My talk at the launch event for
While Grandpa Naps
at Books of Wonder in NYC
Monday, April 15, 2019
My thanks to each of you for coming! While you are here, I hope you'll all take a few minutes to wander around this wonderful bookstore!
I'm so happy to be here with Junghwa Park. Junghwa made the beautiful illustrations for While Grandpa Naps, and I met her this evening for the first time. This might surprise some of you who imagine that writers and illustrators work together on their picture books. Actually it's not the author and illustrator who must work together it's the words and the pictures.
I want to thank Junghwa for—by her gorgeous art—making me, as an author, look good! I know we are both grateful to Jordan Nielsen, our editor at Pow! Kids Books for her visionary role in making this book happen.
I thought about beginning my brief comments tonight by asking you all to put down your things, arrange yourselves comfortably in your chairs, and close your eyes. And notice when a thought comes into your head. And let it go. And then as another thought comes, let it go. And we could all be silent for a few minutes and I would have taught you something quite useful, the basic idea of meditating—in case you don't already know how. (I learned transcendental meditation about 45 years ago along with my parents. But I am not a consistent practitioner.) In a way, it was brought to my attention, While Grandpa Naps is a meditation book. Essentially it's the story of a little boy who is sitting still pretty much throughout the story, while things go on around him, and thoughts go through his head, and he lets the thoughts go and keeps on sitting. That's how you meditate....
The little boy's grandpa asked him to sit by his side and watch that no flies would bother him while he took a nap in their backyard hammock. The little boy, who loved his grandpa, took his responsibility very seriously. (And, I might add, he felt useful and important. )
A few words about the characters in this story. The little boy in the story, Gilbert, is my late husband Gil Oberfield, who sadly—we miss him!—did not live to see his own wonderful grandchildren who are here to night, Gideon, Shalev, Gus, Ramona and Reya. Gil was a loving and beloved husband, father, son, brother, cousin, uncle, son in law, brother in law, friend, colleague, and of course grandson. The grandfather is Gil's grandfather, Sam Uretsky, who immigrated to New York from Kaptekevetch in ,I think 1912, and manufactured salamis. Gil's siblings Bill, Richard, here tonight, and Sara, along with their parents, are in the book as well as cousins Barry, Robby, Carol and Deanna. It came as something of a sweet surprise to me that the publisher kept all their names in, and I think it has to do with how sometimes the inclusion of personal details can actually make a story feel universal.
Fiction writers sometimes do something called world building in preparation for writing a novel. Before they even begin writing they imagine and map out all kinds of extraneous details, what their characters eat for breakfast, do they like their eggs wet or dry, their toast light or dark? For me, with this book, there was a whole real world already existing to drawn upon, and of course then I made up some things to fill in the gaps.
My hope is that the many layered world of this picture book will be relatable to a young child. While Grandpa Naps has grief, but gentle grief. It has sibling competition, but not consuming competition. It has weather, but thankfully not a natural disaster. It has family, extended family, but also individual autonomy. It has days of the week, and leisure, but also a dad who works on Sundays. It has challenges, distractions and self-disciplined intention.
Here are some meta tags or keywords I made up for this book. Key words are like the ingredients in a recipe: It's my hope that a person might discover While Grandpa Naps when searching for a children's book about:
(in alphabetical order)
boys as carers
I never dreamed 17 years ago when I wrote the first draft of this story—revised considerably over the years—about Gil who was called Gilbert in his family when he was growing up—that I would be reading a pdf of it to Gideon this past summer, who was also going to be starting kindergarten, and had just had a baby sister who was named after Grandma Ruth, my mother whom he remembered. A special and poignant irony for me.
And I got this text from my son Ezra later in the day after I'd read While Grandpa Naps to his three year old son.
"Gus was lying on the couch and asked me to come over and keep the flies away."
Jewish people have a blessing for momentous occasions even as small as eating a new seasonal fruit again for the first time each year. My blessing—my feeling of gratitude today—is for having lived long enough to celebrate this book with you and not have gone to my grave known as the woman who hated everyone.
Again, thank you all for coming!
Junghwa has some comments to share, then my daughter Sophie will read the book to you, and then we'll answer questions if you have any.
For Q& A: Picture book creators get to hide little personal things in their books, I hope Junghwa will share with us the things of personal moment to her that she put into her illustrations.
The seed for my next book, was planted by my daughter Talya, who came home from school and said Stacey sat next to me at lunch and she said if you give me a cookie I'll be your best friend. I gave her a cookie it was chocolate chip.
You can have a taste of one of those cookies over there….