An Interview with Erica Perl, Picture Book Author of THE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Sep 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links: Bookshop|B & N IndieBound|Amazon

About The Ninth Night of Hanukkah from Goodreads:

A heartwarming picture book with a fresh twist on a Hanukkah celebration: celebrating a ninth night with new neighbors and friends!

It’s Hanukkah, and Max and Rachel are excited to light the menorah in their family’s new apartment. But, unfortunately, their Hanukkah box is missing. So now they have no menorah, candles, dreidels, or, well, anything! Luckily, their neighbors are happy to help, offering thoughtful and often humorous stand-in items each night. And then, just as Hanukkah is about to end, Max and Rachel, inspired by the shamash (“helper”) candle, have a brilliant idea: they’re going to celebrate the Ninth Night of Hanukkah as a way to say thanks to everyone who’s helped them!

This book is not only a heartwarming and fun story, it’s also an invitation to join in a beautiful new Hanukkah tradition!


The premise for The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is so clever. Share with us some book secrets, things that no one would know about this book just from picking it up and reading it. It could be an inspiration, reasons why you named your characters etc.

One Hanukkah, my daughters observed that the shamash works hard every night helping to light the other candles, but never gets a night of appreciation. The idea stuck with me. And then I thought about all the people who help others, yet so often go unappreciated (and sometimes even unnoticed). I realized how great it would be if we could honor the shamash as well as people who give of themselves and share their light with others. This led me to write The Ninth Night of Hanukkah.

What was it about the holiday of Hanukkah that made you want to create a picture book about it?

I love the feeling of togetherness that comes with Hanukkah. And I was excited to write a book that creates a new Hanukkah ritual in honor of helpers and helping. To me, although it is brand new, it is a natural outgrowth of existing Hanukkah traditions. We all help each other, and helping is more important now more than ever. Just wearing a mask is a great way that you help those around you every day! So, it makes sense to set aside a day to celebrate helpers at Hanukkah time. And the shamash is the perfect symbol because it is the hardworking yet unsung hero of Hanukkah.

I looked at Goodreads and your blog, and if I counted correctly, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is your twenty-eighth book. Mazel tov on such an incredible accomplishment!!! What writing or publishing wisdom have you gained through your journey that you wish you would have had when you first started out that might be helpful for other writers?

Thanks! It’s actually my thirty-first published book. I have two pieces of advice. First, read constantly and critically – not just in your genre, but widely and inclusively. There’s so much we can learn from other writers, about the world as well as about the craft of writing. Second, be open to revising beyond the point when you think a piece is “done.” I often find that beneath the surface of a “finished” project is something more, which – if I’m lucky – I’ll unearth through additional revision. That was definitely true of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, which benefitted from some wonderful editorial feedback along the way. 

Fun bonus round. Feel free to explain if you’d like.

What do you prefer?

Favorite Hannukkah treats: Chocolate gelt (coins), Potato latkes (pancakes), donuts, a different type of latke like zucchini or sweet potato? Other?

I am a bit of a chocolate gelt snob – it has to be 100% milk or dark chocolate. My favorites are made by Lake Champlain chocolatesSee’s Candies, and Trader Joe’s. I also like traditional potato latkes with sour cream, salt and pepper. My husband is the best latke-maker on the planet and I am not biased in the least.

Books to read: romance, thrillers, historical fiction, picture books, YA, MG, sci-fi, non-fiction, fantasy, horror, fiction, other?

I read a lot of picture books as well as realistic middle grade, YA, and graphic novels, though I am always excited when I read something excellent that’s outside my comfort zone (like A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers, which I read on my daughter’s recommendation – who knew I could love sci fi?).

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other? 

All of the above. I love the great outdoors! 

Winter, spring, summer, or fall? 

I’m a fan of summer, with a sweet spot for autumn in New England (where I grew up… I miss those early fall apples the most!).

About Erica Perl:

Erica S. Perl is the author of popular and critically acclaimed books for young readers.

Her most recent middle grade novel, ALL THREE STOOGES, won the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature and the Sydney Taylor Award Silver Medal. Erica’s novels for young readers include WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. (Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book, ALA Notable Book, P.J. Our Way, multiple state book award lists), ACES WILD (NPR Best Book of the Year, P.J. Our Way), and THE CAPYBARA CONSPIRACY: A NOVEL IN THREE ACTS (innovative script format).

Erica also writes picture books – including CHICKEN BUTT!, GOATILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and FEROCIOUS FLUFFITY – early readers, transitional chapter books, and chapter books – TRUTH OR LIE!, ARNOLD AND LOUISE, and the CRAFTILY EVER AFTER (written as “Martha Maker) series.

Erica is a crowd-pleasing presenter at schools, libraries and community events. She honed her skills working as a trial lawyer in New York City, and also worked for many years for First Book, the national non-profit organization that provides books to children in need.

She lives in Washington, D.C. with her family.

Find Erica: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Interview with Tziporah Cohen, Debut Middle Grade Author of NO VACANCY
Sep 9th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links:

Canada: Mabel’s Fables | Indigo

US: Bookshop | Amazon | Audible

International: Book Depository

About No Vacancy From Goodreads:

Buying and moving into the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in upstate New York wasn’t eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman’s dream, but at least it’s an adventure. Miriam befriends Kate, whose grandmother owns the diner next door, and finds comfort in the company of Maria, the motel’s housekeeper, and her Uncle Mordy, who comes to help out for the summer. She spends her free time helping Kate’s grandmother make her famous grape pies and begins to face her fears by taking swimming lessons in the motel’s pool.

But when it becomes clear that only a miracle is going to save the Jewel from bankruptcy, Jewish Miriam and Catholic Kate decide to create their own. Otherwise, the No Vacancy sign will come down for good, and Miriam will lose the life she’s worked so hard to build.


1. Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

What surprised me most was how much I learned writing it. I started the novel during my MFA and continued to work on it for several years afterwards. While I learned tons during my MFA, I now understand how much of writing you learn while writing. Even in the final editing stages, my editor pushed me to dig deeper, and showed me how the tiniest of tweaks could bring the characters and setting even more to life. The characters and plot of the book also evolved a great deal over the many drafts. I started the manuscript in the summer of 2013 and it was acquired in spring of 2019. Miriam, my main character, went from age nine in the first draft to eleven in later drafts. Kate, her new friend, took on a much more important role. The tone of the book went from a bit slapstick to more serious, with humor still an important part. And all this needed time. You can’t rush the creative process, even if you want to.

2. Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I did weave in a few little secrets and will be curious to see if anyone notices! A few times throughout the story, Miriam squeezes her mother’s or brother’s hand—one, two, three—to say “I love you,” which is something my grandmother taught my mom and she taught me. I know this is something that other families do, so I hope it feels like a gift just for those readers too. Rabbi Yael is named after a friend who is the rabbi at one of the large synagogues in Toronto. (She’s just as wise as the Rabbi Yael in the book.) Miriam is only supposed to eat sugar cereals on Shabbat morning, which is a rule my husband and I made for our own kids (though I know they cheat from time to time!)

On the less pleasant side, Miriam’s mom talks about having pennies thrown at her when she was a kid—an anti-Semitic act. This happened to me in the hallways of my junior high school many years ago. Like Miriam’s mom, I remember feeling ashamed. I wish I could redo that moment by confronting the person and—best case scenario—educating them about the hateful origins of that stereotype. And I would have liked to have felt proud rather than ashamed.

3. What inspired you to write a novel set in a rundown inn?

The inspiration came from spending a couple of nights in a tired motel on vacation one summer. There was a young boy hanging around, asking us questions, and I eventually learned he had moved there with his family and they were running the place. I was doing my MFA and needed an idea for a novel, and thought, what better setting than a motel for a middle grade novel? I didn’t know any other novels for kids set in a motel (Kelly Yang’s wonderful Front Desk, hadn’t come out yet) and I realized there would be unlimited opportunities for interaction with guests. I started the novel during that vacation. Luckily, my MFA advisor loved it and encouraged me to keep working on it. (Thank you, Sarah Ellis!)

Bonus round: 

Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, water, sparkling water, juice, other?

Tea – more specifically, mint herbal tea. I can’t write without it.

Winter, spring, summer or fall?

Spring. I love watching the plants and trees come back to life. It gives me hope.

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn?

Onion rings, but the kind made from slices of onions, not the chopped-up-and-reconstituted-into-rings kind.

Ideal vacation: Beach, major city touring museums and landmarks, national park, skiing, staying at home?

National park, hands down. 

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction?

I’m pretty eclectic in my reading and pick up different types of books depending on my mood (and my book group.) Picture books of all kinds and middle grade contemporary fiction are high on the list, since that’s what I write, but I love diving into adult fiction and non-fiction to exercise other parts of my brain.

Favorite “Jewish” food? Matzah ball soup, potato kugel, noodle kugel, gefilte fish, brisket, challah, bagel, bagel and cream cheese, bagel with cream cheese and lox or other?

Matzah ball soup! 

About Tziporah:

Tziporah Cohen

I was born and raised in New York, spent eighteen years in Boston after college, and then landed in Toronto, Canada, where I live with my husband, three kids, two cats, and one dog.

I studied French and Theater Arts at Cornell University, where I was one of a lucky handful of Chimesmasters who performed chimes concerts in the campus bell tower three times a day. I was sure I was going to be a veterinarian from the time I could talk, but then decided to be a people doctor and went to medical school. About ten years after graduating from Harvard Medical School, I took my first course in writing picture books, which led some years later to an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Now I split my time between working as a psychiatrist and writing, interspersed with mom duties and walking the dog.

Find Tziporah: Website | Twitter | Facebook

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