A Conversation with Author D.J. Steinberg
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Shalom, yeladim! I'm thrilled to present to you my interview with author David "D.J." Steinberg, whose adorable new picture book Hanukkah, Here I Come is available for your holiday gift list! David is the author of many wonderful picture books as well as Grasshopper Pie and Other Poems, a PRH leveled reader.
Stacy: Welcome to the Yeladim Blog, David! Tell us a little about Hanukkah Here I Come! How does this book fit into your Here I Come series?
David: The Here I Come series is all about preparing for the big moments in our lives as children. That includes topics like going to a new grade in school, or life events like your parents having a new baby. Holiday celebrations like Hanukkah fit right into that theme, because those experiences are some of the most important and memorable in our childhoods. At least, I know they were for me!
Stacy: How did you come to write children's books? Was writing for kids always an ambition of yours or is it something you came to serendipitously?
David: When I was a kid, I couldn’t think of anything cooler than to make books or movies for children. I am lucky that my life allowed me to do both. I started my career in animation and worked on movies like Spielberg’s American Tail and Land Before Time, and Disney’s Hercules, Mulan and Tarzan. And I worked at Nickelodeon more recently, where I played a part on shows like Spongebob, Dora, Loud House and TMNT.
That was my day job. By night, I was writing children’s books. Having children and all the picture books that came along with 3 boys, I was inspired to write, at first just for their entertainment. One thing led to another and I got my first book published a little over 20 years ago. And now Hanukkah Here I Come marks my 29th book! Leapin’ lizards!
Stacy: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
David: My parents used to read to us at bedtime. Those stories had the power to transport me to other worlds and live out adventures from the safety of my bed. I remember my dad reading Dr. Doolittle serial-style over many nights, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next installment. And my mother was crazy about poetry and read the poems by A.A. Milne—and other favorites—so many times I think I knew them all by heart. The rhythm and sound of the words taught me that language can be fun.
Stacy: Why do you write Jewish-themed books? Why do you think it's important that Jewish books are published these days?
David: On a deeply personal level, I was raised in a Jewish, religiously-observant home, so my Jewishness has always been an important part of my life. It is who I am, so it infuses everything I write on some level. When the Here I Come series became a hit and we expanded it to cover the holiday cycle, of course the more popular Christian holidays were on my publisher’s list. I asked if we could also include books about the holidays that I grew up with, and to Penguin Workshop’s credit, they said a resounding yes to Hanukkah and Passover.
Why is it important to write Jewish-themed books? Because when I was a kid, there were not a whole lot of good books catered for Jewish kids. It is as important for Jewish children—as much as it is for children from other cultures and religions—to have stories that they can relate to, and that speak to them in a personal and authentic way. It’s the reason that I was so grateful for the opportunity to write the Jewish holiday books for this series, and why I hope to write more books with Jewish themes in the future.
Stacy: Do you engage with other authors often? How? How does this affect your writing?
David: I love the sense of community that authors have. Writing is a “lonely profession,” so we tend to seek each other out for camaraderie and support. In my case, I attend author events and classes, and I have a small writers group that meets once a month to share work and cheer each other on. Over the years, I have participated in critique groups that keep me motivated, if nothing else, to avoid the bitter shame of showing up to a meeting empty-handed! But the honest feedback from other writers is indispensable in helping shape a piece to be as good as it can be before submitting.
Stacy: What does literary success look like to you?
David: A yacht, a private plane, and a small island in the Bahamas with my name on it. And if I never quite reach that, I will be fine. Because really for me, the joy is in the writing and in the euphoria of finishing a book or a poem that feels just right, and then the joy all over again when that book comes out and you see children reading it and smiling. That’s like a million times better than a yacht.
Stacy: Tell us what about a few books you've enjoyed recently AND projects you have coming up!
David: I just read a fantastic book by a new author named Stacy Nockowitz… oh, wait, that’s you! In all honestly, Prince of Steel Pier is the last book I read and I can say that it is the ultimate middle-grade boy’s fantasy. The Jewish characters in the story feel so pitch-perfect, as does the time period in which the story takes place—and I would know, because I was around then!
I have a bunch of new books coming out soon that I am excited about. For 2023, the Here I Come series will conquer Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Summer Vacation, and an adorable new entry, New Baby, Here I Come! I also have a follow up to my book, How to be Kind in Kindergarten—called How to be Confident in Kindergarten. Plus, I have a book called Stacy Nockowitz’s Blog, Here I Come!, but that one has not been accepted by my editor… yet.
Stacy: That one sounds like picture book GOLD! What's your editor waiting for? David, thank you so much for being my very first guest on the Yeladim Blog. It's always a delight to speak with you!