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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - KAREN ROSTOKER-GRUBER

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

I'm delighted to highlight my friend Karen Rostoker-Gruber on the blog today! Karen is a multi-published and award-winning author, with her new picture book, A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, releasing on October 1, 2020. I loved learning about the inspiration and work behind this book! She is also a fellow Book Meshuggenah - we are a group of 18 Jewish women who write books with Jewish themes or characters. Read on for Karen's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Karen!

STORIES -- Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

After sending countless stories to one editor, and getting rejected, I asked her, "What would you like to see from me in the future?" She told me to send her a folktale.

So, that day, I went to the library and took out a lot of folktale books--about 20 or so--borrowed more from friends, and bought some online. Then, for weeks, I sat and read folktales from morning to night. I didn't skip any--just in case the one I skipped happened to be the perfect one. I kept looking for a folktale that I could simplify--folktales that no one reworked for a while--folktales that Disney didn't redo.

I came across two Yiddish folktales that I loved: one of them I had heard back when I was younger and the other one I had never heard of before.

At 3am that night, after going over and over one of the folktales in my head all day long, I wrote this down on a sticky note:

In case you can't read my chicken-scratch (Hah!), it says:

No room to sit,

no room to pace,

no room to rest,

no extra space!

That little rhyme was just what I needed as a starting point. I couldn't wait to begin working on it in the morning.

I love repeated refrains, bits of rhyme, and lyrical writing. I'm also a sucker for a good animal pun, if it isn't forced. And, most of the time, I add in a touch of adult humor to my books. Also, after reading hundreds of folktales, I noticed that not one of them had a wise woman in charge. So, I put a wise woman in my folktale instead of a wise man. Times have changed.

Once I finished the story, sent it to my critique groups, proofread it (until I couldn't see the words anymore), I sent it to the editor who asked me to write a folktale for her. But, as luck would have it, by the time I wrote it, revised it, reworked it, and sent it her way, she had already acquired a story that was too similar.

This time though, unlike my previous 14 traditionally-published books, which I sold myself and negotiated with the help of Mary Flower (a book lawyer), I had an agent. I ran it by her and she loved it. She sent it out on submission in March and we got a response in April!

When my agent first submitted the book, it was called, "No Extra Space," but my editor, Andrea Hall, wanted to change it to have the word "folktale" in it, which was a great suggestion. It's now called, A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE.

It's due to come out on October 1, 2020. I'm really excited about this one!

Here's the book trailer for it:

You can pre-order it now, I can sign it, The Bookworm can ship it!

The Bookworm

(my local bookstore)


If you don't need it signed, just order it from any book store! Or order it on-line at Amazon:

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

I'm a ventriloquist as well as a children's book author, but because of COVID-19 my usual creative outlets had to be altered: school, library, JCC, and camp shows either went virtual, were rescheduled, or cancelled.

Around mid-March I started doing storytimes on-line via Skype or Zoom--sometimes with Maria (my puppet) sometimes without.

I actually like staying in pajama pants or yoga pants and reading my books! (I did put on a nice shirt and make-up.)

Also, in March, the PJ Library asked me to read one of my books to their subscribers. That video wound up getting 63 shares and it's up to 3.6K views.

Here's the LIVE link:

I also did a 5-week story time for a global corporation. Employees from around the world signed up their children for a 1/2 storytime every Friday at 11:30 EST. I learned that I have to read really slowly as there is a lag time in other countries.

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

I'm extremely active on social media, but only post in the morning or late at night as I write during the day.

I post something about my books, cooking, or about my puppets once during the week on my FB page, Instagram, Linkedin, and Twitter.

I also post Meshuggenah Monday picks for a group called, The Book Meshuggenahs. We're a group of 18 Jewish women who write traditionally-published, Jewish-theme and character books. I post on FB, Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram. We have an annual Chai-ku Contest in the spring/summer and a Chanukah contest in the fall/winter.

We also just got masks! Check it out!


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 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 latest books will be coming out in 2020: A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Whitman) and Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen), which is also a PJ Library Selection and will be going out to 29,000 children in 2021. She's also published a board book, Tea Time (Marshall Cavendish), Ferret Fun in the Sun (Marshall Cavendish), a novelty book, Food Fright (PSS), The Family and Frog Haggadah (Behrman House), and 4 adult humor books.

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. Karen is also one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs!






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