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joni headshot 0709by Joni Sussman

As a children’s book publisher, I love the idea of PiBoIdMo! As a publisher of Jewish-themed children’s books, I love it even more. If you’re reading this post on the day it posted—Thanksgiving—you’re also reading it on the first of Hanukkah, an occurrence so unusual that it won’t happen again for another 77,798 years (yes, you read that right). So with the unusual situation of Hanukkah falling on Thanksgiving this year, I’ve got Hanukkah—and Hanukkah books—on the brain as I write this. In particular I’m thinking of one of Kar-Ben’s new Fall 2013 titles “Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster” because it’s especially apropos to the PiBoIdMo theme: this book is all about having a gem of an idea and then writing a book around it.

Author Jane Sutton came up with a premise that, by itself, may have had nothing to do with Hanukkah: How about a funny story about the exact wrong gift one animal could purchase for another? A giant pair of socks for a tiny monkey? A jogging suit for a turtle? And then she wove this premise into a delightful Hanukkah story about Esther the Gorilla who goes off to buy Hanukkah gifts for her friends. Although this premise becomes a charming Hanukkah story including latkes and candles and dreidels, it’s really about a gorilla who—like most of the little kids who are going to read this story—usually means well but often misses the mark.

As Publishers Weekly said about this book, ”[Esther] happily chooses the gifts, but as she hands them out to her monkey, elephant, hyena, turtle, and zebra pals, Esther realizes that her gifts may not have been as perfectly thought-out as she had hoped. Esther’s innocent mistakes and her ingenious solution will prompt laughter.” Lots of laughter, as it turns out, because not only is the story funny, but the art by Andy Rowland is hilarious: the shopping list on Esther’s frig lists “bananas, bananas, bananas and bananas,” her bookshelf contains “Gorilla’s (instead of Gulliver’s) Travels” and ” Gorillas in the Mist,” the department store where she buys the gifts includes all sorts of sight gags that will likely be missed by kids but thoroughly enjoyed by parents. “Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster” is a great example of the germ of an idea that grows into a terrific little story.


At this time of year I always find myself thinking about the ongoing need for clever original Hanukkah stories that are not just about the Maccabees or lighting candles or eating latkes, and that are not a Jewish take on “The Night Before Christmas.” (You’d be surprised how many writers think that’s a new idea!) I’m always on the hunt for special/unique/unusual Hanukkah stories that are not only creative but that make kids revel in the fact that they’re Hanukkah celebrators in a world of Christmas celebrators.

So as authors, I give you this charge: no matter whether you’re writing for the religious or secular market: It’s all about having a gem of an idea and creating a story around it. The more gems, the more stories! Take advantage of PiBoIdMo and generate those ideas for titles, plotlines, subjects and/or characters. Put pen to paper (or finger to computer key) and get those ideas written down. Good luck and may the (creative) Force be with you. And if you come up with a Hanukkah or other Jewish-themed story to send me, I’d love to hear from you!


Joni Sussman is the Publisher at Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group. Kar-Ben’s concentration is Jewish content picture books for children, both fiction and non-fiction for preschool through approximately 4th grade, including holiday books, life-cycle stories, Bible tales, folktales, and board books. In particular, Kar-Ben seeks stories that reflect the wide cultural diversity of today’s American Jewish community. Joni invites PiBoIdMo participants with Jewish-themed manuscripts to submit to her—just contact Tara directly for the email address and subject line code.


Joni is donating a selection of Kar-Ben’s new Fall 2013 titles (including Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster) as a prize.

This prize pack will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post (as per Annette’s spine-tingling challenge).
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

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