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Friday, December 14, 2007

Pamela Ehrenberg - Ethan Suspended

Pamela Ehrenberg is the author of ETHAN SUSPENDED, a multi-layered novel about a boy who moves into the home of his grandparents. ETHAN SUSPENDED is a wonderful example of a growing genre in Jewish kidlit, with a strong Jewish character in a story that will appeal to kids of all backgrounds. Pamela is a former teacher. She currently lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and young daughter. I’m so happy to welcome Pamela and share her thoughts about writing.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book. Why were you drawn to write about a Jewish theme or character?

Ethan, Suspended (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) was published in March 2007; it's about a kid who moves to Washington, DC, to live with his grandparents and becomes the only white, and Jewish, student at his junior high school. He also becomes the world's first jazz oboist.

I don't think I consciously chose to write about Jewish characters; it was more like as they talked (and ate) I realized that of course they were Jewish. Exploring the history of Ethan's family in DC, and why his grandparents stayed put as their friends moved out to the suburbs, made me want to learn about Jewish roles during the Civil Rights Movement and past and present relationships between Jewish and African-American communities.

What type of research was involved?

Mostly it was the first-hand experience of teaching in a DC junior high. The school Ethan attends is fictional, but the setting was inspired by a school where I taught seventh and eighth-grade English a few years ago. As I was writing, I found gaps in my knowledge that led me to do some research at the DC Historical Society and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library (the stairwell of which appears in the book itself, as the site of the novel's one kiss). I also researched a few questions online, such as when I needed to know what flavors Fruit-by-the-Foot comes in.

How did you become a children's writer?

I think I've always been one: I remember "writing" a story in kindergarten and being dismayed when the ending was misinterpreted by one of my classmates. That was when I first thought about the relationship between writer and reader, how what I put on the page doesn't matter nearly as much as what the reader thinks is there. As an English major in college, I spent a couple of years trying to write "literary" short stories, until a professor returned a draft to me with the note, "This sounds like the first chapter of a young people's novel." That comment freed me to write what I had always loved.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on edits for my new book, currently called "Tillman County Fire," which is due out from Eerdmans in late 2008 or early 2009. It's about a fire that takes place in a rural West Virginia community--one of the main characters is one-quarter Jewish (through his father), so we'll see whether it's ultimately considered "Jewish book." And I'm also working on a new novel, about a Jewish extended family in 1950s Baltimore.

A few fun facts about me:

I live in Washington, D.C., with my husband Eric and daughter Talia (age 2.5 as of this writing). Neighborhood favorites include Butterscotch and Brownie, the gerbils in the kids' area of our library; a phenomenal Tot Shabbat service; and a couple of really nice coffee shops for writing. This year we came off the waiting list for a plot in our community garden, and Talia and I successfully grew 11 tomatoes and more kale than any of us had thought possible. More fun facts about me are on my website,

My favorite holiday:

Passover. I love the seders, especially our wildly off-key versions of adapted classics (in my family, "Adir Bimlicha" became "Grebow of Pimlico" in honor of my late grandfather's insurance business) and new favorites like "Don't Sit on the Afikomen." I love re-discovering treasures like the frog dish for holding saltwater (a gift from the rabbi who married us) and the plastic clapping hands that, after enough wine, sound vaguely like hail. But mostly I love how everything feels different for a week when our foods and dishes are different. I think a good book can have a similar effect, making the familiar seem just a little bit unfamiliar, making me see the world a little bit differently.

Pamela, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I promise to forward requests for the lyrics to “Don’t sit on the Afikomen!”

To learn more about ETHAN SUSPENDED, please visit Pamela’s website:

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Welcoming Betsy Rosenthal

I first met Betsy at a Jewish book event where we were both speakers. She was warm and friendly and I was charmed by her presentation. Betsy worked as a lawyer for many years before she became a children’s author. She has written two picture books, MY HOUSE IS SINGING, and IT’S NOT WORTH MAKING A TZIMMES OVER. Betsy lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. She says they are all “worth making a tzimmes over.” I’m so pleased to bring you this interview with my local colleague, Betsy Rosenthal.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book. Why you were drawn to write about a Jewish theme or character?

It's called, It's Not Worth Making a Tzimmes Over! It's a romp about a girl and her grandmother (her bubbe) who make a shabbat challah together. After Sara makes a mistake when she's adding the ingredients, the challah dough grows and grows until it's flowing through the town. They find a way to solve the problem and the whole community benefits from the yummy challah.

The story was based on a real life situation in which my son (when he was in a preschool temple program) mistakenly added his cup of orange juice to the mix instead of the eggs. It got me thinking.... In the book I even have a recipe for Challah a l'Orange courtesy of my son.

When I was growing up, my parents occasionally used Yiddish so that my brother and I wouldn't understand what they were saying. Hearing Yiddish brings back memories and gives me a warm feeling that I tried to replicate in my book by sprinkling in Yiddish words through the grandmother. I also have a Yiddish glossary in the back of the book.

What type of research was involved?

I did a little research on the old horror movie, The Blob. Also I used a couple of books to check the English spelling of the Yiddish words. And lastly, I tested out the challah recipe - it was yummy.

How did you become a children’s writer?

I used to practice law, up until I had my second child. At that time I stayed home with my children and spent many hours on the rocking chair, reading children's books to them. Since I had always loved to write stories and poems, I tried my hand at books for children. Now my children are beyond the age that I write for, but they still inspire me with their antics and give me fresh ideas I can incorporate into my writing.

What are you working on now?

I'm trying to interest a publisher in my novel in verse about my mother's childhood, growing up in a super large Jewish family (she was one of 12 children) in Baltimore during the depression.

What are a few fun facts about you?

In my Tzimmes book, Sara and her grandma play badminton because I play badminton. I just launched my website -- that has some biographical stuff about me.

I've been to Israel 8 times and I lived there for a little over a year.

What is your favorite holiday?

Definitely Passover-- the food, oh the food!

Betsy, thanks for sharing about the life experiences that inspire you!

To learn more about Betsy, please visit her web site at

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Sunday, December 2, 2007


I'd like to wish all my friends a very Happy Hanukkah!

I'm thrilled to announce that I have been interviewed by Heidi Estrin for her HOORAY FOR HANUKKAH! Book of Life blog podcast. Heidi has a delicious selection of Hanukkah related interviews, including illustrator Ann Koffsky who created her snowflake "Jerusalem of Peace," for Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure, author Sarah Marwil Lamstein and illustrator Neil Waldman talk about their book Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale, and Heidi interviews Cantor Kenny Ellis about his CD, Hanukkah Swings!

Please check it out:

May your holiday be filled with light and lots of chocolate!

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