This year, Jews around the world will light their first Hanukkah candle on Tuesday, December 16. For two weeks, I will be connecting with authors who have added a new book to the growing selection of Hanukkah children’s books. Jewish and non Jewish children will be delighted to read Natasha Wing’s latest book, The Night Before Hanukkah. Anyone familiar with Natasha is aware of her popular series, “The Night Before.” Even though the series is based on a notable Christmas story, the content of the book rings true to modern Jewish tradtions.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog will be eligible for a random drawing. The winner will receive a copy of The Night Before Hanukkah.
In 1992, you published your first children’s book, Hippity Hop, Frog on Top. What inspired you to become a children’s author and write this particular book? What steps did you take to accomplish this goal?
I was working at an advertising agency and didn’t feel like I was being very creative so I took my chances at writing children’s books because I love the merging of text and art. Chris Van Allsburg’s book, The Polar Express, inspired me to create magic for children through books. Once I realized that that’s what I wanted to do, I took classes and joined a writers’ group and attended an SCBWI conference. I like writing picture books and the idea for Hippity Hop, Frog on Top came from another book I was reading for children where there was an illustration that had a frog in it that couldn’t jump high enough to see over a fence. I thought if this frog had nine other friends they could pile up and see over, so the book became a counting book to ten.
What do you hope to accomplish as a children’s author?
Lots of things! I hope to continue growing my writing skills. I hope to write more novels. I’d like to illustrate one of my own books. And I’d like to get more of the manuscripts I’ve written over the 23 years into publication.
Your emphasis is on early reading books? What attracts you to this particular audience?
I write picture books because they are simple, are only about 3-5 manuscript pages long, and they offer a platform for illustrators to fill in between the lines with their own story in their art. I also enjoy this age group where the light bulb goes off and they learn to love reading.
Many years ago, you started “The Night Before” series of children’s books. How many books have your written for this series? Why did you choose writing a series of books on this topic?
I’ve published nineteen (The Night Before the New Baby is out of print), plus there’s one due out next spring, another one’s with the illustrator, another we just completed final edits, and there’s another due in February. I originally wanted to write an Easter story because I love bunnies. As a kid it was just as exciting for me to wait for the Easter Bunny as it was for Santa. So I thought it’d be fun to take a well-known Christmas story and put an Easter twist on it. Originally it was going to be just one story, but my editor saw the potential for other stories so the series grew organically into more holidays and then other subjects like school and summer activities.
Many writing experts recommend writing book series. What are the pros and cons of writing a series?
Pros: It can turn into your bread and butter so that you have a steady income. It can create a “name” for you. If they sell well, you’ll get more sales support. It can be a fun writing challenge to tie the series together. Cons: It can label you. It can interrupt other writing projects if you’re under deadline. It can be overseen by many editors over time so consistencies between the books may become tweaked or altered each time a new person comes on board.
Do your story ideas for the “The Night Before” series come from your past experiences? Have you done additional research before writing any of these books?
There’s a bit of my childhood experiences in most of the books. Like in The Night Before the Night Before Christmas. I remember the “tragedy” of mom burning the cookies, and Dad getting out the string of lights and there’d always be one out so he’d have to run to the store. That was before they made strings of light where it didn’t matter if a few went out. For some titles I did do some additional research that involved talking to friends and families about their holiday traditions, or talking to teachers about what they do in their classrooms to celebrate.
Can readers look forward to any upcoming releases for this series?
Yes! The Night Before the Fourth of July will be out in 2015, as will The Night Before the Dance Recital, and possibly The Night Before the New Pet.
Recently, you published The Night Before Hanukkah. How did you decide which elements of the festival to include in your story? Did you have to do any additional research?
The Night Before Hanukkah was the hardest for me to write since I have never celebrated Hanukkah. So I read about it online, read a book one of my friends who is Jewish lent me, asked my high school friends how they celebrated, and my editor, who is Jewish, also double-checked the details. I wanted to spread the traditions over the nights so I didn’t have gift-giving every night, for example. I also wanted to get a bit in about the history of the holiday so that families who are not Jewish could learn about Hanukkah.
How did your word choice and rhyming patterns affect the pace in The Night Before Hanukkah? Do all of the books follow a similar cadence?
I think that books that rhyme have a build-in pace that clues the reader into how the book should be read. In each Night Before book I include phrases/images that are similar to the original poem’s, such as the kids nestling in bed with a vision in their head, so that readers can immediately identify my book with the original and anticipate how to read it.
In what ways does your Hanukkah book differ from other books that are currently on the market? Does your book address a general audience or a Jewish audience?
My book might not appeal to Orthodox Jews for the reason that it’s based on a Christmas story. But what I like to do in my books is spotlight a modern busy family that’s doing their best to celebrate a holiday in both traditional and modern ways. This book was meant to appeal to modern Jewish families and in doing so make it accessible to a general audience who is interested in learning about a holiday outside of their belief system.
Picture book authors rely on illustrators to create pictures that correspond with the written words. During the process of creating the contents and illustrations were you able to communicate directly with Amy Wummer or did your publisher coordinate the pictures?
I have not communicated with Amy on any of the books which is typical. I might see some sketches, but for the most part I do my thing and she does hers. I’m happy with her illustration style – it’s upbeat, energetic and has a warm, family feel.
When you sit down to write a new book, what are your top 5 priorities? I don’t have an organized approach to writing. If an idea strikes me, I write it down and work it out, and if it still interests me and seems to be clever and fun, I try to see it through to submission.
What is the favorite aspect of your school visits? Can you share a memorable moment?
My favorite part is Q&A when the typically shy kids find the bravado to ask a question. That means they are comfortable with me and are excited to know more, and their curiosity has been turned on. One memorable moment I was just thinking about the other day was when a school presented me with a quilt made from squares each class had made, and each square was of a book that I had published. I had tears it was so sweet.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with my audience?
Writing for kids is a fun job. There’s a lot of room for creativity and freedom, and I still get surprised when someone comes up with a new way of illustrating a book, or interpreting a book’s purpose or shape, or a writer creates a world that we’ve never been exposed to before. I call those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments.
Later this week, I will be reviewing The Night Before Hanukkah.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, December 21, 2014 will be eligible for a book giveaway. Natasha Wing will send the randomly selected winner an autographed copy of The Night Before Hanukkah.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.