Laura Gehl is the author of the children's books Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, and One Big Pair of Underwear. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for a Tortoise and Hare story set in Israel, and how did you pick the various locations within Israel for the race to take place?
A: I know a lot of Jewish parents, and non-Jewish parents of Jewish children, who are confused and conflicted trying to understand their own feelings about Israel, and trying to figure out what to tell their kids about Israel.
I wanted to write a book about Israel that any parent could enjoy sharing with a child—a book that celebrated geographical and cultural highlights of the country. Around the same time, my son read the book Hare and Tortoise Race to the Moon at preschool…and the idea was born.
As far as choosing locations, I had to do a lot of research, because I have never been to Israel myself (although I look forward to the trip!). I tried to choose places kids would want to visit.
When a friend told me that the book reminded her of a recent trip to Israel with her family, and that she found the locations and characterizations perfect, it was a wonderful compliment to receive…although not quite as great as the day I received a letter from a first grader telling me that Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel is her favorite book!
Q: Another one of your books involves a sheep family celebrating Passover. How did you think of the idea for this book?
A: That one started with the title—And Then Another Sheep Turned Up—which is also a line repeated throughout the book. The line came into my head one night and wiggled around for days and weeks and months until it turned into a sweet Passover story about welcoming unexpected guests.
My first book, One Big Pair of Underwear, also started with the title!
Q: What age group do you especially like writing for?
A: I’ve always liked writing for preschoolers. And I have a series of books coming out soon (the Peep and Egg series, starring two adorable chicks) that is even appropriate for toddlers.
But now that my own kids are getting older, I’m also working on projects aimed at older kids—up through age 12. I can’t imagine ever writing young adult fiction, but who knows? Maybe once my kids are teenagers, I’ll be ready to give it a try.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: Wow, that would be a long list. A few of them are: Lois Lowry, Jane Yolen, Sydney Taylor, David A. Adler, L.M. Montgomery, E.B. White, Gordon Korman, James Marshall, Rosemary Wells, Russell Hoban, and Richard Scarry.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m always working on many different projects at any given time. Right now I am working on picture books, including a Shabbat picture book; early readers; two chapter book series with Jewish main characters; a few nonfiction projects; and a middle grade novel.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: For teachers: you can download a free curriculum guide to accompany Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel from my website. The curriculum guide can be used with students of any age, to help jump-start the writing process by teaching kids to start with a known story and make it their own.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Laura Gehl will be participating in The Lessans Family Annual Book Festival at the JCC of Greater Washington, which runs from Nov. 5-15, 2015.