BLOG TOUR: Lesléa Newman

I am very pleased to be a stop on the Sydney Taylor Blog Tour!

I got to e-chat with the Sydney Taylor Book Award winners in the Younger Readers Category:

The creators of Ketzel the Cat who Composed: Author Lesléa Newman, illustrator Amy June Bates.

Ketzel book jacket

Come have a listen:


Hi, Leslea.

Thanks for jointing me here on my blog, and agreeing to answer a couple of my questions!

Looking over your more than 70 (! wow) books, I notice that you have a number of Jewish books, and a bunch of cat books too! What about Judaism inspires you to create stories? What about cats? 


Being Jewish is such a core part of my identity. I was very close with both my grandmothers who came to America from “the old country” and whose first language was Yiddish. I learned basic Jewish values from them such as be kind, take care of those less fortunate than you, respect your elders, protect your loved ones, don’t only think of yourself, do your best to repair the world. I also learned about Jewish culture, holidays, and customs from my grandmothers, including the best chicken soup with matzo balls recipe ever. So naturally, when I started writing, these experiences influenced my subject matter and voice. It’s just who I am. I feel that every book I write is Jewish, even if it has no overt Jewish content, because it is informed by my being a Jew and carrying that identity with me wherever I go.


To answer the second part of your question, I have always been an animal lover, and have co-habitated with cats since I graduated from college. (I don’t say that I have owned cats because as all cat-lovers know, the human is owned by the cat, not the other way around). Since I spend so much time in the company of cats, it is natural for me to write about them. They are an endless source of amusement and joy; every cat I’ve ever known has given me the gift of unconditional love. I have written a funny book, called “Cats, Cats, Cats!”  which is about a woman who lives with sixty cats, a sad book called “The Best Cat in the World” which is about a boy named Victor whose cat Charlie dies, and what I hope is an inspiring book, Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed.


Are there any connections for you between cats and Jewish tradition?
What an interesting question! I think cats force us to be in the moment, and Judaism also asks us to be in the moment, to be aware, be present, be joyful and grateful to be alive. That’s where the two intersect.
I loved hearing that this story was actually based on a real life, “cat who composed”. How did you first hear about that real cat? 
I was having a nonproductive writing day, and to distract myself from the blank page, I picked up my synagogue’s newsletter. The rabbi’s column mentioned Ketzel’s New York Times obituary and spoke about Moshe Cotel and how he lived his life with kavanah (intention). Mr. Cotel was open to the beauty and magic of ordinary moments that are actually extraordinary moments, and which are all around us, including his cat’s stroll across his piano keyboard. I was completely charmed by this story and knew it was a children’s book waiting to happen. Like Mr. Cotel, I also seized the moment, and started doing some research immediately. I never know where a story idea will come from. I feel like Ketzel chose me, not the other way around, just as various other cats have wandered into my life and worked their way into my heart. 
 Lesléa and Sheba
What about that true story spoke to you and made you want to retell it and share it with children?
I just loved that a composition composed by a cat had received an honorable mention in a contest. I usually start a writing project with a question, and my question was: why, on this particular day, did Ketzel stroll down Mr. Cotel’s keyboard? I don’t know the answer to that question (only Ketzel knows!) so that’s where the fiction writer in me gets to work. And I decided to have Ketzel stroll down the keyboard out of kindness. In my book, Mr. Cotel is unhappy because he can’t compose a short piano solo for a contest. Ketzel decides that if she destroys the letter about the contest (the source of Mr. Cotel’s unhappiness), he will feel better. So she dashes down the keyboard out of love.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the book, or your writing?
I’m just so thrilled that Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed has been recognized in this way and I am grateful to the Association for Jewish Libraries for this wonderful honor.

Liked that? Check out my chat with Ketzel’s illustrator, Amy over here.

For Tu B’shvat

Happy Tu B’shvat, everyone! To get this coloring page, click on the image, print and color. (And if you’d like it as a pdf,  click here: pomegranateswithbird).pomegranateswithbird

Hanukkah coloring: BONUS!

What-you thought I was just going to do one coloring page this year? Well, I had a nice long weekend so I created this one, too. You’ve got 2 out of 8 nights covered!
dreidels 15bwdreidels 15dreidels 15bw

You can find the other one over here.

Hanukkah coloring with Kayla and Kugel

Kayla & Kugel want to wish you and the kids you know a very Happy Hanukkah! Just click on the image below and print. k&Khan









Find out more about Kayla and Kugel –They make a great (plug, plug!) Hanukkah gift!

Thanks coloring!

Thank you for our many blessings- And for coloring pages!thanksgiving coloring Click on the image below and print. (Or if you need it as a pdf, click this link: thanksgiving coloring)

Winner of K&K!

And the winner of Kayla and Kugel is…Barbra Kahn! Barbra said she likes egg barley. Yum, me too.


Thanks to everyone for participating!!



Succot coloring

My take on the classic paper chain. Great for a group of kids to color, and then cut, and assemble.

(If you need it as a pdf you can click here.)

Chag Sameach!



IMG_0421succot strips

GIVEAWAY! Kayla and Kugel



Time to GIVEAWAY a copy of my newest book, Kayla and Kugel!


I will be raffling off a copy  before the end of this month. It’s  the first of a new series about Kayla and her adorable dog, Kugel. (Watch for Kayla and Kugels almost Perfect Passover, coming soon!)


To enter, just write a comment below that says what your favorite Shabbat food is.

(Want to have two chances? Share my post on Facebook  about this raffle, and I’ll put your name in the hat 2x!)


R’ Hashonah page, for the kids and U2!

It’s that time of year again! Break out the apples and honey, and print out the accompanying coloring page below.

(And, if you need it as a pdf , click here: roshdove)


Also…tired of letting the kids have all the coloring fun? Well, if you want to color too, (and why wouldn’t you?), you might enjoy this fabulous new page from the new adult coloring book, Shalom Coloring— also free. The art is by my friends Freddie Levin and Judy Dick–really gorgeous work! I was the editor for it–such a FUN project!




Ahem, ahem! Check out what Kirkus had to say about K&K:


“Kayla sets the table for Shabbat while she manages to avert numerous mishaps caused by her overeager assistant, the mischievous puppy Kugel.

Kayla patiently allows Kugel to “help” by pulling on the tablecloth, grabbing the Kiddush cup, and balancing the salt shaker on his nose while she succinctly narrates all the steps to setting a proper Shabbat table. The easy interplay of pictures and text allows children to read the illustrations for some of the unsaid details that telegraph Kugel’s next possible calamity. They will be amused by the proximity of disaster for each of his little upsets, such as dirtying the table with his paw prints or trying to eat the flowers. When finished, Kugel’s sadness helps Kayla realize that they are not ready for a “Shabbat Shalom” until the whole family gathers around the table. Cheerfully amusing, brightly colored illustrations depict the rambunctiousness of an adorable and endearing young puppy. Beyond the plot, the larger message of the importance of family to the weekly celebration is effectively presented to the toddler set.

This upbeat explication should prove both entertaining and instructive. (Picture book/religion. 2-4)”