Sylvia Rouss is the award-winning author and early childhood educator who created the popular Sammy Spider and The Littlest books, among many others. Sylvia has received numerous awards as an educator and she conducts seminars for parents and teachers. Teachers, parents, and young readers are familiar with Sylvia’s books. No doubt many titles become cherished family favorites. Sylvia’s new book, THE HANUKKAH FABLE, is a sweet story about being your best self, even if you are a dreidel! I was delighted to chat with Sylvia about this charming picture book.
The Hanukkah Fable of Little Dreidel and Silver Menorah has a magical feel. Can you tell me a bit about how you got the idea for this story?
As a teacher, as well as a parent and grandparent, I have dealt with disputes about the colors of shovels, trucks, doll clothing and even dreidels. Everyone has a favorite color and I wanted to address those feelings in my story about the Little Dreidel’s desire to be a certain color. For children, the world is full of magic. It is both familiar and awe-inspiring. Watching a seedling sprout or a spider spinning a web is a magical experience. Through stories, children immerse themselves in a fantasy world where anything is possible. I decided to write about familiar Hanukkah symbols, a menorah and a dreidel. I added a touch of magic, not only can the dreidel and menorah talk, but the dreidel changes colors throughout the story. However, the real magic becomes evident at the end of the story when the dreidel finally realizes, “I’m so happy to be me!” – well, that’s the awe-inspiring part! And, together, I think that what’s makes the story work so well. Last week, I visited a class of 2nd and 3rd, graders at a local school, who were studying fables, and they enjoyed discussing the lessons of the story.
Were you able to collaborate with the illustrator on this project?
Tannya Derby is also the publisher and I was so excited that she also chose to do the illustrations. We worked very closely on the illustrations to capture the fun elements of the story.
Almost every book requires research. What kind of research did you do for The Hanukkah Fable of Little Dreidel and Silver Menorah?
The importance of helping children develop a positive Jewish identity was an integral part of my job as an early childhood educator. I watched the social growth of children as they came to recognize that everyone is unique and deserving of respect. Often simple lessons conveying these values could be found in the stories I shared with the children. They especially enjoyed stories where animals and inanimate objects came to life to teach an important life lesson. It took a while, but eventually I realized that the Hanukkah menorah and dreidel could be the key elements of a Jewish fable.
You have written so many books. Do you have a favorite? Do your readers seem to have a favorite?
My books are like my children, it is impossible to select a favorite. Each has unique qualities that bring me joy for different reasons. Even my stories that haven’t been published or that have gone out of print are dear to me and some of them have found a home on my web site under original stories. http://www.sylviarouss.com/original-stories/ I think parents and children will really enjoy these stories, especially “Welcome to the Forest” and “Haircut Day”.
What’s next for you?
Next year I have two stories coming out. Kar-Ben is publishing Sammy Spider’s First Book of Prayers; and, my rhyme based on the stories of Chelm, “A Mouse in Granny’s House”, will be part of a collection entitled Poems for Thoughtful Children published by BCubed Press
My daughter and I have written a new Purim story as a follow up to our popular The Watermelon in the Sukkah, and we hope it will find a publisher next year.
I noticed the notation that the book cover has a notation that it is a dyslexic version. Can you share info about that?
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing creates books in dyslexic font that teach, inspire, and help children discover the beautiful world of reading. Their books show that diversity is a beautiful thing and that everyone has a story to tell. The dyslexic font is an important step forward in helping people who suffer from the disorder. This font is not a cure for dyslexia, but research among people with dyslexia have shown that children can read faster and make fewer mistakes using the Dyslexic font. I am proud to be part of this new publishing initiative.
Thank you, Sylvia. Happy Hanukkah!