Young readers meet local children’s book authors

Young readers meet local children’s book authors

It’s a lively Jewish Heritage Month at the Teaneck public library

From left, Andria Rosenbaum, Teaneck Library director Shinae Hyun, Chana Stiefel, Ohr Saadya youth director Sara Weinberg, and the library’s head of youth services, Amy Sears (Esther Kook)
From left, Andria Rosenbaum, Teaneck Library director Shinae Hyun, Chana Stiefel, Ohr Saadya youth director Sara Weinberg, and the library’s head of youth services, Amy Sears (Esther Kook)

Jewish Heritage Month kicked off at the Teaneck Library with a visit by two children’s authors from the township, Chana Stiefel and Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum.

It’s always special when children engage and connect with books, especially in a group setting at the library. And it’s particularly special when children have the opportunity to hear from local authors who read aloud from their own stories, answer questions, and discuss how their work grew from ideas to printed reality.

On Sunday afternoon, children and their parents gathered around the two authors at an interactive reading and activity session.

Chana Stiefel is an award-winning writer of more than 30 books for children. They include “The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs,” “Bravo Avocado,” “Daddy Depot,” and “My Name is Wakawakaloch!” (She’s also a former editor of the Jewish Standard’s “Our Children.”

Andria Rosenbaum is a former resource room teacher. She writes picture books, but that’s not all she writes — her poetry and short stories have appeared in magazines from Babybug to Highlights. Her picture books include “Boats Will Float,” “Hand in Hand,” “Trains Don’t Sleep,” and “Big Sister, Little Monster.”

Chana and Andria began by asking the children what kinds of books they enjoy. One little boy shouted out, “Mysteries! I love mysteries!” A few other children joined in, telling about their favorites.

Then Chana began reading “Let Liberty Rise,” which is based on how the people of France gave America the Statue of Liberty as a gift for the country’s centennial. When the statue arrived on our shores, it came in 350 huge pieces, which had to be assembled. But the main challenge was that Lady Liberty needed a huge pedestal to hold her weight — and the cost to build it was prohibitive.

Although this doesn’t sound like a Jewish children’s book, Chana filled it with Jewish values. She explained how children back then gave tzedakah to help fund the pedestal. (To be more technical, it’s a plinth.)

When Joseph Pulitzer, the Hungarian Jewish immigrant who owned the New York World, heard about the fundraising drive, he said he would print the name of anyone who donated even a penny to the cause. Children enthusiastically emptied their piggy banks and gave their pennies. After the Statue of Liberty was erected, it became a symbol of freedom, welcoming many Jewish immigrants from all over the world to our shores. Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents waved to Lady Liberty as they went on to their new lives in America.

And the poet Emma Lazarus, from a prominent Sephardic Jewish family, had her masterwork, “The New Colossus,” inscribed on the statue’s pedestal. It contains the inspirational lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

After Chana finished reading, a child connected with the idea of tzedakah and told the group that she likes to donate money at her church. Another child had a different kind of thought, and asked why the Statue of Liberty has changed colors. Why is it green now?

Chana explained that the statue had oxidized, and defined oxidization as what happens when some metals change color over time. This was an astute scientific connection, and a powerful example of how books lead us to different subjects and ideas.

Then Andria Rosenbaum held up one of her books, “Meg Goldberg on Parade,” and asked the children if they’ve ever been to the Israel Day parade, or eaten Israeli foods like pita or couscous.

Andria explained how the very first Israel Day parade was in 1964, and she began reading her book about how Meg and her family traveled to Manhattan to watch the parade. Meg started to imagine that she was really part of the parade, marching, playing an instrument, and then crowned grand marshal.

The children listened with rapt attention and delighted in the fun rhymes and rhythms of the story.

When Chana and Andria concluded, there was still another fun and hands-on component — three different activities organized by Sara Weinberg, the youth director at Ohr Saadya. At the table devoted to tzedakah, they could make personalized tzedakah boxes. At the next table, which focused on chesed — kindness — children could make kindness calendars, where they could mark estimable acts they had done or planned to do. At the third table, there were bookmarks the children could design for themselves or give to the residents of the CareOne facility.

While the children were engaged with the activities, I had the chance to speak with Chana and Andria about their writing process and their inspiration for these particular books.

“I’ve always been incredibly impressed that every year there’s a full-blown fabulous parade in Israel’s honor,” Andria said. “I knew this was something that would excite children, and most people outside the tristate area don’t know much about it.”

Chana was inspired to write “Let Liberty Rise” by her friend Jackie Glasthal. “When I heard the story, it hit so many notes for me — liberty, immigration, cooperation, history, friendship, charity, and determination,” she said. “All of my books represent a part of me. Some are funny and heartwarming, and others are serious and educational. But they all have a backstory that inspires me to pursue and write the story.”

Jewish Heritage Month is off to a great start! What could be better than children connecting to books and to their heritage?

Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist and freelance writer. 

read more: