.
Thank you for joining the blog today, Kate!
To learn more about Katelyn Aronson and her books, follow her on
7 Qs + tips and resolutions from 5 wonderful #kidlit authors who’ve joined us to tell us about
their upcoming Jewish board books.
I’m super excited to chat with these amazing authors:
Vivian Kirkfield (It’s PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE Board Book birthday today! / Holiday House) Illustrated by Jill Weber, Pippa’s Passover Plateis a rollicking rhyme with ever-increasing drama as Pippa Mouse hurries and scurries to prepare for Passover. When her special Seder dish goes missing, Pippa gathers her courage, asks for help from natural enemies like Cat, Snake, and Owl and discovers, not only her plate, but a community of friends.
Nancy Churnin (COUNTING ON SHABBAT / Kar-Ben) Illustrated by Petronella Dostalova, Counting on Shabbat has a double meaning. There is a framework of counting from one to ten, but it is also a story about the kindness we count on at Shabbat.
Varda Livney (CHALLAH / P.J.Library): Challah! is about a typical Jewish family (of bunnies) sitting at their festive Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table.
“Louis, can you say Shabbat?” Dad asks, and Louis says……. “CHALLAH!” –his first word EVER. And in the tradition of toddlers everywhere, Louis does not STOP saying “CHALLAH” all week long. There is speculation as to whether Louis will EVER learn a second word. Spoiler alert: He does.
Ann D. Koffsky (MY MEZUZAH / Apples & Honey Press & SHEEP SAYS SHALOM / Greenbean Books); SHEEP SAYS SHALOM plays with the three meanings of the word Shalom: hello, goodby and peace, with hello in the first half, and when kids flip the book upside down they’ll see Sheep saying Shalom/ goodbye, too. The last page shows sheep peacefully settling in to sleep. In Ann’s four book set, My Mezuzah, My Shofar , My Matzah, and My Dreidel, cheerful animal characters explore and engage with each object.
Sarah Aroeste (MAZAL BUENO! / Kar-Ben) Illustrated by Taja Morley, Mazal Bueno celebrates the milestones in a child’s life – from first giggles, to first foods, first words and more. While it looks like Spanish, the refrain of mazal bueno (congratulations!) is a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, also known as Ladino, which is the language of Sephardic Jews.
Boy, do we have Questions!
Q. 1 How does writing a board book differ from writing a picture book? (Or did you pitch your book as a picture book initially?)
Vivian: PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE actually started as a 32-page picture book and you may notice it has about three times as many words as most board books. However, it makes a perfect board book because the words and concepts are simple (loss, fear, friendship) and the quick-paced rhyme and fun-to-repeat refrains help keep young children engaged.
Nancy: I envisioned Counting on Shabbat as a board book from the start. Board books are even more visually driven than picture books. I saw this story unfolding through images anchored by no more than four to five words on each page, with one of those words being a number that would take us from one to ten over the course of ten spreads.
Easy Peasy –haha.
Varda: Writing a board book is much simpler than writing a picture book. All you have to do is make the story entertaining to babies. Make the story bearable to the adults who will have to read the book over and over and over (!). Have the story introduce the babies to important things like words, art, humor, kindness, nature, diversity, and culture. Do it in approximately 100 words or less.
Focus on your VERY young readers.
Ann: Board books are for the really little ones–age 1-3. As board book authors, we have to focus on our readers, and think about: what will a two year old respond to? What will grab them, make them giggle, make them curious? And attention span at that age is super brief too, so we have to grab them and engage them super efficiently and effectively and hopefully in a way that’s entertaining.
EVERY word counts!
Sarah: I knew from the start that I wanted to write a board book specifically. So few people, Jews and non-Jews alike, are familiar with Sephardic culture in general and Ladino in particular. I was very conscious of using easy words and phrases that were repeatable and from a baby/toddler’s point of view. You also have to write under 100 words for a 10 page spread on average- that’s very little real estate to get a whole story across! YES– every. word. counts.
Q. 2 For the Rhymers in the group: Where did you hone your rhyming skills? (I tend to credit all the song lyrics I memorized as a teen, the bad puns my friends and I made up on the way home from school, and all those scansion/ Shakespeare courses in college.)
Vivian: I always loved rhyming. I still have the tiny spiral notebook from when I was 10-years-old and it contains little poems I wrote. And I definitely memorized song lyrics in the 50s and 60s – I can remember coming home from high school and singing Joan Baez tunes to my mother while she ironed in the kitchen. One of the picture book writing classes I took during this journey was Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab and I can honestly say that helped me, not just with rhyming, but also with the rhythm which all good picture books and board books need to have, whether they are rhyming or prose.
Nancy: I love rhyming and reading poems, but I consider myself very much a student of this art. I am grateful for the kindness of mentors, friends, and critique partners! Like Vivian, I have taken Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab. I am in a wonderful group with alumni of that program who have been very patient and supportive – thank you Joyce, Nancy, Marty, Colleen and Natalie! Plus, Vivian helped me tweak my rhymes for Counting on Shabbat. Thanks, Vivian!
Vivian: The advice I’d give writers who want to write in rhyme: READ!
Read mentor texts: I think reading board books or picture books that have great rhyme is the best way to hone your own rhyming skills.
Read your words aloud: (and ask other people to read them aloud) That’s the BEST way to figure out if your rhyme is working because if it’s not, you’ll keep tripping up. The rhyme in board books has to be spot-on and lots of fun because parents are going to be reading this to their kids over and over and over.
Which came first?
Q. 3 For the author/illustrators: Which came first—the text or the illustration concept?
Ann: Usually when I write, it’s words first, for sure. But for SHEEP SAYS SHALOM, neither the art OR the words came first: the FORMAT did. I conceived it as an accordion book and the whole thing is inextricably tied to that: SIDE A of the accordion is Sheep saying SHALOM or HELLO to all her friends: “hello, hello, hello!” Then the reader gets to flip it over to SIDE B, and Sheep says Shalom again…but this time it means, “goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!” The whole thing works because of the format. So that came first. Then the pictures and words.
Varda: The illustration came first. I generally start writing by doodling. I was doodling challahs, and it morphed into a story…….
Q. 4 Can you share some “tips” for authors who want to include Hebrew or Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) words in their stories—as smoothly as these books do?
Sarah: My first board book, Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom, had Ladino words sprinkled on each page, making it clear from the context what the words meant (i.e. Light the candles, las kandelas/Sing some songs, las kantikas). I was intentional about teaching specific Ladino words as they pertained to Shabbat. But in my forthcoming board book, Mazal Bueno, I decided that I only wanted the refrain to have Ladino words. I wanted the refrain to be what people remembered and practiced, and it’s actually part of the punchline of the book – it’s baby’s first words! So again, it was purposeful that the Ladino refrain of mazal bueno is what would be carried through the book.
Sarah: I’d say that whatever an author chooses, it should be intentional and clear to the reader. Language learning is hard enough for babies and toddlers; the last thing we want to do is confuse them. New words in any language have to be in context with the pictures, the prose, or the overall story message.
Q. 5 Which line or spread is your favorite? Please explain. For example, does one of the spreads bring back a fond memory? Is your text or story based on personal experience in any way?
Nancy: The final spread, “Ten smiles. Shabbat is here.” is my favorite because it is so full of joy. It is a reminder that Shabbat, all holidays, and all days are made joyful by the love we show each other. As a mom of two cats (in addition to four boys and a dog), I particularly like how the ten smiles include the elderly main character’s four cats. Our animals are beloved members of our families!
And yes, the story is based on personal experience. My Mom, now 97, lives alone with caretakers in her home. I know how much it brightens her days when my sister’s little grandkids visit. In many ways, the book is a thank you to them and to all the toddlers that bring happiness to elders simply by being there.
Varda: My favorite spread (above) shows the family together at the dinner table on Shabbat (Sabbath). That table is one of my happy places from childhood. It is exactly those warm & fuzzy feelings about family, or being Jewish, (or being a bunny,) that I want to pass along to the next generation.
Activities & Extensions
Q. 6 Are there links to activities or extensions for your book? Please share.
Vivian: Yes! PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE was a PJLibrary selection when it first launched as a picture book in 2019 and PJLibrary created a craft activity for young children which can be found here and a reading guide/lesson plan which can be found here.
Nancy: Please stay tuned for a lovely teacher guide being prepared by the wonderful author Marcie Colleen, who has done many of my teacher guides. The guide will be posted on my website nancychurnin.com and on the Kar-Ben website. It will include a project, COUNTING ON KINDNESS, where I hope to post photos of toddlers and seniors spending time together.
Sarah: My first book has a companion song that goes with it, “Buen Shabat,” and I’m happy to send sheet music to anyone who requests it! I also have a whole animated song series that combines visuals with Ladino music I’ve written just for kids. That playlist can be found here. And if parents and kids are interested in seeing children speaking in Ladino, I have a web series with my 6 year-old daughter called “Cute Kids Speaking Ladino”, which can be accessed here.
New Year’s Resolutions
Q. 7 Do you have a #kidlit New Year’s Resolution?
Ann: I really want to get my act together, and create a new picture book dummy. Check back with me next year and we’ll see if I manage to pull it off!
Varda: To bring world peace by drawing bunnies–and making more board books. Why?
I Like catching kids when they are the youngest of sponges.
I like the exercise of trying to say something with a minimal amount of words.
I like that board books are edible and indestructible.
I like that babies can hold them by themselves and turn the pages.
I like drawing small.
I like passing on the warm and fuzzies, as opposed to detailed information and facts.
Vivian: In the spirit of Pippa, “Life is good when friends are near”…I will continue to take her words to heart, lifting up other authors and illustrators on my blog and mentoring other writers. I feel blessed to be living my dream and love helping others live theirs.
Nancy: With a nod to the subject of my Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing book, I want to remember to “count my blessings instead of sheep.” Being a children’s book author can be challenging, but I want to resolve to always keep looking toward the light, to stay grateful for the opportunity to share books like Counting on Shabbat with children, families, and educators, and to keep reaching into my heart for the stories I want and need to share next.
Bonus tips for those who want to write Board Books
Vivian: One of the best ways to connect with the kidlit community, hone your writing skills (especially your sparse writing skills that are needed for creating board books), and have fun – all at the same time is to participate in writing contests and challenges.
Susanna Hill has several: Halloweensie (100-word limit), Valentiny (214-word limit) and the Holiday Contest (300-word limit).
And of course, there is my #50PreciousWords which has, as you may have guessed, a word-count limit of only 50! Seriously speaking, this contest has resulted in quite a few published board books. The contest runs early in March. People can follow my blog or follow me on social media to find out the exact dates and guidelines.
Author Julie Abery now has eight books in the Little Animal Friends series published by Amicus, but the first one, Little Tiger, started as an entry in #50PreciousWords. And Amber Hendricks has another series, Little Explorers, and those books started as contest submissions. This year we had 750 fabulous submissions and 57 amazing prizes including many editor and agent critiques and a 3-day retreat at Highlights Foundation. I also started a literacy initiative and asked participants to purchase a children’s book from my local indie bookstore. I’m thrilled that when the contest was over, we were able to donate 410 brand-new children’s books to three local schools in need.
Thank you to these wonderful authors for joining us today.
To learn more about their work, check out their blogs and follow them on social media:
We’re making some Earth-friendly #newyearsresolutions.
“A call to eco-action based on the power of numbers . . . Young readers marching in step will meet Greta Thunberg and other iconic environmentalists and glimpse multiple ways of participating in the movement.”
– Kirkus Reviews
I love that COUNT ON US!shows young readers how a movement can build from one person’s concern to a billion supporters – as they learn new terms in this A to Z environmental activism book.
Fun fact #1:
Gabi <–rhymes with baby
Fun Fact #2:
I first met Gabi when I was invited to do an Author Visit several years ago in Corvallis, Oregon, where my daughter was a 3rd grade teacher–and Gabi’s son was in her class. I remember Gabi introducing herself as a “not-yet-published” author and NOW she is a published author of THREE picture books.
(Never give up, Friends!)
Let’s start with some Questions
Q. 1 Tell us about your path to publication for COUNT ON US! Was it always a counting book? How did you decide which Earth Heroes (like Greta Thunberg and Jane Goodall) to feature?
Gabi Snyder: In writing COUNT ON US!, I wanted to capture the way a movement can grow in an exponential way from something small to something huge and powerful. I’ve always been fascinated by patterns, especially growing patterns, and imagining a movement starting with one person and then growing exponentially gives me chills!
Was it always a counting book?
G.S. — Initially I drafted the story with numbers doubling with each new line/letter, so the progression was 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. But ultimately my agent and I decided that it would be cleaner and more reader-friendly to go with a base ten approach, counting by ones up to ten, then counting by tens up to 100, and then going to 1,000, 10,000, etc. up to 1,000,000,000!
G.S. — The book was also inspired by conversations with my daughter about climate change. In trying to figure out how best to help, she and I both became overwhelmed. How could we make a dent in such a huge and complex problem? It can be easy to lose hope and become apathetic. Apathy leads to inaction – which is the opposite of what’s needed right now! So I wanted to write something hopeful and inspiring, something focused on what we can do.
I am grateful to Barefoot Books, and especially to editor Emma Parkin, for helping to create the extensive back matter, including the Earth Heroes, for inclusion in COUNT ON US! I believe my original draft included Greta Thunberg, but the additional Earth Heroes were added by Barefoot.
Q. 2 Every picture book takes a village, as they say. Who is in your #kidlit village? Extra points for using the counting format of COUNT ON US! ( ex 1 editor (name please), 2 critique partners… thousands of readers!)
Gabi Snyder: With COUNT ON US!, my supportive kidlit village included…
1 fabulous agent (Natalie Lakosil)
2 Barefoot editors (Kate DePalma, who acquired the manuscript, and Emma Parkin, who edited it)
3 family members who supported me (my husband, son, and especially my activist daughter)
4 kidlit groups (2 critique groups plus SCBWI and the 12×12 picture book challenge)
5 coffeeshops (probably)
10 mentor texts (at least)
100 drafts (nearly)
1000 readers (someday!)
Call to Action!
Q. 3 I love the call-to-action theme of your book. And since DEAR EARTH…begins when Room 5 makes a New Year’s resolution to give back to Earth, what New Year’s resolutions might the characters or the activists featured in COUNT ON US! make? What resolutions might they suggest for those of us wanting to do our part?
Gabi Snyder: Erin, I love how the kids in your picture book, DEAR EARTH…, start off as Room 5 and evolve into to Earth Heroes, helping our planet even when school is out for the summer!
G.S. — I think the characters in COUNT ON US! might choose resolutions that draw upon their unique interests or skills. Each of their resolutions might look a little different. Some will speak up for science. Others will nurture native plants or join conservation efforts. I think they might look for local initiatives to join. They might resolve to research local conservation efforts and then write letters, create banners, and join rallies in support of those efforts.
G.S. — For those of us wanting to do our part, they might suggest we start with small everyday actions, like the easy day-by-day guide included in the COUNT ON US! back matter.
Q. 5 Our books make such a wonderful pairing! Taking this one step further, if the characters on one of the spreads in COUNT ON US! wrote a letter to DEAR EARTH, about things they might do to help our environment, what would they say?
We resolve to inspire the people in our lives to help you, too! Some of us are going to invite our friends and families to join us in writing letters to our legislators in support of Earth-friendly policies. And some of us are going to invite our sisters, brothers, neighbors, aunts, uncles, and grandparents to plant gardens and trees with us.
The kids from COUNT ON US!
Q. 5 What do you want readers to take-away after reading your book?
Gabi Snyder: When you send a book out into the world, you don’t really know how it will be received. You have hopes. With COUNT ON US!…
I hope kids who may feel worried or overwhelmed by the problem of climate change will feel inspired and will see that there are things they can do.
I hope readers will see that when we work to inspire others to join the fight, our actions ripple outwards. We create momentum and grow the movement.
I also believe we can have more impact when we think about how to put our unique strengths and passions to work fighting climate change. Each person’s first steps might look a little different. The back matter in COUNT ON US! provides a starting point for kids, with information about activism, a list of inspiring ideas, and an easy day-by-day guide for taking small actions.
I want kids to know that big businesses (especially the main polluters, like oil companies) and governments have a lot more power to fight climate change by creating plant-protecting rules and laws.
And for the adults reading this book: I hope they will see that, while actions like recycling and planting trees are important, we need to model for our kids that it’s also our job to speak out, to let our leaders know that climate change matters to us!
Thank you Gabi,
for joining the blog today!
To learn more about Gabi Snyder and her books, check out her website: gabisnyder.com