In Jane Sutton’s new picture book, GRACIE BRINGS BACK BUBBE’S SMILE (Albert Whitman & Company, 2022) illustrated by Debby Rahmalia, Gracie’s grandmother, Bubbe, is grieving the loss of her husband, Gracie’s grandfather. When Bubbe teaches Gracie some Yiddish, the two connect with each other and Zayde’s memory in a meaningful way. I am happy to learn more about this heartwarming intergenerational story. Welcome, Jane!
In the story, Yiddish becomes a way for Gracie to connect with her Bubbe. What was your inspiration for Gracie’s story?
The main inspiration is the close bonds I have with my own grandchildren and that I had with my own grandmas, mother and mother-in-law, who all instilled my love of Yiddish. To me many Yiddish words are so apt—they perfectly capture a feeling or situation. Like the word kvell, which is what Bubbes and Zaydes do when their grandchildren accomplish something …or actually, when they do nothing at all besides looking adorable. For Gracie’s story, I had the idea of a Bubbe teaching her granddaughter Yiddish words, and to add a more compelling reason for the lessons to take place, I had Bubbe mourning Zayde and missing speaking Yiddish with him.
In her age-appropriate way, Gracie helps Bubbe heal after the loss of her husband. What do you hope young readers take away from Gracie’s story?
In reading about an adult and child both missing a loved one, I hope young readers will see that it’s important to acknowledge feelings of loss. And when Gracie helps Bubbe gradually emerge from her grief as she teaches Gracie Yiddish words, I hope readers will see that it’s possible to experience joy and even laughter again, through love and sharing of culture.
What were your thoughts when you saw Debby Rahmalia’s illustrations?
I was happy and relieved to open my email and see that my story was in such good hands! The vibrant colors are both pleasing and important. The bright palette counteracts the sadness in the first part of the book, encouraging young readers to hang on until things start to look up for the characters. The other aspect of the illustrations that delighted me is the depiction of emotion, which is always crucial to me. Debby shows Gracie’s and Bubbe’s changing emotions so effectively, through facial expressions and body language. I was kind of in awe, actually.
You write both humorous and sensitive stories. Does your writing process vary for different styles?
Wow, that’s an interesting question. No one has ever asked me that before. Now that you inspired me to think about this, I realize that my process is in many ways the same for funny and more serious stories, picture books or novels. I think first about my characters and what kind of pickle they’re in and then how they’ll get out of it in the end. Filling in the huge, gaping middle comes last and is the hardest.
Thank you, Jane!
Jane Sutton is the author of 12 books for children: 8 picture books, 3 middle grade novels, and one YA novel. She’s a graduate of Brandeis University with a degree in Comparative Literature and is a writing instructor and presenter for all ages. She lives in Lexington, MA with her college sweetheart husband, not far from their children and grandchildren, who give them oodles of naches.