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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - KAREN ROSTOKER-GRUBER

I'm so happy to interview my friend and fellow Book Meshuggenah Karen Rostoker-Gruber on the blog today. She shares about her new book, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES, illustrated by Holly Sterling, and reveals some secrets about her amazing puppet, Maria. Read on for Karen's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome back, Karen!

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

Here's a bit about the journey for my newest book, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES:  

I was invited to a luncheon in New York for the PJ Library. About 20 other authors were there.  At that time I had three published Jewish-themed  books, Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah, which is a real haggadah that was featured in the NY Times!  

They told us that they were actively looking for board books and chapter books at the time.  I had a lot of board books in my drawer already, so I sent them the one that I liked the best.  At that time it was called, "Happy Birthday to the Trees."  

Months later, (I forgot all about sending that story into the PJ Library) I got a call from the PJ Library that I won the author incentive award--2000 dollars.  Then my agent (I now had an agent) found a publisher for it.   NOTE: I negotiated contracts on my own (with Mary Flower, a publishing lawyer and my husband) for my 14 other traditionally-published books with houses like: Dial Books for Young Readers, Price Stern Sloan, Marshall Cavendish, and Apples and Honey Press.  I only had an agent for this book and my new book, A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale. Joni Sussman from KarBen got back to my agent really quickly about my manuscript.  Joni had very few changes and was easy to work with. During the revision process, she showed me the illustrator that she had in mind for my book. I loved Holly's illustration style: simple, colorful, and fun! I couldn't wait to see what Holly would do with this very simple board book.  Her characters look like they are having a blast on every page in my book.  You can buy/order this book from any bookstore.  Or, you can use my local bookstore:  The Bookworm - 908-766-4599. Here's a teacher's guide to go with it: You can also order the book on-line at: 2) CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

I am a self-taught ventriloquist, so that's what I also do in addition to writing books for children. I take Maria (my life-sized puppet) to every school visit--even virtual ones. I just did a virtual presentation for 600 students in New Jersey. And, I've Zoomed with classes in India and California recently.  

One time, after a show, a boy came up to me and wanted to know how his parents could "buy" him a puppet like Maria. I told him that I got the last talking puppet on the internet.       

Here's Maria as RBG.  She likes to dress up. 

3) CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your

writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

I am one of the co-founders of a group called The Book Meshuggenahs.  We're 18 Jewish women who write traditionally-published, Jewish theme or character books.  Collectively we have over 67 Jewish titles, which is amazing. So I really try to market those books at least once a week on Meshuggenah Monday.


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 Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen), also a PJ Library Selection;  and A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Whitman) both came out in 2020. 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. She is also one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs.  





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