Simply 7 with Susan Novich & Give Away–HELLO, HANUKKAH!

As the holidays approach, there are more and more books to celebrate.  Today’s Simply 7 spotlights one of those and will even give away a copy to one lucky winner!

Susan_Novich_Author_Photo_to_JenaSusan Novich has visited my blog before.  She finds inspiration in the tiny scraps of paper and is a graduate of Simmons College. She also has a certificate in Children’s Illustration from The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The mother of three grown children, Susan lives in Providence, RI with her husband, Bruce, and their dog, Coco, a rescued Havanese. You can learn more about her at her website.

Novich_HELLO, HANUKKAH COVERHELLO, HANUKKAH! is another delightful board book written and illustrated with cut paper by Susan.  It combines Hanukkah traditions with cute animal characters, colors, and counting.  It’s a vibrant and fun introduction to the holiday.

There will be more info on the give away of this book coming up, so stay tuned.

Welcome back Susan!

Me: This is an intriguing board book celebrating Hanukkah AND counting.  What gave you the idea for this concept?

Susan: First, thank you so very much for having me here today — it’s great to be back. You always ask the most thoughtful questions!

I have a young granddaughter, and she has a wonderful multicultural background. It’s made me think a lot about how important it is for kids to understand their specific world and to also be aware of the greater world around them. As I thought about my Jewish heritage and the holidays I’d shared with my orthodox Jewish grandparents, I knew I wanted to pass along that cultural understanding, and that I wanted that appreciation to start early in life. As a celebration that lasts for eight days, introducing Hanukkah along with its many traditions gave me the opportunity to layer in additional concepts to the book – counting and colors.

Me: Why did you choose a badger for the main character this time?

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First Draft: a cover sketch of HELLO, HANUKKAH! featuring mouse and cat characters

Susan: I am so happy that you asked that question! There is story behind the story  – and it adds yet another layer. When I put together the very first draft of the story, the main characters were a little gray house mouse and his pal, a house cat. The mouse had the bigger role – the cat was his sidekick, and I liked having the small mouse be the one in charge. I thought kids would enjoy that, too, so when I made my first book dummy, I used them as the characters.

As I played around though, and thought more about the setting, I kept thinking about Israel. And then it occurred to me that there are a lot of books with a mouse as the main character and I thought…maybe it would be fun to use more unusual animals, and more specifically, ones found in Israel. I’ve always thought badgers were cute, and they’re common in Israel, so that fit the bill for the main character. But what to replace the cat with? I began going through my sketch books, and discovered drawings I’d made at the Harvard Museum of Natural history just before COVID-19 hit. Among the many creatures I’d sketched were Hoopoe birds — I was fascinated by their wild, fun crests. When research revealed that the Hoopoe is the national bird of Israel, I had my other character.

Me: That’s fun!  Can you talk about your artistic process for this book?  Did you work again with cut paper, or did you choose another medium? 

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Prototypes: a handful of Hoopoe Birds

Susan: Sure – I am happy to! I worked once again with cut paper — I seem to be a cut-paper girl through and through. There’s something satisfying to me about wielding an X-acto knife — maybe it’s the joy I experience when witnessing the utter chaos of a pile of paper scraps re-assembled into a colorful character or scene.

In HELLO, HANUKKAH! the Hoopoe character was especially fun to figure out. The first version of her was taller and a bit thinner, but ultimately, I decided to make her shorter and rounder — to have proportions more reflective of a small child. I had a lot of fun playing with her crest!

In addition to the cut paper part, I also enjoy adding a little bit of pastel and colored pencil — but mostly I find myself drawn to paper and its various textures. I sometimes look at a piece of paper and it almost seems to speak to me, telling me what it should or could become.

Me:  I love that and I love how incredibly specific each element is within the celebration of Hanukkah in this book.  How did you decide which elements to include or what order to put them into?

Susan: Other than the sufganiyot, (the jelly-filled, donut-like pastry) all of the elements I included were integral to the celebrations I enjoyed as a child. Every Hanukkah would find our family spinning dreidels, singing Hanukkah songs, eating (noshing) on chocolate gelt, frying latkes and more as we lit the candles each night. It was fun to be able to take each element, juxtapose it with the candles being lit each evening, and highlight it on its own page. As for the order, it was both planned and a little bit arbitrary, and was often decided by how the number of dreidels or latkes might look like visually on the page as Badger participated in that activity.

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Me: Is there also a significance to the color of the candles?  I thought I’d read somewhere that they were only white and blue.  Do the colors have meaning? Do they also go in a certain order?

Susan: Great question! There is no significance to the color of the candles.

Any color candle may be used in the Hanukkah menorah. In fact, for me as a young child, carefully selecting the candle colors (and the order in which to put them in the menorah each night) was another

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Hoopoe, Hanukkah candles in the menorah, and Badger: the progression from black and white sketch to color studies, and then prepping the placement for final art

of my favorite Hanukkah activities. It must have been the young artist in me! While boxes of Hanukkah candles (fun fact: a total of 44 are used for the holiday) come in and with a variety of colors, it’s true that you often see boxes of just blue and white as well. Blue and white are the colors of the Israeli flag, so that may be one of the reasons why.

Regarding order, the first candle to be lit is called the shamash, which means helper or attendant. The shamash candle is used to light the other candles each night. And yes — the order is important. The candles to be lit each night are always placed in the menorah from right to left. When the candles are lit, however, it is from the opposite direction – from left to right –the newest candle is always lit first. The shamash candle is placed in its spot once the other candles have been lit, and it sits either higher or lower than the other candles as a way to differentiate it from the others.

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in creating this story?

Susan: How much fun I had revisiting the holiday, how many good memories it brought back, how it made me feel close to my parents and grandparents who are no longer here, and how happy it made me to revisit passing along these traditions to my own children. We still enjoy celebrating together whenever possible – to make, and of course, EAT latkes! I hope this little board book can help other people learn about and establish their own special traditions to enjoy the holiday, beginning with lap-time reading and continuing on into adulthood.

Me: Is Hanukkah your favorite holiday?  If so, why and what is your favorite tradition?

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Badger fries some latkes!

Susan: It’s definitely one of them. And the why would be because it brings me back to simpler times when my kids were little. As for favorite tradition, it would have to be the latkes — it’s all about the latkes in our house! When my kids were young, they often volunteered my latkes for their respective classrooms and I loved that they were excited to share the tradition with others.

Another reason has to do with my father. One of my treasured memories is of the discussions we would have each Hanukkah about how best to savor the latkes. Sour cream? Applesauce? Those are the traditional accompaniments. In our house, however, the traditional accompaniments were apple sauce — my mother’s favorite — and oddly enough, a sprinkle of sugar, my father’s favorite! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another family that used sugar. (If there’s another sugar-on-latke-lover out there, please let me know. We might be related!) Nowadays, I enjoy both applesauce and sour cream. But to connect with my dad, I try to sneak one in with a sprinkle of sugar.

Thank you again, Jena, for the opportunity to be here. I didn’t realize I had so much to say about these 18 pages!

You’re welcome Susan, and thank you again for stopping by!

Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this cute little book, I highly recommend it.  It’s a wonderful introduction for little readers to the holiday with colors, counting, badgers and hoopoe birds.  Better yet, there’s a give away of ONE copy to one lucky reader.  If you’re interested, enter the rafflecopter here!  Good luck!

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