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A Gorilla Buys Hanukkah Presents

Posted by Jane Sutton on 10/24/2013 to Meet a Kar-Ben Author

It's hard to pick the perfect gift, and Esther the Gorilla's choices seem all wrong at first. But it all gets sorted out when she invites her animal friends to a joyful Hanukkah party. For a sneak peek, check out the book trailer!

In today's guest blog post, author Jane Sutton talks about what it was like to have illustrator Andy Rowland bring her book to life:


"As a picture book author, when I turn my story over to the illustrator, I feel the way I did when I left my infant with a babysitter for the first time. Would the illustrator treat my story/my baby with care? What if the illustrator was careless and oblivious to the story’s charms? Or spoiled it with busy-ness? Or didn’t “get” the characters’ personalities?

Waiting to see the sketches can feel like sitting through a T-ball game prolonged by a series of rain delays.

But in the case of Esther's Hanukkah Disaster, the illustrator—Andy Rowland—treated my story about the shopping-challenged Esther’ the Gorilla with exquisite TLC. Every picture is adorable, with rich details that are wonderful to explore. To my delight, Andy didn’t just bring out the humor in the text, but added visual humor not in the text. One of Esther’s file folders is labeled “boring paperwork,” and the shopping list on her fridge lists bananas four times. Most important to me was that, like a good caretaker, the illustrator was sensitive to the main character’s emotions. When Esther is sad, she looks really sad. And when she’s happy because her Hanukkah party is so joyful, Andy has her long gorilla arms clapping over her head, an infectiously toothy grin spread across her face.

Yes, my story/my baby was definitely in good hands. I needn’t have worried…well, I guess I did need to, since worrying happens to be in my nature."


Q & A with Jane Sutton

Why did you want to become an author?

I've always enjoyed writing. In elementary school, I would turn an assignment to "write a paragraph using all the spelling words" into a three-act play. An essay I wrote in fifth grade is entitled "A Criticism of Humanity on Behalf of Ducks." In college, a sociology professor assigned us to "do something you always wanted to do and keep a journal on it." I wrote a series of children's stories, and that's when I knew I wanted to write children's books.

Do you have any advice for future authors?

Write, write, write. Keep a notebook with you at all times (well, maybe not in the shower) because you never know when you'll get an idea for a story.

Where did you get the inspiration for Esther's Hanukkah Disaster?

I used to tell my children a version of this story, and it gradually evolved into a book.

How do you hope your book will impact the Jewish life of a child?

At first Esther purchases gifts because they appeal to her, not really thinking about the recipient. Her eventual understanding encourages the Jewish value of thinking about others - compassion and empathy. Also, the characters express clearly that the significance of Hanukkah is more important than the gifts. Finally, even though these are anthropomorphic animals, they enjoy rich Jewish traditions.

Anything else you would like to share with readers?

I didn't want to grow up. I figured being a kid was a good deal: I got free food and I didn't have to go to work. When I realized I did have to get older after all, I promised myself that I would always remember what it was like to be a child. Being a children's book author is a way of fulfilling that promise to myself.

Jane Sutton grew up in Roslyn, Long Island, where she began writing stories and poems at a young age. She graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. in Comparative Literature. In addition to writing books, Jane is a writing tutor and teaches a community education class for adults about how to write for kids. She, her husband, and grown children live in the Boston area.

You can get a copy of Esther's Hanukkah Disaster here!

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