Today I get to share a very special picture book just in time for the holidays.
Two summers ago (on my last trip to LA in the summer of 2018) I went to the Skirball Cultural Center to see a Jim Henson exhibit. It was magnificent and I adored seeing that exhibit. But I also took the time took explore the other facets of the museum. It held a wealth of Jewish history I’d never seen before and I marveled at the traditions passed down from generation to generation through many wars and persecutions. They were not my traditions and I felt like an awkward outsider looking in the window, but I still cherished the glimpse I saw of a community that would not be shaken. That is similar to how I felt when I read today’s picture book.
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla!. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator for the Debut Picture Book Study Group, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. Whew!! In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, where she is a Board Member at Temple Shaaray Tefila, and a member of the Jewish Book Council’s Literary Society. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.
“Sadie’s Shabbat Stories” is a touching picture book about family history and our own traditions. How do you teach kids about the importance of these? This story is a beautiful example of exactly how to do just that. It’s sweet and accessible for kids (and I totally admit that it made me tear up).
Me: “Sadie’s Shabbat Stories” is so touching. What is it that draws you to writing picture books?
Melissa: First of all, thank you for hosting me today, Jena. I am a big fan of your Simply 7 blog and I appreciated your thoughtful and insightful questions. I’m so glad you found SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES touching. I always strive to include lots of heart in my picture books, and with Lisa’s Goldberg’s gorgeous illustrations, I think this book will tug at the heartstrings of children and adults alike.
I love reading and writing picture books. I adore the melding of words and art to form a cohesive whole. The magic of the story really does derive from that perfect blending. I feel so lucky that this is my third picture book, following SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH and READY, SET, GORILLA! And I hope to continue working in this genre for a long time!
Me: Is this story autobiographical? What gave you the idea?
Melissa: SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES is based on my family history. I come from a family of storytellers and I wanted to honor that tradition. My Nana told wonderful stories about growing up in New York City, and my parents always shared stories with my brother and me as we grew up. A few family stories really stood out. First, my father’s history included being separated from his father as World War I broke out, and he and my Uncle Sam told that story over and over. And a story told by my husband’s grandfather also resonated with me – he left Russia as a teenager to find a better life in the United States. These tales touched my heart and didn’t let go until I finally wove them together into this picture book.
Me: What made you want to write this story about family traditions told from a child’s point of view?
Melissa: The book celebrates family connections and the power of storytelling. I have three daughters and I always encourage them to stand up and use their strong voices. So it was natural that the main character in this book would be a young girl. Sadie loves listening to her Nana’s stories about their ancestors and the family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. Sadie hopes that one day, she will find her unique voice and tell her own special stories, just like Nana. I hope that readers will be inspired to learn more about their own family stories and traditions after they read this book.
Me: This story sings of the love of family, love of history and generations, as well as the love of traditions and storytelling. Are these topics important to you? Why is that important for you to share with children and the world?
Melissa: The themes of having a strong voice and preserving your own unique heritage by being a family historian and a storyteller are important to me. We all have our own special stories that only we can tell. Some people tell their stories around a campfire, others put pen to paper to write a book, others may compose a song or a poem, and some may create paintings or other visual art. Whatever your method, I think it’s lovely to tell your story if that moves you.
I hope that children will relate to Sadie, and will be curious about the stories and heirlooms in their own families. Especially today, it’s so important to connect with older relatives and ask them questions about their lives. Children can interview grandparents and other relatives online even if they can’t be close in person. You never know what traditions and stories your family members will share, and it’s so important to preserve those memories.
Me: The illustrations by Lisa Goldberg in this book are beautiful. I love the dove (and that the family cat can see it!). The limited palette is also a perfect choice. Were there any illustrating surprises for you?
Melissa: I absolutely adore Lisa’s stunning illustrations and I’m so happy we were paired together by our amazing art director and illustrator, Mira Reisberg. And I also love the secondary storyline with the playful cat and the dove. Children really enjoy searching for both throughout the book.
One thing that surprised and thrilled me was that Lisa was inspired by the art of Marc Chagall, one of my favorite painters. I have visited the Marc Chagall National Museum in Nice, France, viewed the Chagall Windows at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel, and stood in front of his work at the Jewish Museum in New York City, among many other museums. And so when I gazed at Lisa’s early draft illustrations, I had tears in my eyes because her work truly spoke to me. I know that everyone who reads the book will be delighted and moved as well.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Melissa: Although I have been thinking about this story for many years, it took a while for the idea to weave together in my imagination. But then when I sat down to write, the words came quickly. Still, I revised over many, many drafts! It’s hard to know when a story is ready, but luckily I have wonderful critique partners who helped me at every stage of the writing process!
Me: Any advice for new picture book writers?
Melissa: I always encourage new picture book writers to read as many picture books as they can to get a feel for the genre, and to work on improving their craft by participating in online challenges and classes (many of which are free). I offer a section on my website called resources for writers where I list many courses, writing challenges, blogs to follow, and more. Check it out here at my website.
Also on my blog, I interview writers and ask three questions about stories, creativity, and connections. I learn new writing tips from these published authors with each feature! Check that out at my blog. Also, one of the best things you can do is find your community! Join SCBWI, find critique partners, make writing friends. I’m a member of the 12×12 picture book writing challenge, and that’s where I happily connected with you!
Yes you did! Thank you for stopping by my blog today Melissa. That’s great advice and great resources too.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to track down this book, I highly recommend it. It’s a glimpse into a culture that isn’t my own, and yet, it felt like it could’ve been my own family. This is truly a story you won’t want to miss.