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Where My Ideas Came From

I was given the idea for How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box by Natalie Blitt when she worked at the PJ Library. This organization mails books to Jewish children on a monthly basis and she was asking her authors for new stories. Natalie mentioned tzedakah as as possible topic. As I child I loved to make things and I thought children would enjoy making tzedakah boxes. I also thought about the discussions I'd had in Jewish learning classes about the exact meaning of tzedakah. Then as I was walking home from my swimming pool it all came together in my head. I had my story. I based Dalia on my mother and on her relationships with her sisters. And the story honors my grandmother. I never knew her but I've heard so many stories of how kind and charitable she was.

The idea Today is the Birthday of the World came during a Rosh Hashanah service. I heard the words “Today is the birthday of the world. Today all of God’s creatures pass before God…” and I realized that children would adore this procession. And such an all-inclusive parade seemed the perfect illustration of the idea that every living creature has a vital contribution to make if our world is to flourish.

My grandparents died before I was born. When I was a child my parents told me they’d crossed the Atlantic in steerage. I knew little else about them and yearned to know more. In the end I read history books, visited Ellis Island and wrote my own tale. When I illustrated The Castle on Hester Street I modeled the grandfather after my father and the grandmother after my father’s mother. Boris Kulikov illustrated the 25th Anniversary Edition and his talent as a set designer coupled with the fact that he, like my grandparents, emigrated from Russia gave the new edition a dazzling sense of place.

I loved to read as a child and my favorite books were about large happy families. I never saw myself in any book though and later when I had the opportunity to write and illustrate children’s books I put myself in Lily at the Table and Horace Morris. These days I’m working on texts that will tell children about the happy world I eventually found.

I’ve just completed a heartening non-fiction book for adults filled with interviews with people who transformed their pain into joy. This work was fueled by my desire to learn to trust and welcome whatever came my way.