It’s time for part 5 of Publishing #kidlit in a Pandemic, and I’m excited to showcase these #2020BookLook authors and their lovely books:
SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES
by Melissa Berger Stoller
(Spork/ Illus. Lisa Goldberg / Oct. 20)
Sadie loves listening to Nana’s tales, especially about the traveling candlesticks, kiddush cup, and challah cover they use every Friday night. Will Sadie ever be able to tell her own special Shabbat stories, just like Nana? Based on true stories in the Author Melissa Stoller’s family, this book celebrates family history and connections.
THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN
by Julie Abery
(Kids Can Press/ Illus. Pierre Pratt– Oct. 6)
Told in rhyming verse, this is the true story of João Pereira de Souza of Brazil, who cared for a Magellanic penguin that had been caught in an oil spill–and their unlikely friendship.
João hears “a sorry screech” as he walks along the shore near his home…
- Both books combine interesting cultures with real life stories/connections.
- Both include an older adult character, connections, and kindness.
- Both books release this month–in these chaotic times–and deserve more fanfare. Right?
Welcome Melissa and Julie!
Melissa Berger Stoller: Thanks, Erin! I’m so happy to be featured on your blog along with my friend and fellow #2020BookLook member, Julie Abery! And I’m excited to get my copy of Julie’s new book, THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN.
Q 1. What inspired you to write these stories?
Melissa Berger Stoller: I was inspired to write SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES because of stories I have heard over the years about my own family. Specifically, my father Harry often spoke about the years he spent in Europe during World War I. He was born in New York, but his mother took him to Europe to meet his grandparents. His father stayed home to work. My father and grandmother were caught during the war and couldn’t return to almost ten years! This story always captured my imagination, and I heard more family history from my father’s brother, Uncle Sam, over the years. Later, I heard stories about my husband’s grandfather Reuben, who left Russia when he was a teenager in 1917 due to violence against Jewish people at that time.
He left with only his younger brother and a few items and made his way to safety in America, never seeing his parents again.
These stories resonated with me and I knew I wanted to incorporate them into a book. And I channeled my Nana Jessie, who was a great storyteller herself. It all came together in Sadie, the main character in SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES. She has a wonderful relationship with her Nana, and learns about her heritage through her Nana’s Shabbat stories. And one day, Sadie finds her voice and learns to tell her very own stories.
I was so happy that Callie Metler-Smith, the publisher at Clear Fork Publishing (Spork Imprint), shared my vision, and Mira Reisberg was a joy to work with as Editor/Art Director. Along with the immensely talented illustrator Lisa Goldberg, we were a #DreamTeam!
Julie Abery: Wow! This sounds fascinating, Melissa! I cannot wait to add SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES to my bookshelf when it publishes later this month! I love true stories, Erin, and I am thrilled to share a little bit about my inspiration for THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN with you today.
In 2016, I read about João Pereira de Souza and Dindim’s adorable story in the news. It was such a heartwarming story about a man and his penguin pal, that I couldn’t resist digging further into the Google blackhole to find out a little more about it. I pawed over photos, videos, read lots of articles, and scribbled “Tiny penguin, stuck like glue, dripping in an oily goo” and “Fishy kisses” into my notebook. The story remained that couple of lines until a few years later when I was looking for a story idea for Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words story contest. Top tip… keep a notebook!
After the contest, I decided to expand the story start. I particularly liked the link to nature and conservation, as my son is an ecologist. After I had shared the story with my agent, we agreed that I should take it along to Bologna Book Fair with me.
ED note: Lucky Julie lives in Switzerland!
Julie Abery: I had a meeting already scheduled [at the Bologna Book Fair] with Kids Can Press, who had just signed my Sakamoto Swim Club story, so I shared it with them…
It was such a pleasure working with my editor at Kids Can Press and award-winning illustrator Pierre Pratt to really make the text sing and add a layer of fun and humor.
Q 2. What discoveries did you make while researching/writing these stories?
Melissa Berger Stoller: I did lots of research for SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES. While researching at Ancestry.com, I found census records and even the ship’s log for my father’s journey back home to New York. All these historical documents, as well as details about the ritual objects associated with Shabbat, helped shape the narrative.
Julie Abery: In writing THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, I discovered many things about Magellanic penguins, also called banded penguins because of their unique striped pattern. They mostly live in south America and the Falkland Islands. In the spring, they migrate north to warmer places at the same time as shoals of anchovies are on the move…dinner on the swim — how convenient! They were named after the Portuguese explorer Francis Magellan, who discovered the species in 1519 on his voyage around the world. I also found out that Magellanic penguins are monogamous… who knows, perhaps one reason Dindim bonded with his rescuer?
Q 3. What surprises did your illustrators bring to your stories?
Melissa Berger Stoller: Lisa Goldberg brought such joy and illumination to this book! Her Chagall-inspired artwork adds an exquisite layer to the book. I particularly love the dreamy quality of her illustrations, and her color palette. Also, she incorporates a visual story thread throughout of a playful cat – I know that readers will enjoy looking for the cat as they read the book.
Julie Abery: The first illustration I saw from Pierre Pratt for João and Dindim was their portrait. From that moment, I knew that THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN was going to be adorable. The connection he created between the characters was so loving and sweet, and the book’s warm color palette takes me right to the beach! He also became involved with the revision process, which was great. As Pierre speaks Portuguese, he had access to interviews Jennifer and I didn’t, and so brought some interesting facts to the process.
Q 4. What do you hope young readers will take away from these wonderful stories?
Melissa Berger Stoller: I hope that readers will take away an appreciation for their heritage and the special stories that are present in all our families that keep us connected. Now is a wonderful time to interview older relatives to learn about their experiences, both the joys and the hardships. And as I tell students when I do school visits, we are all storytellers. We all have our unique stories that only we can tell.
Julie Abery: I hope young readers will be touched by the kindness João shows to the penguin, be inspired by the tender inter-species relationship they develop, and will be encouraged to look after nature. The story of THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN gives a gentle introduction to oil spills and their effect on nature, which I hope will lead to class discussions on environmental awareness and how we can all help.
Q 5. Tell us about your upcoming projects:
Melissa Berger Stoller: I have two picture books releasing in 2021 with Clear Fork Publishing (Spork). RETURN OF THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke) is the sequel to SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH, and it’s a friendship story that incorporates colors, nature, and a little bit of magic.
And I’m delighted to be collaborating with Callie Metler-Smith and Shirin Shamsi on PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM, a story about three girls from three different faith traditions who cultivate friendship on the first day of school through planting seeds. Callie, Shirin, and I represent the same faith traditions as the girls, and we love working on this project together.
Julie Abery: I have a few books releasing in 2021, Erin. SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB: HOW A TEACHER LED AN UNLIKELY TEAM TO VICTORY (Spring 2021) is another true story, being published by Kids Can Press. It follows the life of science teacher, Soichi Sakamoto and his swim club. The story starts in the irrigation ditches of 1930’s Maui, where his team first learned to swim, and ends in 1948 at the Olympic Games in Wembley, London. It has been stunningly illustrated by the phenomenal Chris Sasaki!
There are also another two Little Animal Friends board books (Amicus Ink) launching in Spring 2021.
Learn more about these authors and their books!
Next time we’ll be talking to the awesomely prolific Sue Fliess about the Spanish edition of I’M A BALLERINA and her new Christmas release, CHRISTMAS CHEER!
Until then–stay safe, everyone!