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.
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.lesleysimpson.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.