It is my pleasure to welcome Joy Nelkin Wieder to The Backstory. Joy is the author/illustrator of several Jewish chapter books, as well as the author of over two dozen leveled readers. And today, Joy will share with us the inspiration behind her debut picture book THE PASSOVER MOUSE.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind THE PASSOVER MOUSE.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
THE PASSOVER MOUSE is a rollicking, funny, and ultimately inspiring story about a little mouse that disrupts a town’s preparations for the holiday when it steals a piece of leavened bread–or chametz–just as all the houses have been swept clean in time for the holiday. The mouse tears through the town, spoiling everyone’s hard work. Just when it seems as if the townsfolk will never be ready for their Seder, the little mouse’s actions unwittingly bring everyone together, to work as a group to save the holiday.
An Author’s Note discusses the passage from the Talmud that was the inspiration for this charming and witty Passover story that weaves together the themes of community, kindness, charity, and forgiveness.
I have had the pleasure of reading THE PASSOVER MOUSE and it is wonderful. I love the playful refrain and the way this ruckus-causing mouse brings the town together. I also love how the Passover traditions are woven into the storyline.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
THE PASSOVER MOUSE is an original tale based on a question in the Talmud, a collection of Jewish laws with commentaries by ancient rabbis. I stumbled across the Talmudic question while doing research for another book I was writing. In the section of Talmud discussing all the laws and rituals of Passover, I read a discussion by the rabbis about the possibility of a mouse bringing bread into a house that had already been searched for chametz. They wondered if the house would have to be searched again and came up with several scenarios – what if a mouse with a piece of bread went into a house, but a different mouse came out of the house carrying a piece of bread? Is the second mouse carrying the same piece of bread or a different piece? The rabbis went around and around the issue, but in the end, they never made a decision. I was in shock! How could the rabbis take so much time to discuss an issue and then leave the question unanswered? I knew I had to come up with an answer and finally solve the ancient conundrum.
It is incredible imagining this conversation occurring. What great inspiration you stumbled upon and thank you for giving us the answer to this mystery.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now THE PASSOVER MOUSE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
When I read the rabbis’ discussion about the possibility of a mouse bringing bread into a house that had already been searched for chametz, I immediately imagined a troublesome mouse running amok through a Jewish village, or shtetl, in the midst of Passover preparations. But the ending wasn’t decided in the original text, so I had to frame the story and come up with a conclusion. I decided the main character would be a lonely widow who had no one to help her with all her Passover preparations, and the true conflict of the story would be her longing for connection to her community. However, my critique group thought children’s stories should be solved by a child, so I included the rabbi’s son Menachim to help Rivkah chase the mice through the town. Menachim is the clever boy who realizes that if everyone pitches in then the work of searching all the homes again will be done in no time. Rivkah finally has helpers to finish her Passover preparations, and she invites them to stay for Seder, filling her once lonely home with new-found friends.
I think this is a great reminder that we don't need to have our stories completely figured out before we start drafting. Sometimes the ideas grow as we type. Sometimes the characters let us know what they want to do. Sometimes our fabulous critique groups point us in a perfect direction. I love hearing how your story grew and developed over time and how you benefited from the support of your critique group.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Story sparks can be found anywhere, but I often tap into my subconscious for story ideas. I keep a dream journal and find inspiration in my nighttime dreams. I also allow my mind to wander while taking a bubble bath or a walk in the woods. Sometimes the characters pop up in my mind and start telling me their stories!
Such great ideas for letting inspiration find you. Allowing room to breathe and for ideas to come to the surface organically can be hard to do with deadlines and self-induced pressures, but it is often exactly what we need to do when we start to feel overwhelmed or at a loss for inspiration.
Did you use any mentor texts while creating this book?
I did not use any mentor texts for the early versions of the book. But after several years, I dusted off the manuscript and brought it back to my critique group for further input. One of my CP’s suggested THE GREAT GRACIE CHASE: STOP THAT DOG! By Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Mark Teague as a mentor text. It’s about a little round dog named Gracie Rose who escapes her house and takes everyone for a chase through the neighborhood.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I’ve always been inspired by Patricia Polacco, especially as an author/illustrator. I reviewed many of her books while working on THE PASSOVER MOUSE. An art director from Candlewick once told me that my illustration style reminded her of Patricia Polacco, which was the best compliment ever! However, my editor at Doubleday had a different vision for the book and found a wonderful Israeli illustrator, Shahar Kober, for THE PASSOVER MOUSE.
What are the must-haves for your workspace?
I have been collecting children’s books long before I had my own children, so I have a large collection to inspire me. I recently renovated my workspace and had to pack up all my books. I’ve been culling through my kidlit collection as I put everything back together. I have quite a pile to give away! I have two different work areas in my studio - my desk and computer for writing and my drawing table for illustration and art.
Children's books are one of the best resources to have handy. From serving as mentor texts to providing inspiration, having the right book on hand can be a huge asset.
Joy's drafting table as she worked on an illustration for Friends & Anenomies
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t give up! Keep writing and revising and hang in there. Sometimes you just have to have enough patience and persistence to find the right time and place for your story.
Tried and true advice right there! I also love how you mention finding the right time for your book. There are so many moving parts in this publishing world and even if you find the perfect editor the timing of everything needs to be just right.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
My latest book, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN, an illustrated anthology of original poems and art by New England authors and illustrators is a collaborative project with the authors and illustrators of The Writer’s Loft. I illustrated three of the poems in the book.
How exciting! We have a few upcoming guests who also contributed to this anthology. I can't wait to pick up a copy and I will be sure to keep an eye out for your illustrations.
Where can people connect more with you?
Author website: www.jnwieder.com
Book website: www.thepassovermouse.com
Thank you Joy for joining us today and sharing the backstory behind THE PASSOVER MOUSE. I can't wait to add this title to my classroom library and to share it with all of my students.
Readers be sure to check out Joy Nelkin Wieder's THE PASSOVER MOUSE (Doubleday Books for Young Readers) illustrated by Shahar Kober out now.
Joy is generously offering a copy of THE PASSOVER MOUSE (US only) to one lucky winner.
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ABOUT JOY NELKIN WIEDER
JOY NELKIN WIEDER is an author and illustrator of children’s books. Her debut picture book The Passover Mouse, illustrated by Shahar Kober, received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews as “an excellent addition to the Jewish tradition.” The Passover Mouse, published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, also received honorable mention for the SCBWI/PJ Library Jewish Stories Award and was chosen as a PJ Library selection. Joy is the author/illustrator of several Jewish chapter books for children, including The Great Potato Plan which is based on her grandfather’s family in Warsaw, Poland during WWI and The Secret Tunnel, a PJ Our Way selection. She has also written over two dozen leveled readers for the educational market. She and her husband live in Massachusetts and have three grown children. Learn more about her work at http://jnwieder.com
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.