Welcome back, Sarah Aronson! I have previously interviewed my friend Sarah, and I am happy to learn more about her new picture book, BRAND-NEW BUBBE (Charlesbridge, 2022) illustrated by Ariel Landy. In the book, Jillian has a new stepfather, which means she also has a new grandmother, Bubbe. Jillian is hesitant to embrace Bubbe for fear that it’ll mean disregarding her two other beloved grandmothers. But after joining Bubbe in making a delicious pot of matzo ball soup, Jillian comes up with the perfect way to include all three of her grandmothers and extended family for a soup celebration. This sweet story of family, love, and loyalty celebrates the joy and connection of extended and blended families.
In BRAND-NEW BUBBE, Jillian is reluctant to embrace her new grandmother. What inspired you to write about a blended family with grandparents?
Family, of course. And for the record, I love making soup.
When my stepson and his wife called us with the news that they were having a baby–our first grandchild–I was (of course) immediately delighted! I was so ready to be a bubbe! But then, a friend asked me if it bothered me that technically the baby and I would not be related! That question bugged me. I stewed over it—just like Jillian. It made me think about what family means to me and what it takes to blend two families into one.
There is only one ingredient: LOVE!
That got me thinking about those first years when my husband and I started dating and bringing our kids together, and how we needed to be patient for them to get to know us and each other and develop the bonds that make us a family. These are big emotions to write about. For lots of kids, change is hard. And loyalty must be respected. Writing about step-parents felt too close to home. So I thought deeper about the other members of a family. And right then and there, I knew I wanted to add a brand new bubbe to this family! (I just knew she was going to be very enthusiastic.) I thought deeply about how a child might feel at the prospect of getting a new grandparent on top of everything else. In Brand New Bubbe, I strived to let Jillian tell her story. I wanted to show how this child was able to bring her whole family together, with the help of my very favorite thing to make…soup! I tried to tell the story with some humor, too! That always helps! Like soup, family is made with love. Other than that, there is no one set recipe!
How did you (and Jillian) come up with the idea for the soup celebration and three grandmothers with different soup recipes?
Because soup IS like a blended family. You put a bunch of ingredients into a pot and WOW! Something new and amazing is created.
When you think about it, soup is also like writing for exactly the same reason. When I am making soup, I feel like a writer. Adding ingredients. Testing along the way. Making something that will make everyone feel warm and loved and hopeful and happy.
What were your thoughts when you first saw Ariel Landy’s illustrations?
I laughed! I love the grandmas and the Great Mama-Nana. That name is in honor of one of my most beloved family members, Edith Blinderman. Her grandchildren gave her that name and she lived it and loved it and everyone who knew her, loved her. Jillian’s face when Mom is scolding her? PERFECTION. The pets? LOVE! I laughed aloud!
When I tell young readers that I don’t speak to the illustrator, they can’t believe it. They think we spend hours and hours in conversation. This is what they consider collaboration.
But I believe in trusting the illustrator completely. If I make an art note, it is pretty rare. That trust has paid off. Ariel brought a new subtext to the story that I hadn’t imagined. I’m so happy and lucky that she said yes to this project.
What do you hope young readers will take away from the story?
I hope kids see that there is no one way to define family. Our families are like constellations—they are the stars that bring light into our lives. (Check out my Family Constellation resources on my website.) Blood isn’t the only criteria. Love is. And support.
I am so lucky to have a supportive family as well as a gigantic blended families of writers and creative people. For me, what makes a family is heart. It’s caring. When we lead with love, we learn. We make connections. I might be sounding a bit lofty here, but our blended family has helped me be brave. I feel safe to write all kinds of books. To stretch. Grow. Make mistakes. Start again.
I hope when readers finish that last page, they feel that hope and heart, too. And smile. I am so grateful for the way this book has been received so far. For me to share my joy with readers has been a most splendid gift.
Thank you, Sarah!
Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published books for kids and teens, such as Beyond Lucky, a young MG series, The Wish List, and Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books), illustrated by Robert Neubecker, which has been included on many state lists. Brand New Bubbe (Charlesbridge) has received excellent reviews, including a star from Shelf Awareness. In 2024, look for a picture book biography of Bella Abzug, called Abzuglutely! (Calkins Creek, Astra Publishing).
When Sarah is not writing or reading (or making great soup or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! Call her the Book Bubbe! Sarah loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation. Like tips? Check out her weekly newsletter. (Subscribe on her website, http://www.saraharonson.com.) She lives in Chicago, Illinois.