I first met Susan (Suzi) Dubin when she worked as a librarian at Valley Beth Shalom Day School in Encino, California. Suzie was well-known in the children’s book world as an ardent supporter of authors and illustrators, welcoming many into her library to share their work with her students. Suzi has served on book award committees and was the President of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Currently, Suzi is a Library Consultant at Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. But Suzi’s talents are vast! She is also a poet and author. Her recently released children’s book, Katzele and the Silver Candlesticks, is inspired by her own family history. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Suzi about her many hats.
You have worked in numerous roles the world of Jewish libraries and most recently published books of your own. Can you tell me a bit about how you balance these roles?
I have always loved to write, and I write, especially poetry, as a way to relax. I do not write with the objective of having my stories and poems read all the time. Sometimes I just need to put into words my thoughts and feelings in order to examine them myself.
I have been a member of SCBWI for many, many years. At first I joined in order to meet authors and hear about literature as a way of enhancing my work as a school librarian. Then I started going because I made some good friends. I formed a writing group and started writing to share with the group. Their critiques and help led to my publishing some of the work I’d done.
Your books range from poetry to children’s stories. What inspires you as a writer?
I love mythology, folk and fairy tales, and Bible stories. I especially love poetry and the music of language. As a librarian and a teacher, I have always been drawn to storytelling. I guess writing down the stories I tell just seemed the logical next step.
In Katzele and the Silver Candlesticks, young Rosie sets out to save her father from danger. There are many historical elements in the story. Did you need to do a lot of research?
Katzele and the Silver Candlesticks is based on my mother’s story about why she came to America. My grandfather, Reb Giser in the book, really did get arrested often. My grandmother did pawn the candlesticks to get him out of jail. My grandfather had to leave Russia because of his political views. He came to America two years before my mother and Grandmother came. My mother told us she was smuggled out of Russia in a hay wagon, and all she and my grandmother took with them were the silver candlesticks, babushka, and a tablecloth. I got the candlesticks when I became a Bat Mitzvah and gave them to my daughter on her Bat Mitzvah. They will go to my daughter’s daughter on her Bat Mitzvah, along with the story, I hope.
I did research the village where my grandparents lived and searched for information and descriptions of the area around them. I found that Jews from that area were sent to the salt mines for political dissension, although to my knowledge my grandfather did not actually go to the salt mine. My husband and I visited the salt mine near Salzburg, and I based my descriptions of Rosie and Vigdor’s adventures there on what I observed.
My husband’s great grandfather (Dubinsky) was in the Russian army, although he was not conscripted as a child. That part of the story was based on my research into child conscriptions during the time of the Czars.
How does your background as a librarian help your writing process?
Being a librarian helps the writing process, because library work leads to READING and research. I make it a point of honor to not put a book on my library shelves before I read it. I read a lot. When I find something especially interesting to me, I hit the books and the computer to find out more about it. Research is like a great treasure hunt with the thrill of discovery always there.
Thank you, Suzi. Hooray for librarians!