Chil­dren’s

A Song For My Sister

Les­ley Simp­son; Tat­jana Mai-Wyss, illus.

  • Review
By – November 19, 2012

While Mira had always wished for a sis­ter, the first week with a new­born in the house was a bit rough. Despite the family’s attempts to soothe her with rock­ing, bounc­ing, and burp­ing, the baby con­tin­ued to wail so much that Mira’s sug­ges­tions for a name includ­ed Siren and Thun­der. She cried through­out her entire sim­chat bat, a baby nam­ing cer­e­mo­ny that includ­ed can­dle light­ing (“so she will cre­ate light in the world”) a cin­na­mon stick (“for smell”), and wine (“for taste”). But, when her big sis­ter sang her a nig­gun, a word­less lul­la­by, the baby was instant­ly com­fort­ed and qui­et­ed. Of course, every­one agreed that her par­ents’ choice of a name, Shi­ra, was absolute­ly per­fect — not only does it mean song or melody but it also rhymes with Mira! The cheer­ful illus­tra­tions in water­col­or and col­lage lov­ing­ly por­tray a con­tem­po­rary fam­i­ly par­tak­ing in this rather new, lib­er­al, at-home rit­u­al offi­ci­at­ed by a female tal­lit-wear­ing rab­bi. Com­mu­ni­ties where this type of nam­ing cer­e­mo­ny is pop­u­lar will wel­come this sweet, heart­warm­ing sto­ry. It’s a nice com­ple­ment to the sev­er­al brit milah pic­ture books already on the shelf. 

Inter­view

by Bar­bara Bietz

Les­ley Simp­son is the author of A Song for My Sis­ter (Ran­dom House), a love­ly pic­ture book about sim­chat bat, the Jew­ish baby nam­ing rit­u­al. Les­ley takes young read­ers on a humor filled jour­ney as old­er sis­ter Mira adapts to her new, very noisy baby sis­ter! The charm­ing illus­tra­tions by Tat­jana Mai-Wyss are a per­fect pair­ing for the live­ly sto­ry. I’m so excit­ed to share this spe­cial book and wel­come Lesley.

Bar­bara Bietz: What was the inspi­ra­tion for Song for My Sister? 

Les­ley Simp­son: The true sto­ry about this book is that I wrote a book called A Name for My Broth­er. It was full of toi­let humour, bub­bling with explo­sive burps and stinky farts. One pub­lish­er liked the con­cept but not the toi­let humour and asked if I would con­sid­er a rewrite. I did a rewrite but out emerged a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent book! That is one of the best things about writ­ing-the sur­prise or what I call the loot bag fac­tor. You do not always know what will emerge. I had read about a sim­chat bat cer­e­mo­ny for a girl that sound­ed mean­ing­ful. The cer­e­mo­ny fea­tured show­ing light, for exam­ple, so the girl would cre­ate light in the world and each bless­ing con­tained a con­crete exam­ple of its essence. I thought it was love­ly way to wel­come a new life into the world. For the record, I still have the stinky bur­py book in my draw­er if any pub­lish­ers are curious.

BB: The Sim­chat Bat cel­e­bra­tion may not be famil­iar to many read­ers. Why did you feel this was an impor­tant cel­e­bra­tion to share with young readers?

LS: I love the notion of cel­e­brat­ing a new life of a girl with the wish­es and bless­ings for what her life can be. I found out after I had sub­mit­ted the book that it is the only Eng­lish lan­guage pic­ture book cel­e­brat­ing the nam­ing of a girl in the Jew­ish world. I was flab­ber­gast­ed but hap­py to begin fill­ing the void.

BB: What were your thoughts when you saw the illus­tra­tions by Tat­jana Mai-Wyss? 

LS: I am a writer. And I say this as a writer of pic­ture books. If the art does not sing’ the book is dead. In my own imag­i­na­tion I want­ed some­thing that radi­at­ed warmth, whim­sy with a sense of humour. These illus­tra­tions exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions. I am hon­oured to have Tat­jana’s Mai-Wyss’ work illu­mi­nate the sto­ry. The art is the lens through which the read­er expe­ri­ences the book. It is pri­ma­ry to the experience.

BB: Mira is a very relat­able old­er sis­ter as she strug­gles with the loud cry­ing of her lit­tle sis­ter. Is Mira’s char­ac­ter based on some­one you know? 

LS: Mira exists in my imag­i­na­tion. She is plucky, hon­est, and good at cart­wheels. (I am ter­ri­ble at gym­nas­tics for the record and som­er­saults used to make me feel carsick.)

BB: What is your favorite chil­dren’s book? 

LS: OK, it’s impos­si­ble to pick one book. But I can tell you right now I do love Sweet Pea by Amy Krouse Rosen­thal, about a lit­tle pea who can­not eat his veg­gies until he gob­bles up all of his sweets. I love Rosen­thal’s spir­it of cre­ativ­i­ty, pluck and warmth.

BB: Thanks, Les­ley!

To learn more about Les­ley, please vis­it her web­site at www​.les​leysimp​son​.ca


Rachel Kamin is the Direc­tor of the Joseph and Mae Gray Cul­tur­al & Learn­ing Cen­ter at North Sub­ur­ban Syn­a­gogue Beth El in High­land Park, Illi­nois. A past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee, Rachel is cur­rent­ly the co-edi­tor of Book Reviews for Chil­dren & Teens for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newslet­ter. She holds a BA in his­to­ry from Grin­nell Col­lege and a master’s degree in library and infor­ma­tion sci­ence from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan.

Discussion Questions