Meet Varda Livney, Author and Illustrator of Rosh Hashanah with Uncle Max

On Rosh Hashanah, Uncle Max dips his glasses in honey to make the whole world look sweet. Celebrating the Jewish New Year is so much more fun when he comes to visit.

Varda Livneyis the author and illustrator of Rosh Hashanah With Uncle Max. She lives on Kibbutz Gezer at the foot of a tiny mountain in Israel with her husband, two kids, and Oreo, the dog. They live in a very little house, in a little community of about 250 people, approximately 200 dogs, 200 cats, and 200 cows. Her studio is in a little corner of her little house.

In addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, Livney has also designed T-shirts, greeting cards, ketubot (Jewish wedding contracts), and cream cheese packaging.

She says her mission is “to bring tikkun olam, acceptance of ‘the other,’ the joy of Jewishness, bunnies, and smiles to all, by writing and drawing silly books for little kids.”

When she knew she wanted to be an illustrator:

Like many a budding artist, I drew a mural on my bedroom wall when I was seven, without asking permission. When asked why I did it, I replied that THAT is what illustrators do. So it wasn’t really a decision, it’s just what I was. Luckily, my parents let me finish the mural, so the supportive environment was a factor as well.

Top three favorite authors/illustrators:

Maurice Sendak, Todd Parr, Richard Scarry, and Sandra Boynton. That’s four, but there are hundreds I left out.

Favorite book as a child:

I loved the book Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin. I spent hours looking at that book as a child.

Advice for future authors or illustrators:

Put on your thickest skin - there WILL be rejection - and don’t let anything or anyone squeeze the joy of ‘art-ing’ out of you.

How do you see Rosh Hashanah with Uncle Max impacting the Jewish life of a child?

I hope it will start babies and toddlers off in giving them a positive, sweet, and simple taste of the Jewish New Year.

I also hope to normalize the multi-ethnic, multiracial beauty of Judaism. I happen to be the mom of a multiracial family.

This is the second book I have both written AND illustrated. What I Like About Passover was the first. When I illustrated it many years ago, I drew my two brown kids. I expected the editors to say something, but happily, they never did.