Happy Perfect Picture Book Friday, dear friends! And happy almost book birthday to today’s featured book, UNDER THE SEA SEDER which launches March 27th.
UNDER THE SEA SEDER
Written and illustrated by Ann Koffsky
Published by Apples and Honey Press (March 27, 2023)
Themes: Passover, Seder, Underwater creatures
Synopsis: From Amazon:
Miri is having trouble focusing during her family’s Passover Seder. Her parents would like her to sit quietly and listen, but she just CAN’T.
So Miri slips under the table where her spirited imagination can be free, and with her cat at her side imagines leading her own seder, under the sea, with some friendly, very colorful sea monsters as her guests.
Miri sings the Four Questions and whirls and twirls in celebration with her new marine friends. And soon it is time to dance and sing above the table as well, so Miri returns to her parents to join in the fun.
Neurodiversity-affirming. Includes a note for families about ways to add movement, games, and fun to keep children engaged during this yearly Passover ritual.
Why I Love This Book:
I love the unique setting for the child’s Seder!
And here’s a great Kirkus review:
“With overtones of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963), this read-aloud brings a creative element to the holiday. . . . Marine fun and fantasy make for a magical Passover celebration.”
Because I’m in a book promotion group, #JewishBoardBooks, with author/illustrator Ann Koffsky, and because her book and my Pippa’s Passover Plate are both about Passover, we thought it would be fun to ask each other FOUR QUESTIONS about our books.
Here are my questions to Ann:
VIVIAN: What was the inspiration for a story where the main character finds it difficult to sit still and distracts herself with an imaginary trip under the ocean?
ANN: My children! When my kids were younger, every Friday night at Shabbat dinner, one of them—sometimes all of them—would end up under the table. Sometimes they’d play with each other. Sometimes just by themselves. But it was clear that under the table was definitely the place to be!
VIVIAN: I love that the sea monsters are having a Seder also. Do you think there will be any push back or objection? When Pippa’s Passover Plate first launched, one person left a 1-star Amazon review, accusing me of writing an anti-Semitic story – she said it was terrible that the Seder plate was under the water.
ANN: I think that when you write a book, you have readers and that readers are people. And people come in all shapes and flavors. They bring their own set of experiences to a story, and react to it from their own place. (I’ve also had…shall we say… ‘interesting’ reactions to a book–go check out the negative reviews I got for Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor.
ANN: I certainly hope that no is offended that I wrote a story about a girl who imagines celebrating a Seder with sea monsters! Of course, my intent is express the joy and love that I have for these traditions. The ancient Rabbis who planned the Seder emphasized the importance of teaching our children according to their own personality and expressed that in the metaphor of the 4 sons or 4 children. I think there are a lot of kids out there who will like learning about a Passover with sea monsters, and I think the Rabbis who designed the Seder might agree!
VIVIAN: I think it’s such a great idea that you include activities for kids in the backmatter. Do you do that in most of your books? And how did you decide which activities to include?
I do that in a bunch of my books, although not all. It depends on what the publisher wants to do with the backmatter. But for a seder, which is an interactive, educational meal, activities seemed like a perfect fit. When I do include activities, I try to include ones that build on the story and connect to it. My intent is to have the story is extended beyond the page, and into the reader’s own lives.
VIVIAN: As an author/illustrator, what are your biggest challenges when you set out to create a picture book story and how do you push through them?
ANN: Biggest challenge: Writer’s block! Not being able to come up with a new idea when I want, exactly how I want it!! So frustrating. I push through by (trying!) to give myself grace, and lifting off the self-pressure. Sitting and daydreaming, going for walks, looking and reading other great kid’s books, taking the time to go to a museum and see great art, can often help me get through.
WOW! I love your insights, Ann…especially the need to give ourselves grace!
And now I’m excited to have a chance to answer your questions, my friend. Ready…set…go!
ANN: First of all… I am in awe of your rhyme. To me rhyme is this hugely powerful tool of enhancement when done well- as you did! But I am scared myself to pick it up because when done poorly… ugh! It’s painful to the ears. It can go so wrong.
As an expert rhymer, what advice do you have to beginners like me who want to try to use rhyme in their work, but don’t want to sound forced or fake?
VIVIAN: Awww…thanks for the kind words about my rhyming, Ann. Honestly, I don’t think I’m one of those natural rhymers. In fact, my early rhyming attempts were probably those painful ones you mentioned. I believe it’s important to read a lot of rhyme…get rhyming books and read the stories out loud – that really helps your ear – and then your brain – get used to the cadence of a lovely rhyme. Make sure you know what you want your story to say BEFORE you start rhyming because the story always needs to lead the rhyme, not the other way around. And it wouldn’t hurt to take a class – I took Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab back in 2014, and that was immensely helpful, not only for rhyming, but for understanding the rhythm of words which is important in prose-writing also. And Renee is such a generous mentor – her website is filled with free resources such as links to videos she’s created about various rhyming techniques. https://www.reneelatulippe.com/peek-critique-2/
And guess what! Renee’s self-paced Lyrical Language Lab class is one of the prizes for #50PreciousWords!
ANN: That was a long question so here is a short one: how did you come up with the name Pippa? I know Pippi Longstocking, and there is poops Middleton… but how did you decide your Passover mouse should be Pippa?
ME: That’s a great question, Ann. Pippi Longstocking was one of my favorite books as a kid – and it might be that I thought about what I loved about her character – courageous and always helping others – just like Pippa mouse. And perhaps I like the short A sound at the end. And of course, I love alliteration in a title and Pippa’s Passover Plate seemed perfect!
ANN: I love that the fish has been using the Seder plate as a mirror- that’s kind of funny! How did you come up with that? What made you think of hiding the Seder plate in the sea?
VIVIAN: Kids love a mystery. And kids love hide-and-seek. Plus, kids love humor. As the story flowed from my pen, I tried to think of where the plate could be – she’d already searched the house. I thought that perhaps Pippa had washed her dishes at the lake…and perhaps she’d forgotten the brass Seder plate…and perhaps Golda Fish saw it shining like a mirror and saw her reflection in it and enjoyed looking at herself (she’s a former beauty queen, of course 😊). Plus, it all worked out perfectly with the rhyme – and that was definitely an important consideration.
ANN: This is a story not only of Pippa finding a lost Seder plate, but also of Pippa overcoming her fears of and reaching out and ultimately making friends with other creatures. Tell me about that arc some more. Why did you want Pippa to grow and learn that way? Does it connect to Passover themes in any way?
VIVIAN: Although Pippa’s Passover Plate is ‘just’ a little rhyming book, there are definitely important layers here that young kids can relate to. Losing a treasured possession. Overcoming fears. Making friends. The story is truly a hero’s journey…both externally, as Pippa goes from her house to the woods to the lake and then back to the Passover feast…and internally, as Pippa goes from being afraid of her neighbors (who are all natural enemies of a mouse) to approaching them to ask for information and help, to embracing them as friends and inviting them to celebrate the holiday with her. The story encapsulates values that are part of the Jewish religion and many other religions as well: courage, kindness, friendship, and charity/tzedakah.
I hope you all enjoyed the little 4-question give and take that Ann and I did.
If you’d like a coloring page for your kids, Ann has one for UNDER THE SEA SEDER on her website: https://annkoffsky.com/passover-coloring-3/.
And here’s a coloring page for Pippa’s Passover Plate:
If you’d like to enter the DOUBLE giveaway of a copy of Pippa’s Passover Plate (your choice of the board book edition that launched in January or the paperback edition that launched in 2021) and a copy of UNDER THE SEA SEDER, just leave a comment – maybe you can share your favorite holiday book (other than Ann’s and mine).
And if you don’t want to wait to see if you are the lucky winner and you want to make sure you get these books in time for Passover, you can Pre-Order UNDER THE SEA SEDER at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.
And you can order PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE on Amazon or call my local indie, Balin Books at 603-673-1734, to get a signed copy of the hardcover or paperback picture book or the board book.
And please remember that the best way to thank you favorite authors is to:
Buy their books!
Review their books!
Tell friends about their books (sharing on social media is awesome)!
Ask your local library to purchase copies for their collection!
I hope you’ll be back tomorrow when we celebrate with Jennifer Raudenbush and her upcoming picture book, IN THE PALM OF MY HAND which launches March 14th. And then next week on Tuesday we’ll be singing Happy Book Birthday to Molly Ruttan’s new book, SOMETHING WILD and on Wednesday we’ll be celebrating the launch of Jill Dana’s new release, BUTTERNUT AND BUTTERCUP…and on Friday I’ll be posting the opening of the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest…are you ready????
This is a great post–we got two interviews for the price of one–from two such talented authors. Thank you.
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I’m so excited to see more fun Jewish picture books for children. I look forward to reading them with my granddaughter. Thank you.
Great interview! And I love the imagination of these books! Thanks to both of you for sharing! I’ve always enjoyed Tosca’s Christmas because of the beautiful artwork (and the cat who is slightly naughty). Best to both of you!