This year is a special – Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will be celebrated on the same day! Something else to be thankful for this Hanukkah is a new book by my dear friend, Lauren Wohl. The Eighth Menorah is the story of Sam and the menorah he makes at school. Sam’s not sure there is a place for the new menorah at home and he comes up with a plan to find just the right place for his new menorah. The Eighth Menorah is a perfect picture book for young families this Hanukkah. Lauren Wohl has an extensive career in book publishing and I am thrilled she was available to chat about The Eighth Menorah.
Tell me about your inspiration for The Eighth Menorah?
My husband’s family had an old Menorah — very elaborate. I just knew it had a story. I started noticing the Menorahs that belonged to friends and to other family members. Most had modern ones, or artsy ones, but often they also had a family heirloom. I thought it would be interesting to dig into the personal history of Menorahs, learn some stories, and then tell them in a nonfiction book for kids. The research was interesting — sometimes uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking. I made notes. But when I sat down to write the book, I couldn’t find the voice to tell it. What’s worse, my interest waned. I had satisfied by own curiosity, and nothing was compelling me to tell the tales. I put my notebook away.
Still the importance of the Menorah in a family stayed with me, and little by little, the story of Sammy started to take shape. I made a Menorah a lot like his when I went to Hebrew school. Our son made a Menorah exactly like his when he went to Sunday school. (Well — not exactly. Our son’s had shells in it because we lived in a beach community. Sammy’s has rocks and acorns.)
I love the illustration of the family menorahs lined up. How did you feel when you first saw Laura Hughes’ illustrations?
I’ve never met Laura. (She lives in London.) My editor at Albert Whitman showed me some samples of her work. It was clear that she has a good sense of humor, and a warmth. Her style was not what I envisioned as I was writing the text, but I’ve learned, after many years in children’s book publishing, that it really is best to leave these decisions to editors and art directors. Their vision and understanding of a book are far broader than an author’s — well, this author, anyway.
Now I can’t imagine THE EIGHTH MENORAH with anyone else’s illustrations. In fact, I’ve just arranged to purchase one of the illustrations — and I had a difficult time picking just one favorite.
What was your favorite book when you were Sam’s age?
At seven, my hands-down favorites were the Andrew Lang color fairy books. My dad read me one story every night. I’d take out a new color collection from the library every week. Soon, there were no new ones — we’d read them all. At least once. But that didn’t stop us. We’d borrow one that we’d read before and read it again.
There were picture books I held on to — my own “guilty pleasures”: Dear Garbage Man, Make Way for Ducklings, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little House. I knew I was too old for them. It didn’t matter. I loved them. And I discovered a new author: Beverly Cleary. I think I read Henry Huggins twenty times. Laughed every time.
I also loved to read nonfiction — maybe that started when I was a little bit older. We owned a set of the Book of Knowledge, and I would take out a volume at random, open to a page, and read something. Then I’d know something I never knew before. A heady feeling.
You have the unique professional background. As well as being a writer you have worked in publishing. How have you balanced these two careers?
I wish writing was my career. I just don’t do enough of it for it to merit that title. It is something I love to do. And sometimes I get lucky. My real career has been in publishing — MANY years in the marketing departments of several houses — big and small, established and start ups. Now I consult with publishers. I’m enjoying the freedom this offers and the wider exposure to a variety of books. I also mentor in the MFA Children’s Book Writing program at Simmons College. I work with one student a semester, helping her or him develop a novel. I’ve met wonderfully talented people. I hope I help them. I know they inspire me.
Lauren – thanks so much for participating in an interview. Mazel Tov on your new book!