At Albert Whitman & Company, we’re getting ready for Hanukkah with our latest book celebrating the holiday: Little Red Ruthie by Gloria Koster and illustrated by Sue Eastland.
It was a chilly winter in the northern woods, but Ruthie did not mind. Dressed in her favorite puffy red coat, she was going to spend Hanukkah with her grandmother, who lived on the other side of the forest. Ruthie was bringing sour cream and applesauce to go along with the yummy latkes. She carefully packed her basket and kissed her mother good-bye. Snow began to fall. Soon Ruthie was lost in a thicket, and she was not alone. Someone was hiding behind the tree, and when he jumped out, Ruthie found herself face to face with a wolf. Ruthie will have to convince the wolf that eating latkes will be tastier than eating her!
We were lucky enough to sit down with author Gloria Koster to chat about folktales, Hanukkah, and Little Red Ruthie.
Q. Why did you decide to write a folktale with a Hanukkah twist?
A. As an elementary school librarian, I’ve been reading stories aloud to children for a long time. Over the years I’ve witnessed the special power of folktales. When they are told well, they have an organic quality and the power to completely enchant young listeners. I knew I wanted to write one. And holiday books are always a draw, especially in the fall and winter months when there are so many different celebrations.
Q. What makes your version of Little Red Riding Hood stand out?
A. Most Red Riding Hood characters show independence as they set out on their journeys, but few are as sharp as Ruthie. She is the epitome of someone who thinks her way through a tough situation, and she appears even more clever in contrast with my clueless wolf. Children of all faiths and backgrounds can see themselves in Ruthie’s predicament and take courage from her confidence and bravery. The inclusion of Jewish traditions also makes this telling unique. I use the Yiddish term Bubbe, for the grandmother character, and Ruthie is named in honor of Ruth from the Old Testament. In the context of a humorous Red Riding Hood story, readers will learn about the Hanukkah miracle and the significance of the menorah, latkes, and jelly donuts.
Q. What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?
A. The easiest part is the idea. It’s so exciting to seize upon a topic that resonates with me. Then the work begins! So far, all my stories have been picture books. I write at the sentence level, so for me, the choice of words and the sound of those words is extremely important. Writing a picture book is a lot like writing a poem. Sometimes it seems as though I’m making very little progress because I spend so much time with small sections of text.
Q. What is your favorite fairytale?
A. I dedicated Little Red Ruthie to the memory of my mother. I was fortunate to have her share many fairy tales with me. One of our favorites was The Snow Queen. I was transfixed by the idea that a shard of glass could transform the little boy from good to evil and always reassured when his true nature re-emerges. I love the magical, winter setting of The Snow Queen. It was an inspiration for the northern forest in Little Red Ruthie.
Q. What was the process of working with your editor like?
A. I actually had the pleasure of working with two different editors at Albert Whitman, with Andrea Hall guiding me through the bulk of revisions. Thanks, Andrea! Your suggestions were always on target and I so appreciated your clear communication and extremely prompt responses.
Q. Are you working on any other projects?
A. I love writing folktales, but I’ve also developed an interest in narrative nonfiction. I’m currently putting the finishing touches on two picture book biographies. It’s wonderful to write a story without having to invent the plot. But the challenge is remembering to stick with the facts. I enjoy working in different genres.
Q. What are your writing routines and quirks?
A. I try to write every day, even if it’s just for an hour or so after work. Weekends and vacations feel like gifts. Just like a lot of other writers, I take walks to clear my head and to “re-boot” when I am stuck for too long on one part of a story. I split my time between my small town and New York City, so there are always places to go for long walks. Hot showers are another great way to clear my head!
Thanks so much, Gloria! Celebrate Hanukkah this year with Little Red Ruthie.