Three Questions With Eric Kimmel

In each installment of "Three Questions With," we ask a different PJ Library author or illustrator questions about their work, their process, and interests. This month we're chatting with prolific children's author Eric Kimmel. He tells us about how he got involved with PJ Library and why he writes stories for Jewish children and families. 

You’ve written so many books – what inspires your stories?

I love Jewish stories. My grandma lived with us when I was growing up. She didn’t speak much English, although she spoke five other languages. She didn’t like the way English sounded. "Like barking dogs," she said. So I mostly spoke to her in Yiddish. She came to the US in 1906, before World Wars I and II swept away traditional Jewish life in Europe. That let me see Jewish life as it was before the storm: proud, joyous, wise, and often very funny.

Grandma was a good storyteller. That’s where I first heard stories of Hershele Ostropolyer and the people of Chelm. She also told lots of scary stories of ghosts, goblins, and devils. That’s what started me off as a writer, although I hardly realized it at the time.

I never encountered much Jewish material at public school or in the libraries. No matter. I knew it existed and I experienced it from the source.

I was also fortunate enough to attend an outstanding Hebrew school, the East Midwood Jewish Center. That’s where I received a solid grounding in Jewish history, folklore, Bible, literature, and the Hebrew language. I’ve drawn on that for years for most of my work. 
Over the years I’ve run into children and parents who weren’t as fortunate. They know very little about our traditions and don’t learn much about it in school. I’m glad that my stories and PJ Library give them a sense of pride in their identity. Still, the main reason I write is because I love a good story. I love to hear one. I love telling one. Especially the Jewish ones.

Growing up, did you know that you wanted to be an author?

I wanted be an author before I knew how to write. When I discovered that people wrote the books I loved, I decided, “That’s for me!” No other career ever seemed as exciting or as interesting.

How did you become involved with PJ Library?

PJ Library became involved with me. I had published several books on Jewish subjects over the years. The best known are probably Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and Gershon's Monster.. PJ Library approached my publishers for permission to include my books in the program. I was delighted to be included. I’ve always said that Jewish kids need quality Jewish books. That’s why I write so many of them. It was a different world when I was a kid in the 1950’s. There was great Jewish literature. However, most of it wasn’t in English. I wish I had PJ Library when I was growing up.

Do you have more questions for Eric? Check out "Ask Eric" a special section of the author's website where children can ask questions about Eric's work and career directly.

Eric A. Kimmel is an American Jewish author of more than 50 children's books. His works include Caldecott Honor Book, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, and Sydney Taylor Book Award winners The Chanukkah Guest and Gershon's Monster. 

PJ Library selections written by Eric A. Kimmel:

A Horn for Louis
Even Higher!
Gershon's Monster
Hanukkah Bear

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
Joha Makes a Wish 

Joseph and the Sabbath Fish
Sam and Scarlett: Escape from Egypt
The Chanukkah Guest
The Golem’s Latkes
The Mysterious Guest
The Story of Esther
When Mindy Saved Hanukkah