Like word wizards wielding magic wands, children’s book authors sprinkle a potion of carefully chosen phrases across a decorated canvas to create that delightful enchantment called picture books.
Four such wizards, all New Jersey residents, are coming to the Teaneck Public Library on February 25 to read their newest picture books, highlighting a two-hour activity also to include games and crafts. (Participants who would like to have the authors sign their books may buy them ahead of time at the Curious Reader in Glen Rock.)
Author-illustrator Mike Malbrough of Orange will read “Marigold Bakes a Cake” (Philomel); Ariel Bernstein of Livingston will read “I Have a Balloon,” illustrated by Scott Magoon (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books); Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum of Teaneck will read “Trains Don’t Sleep,” illustrated by Deirdre Gill (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); and Chana Stiefel of Teaneck will read “Daddy Depot” illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends).
Ms. Stiefel, the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids, about topics such as exploding volcanoes and stinky castles, got the idea for her first picture book eight years ago, as she put her 7-year-old daughter to bed.
“She was mad at her father that night, so I spun a tale about a girl who returns her father to the ‘daddy store,’” she said. She put the funny tale into manuscript form a few years ago and joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
“Through their writing workshops and conferences I met my agent in 2013, and things took off from there,” she said. “Now I’m writing both fiction and nonfiction.”
Coming next from Ms. Stiefel are the nonfiction “Animal Zombies & Other Monsters in Nature” (NatGeoKids, August 2018) now on presale at Amazon, and the fictional “My Name is Wakawakaloch” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019).
The latter book, she explains, is about a cave girl who is frustrated because no one can pronounce her name. Ms. Stiefel knows the feeling well; she experienced the same frustration growing up in North Miami Beach. Many people had trouble with the guttural Hebrew letter “chet” at the beginning of her name.
“This book is really about finding the source of your name and carrying on its legacy, but it’s fun and funny and relatable to any kids who can’t find their name on a keychain in a gift shop,” Ms. Stiefel said.
The Stiefel family, including four children who are now 22, 19, 16, and 12 years old, belongs to the Young Israel of Teaneck. Ms. Stiefel is the director of public relations at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck.
After graduating from Stern College of Women of Yeshiva University, Ms. Stiefel earned a master’s degree in journalism at NYU. “This was a special program focusing on science, health, and environmental reporting,” she said. “I did an internship at one of Scholastic’s science magazines for children, and then they offered me a job as assistant editor at the magazine ‘Science World’ for middle school children. I worked there seven years and I loved combining science with educational writing for children.”
Once she started having children and moved to Teaneck 19 years ago, she decided to become a freelancer, “and one book led to another.” She’s covered topics from comets to cows to colossal constructions.
One unusual title, co-written with Kent Karoson and published in 2016, is “Why Can’t Grandma Remember My Name?” answering children’s questions about Alzheimer’s disease and featuring artwork created by kindergartners and Alzheimer’s patients. All proceeds benefit the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
Coming next is a children’s book about the building of the Statue of Liberty. After that, she plans to fulfill a longtime desire to write a Jewish children’s book.
Ms. Stiefel met Ms. Rosenbaum through their mutual involvement in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, from which Ms. Rosenbaum received a 2008 award for her short story “The Color of Hope.”
“It’s fun to find someone in your community who does what you do,” Ms. Stiefel said. “We live across town but we’ve become good friends.”
Ms. Rosenbaum, also a Stern College graduate, aspired to be a writer since she was 11 but started out on a career path in special education. “I have a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and taught for several years, but it just didn’t do it for me so I always came back to writing,” she said. “It’s who I am and I don’t have a choice but to write.”
While raising her four children in Fair Lawn — where the family lived for 20 years before moving to Teaneck over a decade ago — her poetry and short stories were published in magazines such as Babybug, Children’s Playmate, Cricket, Ladybug, Highlights, Spider, and Turtle.
Her first book, “A Grandma like Yours/A Grandpa Like Yours,” published by the Jewish children’s publisher Kar-Ben in 2006, was a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable of 2007. Also in 2006, she wrote “Two Sweet Peas,” a 24-page early reader published by Bebop Books.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Kar-Ben published her second Jewish-themed book, “Meg Goldberg on Parade,” about a shy little girl whose imagination runs wild at New York City’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade.
Despite having “given up many times” over the intervening years, she found her stride — and an agent — and went on to success with “Big Sister, Little Monster” (Scholastic) and “Trains Don’t Sleep,” both published in 2017.
“The picture book market has never been as difficult as it is now, especially if you’re not an illustrator also,” Ms. Rosenbaum said. “It’s tough to get shelf space.”
She has another book coming out next year with Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House that brings together authors and illustrators from North America and Israel. “This is a book I’ve been dreaming of for 25 or 30 years, about two siblings separated during the Holocaust … and reunited 65 years later,” she said.
Based on many true accounts, this work of historical fiction “is like an introduction to the Holocaust, stressing the million and a half children who were murdered and the potential that was taken away from the world,” she said.
She also recently completed “a silly picture book.”
She gets inspiration from everywhere, “something I overhear someone say, or a something one of my kids or grandchildren says to me,” she continued. “I think writers are eavesdroppers. I was always the kid sitting at the adult table and listening in.”
At the library, the four authors will read their books and take questions from kids.
“It will be fun because all four of us write really different kinds of books,” Ms. Stiefel said. “We’re good friends and feel that children’s book writers need to support one another, even though it’s a super competitive field professionally.”
What: Picture-book reading and signing by four New Jersey children’s authors, plus crafts and games
Where: Teaneck Public Library, 840 Teaneck Road
When: Sunday, February 25, 2-4 p.m.
Suggested ages: 3 to 7