I'm happy to feature my friend and fellow #BookMeshuggenah, Karen Rostaker-Gruber. Karen is an award-winning and multi-published author, and she's also a ventriloquist. I'm especially fond of her Frog Puppet, who periodically reads from Jewish-themed books! Check out the adorable Frog video, below. Enjoy Karen's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
Way back in 2005, my editor at asked me to write a sequel to my book Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo. But, then she left and the next editor really didn't like my sequel, which was called, "Farmer Ted's Dinner Date." So, I put that story away for a really long time. In 2014, I took it out again. I went to see my Rabbi (Rabbi Ron Isaacs) and I asked him to look over some of my stories to see if there were any that had Jewish values in them. I gave him several stories, but the one that he focussed on was "Farmer Ted's Dinner Date." He told me that there were many Jewish values in that one story: compassion for animals, welcoming guests, among others. So, I went home and rewrote the story. I had the story take place during Hanukkah, and set it on the most famous moshav in Israel--The Nahalal Moshav--because I have cousins who live there. (I had actually visited that moshav when I was 18 years old.)
I also looked around and found out that there were no picture books about moshavs, so I figured, it was time for children to see what a moshav looks like.
Here are some Nahalal Moshav photos taken by my cousin.
I also changed the animals. In "Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo" Farmer Ted had Rooster, cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens, but since they don't have pigs on moshavs in Israel (because they aren't kosher), I had Farmer Kobi with Donkey, goats, geese, and sheep. I had Ron write "A Note for Families" about the two Jewish values that he told me he could include, and we sent it off to Behrman House.
At that time Behrman House was launching Apples and Honey Press! Who knew! They launched with three books their first season: Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match, a book by David Adler called Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles, and Kayla and Kugel by Ann Koffsky. Here we are at Book Expo! I'm the one in the middle!
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I'm also a ventriloquist and I perform at schools and libraries with my life-sized puppets (Maria and Frog). Here is Maria at High Tea at a Tea House in New Jersey.
Frog is the puppet that I use for my Jewish-themed books when I go to Hebrew Schools or JCCs. Sometimes Rabbi Ron Isaacs and I put on Hanukkah Shows, Passover Shows, and Mitzvot Shows.
Here are Ron and I at a Hanukkah show at a JCC (Frog wasn't born yet.) Ron plays the guitar, sings, and performs magic tricks at all of the shows. I'm the ventriloquist. My puppets become his side-kick when they sing his songs.
CONNECTION -- how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
I recently became involved in a group called The Book Meshuggenahs. We are Jewish women who write Jewish-themed books. I post pictures of our books on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Collectively our group has over 57 Jewish-themed titles and 6 more due out in 2020! I also send out e-mails to JCCs, Temples, gift shops, etc., once a month, highlighting our titles. On the first or second of each month, I use my puppet "Frog" to market our Jewish holiday books.
We don't practice it, we do it "on the fly." Here is a video of Frog doing just that:
Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of many picture books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Children's Literature Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit's Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children's Book Council Children's Choices Award recipients; three of her books, Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (in 2005), Bandit (in 2009), and Ferret Fun (in 2012) were all chosen for the 100 Best Children's Books in the Bureau of Education and Research's Best of the Year Handbook. Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo and Ferret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen's latest book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples and Honey Press, a division of Behrman House, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017 and went out to 21,000 4-year-olds in the US and Canada. Her book Happy Birthday to the Trees will be coming out from KarBen in 2020 and is also a PJ Library selection. She is an active member of SCBWI, and she has twice co-chaired the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature's One-on-One Conference.
CONNECT WITH KAREN: