Joni Klein-Higger is the author, with Barbara Sharf, of the new children's picture book Barnyard Bubbe's Hanukkah. Klein-Higger's other books include Rainbow of Friendship and Coby Ryan Harris Is Officially Fat. She also is a songwriter and musical theater playwright.
Q: How did you and Barbara Sharf come up with the idea for Barnyard Bubbe's Hanukkah?
A: The initial concept for Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah started with one of Susanna Leonard Hill’s writing challenges. For those of you unfamiliar with Susanna, she is an award-winning author of over a dozen books who has a blog to help authors with their craft.
The goal for this particular writing challenge was to create an original holiday picture book based on the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As a professional songwriter, this challenge should have been a piece of cake. I whipped up a holiday story about a “bubbe,” (Yiddish for “grandmother,”) who makes potato latkes for Hanukkah.
Though it was cute, my story lacked luster, so I called my funny friend, Barbara Sharf, to help bring my story to life. Barbara loved animals and came up with the idea of having farm animals anonymously leave presents on Bubbe’s doorstep each night of the holiday.
Q: What do you think the book says about the holiday of Hanukkah?
A: Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah is a barnyard Hanukkah counting book that revolves around the making of potato latkes, a traditional food item served during the holiday of Hanukkah.
Potato latkes, also known as potato pancakes, along with jelly doughnuts and other fried foods, are eaten at Hanukkah time to recall the miracle of a small drop of oil that lasted for eight days and nights.
Q: What do you think Monica Gutierrez's illustrations add to the book?
A: Monica Gutierrez created adorable illustrations that leave room for audience participation. By showing hints of physical traits of each animal (a hoof, paw, a leg, etc.) Monica added a fun guessing game for our readers.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: My hope is that readers will not only have fun with counting and learning about farm animals, but will also learn about potato latkes, a traditional Hanukkah food, and the joy of sharing holidays with family and friends.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am in the midst of several projects. One I am excited about is a STEM-related picture book about a girl inventor. Another is a fun monster-counting board book. And finally, the most challenging, but most enjoyable, is a children’s musical screenplay loosely based on my musically talented grandmother’s life in New York during the early 1900s.
Oh, and more Barnyard Bubbe books are in the making, too!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Barbara and I will be touring throughout the United States and Canada starting November 2019. We hope you will join us for our fun, musical Hanukkah presentations. You can learn more about Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah On Tour on my website and social media pages.
Thanks so much for inviting me today, Deborah!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb