Interviews

Interview with Valerie Estelle Frankel, author of CHELM FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Valerie Estelle Frankel is an award-winning author of books for adults and children. Her book, CHELM FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Kar-Ben, 2019), is a collection of stories about the residents in Chelm as they celebrate Jewish holidays throughout the year. The fresh and original tales are endearing, fun, and amusing. I’m happy to learn more about Valerie’s inspirations for this humorous collection.

Tell me about your inspiration to create Chelm stories for the holidays?

That goes back a couple decades to when I was teaching Hebrew school. The kids loved it when I did storytelling out of the bible, and they really loved Chelm stories. The catch was, every one I could find was about Hannukah or generally themed. So I started asking myself what the Chelmites would do for Passover or Lag B’Omer and got inventing.

How much research did you need to do to keep your stories consistent with traditional Chelm stories? 

Well, I started with the obvious—bingeing the stories I’d been telling on the playground since childhood to get into the mood. Later when this was going to be published, my aunt who studies our shtetl culture gave me some notes about food, environment, and so on. As a Hebrew school teacher and parody writer, I was well up on the holidays and the silliness that might happen.

Valerie Estelle Frankel

What interesting or fun fact did you learn in the process of creating this book? Any challenges?

Not much of either, really. I just started my storytelling and amused myself and the kids. Only after did I write them down and think about publication. Chelm stories have an easy silly supposition–silly solution pattern to follow. Though I remember I struggled a little with Hannukah because so many angles on Chelm Hannukah stories had already been written. There my big question was “Okay, what hasn’t been done yet?”

What do you think makes Chelm stories timeless for young readers?

It’s a kind of humor kids get. When the Chelmites carry someone around so he won’t leave footprints on the ground or decree that water will be known as milk so there’s enough milk to go around, kids get why that’s so ridiculous. It’s a shared joke. Amelia Bedelia has the same humor, and that’s how I describe this book to those who are unfamiliar.

Do you have a favorite story in the collection?

Well, Purim’s my favorite holiday, and I thought that story had a nice originality and complexity. It started with the concept of “What if the Chelmites believed they were their Purim costumes?” and incorporated lots of stuff I see, like all the girls dressing as Esther. And the Passover one had a much simpler treasure hunt story, where the Chelmites realize they need matzah holes. Both stories also tried to bring in social justice and love, so the little guys win in the end.

What’s next for you?

Oh, so much. I’m busy writing and editing an entire series of nonfiction exploring Jewish science fiction and fantasy. And I’m hoping for a sequel to the Chelm book, this one another chapter book with a science fiction story for each holiday. And with 80 big adult nonfictions out on pop culture, I’m always writing more of those.

Thank you, Valerie!

Valerie Estelle Frankel has won a Dream Realm Award, an Indie Excellence Award, and a USA Book News National Best Book Award for her Henry Potty parodies. She’s the author of over 80 books on pop culture, including Hunting for Meaning in The Mandalorian; Inside the Captain Marvel Film; and Who Tells Your Story? History, Pop Culture, and Hidden Meanings in the Musical Phenomenon Hamilton. Many of her books focus on women’s roles in fiction, from her heroine’s journey guides From Girl to Goddess and Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to books like Superheroines and the Epic Journey and Women in Game of Thrones. Her Chelm for the Holidays (2019) was a PJ Library book, and now she’s the editor of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy, publishing an academic series that begins with Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy through 1945. Once a lecturer at San Jose State University, she now teaches at Mission College and San Jose City College and speaks often at conferences. Come explore at www.vefrankel.com

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