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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adventures in Latkeland

Today I welcome Karen Fisman, the author of Adventures in Latkaland and Problems in Purimville, the second book in the Jacob and Sarah series.

Somewhere in her distant past, Karen was an equities analyst and wrote a whole bunch of stuff for grownups. After her children were born, she realized that it was much more fun to write for kids. And that’s what she has been doing ever since. Karen lives in Toronto with her husband, two kids and a shnoodle named Cocoa.

What was the inspiration for Adventures in Latkaland?

It most definitely came from my children, JJ and Rach, now aged 9 and 10, both avid readers and story listeners. Several years ago, we all went to see the Nutcracker Suite Ballet. Rach loved the ballet, JJ not so much. But he did enjoy one part – the battle scene with the mouse king and the cannon.On returning home after the ballet, JJ looked thoughtful.

“Mom,” he asked, “Why aren’t there any Hanukkah stories with a really good battle?”

“JJ,” I reminded him, “a pretty big part of the real Hanukkah story is about a battle between the Macabees and the enormous army of King Antiochus.”

“I know that,” he replied, in an aggrieved tone. “But I mean a made up story about Hanukkah.”

As it happened, that year we were struggling to find a new Hanukkah story that really captured our interest and imagination. So when JJ put forward the request for a Hanukkah story that fit his parameters, I decided to write one. For JJ, the story had to have a “really good battle” and for Rach, it needed humour and potato latkes. And that is how An Adventure in Latkaland was born.

What is the best part of being a writer?

For me, the very best part of being a writer is searching for ideas for new stories. Whether by reading folk tales, delving into historical events, or brainstorming with my children, I love that light bulb moment that comes when I know I’ve found the seedling for a new story.

Can you tell me about your new Purim book?

My new book, Problems in Purimville, follows Jacob and Sarah, the Latkaland heroes, on a very different adventure – this time in the muddled up land of Purimville, where the children have to solve a rather puzzling mystery. The story is full of the many elements that make Purim so much fun like hamantashen, costumes, and extremely noisy graggers. I’ve written the book in the same short chapter format and there are wonderful, colourful illustrations at the start of each chapter.

I tried to pick up on the comical elements of the Book of Esther, as wonderfully described in the JPS commentary by Adele Berlin.

What is your favorite Hanukkah tradition?

My favourite family Hanukkah tradition revolves around potato latkes. When my kids were in nursery school, I volunteered one Hanukkah to come in and make potato latkes. Once the potato grating was completed, I found myself staring at bowls of soggy, water saturated potato and a classroom full of nursery aged kids, anxious to eat delicious, crispy latkes. So I got the kids to work, and together, handful by handful, we squeezed a great deal of water out of those potatoes. After that, I fried the squeezed, grated potatoes into absolutely delicious latkes. Ever since then, each Hanukkah, my kids and I make potato latkes together using the fun, hand squeezing potato technique. And then, of course, we enjoy the latkes!

To learn more about Karen and her books, please visit

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