Pamela Ehrenberg’s new children’s book blends cultures through food and youthful wonder.
Even as a child, Pamela Ehrenberg says she displayed the observational gifts that would serve her well as a future writer.
“I remember my dad picking me up from nursery school and explaining as we walked hand in hand across the parking lot that I really should consider playing with the toys there, not just watching the other children,” Ehrenberg recalls on her website.
For more than four decades, watching and listening have played a significant role in Ehrenberg’s development as a storyteller. In her latest children’s book, “Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), she employs her observational and writing skills to tell the story of a multi-cultural family — the mom is Indian and the dad is Jewish — who celebrate the Festival of Lights while also incorporating traditional Indian food into their holiday festivities. Instead of latkes, the family celebrates the holiday celebrating the Maccabean Revolt with tasty Indian dosas (a type of Indian pancake).
Based on an actual event from Ehrenberg’s childhood, the book features a young protagonist, Sadie, who loves climbing on everything at home and at the family’s grocery store. During the holiday season, she and her brother accidentally get locked out of their house. Sadie’s climbing skills turn out to be a very handy remedy.
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar and targeted for children from preschool to second grade-age, “Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” is Ehrenberg’s fourth book. Her first novel “Ethan, Suspended” came out in 2007, followed by “Tillmon County Fire” two years later, and in 2015 “Planting Parsley,” a board book celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish festival of trees.
Kirkus Reviews called “Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” a “delightful culinary adventure [that] celebrates traditional Indian food as part of a Jewish holiday.” Meanwhile, the Jewish Book Council said of the book, “Many details in the illustrations — from the Indian grandmother’s sari, to the Indian and Jewish decorations and art objects, to the beautiful endpapers depicting an array of Indian foods and spices — show a respect and appreciation for the blended cultures.”
A Baltimore native who graduated from Pikesville High School, Ehrenberg now lives in Washington, D.C., with her two children. She says the multi-cultural environment of the nation’s capital greatly informs her newest book.
“We have a much more diverse Jewish community than the one in which I grew up,” says Ehrenberg, who as a child attended Chizuk Amuno Congregation with her parents, Joan and David Grebow, and now attends Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. “Our Tot Shabbat is the most diverse part of the congregation.”
As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Ehrenberg was told by a professor that one of her assignments had the makings of a young adult book. She says she thoroughly enjoys the children’s literature genre, whether it’s a tightly written board book of less than 200 words or a more expansive novel.
After graduating from Penn with a degree in English literature, Ehrenberg earned a master’s degree in education from George Washington University and taught with AmeriCorps in the Appalachian mountains of Western Maryland.
When her kids were younger, Ehrenberg tried to balance her creative writing endeavors with other freelance writing assignments. But she says she found that everything associated with being a freelancer — from pitching to writing to invoicing — took away time and energy from pursuing book projects.
“Having the structure of a regular job frees up mental space,” says Ehrenberg, who works as an educational consultant and focuses on her creative writing during lunch hours and when her children are in Sunday morning religious school.
“Maybe I’ll focus on writing full-time if I win the Newbery Medal,” she says with a laugh, referring to the prestigious award for children’s literature. “But for now, this is the right place to be.”
“Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” is available at bookstores and online. For information, visit pamelaehrenberg.com.
Top photo: Pamela Ehrenberg (Photo by Alexandra Taylor)
Carol Sorgen is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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