Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Q&A with Alice Blumenthal McGinty




Alice Blumenthal McGinty is the author of the new children's picture book A Synagogue Just Like Home. Her many other books include Feasts and Festivals Around the World. She lives in Illinois.


Q: What inspired you to write A Synagogue Just Like Home, and how did you create your character Rabbi Ruben?


A: This story was actually inspired when I was visiting a church! I was doing presentations based on my book, Gandhi: A March to the Sea (2013, Two Lions Press, illustrated by Thomas Gonzales) at a church in Ottawa, Illinois.


Between sessions, as I sat at a table in the common area, I heard a few of the church’s board members talking about all of the repairs the building needed. This struck a chord with me as I’d been part of a synagogue for many years and knew that these big buildings often find themselves in need of maintenance.


I’d been thinking about doing a book focusing on a synagogue as a home for its congregants, and loved the idea of an old synagogue that needed repairs. It got me thinking about all of the humor and the themes of love and community that might be brought in if a rabbi wanted to do those repairs themselves, but happened to lack the skills needed.


Rabbi Ruben’s character actually began in my mind as Rabbi Benjamin (from my book, Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons, 2015, Charlesbridge, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt) until I realized that Rabbi Ruben was a younger, less experienced rabbi with his own synagogue. I often think of him as being a relative of Rabbi Benjamin’s (perhaps a nephew) because I like the idea that they’re somehow connected.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Jewish audiences will appreciate familiar details in text and art, but the important message about the spirit of togetherness is universal. A delightful testament to the power of community.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I love that description! When I read it, I was thrilled that the Kirkus reviewer truly “got” what I was going for in the story. To me A Synagogue Just Like Home is all about the power of community. While we may think that we can do something ourselves (at least I do), when we allow others to step in and help, we’re opening our hearts and our homes to others and our lives become much richer for it.

I hope that kids who read the book take away the idea that a home - whether it’s a house, school, or a place of worship - is a community. Each person there, including our readers, is an important part of the helping, caring and sharing which give communities the love and connections that make a true home.


Q: What do you think Laurel Molk’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Laurel’s illustrations bring the story to life! They are full of playfulness and warmth (and animals, which I love). The pictures imbue Rabbi Ruben and each of the characters with unique, wonderful personalities. And I love all of the children Laurel included in the illustrations, and the activity going on in every scene.


She also brought a great amount of diversity to the characters, which makes the community feel real and relatable. Her fantastic illustrations allow us to feel the togetherness and special warmth of this community, and the comfort that they feel in their synagogue home.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: With some books the title is difficult to come up with and with others it comes naturally. The title A Synagogue Just Like Home came very naturally to me and early in the writing process, because it summed up not only what the story was about but the important idea of thinking of a synagogue as a home for the congregants.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m always working on something and often am in the middle of quite a few different projects at once. Of the projects I’m working on now, one (a nonfiction) is about exoplanets and another (fiction) is about a family of squirrels building a nest, and the power of forgiveness as they keep knocking each other’s sticks off.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m also beginning to do in person school, library, bookstore, and synagogue visits again. I’ll be part of the Detroit Jewish Book Fair in November. I truly LOVE the opportunity to connect face to face again with my young readers. Feel free to contact me at if you’re interested in setting up a visit.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Alice Blumenthal McGinty.