The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this book?
Tracy Newman (TN): I was inspired to write Uncle Eli’s Wedding after hearing a wonderful presentation by Chris Barash, the Chair of the PJ Library‘s Book Selection Committee, at the Jewish Book Council’s Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in 2011. Not only was Chris’s enthusiasm for discovering new Jewish children’s stories infectious, but she also provided some topics that the PJ Library thought would appeal to their participating families. Hearing that PJ was interested in receiving a wedding story was enough to get me thinking about how a child may feel during the wedding of a beloved family member.
TWM: Bubbe Tillie and Bubbe Millie add vibrance and fun to the action and certainly the rhythm of the text. Can you talk about that?
TN: Thanks very much! The characters and comments by Bubbe Tillie and Bubbe Millie were definitely fun for me to write. To create their dialogue, I tapped into my love for language and my desire to incorporate rhythm and rhyme into my stories. In addition, I consider the marriage (so to speak) of Yiddish into a Jewish-themed story to be natural.
TWM: Did you have role models for the two grandmothers? (I have to admit—they were my favorite characters!)
TN: Absolutely! And I’m so glad that you enjoyed the bubbes. To create these characters, I channeled the voice of my own beloved grandmother and cloned her into two adoring bubbes. My Nanny Rose was the quintessential Jewish grandmother, whose first language was Yiddish and which always remained a vital part of her daily vocabulary. I was fortunate that my grandmother informally schooled her grandchildren in her native tongue, while also sharing an abundance of love and home-cooking with us.
TWM: How many drafts did you have to go through to get to the final product?
TN: Many. Without counting, I would say that this story easily went through at least 15 drafts.
TWM: How did you find your agent?
TN: In 2013, I attended the Women Who Write conference and was fortunate to have a manuscript critiqued by Laura Biagi. Laura and I hit it off and I was very happy to sign with her a few months later.
TWM: Do you see yourself primarily as a picture book writer?
TN: For the moment, I do. I am thrilled to have a mixture of six board books and picture books in various stages of publication, so I hope that I can consider myself to be a picture book writer.
TWM: Do you work on one project at a time or multiple projects?
TN: Given the nature of having various projects in different stages of review (by my agent or an editor or with my critique group) at any given moment, I definitely work on several at a time.
TWM: Are you promoting the book through the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Author’s Network?
TN: I was delighted to work with the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Author’s Network for my book, Shabbat Is Coming. By participating in this program, I was able to meet varied Jewish communities across the country and engage with many vibrant Jewish audiences. Since I’ve only just finished these trips, I will wait a bit before continuing with this wonderful program.
TWM: What’s next for you?
TN: I am excited to share that my next book scheduled for publication is Hanukkah Is Coming, which will be released in the fall of 2015. After that, I have several more on the way, so please be sure to check my website.