Meet #kidlit author, Karen Rostoker-Gruber

CAROL GORDON EKSTER: I “met” Karen through a Facebook group, Jewish Kidlit Mavens. She’s an inspirational talented #kidlit woman. Welcome, Karen!


CGE: You have two books coming out in 2020. Can you tell us about them and the stories behind the stories?

KRG: The first one coming out will be with Albert Whitman. It’s called A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale, which is loosely based on the public domain folktale from Poland, It Could Always Be Worse. I wanted to write a more lyrical version of this cumulative tale and place a wise woman, instead of a wise man, at the helm. I thought that would be fun! And, I loved working with Andrea Hall, the editor there. She is amazing and easy to understand!

Kristina Swarner, the illustrator that Andrea chose to work with, is so incredibly talented. Her work is dream-like and has an old-fashioned feel to it—perfect for my tale. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for our book!

Here is something that she worked on for someone else. I’m completely in awe of her work.

As for the other book coming out in 2020 with KarBen, Happy Birthday, Trees, I was invited to a PJ Library luncheon in New York and they had told me that they were interested in board books. I had written a lot of board books, so I submitted this one to them and won the 2000 author incentive award for it.

Then my wonderful agent, Karen Grencik, had to find a publisher for it. Joni Sussman, the editor at KarBen, is great to work with. And, I love the illustrator that she chose! The characters are having so much fun throughout the book, that I want join them!

CGE: Reaching out on Kidlit Mavens is one of the ways you are working to promote your new titles. What else do you do to help market and promote your books? Is this an aspect of the writing process that you enjoy?

KRG: I’m constantly on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn talking about the writing process, showing photos of where I’m presenting, where I have presented, etc. It’s fun, but I usually do social media in the mornings before lunch. After lunch, I really try to focus on other things, like rewrites, booking shows, etc.

I also, with 15 other Jewish, women, authors, began The Book Meshuggenahs. I promote our books on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on FB, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram. It keeps me busy and out of trouble. And, I can be trouble.

CGE: Tell us your journey into becoming a children’s author.

KRG: I started writing when I was 8 years old. I wanted to either become an author or a ventriloquist. I tried out for Sesame Street a while back but found out that they didn’t need ventriloquists on Sesame Street; they needed puppeteers—puppeteers that went to puppeteering college.

I sooooooo would have gone to that college, if I had known that it existed. Mom, why didn’t we look into that? Hello, Mom….

I started writing adult humor books because it was easier to break into. I was on the Ricki Lake Show and 62 radio shows around the country promoting my humor books:

CGE: How does your writing life present itself in your daily life?

KRG: I don’t know why, but new stories present themselves to me at either 3 a.m., while I’m in the shower, or while I’m driving. During the day I revise.

Food Fright, my first novelty book with Price Stern Sloan, was completely written at 3 a.m. on sticky notes. I couldn’t write it down fast enough!

CGE: You’ve written many secular traditionally published books, and your new books are the 4th and 5th Jewish themed books. Has there been a difference in the experience of publishing the two different kinds of books?

KRG: It’s interesting. There are really big differences between the two markets. Working with Dial Books for Young Readers on Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo and Price Stern Sloan on Food Fright, the distribution channels are HUGE. Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo sold over 250,000 copies.

But, back then I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t go out to lunch with my editor, or get to approve illustrations in person. And, I would have loved to have been part of that process! I went to school for graphic design and I LOVE looking at art.

I also LOVED working with Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish on Bandit, Bandit’s Surprise, Ferret Fun, Ferret Fun in the Sun, and Tea Time.

I used to meet Margery for lunch (at Marshall Cavendish or at her house) to go over layouts, thumbnail sketches, illustrations, etc. She was amazing! She knew exactly what she wanted and I was lucky enough to understand her vision.

Apples and Honey Press is small and intimate. They published Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, and The Family and Frog Haggadah.

Inside spread of The Family and Frog Haggadah

Inside page of The Family and Frog Haggadah

I LOVED working with both Dena Neusner and Ann Koffsky. I met them in person a couple of times, drove to their office with new ideas, and I’ve had lunch with them. They are very easy to work with and really put a lot of effort into every book that they put out. Dena is an amazing editor—carefully guiding me through each change. I don’t know how she does it, but with each editorial suggestion, my books ALWAYS became stronger and more meaningful. I can’t thank her enough.

And, Ann’s design background is unmatched. Her decision to take Maddie from a shy mouse in black and white to full color, as she gained confidence was nothing short of brilliant!

As for The Family and Frog Haggadah, Dena was open to anything that I wanted Frog, my character in the Haggadah, to do—come through pages, jump away from Pharaoh’s army, eat a locust, and more. And Ann ingeniously combined traditional Passover photos, backgrounds, and typefaces with a child-like, cartoon frog.

CGE: What is your favorite part of being an author? What is your least favorite part?

KRG: I like the writing process. I work on a lot of different manuscripts at the same time because I get bored. I’ve worked with a lot of different editors (as I’ve published 14 traditionally-published books). Sometimes I understand what an editor wants in a revise, and sometimes I don’t and we lose a sale. It’s completely my fault and that always makes me sad. When that happens, I’m disappointing my agent as well as myself because I couldn’t figure out what the editor wanted or how to do it.

I also like meeting children and doing presentations for them—their smiling faces make me melt. And since I bring a life-sized puppet to every school visit, seeing their jaws drop when the puppet talks just cracks me up.

I also LOVE being involved in the creative process: the illustrations, the layouts, etc. I have an art and marketing background and I see things that some people don’t—flopping an illustration in a certain way to get the eye to see something in particular first, stuff like that. I also use a lot of dead-pan humor in my books. Sometimes editors and illustrators pick up on it and sometimes they don’t. I leave a lot of room for the illustrator, so it’s always nice to see who “gets” my humor.

The ONLY part that I hate about being an author is the contractual part. I like getting the contracts (that’s fun!), but the negotiations are sometimes rough and hard to understand.

CGE: What does the future hold for you?

KRG: I have no idea, as it changes daily. I have over 150 unsold manuscripts, so I’m just waiting for another one to sell. That can happen tomorrow, next week, next year…every day is a new day.

Rejection is part of the process and you just have to look past that and on to a new project. If I feel stuck on one manuscript, I have 149 others to work on.

You can connect with Karen here:








      1. With each and every book, the same author has different journeys. I have 14 books and 2 more coming out in 2020, and I can honestly say that no two journeys were the same. Different publishers, different editors, different illustrators, different experiences.


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