Hi, readers, writers, and celebrators of all sorts! We're pleased herald in our #SpreadJoy celebration with a #SeasonsOfKidlit sister blogpost! Today, we feature Karen Rostoker-Gruber and Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match, just in time for Hanukkah!
Farmer Kobi must find a partner to share his life on the farm, so on the 2nd night of Hanukkah, he invites Polly over for dinner. When Polly seems less than perfect, his farm animals must take matters into their own hooves! Will Farmer Kobi find a good match? This story incorporates the Jewish holiday, humor and mitzvahs (important Jewish values), in a book that's fun for all!
Want to know more about Karen and her book, PLUS want a chance to win a copy of Rooster Can't Cock-a-doodle Doo from her? Read On...
QUESTION: Thanks so much for joining #SeasonsOfKidLit, Karen! We’re thrilled to have you celebrate with us and can’t wait to hear all about your book Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match! Please share a little bit about your journey up until this book.
ANSWER: My journey to publication was long and difficult. I’m not going to sugar-coat this very annoying process. LOL.
I actually began writing adult humor books (and sending them out in 1989) because the rejection letters and acceptances came quicker (probably because not many people try to write adult humor). My titles were: “You Really Know You’re in College When. . .”; “Remote Controls Are Better Than Women Because. . .”; Telephones Are Better Than Men Because. . .”; and my last humor book was called, “If Men Had Babies…” I was LIVE on radio shows all over the US and I was a guest on the Ricki Lake Show in 1993 (or so) to discuss my books. The publisher, Longstreet Press, wanted me to write more adult humor books, but they also wanted me to go “on the road” like their other author/comedian “Jeff Foxworthy.” Um. Big No. I didn’t want to be a comedian. So, I actively began sending out my children’s books in the early 90s.
The first children’s book that I sent out was called, FoodFright, which was a Halloween counting book. I submitted to Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Putnam) in early 2000.
Three months later, I hadn't heard back from them, so I thought it was safe to send it somewhere else–like a conference. I applied to the Rutgers One-on-One Conference in New Jersey. They asked applicants to submit their best work, so I submitted FoodFright.
In August of that year, I got an acceptance letter from RUCCL (as it's based up writing ability). My critique partner, Edna, also got in and we planned to go together. The night before the October conference I called her.
“I’m not going,” I said.
“You have to go,” she replied.
“What if I go and I get the same editor from Dial that I sent the manuscript to months ago. Won’t she be angry?”
“What are the chances of that?” asked Edna. “There are 80 editors/agents/art directors/illustrators that they match 80 mentees up with. And, you don’t even know if that particular editor was asked to be a mentor.”
I told Edna that if I get to the conference, open my folder, and look at my match, and it’s her, I’d just die right then and there. We went to the conference as the chances of dying were slim to none, according to Edna. We checked in, got breakfast, and sat down to look in our folders and see our matches. I scanned each match until I came upon my name. My match was that EXACT editor from Dial that I was afraid of getting!
Internally, I freaked out.
I sat down with her. The first thing she said was, “You know, I’ve already seen your manuscript, FoodFright.
I didn’t know what to say.
Then she said something that changed my writing life forever.
“I hope you don’t mind that I shared FoodFright with another editor at one of our imprints–Price Stern Sloan. That book is more her thing. Do you have anything else with you that we can go over?”
I did. I had my manuscript, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, in my binder.
A month later her editor friend had bought FoodFright for her imprint (Price Stern Sloan) and this editor from Dial, had bought my book, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo from me. I sold two children’s books because of a conference that I was afraid of attending.
Now I have a total of 16 books out with various publishers–some small houses and some larger ones–and one more coming out in 2024.
QUESTION: This is such a fun book – kids will enjoy Farmer Kobi’s love for animals and the animal’s animated responses to Farmer Kobi’s attempts to make a “match.” Please tell us what got you the idea to write about this.
ANSWER: This book had an odd journey, so here goes. In 2000 Dial Books for Young Readers (a division of Penguin Random House) bought my book, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, which went on to sell over 250,000 copies. (This is relevant BTW, I promise.) That book became an IRA-CBC Children’s choice award winner, was nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award, and landed on the Dolly Parton Imagination Library list two years in a row, so my editor wanted me to write a sequel. As a result, I wrote a book called, “Farmer Ted’s Dinner Date.”
My editor loved it, but she told me that she was leaving Dial and that I should send it to the new editor. I sent it to the new editor and she didn’t like it. So that manuscript sat in my drawer for 10 years. 10 years!!!!
The idea came from something that made me laugh over and over again. Farmer Kobi wants a date and thinks this woman Polly Ester would be perfect. His animals are part of his family and when Polly comes over she is anything but an animal lover. Every time Farmer Kobi goes into the kitchen to bring out another dish—falafel, baba ghanoush, etc., she’s very rude to the animals that are catering to their guests (her) every need. Donkey folds her napkin, the geese pour her limonana, the goats give Polly dreidel and gelt. She is NOT happy about any of this. She opens the door to let the animals out, but not one animal budges; it’s their house after all. She says some nasty bully-like things to them, “I hope the next dish is lamb chops topped with goose pate.” (The animal’s expressions are hilarious on that page.)
Farmer Kobi finally realizes that Polly isn’t comfortable surrounded by his animal family and tries to reassure her that they are just trying to get to know her. Totally frustrated that she’s not going to be alone with Farmer Kobi, she says, “I came here to get to know you better, not them. If I wanted to be with animals, I’d go to the zoo!” This surprises everyone, except the sheep, who say, “Her name is Polly Ester—she was a faaake.”
(Sheep: wool; Polyester: Polly Ester–fake person.) Get it?
That was the whole joke that started the idea for the book.)
At the end something happens, which makes the animals and Farmer Kobi very happy, but I don’t want to ruin the ending.
QUESTION: Please share a little bit about the manuscript’s evolution? Was it always a Hanukkah story? How did the co-writing process work?
ANSWER: One day, 10 years later, I was going through old manuscripts and I came across this story again. I thought to myself, let me change things up a bit. I placed a new farmer on a moshav in Israel, named him Farmer Alon, and changed the animals—no pigs—they aren’t on farms in Israel because they aren’t kosher. LOL.
Then I spoke with my Rabbi (Ron Isaacs). He told me that he found 2 Jewish values that we could add to the book to make it more marketable for Jewish publishers. The two Jewish values that he added in were: “compassion for animals” and “welcoming guests.” Then I sent the manuscript to (at the time Behrman House). I had no idea that Behrman House was looking to make a children’s book imprint called “Apples & Honey Press.” They told me that they wanted to acquire my book along with a book by David Adler called, “Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles.” My editor and I worked on the title as she said that Farmer Alon sounded like Farmer Alone, so I switched it to Farmer Kobi.
I had to supply the illustrator with photos from the famous Nahalal moshav in Israel, where my cousins live. And, the book was born!
It just goes to show you that if you write a good book, it will sell, you just may have to alter the setting, the characters, or send it to the right publishing house. It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.
“Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match,” went on to become a National Jewish Book Award Finalist.
QUESTION: You have some entertaining activities to go along with this book, including…ta dum...
Hanukkah Slime! Please share a little bit about this fun book accessory and share a link if you can.
ANSWER: Laura from Scattered Books approached me at a book fair to say that she made a Hanukkah Slime Kit featuring my book. I was flattered. She had me sign over 50 books that she’ll be putting into the kits. In addition to my book, the kit has dreidels, crispy beads, blue and silver holographic glitter, and more to add to the pre-activated (not sticky) slime!
You can order the book, just the slime, or the whole kit here:
Or call Scattered Books at 914-529-8013
QUESTION: What are your thoughts about working at small presses?
ANSWER: It was a lot of fun working with a new imprint and being able to meet David Adler, a very famous author, at Book Expo. I like working with small houses sometimes as they are very hands-on. You get to speak with the editors on the phone, go to the publishing houses to see the sketches and final illustrations, and they sometimes take you out to lunch and ask you if you have anything new to send their way.
QUESTION: What brings YOU joy in the holiday season? Why?
ANSWER: I LOVE making people smile, especially when I perform shows with my life-sized puppet, Maria. The kids all wonder how she talks, as I’m also a ventriloquist. I go to all of my shows with Maria. She’s my sidekick. I’m the boring one; she’d the silly one. Because, if you’re going to be in front of 350 kids; you’d better be funny!
BONUS QUESTION: What is your favorite holiday treat OR Hanukkah tradition?
ANSWER: I’m a sucker for latkes and applesauce. My mom makes homemade latkes; I use the box. LOL. I don’t have that kind of patience when it comes to cooking.
TREAT: Karen has generously offered to send a copy of Rooster Can’t Cock-a-doodle-doo to one lucky winner.
Bio: Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of many picture books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match, was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit's Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children's Book Council Children's Choices Award recipients. Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo and Ferret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen's book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples & Honey Press, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017, which went out to 21,000 4-year-olds and 27,700 children in 2020. Her two latest books came out in 2020: A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Albert Whitman) and Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen), which is also a PJ Library Selection and went out to 29,000 children in 2021. She also has a new book coming out in 2024 from Apples & Honey Press.
Social media links:
Linkedin: Karen Rostoker-Gruber
FB: Karen Rostoker-gruber