Emily Sper is a talented author, illustrator, and publisher. Her picture book ALL ABOUT JEWISH TIME (Jump Press, 2021) introduces young readers to the Jewish holidays and other concepts related to the Hebrew calendar. The graphic, colorful and visual illustrations are a delightful accompaniment to the informational text. I enjoyed connecting with Emily and learning all about her process from writing to publication.
What was your inspiration for creating (and re-creating) ALL ABOUT JEWISH TIME? Can you share a bit about your process?
I’ve been interested in how different cultures count time since graduate school (Media Ecology, which should really be called Communication and Culture), when I wrote a paper about the connection between the seven planets visible in ancient Mesopotamia, including the sun and the moon, to the 24-hour day, and later to the creation story. At one point, I considered making a book about how the days of the week got their names. Maybe I still will.
How cool is it that the sun, moon and stars send us messages? I love knowing it’s a new month when I see the first sliver of the waxing moon. I wish I knew what I know now when I was a kid. It seems to me that in order to understand the Jewish year, you have to understand how the Hebrew calendar works, which can be confusing, especially for those of us outside Israel. I began with the four seasons, but some years Rosh Hashanah falls in what is officially autumn, other years in summer. I got myself confused thinking Hanukkah was in winter, yet it’s the 25th of Kislev, which is considered autumn. If I’m confused, that doesn’t bode well for five-year-olds!
After The Kids’ Fun Book of Jewish Time was published, teachers thanked me. Somehow I’d condensed the year’s kindergarten curriculum into 24 fun pages. And because Islam also follows the lunar calendar, I heard my book was being used by Muslim families.
I feel bad when people want copies of my books that aren’t in print anymore. Initially, I thought it would be easy to take away the wheels, pull-tabs, and flaps, and have a new book, but that wasn’t the case. It took four months of solid work to finish what became All About Jewish Time. There were times I wasn’t sure I’d ever be done with the book, but eventually the content fell into place.
You pack a lot of information into a picture book format! What is your vision for the way readers approach the book? Do you see it as a read-aloud? A reference book?
I see All About Jewish Time as a book for inquisitive kids to be read with an adult. It’s not a story to be read from cover to cover but can be picked up at the appropriate time to help a child understand what’s going on. The information in all of my books is for all ages, packaged for children. Kids are like sponges and there’s no reason why a kid can’t learn the basics at a young age. The more they know, the more meaningful the Jewish year will be, even if they never set foot in a synagogue.
The illustrations are bold and graphic and support the text beautifully. How were the illustrations created?
I draw on the computer using Adobe Illustrator. Sometimes I’ll sketch on paper first or use photos for reference. As both an artist and author who designed children’s books for Dutton, Grosset & Dunlap, and Scholastic, I’m able to work on everything simultaneously. I used illustrations from The Kids’ Fun Book of Jewish Time and my Jewish Holidays Go Fish Card Game but needed to create some new artwork as the book got longer.
Can you tell me about your journey with Jump Press?
In 2015, I was trying to get What On Earth Can We Do? published. My editor at Scholastic told me environmental books don’t sell. At the same time, a member of my synagogue asked our online group to recommend children’s books that would help her kids understand environmental issues, recycling, and such. When I saw there was a need for my book, I went ahead and published it under the imprint Jump Press. I was also shopping around for a publisher for a color-concept board book, so I had two books to publish. The rep at Baker & Taylor’s distribution arm knew my Scholastic books (Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish and The Passover Seder) and took Jump Press on. I intended to build up a line of books by other author-illustrators, but haven’t found a way to make that happen financially. We just got the rights back for 52 Flower Mandalas (Diversion Books), an adult coloring book I co-authored, and Jump Press is about to publish a revised edition with a new format and cover. I’m also working on an activity book edition of The Passover Seder and a few other new projects.
Thank you, Emily!
Emily Sper is an author, illustrator, graphic designer, and photographer. Besides creating books for kids, Emily has also designed Jewish card games. Among other places, she’s lived in Tel Aviv where she worked in a design studio for three years. Originally from Croton-on-Hudson, NY, Emily now lives in Boston. She is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design and New York University. When she’s not creating anything, you’ll probably find her playing table tennis.