How cool is this! We actually get to sing Happy Book Birthday and Happy Belated Book Birthday because Karen Rostoker-Gruber has back-to-back books that are launching within a month of each other! And the very generous Karen is offering a double giveaway…a copy of each book – so we will have TWO winners!

I’m so excited for both of these books!

Let’s chat about THE CROWDED FAMILY FARMHOUSE first. I’m a huge fan of folktales. Illustrated by Kristina Swarner and published by Albert Whitman, it’s the story of Farmer Earl and his too crowded farmhouse! He visits the wise woman in town for help. She tells him to bring all his ducks in the house. And then all his horses. And all his goats too! How will there be more room with all these animals? I remember another retelling of this same folktale by Ann McGovern in TOO MUCH NOISE. It was one of my favorite stories to read with my own children…and they loved the repetition and the outlandish advice. In the same way, kids will love Karen’s wonderful picture book because young kids have a fine sense of humor and they appreciate how crazy the wise woman’s advice is.

Karen’s second new book which is just launching, is a board book called HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES, illustrated by Holly Sterling and published by Kar Ben. It’s Tu B’Shevat―Jewish Arbor Day―and a diverse group of children work together to plant a tree. After digging a hole, placing the tree, filling the hole with dirt, patting the ground, and spraying the garden hose, the children celebrate by wishing the tree a happy birthday, and then look forward to when it blossoms on Tu B’Shevat the following year. I love board books for the littles…especially when there is a real story involved. The illustrations are perfect and the diversity is just what we need to see in books these days.

And we are really lucky, dear friends. Guess who is here? It’s Karen…and she’s stopped by to chat with us about how these stories came to be.

ME: Welcome, Karen! Thank you so much for visiting Picture Book Help Kids Soar.

KAREN: Hi Vivian…I’m happy to be here. I’d love to share how HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES came to be.

I was invited to a luncheon given by the PJ Library in New York a while back (pre-COVID). They told everyone there that they were looking for board books.

When I went home that night I reworked an old manuscript, which at that time was called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” I sent it to the PJ Library and won their author incentive award (two thousand dollars).

Then, Karen Grencik (my agent at the time) sold the book to Joni Sussman, at KarBen. Joni shortened the title to “Happy Birthday, Trees,” which I like a lot better.

It’s a board book about planting a tree with simple rhyming couplets and a repeated refrain. It’s for the Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which is very similar to Earth Day. Holly Sterling’s illustrations are very lively and colorful! The characters in this book look like they are having so much fun that I want to hop into her illustrations!

For “A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale,” an editor told me to send her a folktale.
So, I went to the library and took out a lot of folktale books–about 20 or so–borrowed more from friends, and bought some on-line.  Then for weeks, I sat and read folktales from morning to night.  I didn’t skip any–just in case the one I skipped happened to be the perfect one.  I kept looking for a folktale that I could simplify. 

I came across a folktale that I loved.  At 3am one night, after going over and over one of the folktales in my head all day long, I wrote this down on a sticky note:

In case you can’t read my chicken-scratch (Hah!), it says: 
No room to sit,     no room to pace,          no room to rest,                no extra space! 
That little rhyme was just what I needed as a starting point.  I couldn’t wait to begin working on it in the morning. 

I love repeated refrains, bits of rhyme, and lyrical writing.  I’m also a sucker for a good animal pun, if it isn’t forced.  And, most of the time, I add in a touch of adult humor to my books.  Also, after reading hundreds of folktales, I noticed that not one of them had a wise woman in charge.  So, I put a wise woman in my folktale instead of a wise man.  Times have changed.  
Once I finished the story, sent it to my critique groups, proofread it until I couldn’t see the words anymore, I sent it to the editor that asked me to write a folktale for her.  But, as luck would have it, by the time I wrote it, revised it, reworked it, and sent it her way, she had already acquired a similar story for her list.  
This time though, unlike my previous 14 traditionally-published books, which I sold myself and negotiated with the help of Mary Flower (a book lawyer), I had an agent Karen Grencik .  I ran it by her and she loved it.  She sent it out on submission in March and we got a response in April!   

When my agent first submitted the book, it was called, “No Extra Space,” but my editor, Andrea Hall, at Albert Whitman, wanted to change the title to have the word “folktale” in it, which was a great suggestion.  It’s now called, “A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale.”  

You can get a signed copy of  “A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale,” if you call my local bookstore: 
I can sign them and The Bookworm can ship them! The Bookworm 908-766-4599  thebookworm99@outlook.com 
Or, if you don’t need a signed copy, you can order it here:

Buy this book here.

Find the teacher guide here.

Find a coloring page here.

Find a gratitude journal here.

WOW…thank you so much, Karen…I love the story behind the story…lots of valuable info here for our fellow writers out there in kid-lit-land. And thank you also for providing the links to the teacher guide and the coloring page and the gratitude journal!

Dear readers, if you’d like to find out more about Karen and her wonderful books:

Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of over 16 books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Children’s Literature Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit’s Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children’s Book Council Children’s Choices Award recipients;  three of her books, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo(in 2005), Bandit (in 2009), and Ferret Fun (in 2012) were all chosen for the 100 Best Children’s Books in the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year Handbook.  Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-DooandFerret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen’s book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples and Honey Press, a division of Behrman House, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017 and went out to 21,000 4-year-olds in the US and Canada. Karen’s latest books,Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen)and A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale(Whitman), will both be out in 2020.  Karen is an active member of SCBWI, has twice co-chaired the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature’s One-on-One Conference, and is one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs.  http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com

I hope everyone has a wonderful week! It was a great weekend for me because I found out that Making Their Voices Heard is an Amazon editors’ pick for Best Nonfiction for Kids – and also a nominee for the 2020 Cybils Award – congratulations to the many other amazing books on the list!

And don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway…there will be two winners…and if you share the post on social media, you earn extra tickets in the giveaway hat. Please remember that book reviews are a wonderful way to tell the world about the books you love!

37 thoughts on “A Double Happy Book Birthday: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES & A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE Plus Giveaway

  1. Thanks, Vivian, what a happy and inspirational post to start the morning off with! Congratulations, Karen! Two at once is an awesome accomplishment! I can’t wait to read them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations, Karen! Both of these sound fantastic! I like the addition of the rhyming bit in the folktale. I hope that got to stay in! Best wishes!

    I will share this on Twitter, Vivian. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, I can identify with scraps of paper with an assortment of phrases and thoughts grouped together for a single book. So interesting to read about how writers brought their books into being, and sometimes finding commonalities among the differences. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations! I always loved the folktale of the crowded farmhouse and read it to my children years ago. Reminds me of my place and how delightful it is when I get rid of a whole bunch of things I no longer need or want. A folktale for kids & adults. Thank-you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful interview, Vivian. Congrats on your Amazon Editor’s pick and Cybils Award nomination!

    Happy Book Birthdays, Karen! I love hearing how book ideas started and how they came to be published.

    Liked by 1 person

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