Hanukkah’s starting one week from today and it’s a perfect time to grab a copy of author Karen Rostoker-Gruber’s newest gem, Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match.
I had the pleasure of catching up with her and chatting about not only Farmer Kobi, but some of her earlier works. Karen is an award-winning New Jersey author who loves to feature animals as her main characters. What better way to get kids interested in reading! Library Inspirations had the following questions to ask:
LI: What inspired your idea for Farmer Kobi’s Hannukah Match? You often have animals as characters, but this time with a Jewish theme.
Karen: Ever since I wrote “Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo,” in 2004 for Dial Books for Young Readers, which sold A LOT of copies, was nominated for awards: The Missouri Show Me Award, The International Reading Association, Children’s Choices Award, was put on the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year list for 2005, and selected to be a Dolly Parton Imagination Library selection two years in a row (selling like 75,000 copies both years) I couldn’t get farm animals out of my head. They wanted to be in another book. Since the Rooster book was doing very well, my editor at Dial had asked me to write a sequel. I did. It was called “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.” But, like most good things in life, that editor left Dial. So, I kept that book sitting in my drawer until 2013.
In 2013 I met with Rabbi Ron Isaacs. He was my Rabbi at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, NJ. I wanted to tap a different market–the Jewish market–and I wondered if there were any stories that I currently had that would be of any use, if I just revised them. One of the manuscripts that I gave him to read was “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.” He told me that there were a lot of Jewish values in that book, and that I should send that manuscript to some Jewish publications once I “baked” in more Jewish customs, or food, or something. That night I went home and did a lot of thinking. It dawned on me that I had the perfect fix. A lot of my family members live in Israel and some live on the most famous moshav there–The Nahalal Moshav. I went to the library, and found out that there are currently NO (nada, ziltch) children’s books about life on a moshav. So I contacted my cousins in Israel, had them send me photographs of life on a moshav-pictures of the tractors that they drive, the houses that they live in, the clothes that they wear, animals that they have, and things that they keep in their pantry. I rewrote the book, changed the animals (and the puns), changed the food that the farmer served (he was always a vegetarian, but now he was eating more Israeli food), the farmer’s name, the setting, and the title to “Farmer Yehuda’s Dinner Date,” and submitted it to Behrman House. At that time Behrman House, which is a publishing house that is really big in the Jewish Educational world, was launching a new press for the trade market called, “Apples and Honey Press.” It was perfect timing. 🙂
LI: Was it fun to collaborate with your co-author, Rabbi Ron Isaacs? What are the Jewish values in your book?
Karen: Rabbi Ron and I are having a blast working together. Not only did we write together (me: the story, Ron: the “A Note for Families”), but we are also putting on Hanukkah shows. I didn’t realize that Ron not only sings and plays guitar, but is a magician as well. I am an author and a ventriloquist, so it is quite the match. We are having so much fun; I can’t believe we are getting paid for it. 🙂
LI: I love your Ferret character series, any plans for more books in that series?
Karen: Thank you for loving my ferret friends (Fudge and Einstein). They are quite the ferret duo. When the first ferret book, “Ferret Fun,” came out I was working with Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish. Marshall Cavendish was sold to Amazon when “Ferret Fun in the Sun,” was released, and Margery Cuyler left, so I don’t think more ferret books will be coming out. 😦
I write about animals because they don’t have limitations or restrictions. What I mean by that is that no one (parents, editors) gets upset if a cat goes outside alone, without holding someone’s hand to cross the street, or if a ferret explores a bit in the book and meets up with a snake, without its owner, etc. There is a bit too much to consider when writing about an actual child. Also, I get to use puns when I have the animals talk and that is always so much fun. 🙂
Karen’s website is: http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com/
And get your latkes frying, dreidels spinning and please read this newest Hannukah classic with your family!
Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match
by Karen Rostoker-Gruber & Rabbi Ron Issacs; illus. by CB Decker
32 pages; ages 4-7
Apples & Honey Press, 2015