Simone Nathan, author of Eight Candles and a Tree, chats with us about her inspiration for the children’s book and her tips for parents. She also shares a fun coloring page you can print out for your kids.
First of all, we love this book, and it feels long overdue (in a good way). How long has it been in the works?
Four years ago, I wanted to buy my granddaughter a picture book about a child who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, but I couldn’t find one, so that was when the seed for the book was planted.
What else inspired your writing the book?
I was inspired to write the book so that my grandchildren could enjoy it, and so that I could validate their experiences of “being both.” Beyond my own family, I realized that there are many other families that could likely enjoy a book on this topic.
Who gave you feedback during the writing process?
I started by taking a comprehensive children’s writing class at Grub Street [in Boston], and then joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and attended their annual conference. I was part of a writing group that met frequently and we all gave feedback on one another’s work, and I took a couple more writing classes. Writing a children’s book is not as easy as some may think. Fewer words mean that every word has to count! Both my children also gave input (and encouragement), and my editor, Lily Coyle, at Beaver’s Pond Press, was especially helpful in the final stages.
How involved were you in the illustration process?
Usually, children’s picture book writers have no input into the illustrations. However, I was fortunate in that my publisher encourages involvement in all aspects of the illustration process. Brian Barber did a wonderful job of incorporating my feedback, starting with his initial sketches of the characters, and working toward the overall look and feel of the illustrations. It was a very rewarding collaborative effort.
You approach a sensitive topic in a very beautiful and thoughtful way. The book makes it very clear that Hanukkah and Christmas are separate holidays but that a family can still celebrate both of them and kids don’t have to be confused about that. Do you have any other tips for avoiding the confusion that many couples from two different faiths worry about when raising kids?
Here are my “Five Tips for Parents in Interfaith Families:”
1. Make a conscious decision as a family to create and celebrate traditions that honor both faiths. There is no “right” way or “only” way to practice a religion or celebrate a culture, and interfaith families have a unique opportunity to make their own traditions and celebrations.
2. Show an interest in and enthusiasm for your significant other’s religion and culture. While you may not have grown up with it, it’s part of your family’s life now.
3. Connect your children to their grandparents and great-grandparents by telling and re-telling family stories. Children in a recent study who had high levels of self-confidence knew they belonged to something bigger than themselves.
4. Good communication is one of the foundations of a happy family. When children ask you about religion or culture, answer questions that you can, and offer to find out together about questions that you don’t know the answer to.
5. Find opportunities to link with other interfaith families in your community. For example, the Interfaith Families Project of Washington DC has weekly Sunday gatherings and educational programs that expose families to both Christianity and Judaism. [And of course, InterfaithFamily connects families in several communities nationwide.]