So you think you can write a children’s picture book? Wonder what it takes to tuck a story into bed between hard covers? Hold tight to your dreams and meet Lisa Rose (Granitz Chottiner) for inspiration.
Self-described as a recovering school teacher, an accidental app developer and a West Bloomfield lifer (living in Farmington Hills only because she refuses to live in the same zip code as her mother), Lisa Rose now adds to her resumé the distinction of being Jewish Detroit’s first PJ Library author with the debut of Shmulik Paints the Town, from Kar-Ben Publishing and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri.
Shmulik? That would be Yiddish for Samuel – a Kar-Ben editor’s choice over Lisa Rose’s more secular name for her character, Sam. And his painter dog – Lisa’s would-be “PawCasso” – is simply “Ezra,” a nod to a faithful helper taking matters into his own “paws” in moving the plot forward while his master procrastinates in finishing painting a mural in the park. The setting is Jerusalem in the seven days leading to Yom Ha’aztmaut. In short, the book is about work ethics and the creative process and it is adorably Jewish.
Hugging Shmulik – literally— beaming ear-to-ear and counting the days until her book launch and signing party at Shalom Street children’s museum, Lisa Rose shares the inside story, recounting her journey from a teacher in Highland Park and Pontiac to a struggling young writer and mom, “swimming from Shazizzle to Shalom.”
Lisa Rose: On formative years and turning points
Proud to be part of Detroit’s creative comeback, Lisa Rose is a graduate of the University of Michigan where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education. She also has a Master’s in Teaching Reading and Language Arts. Lisa considers the greatest influence in her career as a writer to be her experience teaching in Highland Park and Pontiac, where most of her students were African American and many lived in homeless shelters. “I had been cobbling together teaching jobs, subbing around the Metro Detroit area for two years,” Lisa recalls. “I was 25, at the crossroads of a teaching career, with a prospect of a job at Hillel Day School or the immediate offer of a teaching position in Highland Park. Choosing Highland Park was one decision that changed the course of my entire life.”
Once a teacher, always a teacher. Writing a series of African American chapter books set in urban Detroit, Lisa has developed her passion for telling her students’ stories so that their voices may be heard. To date, she has written scores of “serious” children’s stories, yet to be published. Additionally, she has two ebooks published by meegenius.com — a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — and a Facebook discussion group called “The Missing Voice.”
Lisa Rose: On perseverance
If there’s a theme to Lisa’s life story, it is perseverance. At 42, she estimates that that she’s been working on the “debut” of Shmulik Paints the Town since 2008. Lisa’s concept for the story was inspired by her cousin who creates paintings with animal footprints; the book is dedicated to her Aunt Roz who helped Lisa’s daughter overcome her fear of dogs by introducing her to a friendly pup name Bleu.
At the time PJ Library was just starting to roll out with Jewish book subscriptions, and at the encouragement of the editor at the Jewish publishing house, Kar-Ben, Lisa starting submitting stories with Jewish content in profusion. “I wrote about dogs having ‘bark-mitzvahs,’ Shabbat fairies, magic tallis rides, Golda and the Bearbergs and a Rabbi Rabbit – and one by one, my stories were all rejected. So I tossed them into my slush pile and just kept on writing. By the umpteenth revision of Shmulik Paints the Town, I figured my editor would either send me a contract or a restraining order.”
As Lisa Rose observes, getting that contract is a waiting game. “People generally don’t realize that publishing is all stages of waiting — waiting for the editor, waiting for your critique group to read your work or just waiting for that magic break-through moment when you figure out what to do with a story you’re stuck on. Then there’s waiting for the illustrator . . . and sometimes it’s just waiting for the right time and place for your book to come out.”
Lisa finally sold her book to Kar-Ben in 2014, and even then it would take another two years to bring her story to publication with its whimsical illustrations by London artist Catalina Echeverri. “Though I had provided illustration notes, the finished book was a total surprise, not at all what I envisioned,” says Lisa, “but I really love the way it turned out.”
Lisa Rose: On a writer’s life, a “quarter-life crisis” and motherhood
As Lisa would discover in her years in the classroom, writing is a way of life. At the age of 31, she stopped teaching to live her dream, focus on her writing, as well as to start a family. “I like to tell the story that after my husband’s life-threatening illness, five failed IVF attempts and a surrogate story that belongs on Dateline, we got a magic call and brought my daughter home – with just 14 hours’ notice – on the first night of Chanukkah. She is our Victoria, named for our victory.
“Three months later we discovered our daughter was visually impaired, legally blind. My original plan was to write and go back to teaching because I love kids, but with Victoria, that was not going to happen. So I wrote in between all of her therapies, and then when she started crawling – I hired a sitter. And I realized when paying $10 an hour to a sitter, just how productive and creative I could be.”
Victoria is now in second grade – fully mainstreamed at Forest Elementary School in Farmington Hills. As Lisa describes, she has supersonic ears — and what seems “normal” to most people is intensified for her. “Victoria really has factored into the way I look at illustrated books now. Those authors whom I once admired for their books with those beautiful illustrations are no longer my favorites, because I realize how their books appeal more to adults than to children.”
Lisa Rose: On favorite authors now
On the top of Lisa Rose’s list of favorite children’s writers there’s Eric Carle. “No matter what learning impairment or socioeconomic issues they have, Carle’s simple collage illustrations appeal to all children,” Lisa says. “I have never met a child who could not find an Eric Carle book that they love.
“I also love Todd Parr, an author who is also Victoria’s favorite for his very simple and clear illustrations. Parr writes like a first grader, but with a purpose. People may not realize that with all the drug-affected children in our schools today, there is a need for books that are very simple. Todd Parr does simple extremely well.”
And the most perfect book of all time? According to Lisa Rose, most children’s writers agree it’s Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
Lisa Rose: On next big things
A yogi, a swimmer, a busy mom, Lisa Rose starts her “writing day” on the elliptical trainer. “That’s my think time where my mind is free to wander,” she says. “My friends in various writing groups know about my habit, and when they’re stuck on something in their writing, they make what we call an elliptical appointment with me so I can help them work it out.”
After the elliptical hour, it’s just ordinary mom time in the mornings. Afternoons are reserved for writing . . . currently working on a writing project involving Lisa Rose’s own Volume Readz app (in development). There’s also a project in collaboration with Detroit artist, fel3000ft, plus a nonfiction book “to right a really awful wrong in history” – working with a family story that Lisa finds personally meaningful.
Will there be another “Jew Tale?” Of course, Lisa has one. Just you wait and see.
About PJ Library: The Stats
- 500 different titles sent to families by PJ Library over the 10 years they have been sending out books.
- PJ Detroit sends 1,800 books each month to 93 zip codes in 4 counties in the Metro Detroit area.
- Over 8,000 people are touched by PJ Library books and programs each year in Detroit.
A program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, PJ Library sends free Jewish children’s books to families across the world every month. To sign up in metro Detroit, please visit www.pjlibrary.org.
PJ Library is a part of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s JFamily – the connector to Jewish family education and engagement for the Detroit Jewish community. From jbaby detroit! for expecting and new parents to SPARC which connects Jewish single parent families to the community and each other to community-wide programs, JFamily is here for you.