Challah Day! It’s Challah Day! I get to share this book today!
Sorry, I can’t help it — the fabulous rhyme and meter in this new book has me so excited (and I just can’t hide it!). Challah Day!, written by Charlotte Offsay, illustrated by Jason Kirschner, and published by Holiday House, is a fast-paced story about a child sharing the joy they feel and all the steps they take when baking challah with their family in preparation for the Jewish holiday of Shabbat (which takes place every Friday night).
The book also includes some great back matter about the meaning and origins of challah (a lot of which I had never learned, even as someone who is Jewish). With Rosh Hashanah coming up this weekend (in which we celebrate with a special ROUND challah!) I just couldn’t help but think this was the perfect time to share this wonderful new book with you all. AND (lucky us!), author Charlotte Offsay is here to answer some questions as well! Let’s dive on in, shall we?
RGL: Hi Charlotte! Thank you so much for joining us today! I’m obviously a HUGE fan of rhyme, and the perfect trochaic meter and jaunty rhymes in your book are just pure joy! In fact, I would say that this is a great example of a story that NEEDS to rhyme. The meter really propels the story forward and gives it such great energy. Was this story always in rhyme? How and why did you ultimately choose trochaic meter (which is PERFECT for this)? And when you write in rhyme, do you usually “choose” a specific meter or rhyme scheme in advance?
CO: Thank you so much! Challah Day! is my first rhyming picture book and particularly special to me as it was inspired by my love of making challah with my children. It was written as a way to celebrate the joy I felt (and still feel) in embracing this timeless tradition with them.
The manuscript flowed out of me in what I now know was a very broken meter, but writing that manuscript led me to taking my first picture book writing class and starting my author journey. Eventually I figured out that my rhyming manuscript didn’t actually rhyme and took Renne LaTulipe’s Lyrical Language Class to learn more. I slowly figured out how to correct my broken meter and over time revised the manuscript into the book that sold to Holiday House.
That said, as I learned how to write picture books, I showed the manuscript in various stages to various kidlit professionals who asked me to try taking it out of rhyme. I attempted to turn it into a narrative story on multiple occasions, but the manuscript never worked for me in any other form – it was always meant to be a bouncy joyful celebration of a family making challah to reflect my own lived experience. I am very grateful to my editor Grace Maccarone at Holiday House for connecting with my rhyming text! In terms of choosing a meter I wish I could say it is that purposeful but for me the story demands the meter rather than the other way around.
RGL: Another thing I love about this book are the illustrations. Jason Kirshner did such a fantastic job adding layers of humor and even MORE energy to your words. I especially love how the dog and the baby get in on the action! And I adore the spreads where the child is jumping on top of the ingredients! Oh, and the one where the baby is about to pound the dough with a mallet! It’s all so great. For some reason this family gives me a very Pixar/“The Incredibles” vibe. Jason is the perfect illustrator — did you have any say in terms of illustrator selection and/or input into the illustrations?
CO: I agree! Jason Kirschner is the PERFECT illustrator for this book. His use of perspective elevates and adds humor to the book in a way I had never dreamed up. Seeing the layers an illustrator adds is always one of my favorite parts of the publishing process, and particularly so in the case of Challah Day! To answer your question, all credit for the partnership goes to the incredible Holiday House team, as they were the ones who found Jason and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
RGL: I’ve read other interviews where you talk about the inspiration for the story being your own “challah days” spent baking with your kids. But how and why did this tradition start? Did you grow up baking challah with your family as a kid or is something you started? If the latter, why?
CO: I first started baking challah out of an inability to say no to my daughter. A friend used to invite us over to bake challah in her home on Fridays when my kids were little. My friend would make the dough in advance and we would come over to braid it and cover it in rainbow sprinkles. After a series of weeks of being unable to get together my daughter pierced me with her big blue eyes and asked if we would get to make challah this week. I couldn’t say no. I found a recipe online and with a little help from YouTube, we had warm homemade challah ready minutes before her bedtime – pro tip… challah takes 2-3 hours to rise!
RGL: I understand that this is the VERY FIRST manuscript you ever wrote and that it was the one that got you to get serious about learning how to write picture books. I’m sure it is very cool to see your very first manuscript finally out in the world. What do you think were the mistakes you made or misconceptions you had about the business when you first started writing for kids?
CO: Oh goodness, there was SO much I didn’t know. I think many of my misconceptions are fairly common…it seemed much easier than it is – it is no easy feat to create a story that pulls a reader in, engages a reader enough to keep turning the pages, leaves room for the illustrator, doesn’t preach, appeals to both children and the adult book buyer, fills a hole in the market and begs to be re-read, all in typically under 500 words!
I also initially had no idea that to pursue a career in picture books I would need to find an agent who connected with not just one but three to five of my stories, or that I would need to find a publishing house to not only fall in love with and champion my story but also whose backlist didn’t conflict with my book. I didn’t know that publishers usually pick the illustrator, that a marketing team is heavily involved in creating a picture book’s title, that a picture book typically has 32 pages and additional pages are more expensive and need to be justified to a publishing sales team, or that the new release picture books that you see on bookstore shelves were sold 2-3 years prior! Honestly, I am discovering new publishing secrets and the endless layers that go into creating a book you can hold. I find the process fascinating and could talk about this for hours!
RGL: I’m a big fan of back matter and yours is so great. Even as a Jewish person, I learned so much about the origin and meaning of challah. And, of course, now that I have your recipe, I’ll have to try it at home (I’m a little nervous though, tbh!) Did you include all the back matter with your original submission? And if so, did it publish exactly as submitted or did it change after acquisition?
CO: I am thrilled to hear you enjoyed it and I promise making challah isn’t as difficult as it sounds – if I can do it, so can you! If you want a live class to walk you through it though I highly recommend checking out @mandyliciouschallah on Instagram, her classes are affordable and very easy to follow! To answer your question, yes, I included the back matter along with my original submission. It was important to me to keep the text centered around the joy of baking challah but I also wanted to share the beautiful history behind the tradition for anyone interested in further reading – I always appreciate back matter in books! The back matter stayed mostly the same as I had run it by a few clergy members at my temple before sending it out on submission.
RGL: I know from doing blog tours myself that you have probably been answering the same questions over and over, amiright? So, what is one question no one has yet to ask you about the writing or making of this book that you are DYING to answer? (And what’s the answer? 🙂
CO: LOL! I am struggling to think of something here… but I will share that my favorite part of being an author is getting to experience the ups and downs of publishing alongside my children as they grow. As I am sure you know, publishing can be a rollercoaster and while it only takes one yes to have a book published there are often a lot of no’s that come first – rejection is something you have to get comfortable with in the publishing industry! As I mentioned above, Challah Day! feels particularly personal to me and there was one point a while back that I thought the book was going to sell. When it didn’t, it hit me harder than other rejections usually do. My children knew about my hopes for the book and saw my disappointment firsthand. My daughter disappeared and drew the below picture for me, saying she would illustrate it for me instead, immediately pulling me out of my sadness. As a parent, it means so much to me for my children to see not only the highs of my published book but the struggle and the stumbles along the way.
Thank you, Charlotte, for taking the time to chat with me about your fabulous book!
Oh, and I almost forgot, the WINNER of the Brainstorm! Birthday Giveaway from my last post is….. (drumroll please….)
Carol, please email me at [email protected] to claim your prize of either a signed copy of either BRAINSTORM! or WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW or a 30-min Ask-Me-Anything call! 🙂