Authors who reside in picturesque locations are fortunate to live in such environments. Many seek inspiration from their harmonious location while others are driven more by their unique interests. Today’s guest author, Rabbi Jamie Korngold, thrives on both. Jamie has successfully found a way to blend her love of Judaism with her love of nature as the Adventure Rabbi in Colorado. Unlike many rabbis who simply model Jewish traditional Jewish practices and values, Jamie encourages her congregants to learn something traditional and then individualize the concept. By authoring children’s books, she is able to share this philosophy with a wider audience of youngsters. Her unique stories have kid appeal. Today, Jamie will share information about her background and books.
As a fellow Coloradoan, I share your appreciation of the Rocky Mountains and understand how spirituality is enhanced in natural settings. Does living in Colorado inspire your writing?
My work is inspired by the trees and mountains, my work as the Adventure Rabbi and of course my two children. But mostly I am motivated simply by my love of Judaism and my desire to share Judaism in a way that is relevant.
Several years ago, you started your writing career by publishing, God in the Wilderness (2008) and The God Upgrade (2011). After successfully finding a niche in the adult market, you switched your focus to children’s books. What caused you to change your emphasis? What do you hope to accomplish by writing Jewish children’s books?
I switched because I found a great fit with my publisher at Kar-Ben, Joni Sussman and my editor Judye Groner. I did enjoy writing adult non-fiction books, but writing is only one part of the equation. Joni and Judye built a publishing house in which I feel supported as a writer. I know I can trust them to make beautiful books out of my stories. They take care of my words.
Your first three books, Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast (Sukkot-2011), Sadie and the Big Mountain (Shavuot- 2012), and Sadie’s Almost Marvelous Menorah (Hanukkah- 2013) fall within the Jewish holiday genre. Why have you chosen to concentrate on Jewish holidays? How do your books differ from other books on the market?
I am not sure I have an answer to this. These are just the stories that came to me.
This past year you added Mazel Tov It’s a Boy/ Mazel Tov it’s a Girl (flip books), Sadie’s Lag Ba’Omer Mystery, Sadie, Ori and Nuggles Go to Camp, and Seder in the Desert to your growing list of published children’s books. That brings the total number of books in the Sadie series to 5. Do you plan on adding more books to this series? If so, can you provide the anticipated publication dates?
I currently have 9 published books, 2 of which are for adults and 7 are for children. My next Sadie book is due out in May, Sadie and Ori and the Big Blue Blanket. We watch as Sadie and Ori’s grandmother lovingly helps them grow up, rocking them as infants, teaching them to throw a ball, ride a bike, recite the four questions and so on. But as Sadie and Ori grow and can do more and more Grandma ages and can do less and less. How will Sadie and Ori cope with an aging grandmother who can no longer do all the things she used to be able to?
Can you share 3 advantages to writing a series of children’s books?
- A series enables us to see the characters in a variety of settings and situations so even though each book is short, our relationship with the Sadie and Ori deepens with each book.
- Readers come to love the characters. I receive mail from fans who “play Sadie and Ori” as a pretend game.
- Readers look for the next book because they care about these characters and want to watch their lives unfold.
The main characters in this series are Sadie and her brother, Ori. Are these characters based on individuals that you know? Are any of their stories based on actual events?
Sadie and the Almost Marvelous Menorah is based on a true story about myself in nursery school. What started out as a devastating moment was turned into a wonderful one by my mother’s quick and creative thinking. We still have Super Shammes at my house and we use it to light our menorahs every year.
My two daughter’s names are Sadie and Ori. All the stuffies in the books are their actual stuffiies and so are the pink fuzzy slippers.
Oftentimes, picture book writers have little or no contact with their illustrators. You have been lucky to be partnered with Julie Fortenberry, a talented North Carolina artist. Were you able to communicate directly with Julie or were the decisions regarding the illustrations left to your publisher, Kar-Ben Publishing?
Our publishing house has a wonderful process that enables our illustrators to own their creative process without authors hovering. I love Julie and I cherish her work, but I let Joni and her figure out what needs to happen when illustrating my books. They will ask me questions if they think my opinion will be helpful but mostly I stay out of that process. This is again where the trust comes in. Joni is a phenomenal publisher and Julie is a talented illustrator. I do not interfere.
Few are familiar with the minor holiday, Lag Ba’Omer. Children, like your story characters, are challenged when they look for child friendly resources. How does your picture book fill this void?
I started writing kids books because I went to the JCC library to borrow books on Shavuot and although there were a plethora of shelves overflowing with books on Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah, there were only a few Shavuot books and they were not very good. I wanted to fill that void. I mostly focus on the less known holidays because kids need to know about them. But sometimes my characters have different ideas about what story they want to tell and so we also have a Chanukah story.
My rabbinate is built very much along the same lines; I try not to do things everyone else is already doing well.
It is human nature to be hesitant about a “first” event. Insecurities mount when someone feels that they will stand out from the crowd. In Sadie, Ori, and Nuggles Go to Camp, you skillfully capture Ori’s reservations about bringing his stuffy (stuffed animal) to camp. This picture book deviates from your holiday themed stories. Why did you add this type of story to your series? Do you plan on including more of these tender stories to your collection?
Sometimes an idea comes to me and I write about that but other times my editor or publisher ask me to write about a certain subject about which that they need more books. It’s very much a collaborative effort at this point.
Your Adventure Rabbi Passover Seders in Moab have been well received by the media and your participants. What prompted you to highlight the key aspects of this experience in a picture book that includes stunning pictures from these events? What message would you like your young readers to learn from this alternative type of family Seder?
One of the main themes of my books is “make Judaism your own.” You will notice that in each of the books Sadie and Ori learn something traditional and then make it their own, whether it’s bringing stuffed animals to the sukkah as their guests or lighting their chanukiah with Super Shammes. The Passover in the Desert highlights this theme as well. Although I hope some of my readers will come on the real Adventure Rabbi Seder in Moab, I’d also be happy to hear they are making Seder meaningful for themselves in their own way.
When I sign books as book-signings I often write a message like, “Create!” or “Climb!” I want to encourage children to seek out new ways of keeping our tradition.
Writers oftentimes test drive their work. Are you part of a writing group or do you enlist the help of beta readers and/or family members? Can you make any recommendations for individuals who are attempting to write their first children’s books?
My husband is my stalwart critic and always encourages and edits my work. I work very closely with Joni and Judye. Sometimes my stories are too long for the picture book format but I am too attached to the words to let any of them go. I just close my eyes and hand the manuscript to Judye. I know that after she edits it, it will be better than what I wrote originally.
Are you currently working on any children’s book? If so, can you share some basic information or anticipated publication dates?
I am always working on a book, but the next one due out is Sadie and Ori’s Blue Blanket in May 2015. I am looking forward to this book because I think it’s important for our kids to have more tools to deal with their feelings about their ageing grandparents. It is so confusing and upsetting to them when grandma can’t get down on the ground to play like she used to or mistakes sugar for salt in the cookies or worse, when she can’t remember who they are. I hope this book will help parents and kids have some conversations about these difficult topics and empower kids to help take care of their grandparents, which is what Sadie and Ori do.
Jamie, is there anything else that you would like to share with my readers?
If they want to learn more about Rabbi Jamie, check out her website www.AdventureRabbi.org.
Later this week, I will be reviewing 3 of Jamie’s books.
In exchange for an honest interview and review, I was sent a copies of Seder in the Desert, Sadie’s Lag Ba’Omer Mystery, and Sadie, Ori, and Nuggles Go to Camp.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.