Thank you, Barbara! My musical background, such as it is, consisted of plunking away at piano lessons as a child - something I enjoyed, but did not excel at. I’ve always enjoyed listening to all kinds of music; classical and jazz are particular favorites. I loved listening to Yiddish music with my grandmother, and I'm tickled over the international resurgence in recent years of Klezmer music, which I wanted to honor in Hanukkah Hop. But really I have to say that it’s the musicality of language - letters, words, phrases, sentences - that draws me to writing picture books like Hanukkah Hop. I remember reciting nursery rhymes out loud for my parents when I was very, very young - before I could even read. Later I discovered how the sounds and rhythms of a poem can have emotional impact. The amazing ability of language to sing still makes my heart beat faster.
The illustrations in Hanukkah Hop! are such a perfect pairing for the story. What was your response when you first saw Steven D’Amico’s work?
I was absolutely thrilled. From the moment I knew Steve was the artist, I was happy with the choice. But I had no idea how perfect he would be. I love his retro style, the humor, the movement, the colors...everything! There are so many delicious details. Most of all, Steve's art so perfectly captures the joy I was reaching for with language. The characters pop off the page, and best of all, each one of this large party seem so individual and so real. I’d love to invite them all to my next party. And his Klezmer players are adorable! I have such fun reading this book out loud and sharing the art with children.
Have you ever hosted a real Hanukkah Hop?
Well, actually, my Hanukkah celebrations have been typically food oriented. I’ve hosted my share of latke parties. But last year when my book launched, the Skirball museum hosted a Hanukkah Hop. They invited a couple of klezmer bands and there was a group called Family Dance Jam which, with movement teacher Ilaan Egeland Mazzini, led all of us in these really rhythmic raucous dance activities. They were fabulous! And of course, I read the book to a couple of groups of children. I’m happy to say I had them all swaying, snapping and bim bim bopping with me. It was wonderfully fun. I do hope Hanukkah Hops catch on.
What’s the best thing about writing books for children?