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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Littlest Mountain - Barbara Rosenstock

Barb Rosenstock is the author of The Littlest Mountain, a new picture book from Kar-Ben about the legend of Mt Sinai. After a long career in advertising, Barb started writing for children while completing a master’s degree in teaching. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband, sons and two big poodles, who all keep her sane (or insane) depending on the day. In addition to The Littlest Mountain (KarBen, 2011), her first book Fearless: the story of racing legend Louise Smith (Dutton 2010) is on the 2011 Top 10 ALA/Amelia Bloomer Book List. Upcoming titles include: The Camping Trip that Changed America, with Mordicai Gerstein (Dial, 2012) and William’s Windmill (Knopf, 2013.)

I met Barb through our mutual friend, Esther Hershenhorn. I'm thrilled Barb was willing to share her thoughts about her new book.

What inspired you to write The Littlest Mountain?

One line in Bruce Feiler’s book Walking the Bible. He mentions a midrash legend about a contest between the mountains in a chapter on looking for Mount Sinai. I was curious (which is how these darn book ideas always start) and asked Rabbi Scott Looper from our local Congregation Or Shalom for help. Rabbi knew the legend “The Contest of the Mountains.” He provided me with translations from Hebrew, and a few additional adult books that had interpretations of its meaning. From that point on it was just a matter of characterizing the mountains, researching a bit about their history/lore/location and writing my way into some interesting word rhythms and patterns.

Do the illustrations capture your vision of the story?

This is probably the most difficult story to illustrate that I’ve written. I do not envy Melanie Hall the illustration task for The Littlest Mountain. In my head I actually had mountains circling and speaking to each other, with faces and the ability to move and dance. Picture book Illustrators tell the same story visually in their style. Melanie took the parts of The Littlest Mountain that spoke to her and made a cohesive, natural looking series of pictures that told the story her way and I thank her for her vision and terrific work.

What is the best part of being a writer?

It’s a tie between two things: The freedom to follow my curiosity wherever it leads and the great fun and satisfaction that I get when speaking with children in schools or libraries. A morning in a research library followed by an afternoon school visit would be the perfect day! OK, that's not all in my perfect day, it would include a dinner of my husband's BBQ salmon with cole slaw, hugs from my two boys, a long walk with the dogs, and about two hours work on a new book idea. Oh, and dessert, we have to have dessert.

I'd be so tired after that day I'd sleep for a week! Which is another nice thing about being a writer, afternoon naps.

What is a fun fact about you?

I have this weird ability to remember the lyrics of any song after hearing it once. I was a Gleek-type kid in high school, so I know almost every Broadway musical score written from the 1930s into the 1980s and any Top 20 song, any year. I wish I'd lived in Cole Porter’s Paris apartment about 1918.

What is your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving, which is like a giant summary holiday, emphasizing what all holidays are about—taking a step back to realize and appreciate our blessings. I like that people in the U.S. of all faiths and cultures celebrate this holiday together. Even though it’s a bit melancholy, I also love Yom Kippur. The bittersweet language, the image of the book of life, speaks to my heart. I feel a fresh start at Yom Kippur services every year. We can all use some extra chances to put things right. Plus there’s nothing like my mother-in-law’s kugel after a day of fasting! (with all these food references, can you tell fasting doesn't come easy to me???)

Thanks, Barb! It's been great getting to know you.

To learn more about Barb and her books, visit her website at