Interview with Gloria Koster

picture of Gloria Koster

Gloria Koster is a children’s author and elementary school librarian. Gloria is a member of the Children’s Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education, and the Women’s National Book Association. She is the author of The Peanut-Free Café, Little Red Ruthie, and Mitzi’s Mitzvah. Her newest book, Dance the Hora, Isadora! will be published in 2022 by Apples & Honey Press. You can find her online at www.gloriakoster.com.

Shauna Kosoris: Your first book, The Peanut-Free Café, came out in 2006. What inspired you to write it?

I had spent a week at a writers’ workshop sponsored by Manhattanville College (Purchase, NY), and bonded with several of the other participants. One of my new colleagues worked at a local preschool, and one day at lunch she mentioned how great it would be to have a book about peanut allergies. I’d already been thinking of a story about a super fussy eater based on one of my son’s closest friends who really did eat only 5 or 6 foods. The idea that a classmate could arrive on the scene to interfere with his one sacred food – peanut butter – was an irresistible story starter. 

Definitely!  Where did you get the idea for your newest children’s book, Little Red Ruthie?

In my job as school librarian I loved reading folktales to my students. There was something so organic about these stories, and the kids loved the nasty characters, especially when they were depicted with humor. At the time, I felt there weren’t enough lighthearted Hanukkah stories, so I was drawn to the idea of framing a classic tale for Jewish kids and for all kids who didn’t necessarily have knowledge of Jewish celebrations.

What a fantastic idea! So why did you choose to have Ruthie and her grandmother making latkes, rather than another dish associated with Hanukkah?

I never thought of another dish, since latkes are the standard Hanukkah fare. Any fried food could fit with the Hanukkah story, which is based on the fact that a tiny amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. However, latkes are most familiar, with jelly donuts (I do include those in the story too) being a close second. In Israel, the donuts are very representative of Hanukkah. They are called sufganiyot.

What was the hardest part of writing Little Red Ruthie?

I don’t recall anything being hard, especially since the story arc was pretty well established by the well known tale. However, every picture book undergoes an incredible amount of revision even after the story is acquired by a publishing house. There were several rounds of revision for Ruthie, as with all my published stories. Many people assume that picture books are simple to write because they are so simple in appearance. But the mere fact that the writer must say a lot in very few words (these days – under 1,000 words) makes this a challenging genre.

Both Little Red Ruthie and your second book, Mitzi’s Mitzvah, are PJ Library selections. How did you get involved with their program?  

I met the chair of the PJ Book Selection Committee at a writers’ conference, and was lucky to sit next to her during one of the sessions. That was the beginning of a relationship that has turned out to be very rewarding. 

You have a new book, Dance the Hora, Isadora!, coming out next year. What can you tell me about it? 

I am so excited about Dance the Hora, Isadora!, which will be out in September 2022 from Apples & Honey Press. It’s the story of a little girl who attends dance class with several students who are able to demonstrate a variety of ethnic dances. Isadora wishes she too had a special dance to perform. When she attends her cousin’s wedding her problem is resolved. As with Little Red Ruthie, this book features a girl main character with lots of personality.

That sounds so cute – I can’t wait to read it!  So what are you working on now?

I just completed a 6-book nonfiction series on nutrition and an Irish folktale presented in a graphic format. I have been polishing a couple of picture book biographies to get them ready for submission. I’m also waiting for editor responses to a picture book about a misplaced book trying to find his way back to his beloved library.

Good luck with everything!  I’d like to end with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

Hmmm – that’s a tough one. Kate DiCamillo, Cynthia Rylant, Gary Paulsen, Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry – those are certainly heroes. But the children’s book that captivated me before I started down this road was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L.Konigsburg)

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I serve on the Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College, an organization that is committed to reading and reviewing hundreds of books each year. What I’ve learned from my fellow members is that everyone responds in their own way and there is never one book that is a star in everyone’s eyes. 

That’s fair. Finally, what are you currently reading?

I just finished The Lost Language (Claudia Mills), a middle grade verse novel that I adored.

Other recent picture book hits in my estimation were  Milo Imagines the World (Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson), Butterfly for a King (Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore), and Someone Builds the Dream (Lisa Wheeler and Loren Long).

For adult reading, I recently read and loved The Plot (Jean Korelitz) and in preparation for Elizabeth Strout’s new novel I just finished one of her older ones – My Name is Lucy Barton.

cover of Little Red Ruthie

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