Apr 29, 2013

What Does a Gorilla Gift at Hanukkah? Ask Author Jane Sutton!

Being funny is hard work. Not all writers have a wellspring of humor to tap into or the patience to refine an idea until it goes from potentially humorous to side-splitting. Jane Sutton, elected class comedienne in high school, gives young readers everywhere the gift of giggles as they read her new Hanukkah book about a gift mix-up, Esther's Hanukkah Disaster (available September 2013).

Esther's Hanukkah Disaster
It’s hard to pick the perfect gift, and Esther the Gorilla’s choices seem all wrong at first. But it all gets sorted out when she invites her animal friends to a joyful Hanukkah party.
Jane Sutton grew up in Roslyn, Long Island, where she began writing stories and poems at a young age. She graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Comparative Literature. In addition to writing books, Jane is a writing tutor and teaches a community education class for adults about how to write for kids. She, her husband, and grown children live in the Boston area.

We interviewed Jane about being a cut-up and having the guts to cut (as in revision) and about Esther's Hanukkah Disaster:
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Horton Hatches an Egg by Dr. Seuss

What’s your favorite line from a book?
From George and Martha by James Marshall: “How do you expect to walk home with your loafers full of split pea soup?” she asked George.

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
James Marshall, Arnold Lobel, Virginia Lee Burton

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
I have always enjoyed writing. In elementary school, I would turn an assignment to "write a paragraph using all the spelling words" into a three-act play. An essay I wrote in fifth grade is entitled "A Criticism of Humanity on Behalf of the Ducks." In college (Brandeis University), a sociology professor assigned us to "do something you always wanted to do and keep a journal on it." I wrote a series of children's stories, and that’s when I knew I wanted to write children’s books.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Write, write, write. Keep a notebook with you at all times (well, maybe not in the shower) because you never know when you’ll get an idea for a story.

Where did you get the inspiration for your latest or upcoming Kar-Ben book?
I used to tell my children a version of this story, and it gradually evolved into a book.

What are you most excited about promoting in your new book?
The book carries a lesson about the importance of putting oneself in another’s place, but it does so subtly, without hitting the reader over the head, and it’s lots of fun. I think the book lends itself to re-reading because young listeners will know from the beginning how inappropriate Esther’s gift choices are and, I hope, giggle with anticipation of the consequences.

What is the most interesting thing you learned in the process of writing your book?
I learned that my revisions were more effective when I put the book aside for a few days and then returned to it. The time and distance made me see that certain parts could be improved or even cut.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?
At first Esther (the main character) purchases gifts because they appeal to her, not really thinking about the recipient. Her eventual understanding encourages the Jewish value of thinking about others—compassion and empathy. Also, the characters express clearly that the significance of the holiday of Hanukkah is more important than the gifts. And finally, even though these are anthropomorphic animals, they enjoy rich Jewish traditions.

Anything else you would like to share with readers?
I didn’t want to grow up. I figured being a child was a good deal: I got free food and I didn’t have to go to work. When I realized I did have to get older after all, I promised myself that I would always remember what it was like to be a child. Being a children’s book author is a way of fulfilling that promise to myself.

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