Thursday, November 18, 2021

Q&A with Abbe Rolnick



Abbe Rolnick is the author of the new children's picture book Bubbie's Magical Hair. Her other books include the novel River of Angels. She lives in Skagit Valley, Washington.


Q: What inspired you to write Bubbie’s Magical Hair?


A: Bubbie is my mother’s mom, my grandmother, and my mentor. I’d rather pass time with her than kids my own age. A calm woman, she smelled of history. We could pass hours side by side and never have to speak. A doer, I would pass weekends with her and later as a teen even a summer month.


She’d unravel her journey from Russia to the United States and how she met my grandfather Abe. Having lived through the depression and the riots in Baltimore, she and I would talk politics.


I found out about pogroms, arranged marriages, how to run a grocery during the war, pick fish out at the markets in the wee hours of the morning. I learned to bake with her brand of a recipe. Bubbie gave love at every turn.


I couldn’t wait to become a Bubbie. If I am a bit a like her, then I have made the world a better place.


When I became a Bubbie, I had the overwhelming desire to share my legacy and that of my own Bubbie with my grandkids.


Bubbie’s Magical Hair is a metaphor. As Bubbie ages and the grandkids grow older, Bubbie’s hair reflects changes. When she cuts her hair, she lets go of parts of her life and releases her living history to the world. Birds take bits into their nests. Bunnies take the pieces into their burrows. The children see renewal each year.


My Bubbie was my mentor, the woman who shared with me her early life in Russia, her arrival in the United States, and her rise to being an independent woman.


I retain a photo of my grandparents on my bookshelf. Their stories have crept into essays and novels. Writing a children’s book with whimsical illustrations celebrates her magic. Sparks the imagination.


Q: What do you think Lynda Porter’s illustrations added to the book?


A: I searched for an illustrator by going to the library and looking at kids’ books. Contacted some famous people who never answered, went online, and queried. For the most part the illustrators worked with flat drawings that were enhanced by the computer. Eventually I gave up.


Two years later a neighbor who is on a committee with me overheard my discussion about being frustrated. He had a friend who illustrated from Anacortes. We met. Lynda Porter is a true artist, with incredible depth. She works in watercolor. This began a six-month project of discussion, pencil drawings, and the artistic painting.


As an author of literary fiction, I write layered prose. In Bubbie’s Magical Hair, the story is whimsical and expresses concepts of change, purpose, and everyday life.


Originally, I had jotted down ideas to illustrate the larger ideas. Lynda was able to capture the movement of time, using the wind and the changing of the seasons to illustrate Bubbie’s aging and the maturing of the children.


She came to my home and viewed the gardens, photos of my grandkids, as well as those of adventures I’ve taken in foreign countries. Lynda translated all of this with details through her watercolors, filling the pages with small details, bubbles, hearts, musical notes, and reoccurring animals. A true merging of thoughts, feelings, and words with visual delight.


Q: What do you think the book says about relationships between grandparents and grandchildren?


A: I wrote Bubbie’s Magical Hair for the parents and grandparents to share their core values and stories with their children. The bond begins with stories and sharing time. The magic is the love you create as each person begins to understand what went before and what they will carry away.


My intention for this book was to express generational differences that meld, that cultural backgrounds ignite a sense of curiosity.


I lived with my grandmother one summer when I was a teenager, a choice most kids that age don’t make. That summer informed my life view.


I want the wisdoms, happiness, and even the trials of the past shared, so understanding informs the next generation.


Q: This is your first children’s book—what first interested you in writing a picture book?


A: Grandkids. Bubbie’s Magical Hair came on its own. It’s an unintentional book that stretched me to distill down my thoughts and share them in a different way.


I wrote the words and shared them with Paige, who was 5 at the time and Lane, who was 3. They laughed with silly words and encouraged me to write a book for them. They became my critics and have witnessed the evolution from words, to sketches, to paintings, to a full book. This sharing gave the book more life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Writing keeps me sane. Besides my monthly newsletter and weekly blog, I’m working on another novel. The working title is Sealy. The story is unlike my other novels. I’m halfway through writing and Sealy continues to intrigue me. In her mid-60s, a painter, searching for a sense of well-being and a desire to know more about her past.


I have an idea for another children’s book featuring Bubbie. Some of the ideas are based on sayings from my grandmother and questions I ponder. Lynda has promised to be the illustrator.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m still that philosophical kid—curious and questioning. My Bubbie and I discussed her life and my life on a deep level and in this way, she taught me to think critically.


I remember when she was attacked in Baltimore. She wanted to hate the attackers. That answer shocked me. I challenged her. We sat together, me rubbing her sore body after she came home from the hospital. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I don’t hate anyone only the actions.” 


l keep writing, so I remain honest to that—and put my faith in creating grandkids who will be gentle and strong for their children.


I encourage the readers to draw their own magical adventures with their Bubbie/grandmother or favorite person, or to write in a few sentences about the fun they have had.


I would love you to send these to me at I will post them in my monthly newsletter or on my website. You can collect them overtime and make your own magic.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb