Madelyn Rosenberg, an accomplished journalist and talented author (and very cool person), has TWO books out this month: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREE! with adorable, joyful illustrations by Jana Christy, and THE SCHMUTZY FAMILY with the hilarious artwork of Paul Meisel. Not only are they fun and heartwarming stories, but they’re also about special days, ones that we can all relate to. Tu B’Shevat is a day that celebrates trees and the environment, and Shabbos is a day of rest and spending time with family (and cleaning up for special occasions which, again, I think we can all relate to!).
Here’s more about these delightful picture books, and Madelyn herself (also delightful), in her own words:
Can you tell us how The Schmutzy Family and Happy Birthday, Tree came to be published?
I met Laurel Snyder (Any Which Wall, Bigger than a Breadbox) at a conference and was smitten by the title of her then-upcoming book, Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. My kids love funny and I knew her book would be a total home run for them. Laurel and I got into a conversation about the need for more funny Jewish children’s books and we continued the conversation after the conference. She asked me if I had any books that fit that category and I told her I did – I had Schmutzy.
“Show me,” she said.
Laurel shared Schmutzy with Natalie Blitt at the PJ Library, a club that sends Jewish-themed books to kids all over the U.S. I ended up getting PJ’s support for both Schmutzy and Happy Birthday, Tree, and then my agent connected me with Holiday House and Albert Whitman, who paired me up with two amazing illustrators. When I was a kid, I always loved the books that you could keep coming back to and notice something new each time. Paul Meisel made that happen in Schmutzy. And Jana Christy’s illustrations in Happy Birthday, Tree, are beyond lovely.
Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
My own messy family and friends – now and when I was a kid.
How do your ideas come to you?
Walking, eavesdropping, swimming, and on long drives down mountainous highways. And I’m convinced that every epiphany I’ve ever had came to me in the shower.
Tea or coffee? Flavor? Milk or sugar?
Vietnamese iced coffee. With tea, I usually go for Earl Grey.
Deciduous or evergreen?
Deciduous, in particular, the tulip magnolia in my front yard.
What’s always in your fridge?
Root beer. Maybe some leftover Ravi Kabob. And there’s usually an old cucumber, molding in the crisper.
Favorite comfort food?
Chocolate or some lesser nectar?
Food you’d rather starve than eat.
There aren’t many foods I hate. Headcheese?
Cat or dog?
I like both, but we have cats.
Flats or heels?
Heels would put my life at risk.
Jeans or fancier?
We don’t have enough of these, but sitting on somebody’s porch, playing guitar, singing loudly and badly.
Favorite board, card, or computer game?
Lexulous on the computer. I also like Balderdash, Pictionary and Fictionary. Recently my brother introduced me to Anagrams, which is a new favorite, particularly for his cries of outrage. (I’m good with words but I’m a notoriously bad speller and it drives him nuts. “Really? REALLY? You think that’s how you spell that?”)
Language in which you’d most like to be fluent.
Skill you’d most like to acquire.
Cooking! (And calmness – is that a skill?)
Favorite musical instrument.
You’re going on a book tour: Plane, train or automobile?
I’m still hoping for that beam-me-up-Scotty technology.
Topics you’d most like to write about.
Global warming, music, Judaism, friendship, though not necessarily together.
Topic you think most needs writing about.
What gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?
Books and mountains.
What most surprises you about our current culture?
The amount of time we waste (especially me). And that we have so much knowledge about certain things but we still don’t do anything about them.
Some favorite books?
I truly love the books that my friends have written, present company included. I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth and the Harry Potter series more times than I can count. Oh, and Harriet the Spy. I start every fall with The Little Fur Family and every winter with A Snowy Day. Lately I’ve been on a Frank Cottrell Boyce kick. And I love Daniel Pinkwater’s The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.
Some favorite movies?
Dazed and Confused, Rushmore, The Thin Man, and anything starring Audrey Hepburn.
What’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling?
I might have an embarrassing story from every week of my life. Here’s a recent one: When my friend Mary and I sent our just-completed YA-ish manuscript to my agent, we accidentally left in the “track changes.” I didn’t know they were there, but when my agent got them, she could see Mary and I arguing in red and green type. They were (mostly) humorous arguments, but they were real. You know that dream about showing up someplace in your underwear? It was kind of like that. [Thanks, Madelyn — I always admire people who are willing to share those embarrassing moments. Like yours, mine come at least weekly!]
Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
I’m stealing from my husband for this, because he expressed it so well a few weeks ago after my son read a book with some really emotional stuff in it. My husband told him that books are a safe way to try out certain emotions before he’s in a situation where he has to face those emotions for real. But wait, there’s more! At the same time, books can provide you with fabulous adventures and raucous laughter and crazy ideas. (Plus, they make you smarter.)
What are you working on now?
I’m working on final edits for my middle-grade for Holiday House, and I’m having a hard time letting go of that, though it’s time. I’ve always got a few picture books in the works. And I’m working on a couple of Mystery Projects that I hope will amount to something.