Jill Ross Nadler & Esther van den Berg, the out-of-this-world author & illustrator
of SUCH A LIBRARY!: A YIDDISH FOLKTALE RE-IMAGINED
What kind of Jewish books did you read as a child? How did those books influence your decision to write Such a Library?
I honestly didn’t read too many Jewish books as a kid. They were all a little too serious for my taste. As a kid, I was drawn to funny books and most of the Jewish books at that time didn’t really fit the bill. What I do remember are the stories I heard from our Rabbi. My family attended a reformed temple on Long Island, and the Rabbi—whose name just happened to be Rabbi Robert Raab—told hilarious tales about a character from Jewish folklore named Simple Shmerel. These were classic “fool” stories that taught life lessons. Before launching into a tale, Rabbi Raab would ask all the kids in the congregation for interesting ways to travel to wherever the story took place. Flying pickles, knishes, and donuts were big favorites! SUCH A LIBRARY! is based on the Yiddish folktale It Could Always Be Worse and the first time I heard that story was from Rabbi Raab (I think we took a flying tuna sandwich).
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always processed the world through stories. I was a dancer in high school and college, but even then, I wanted all of the dances I worked on to have a storyline. I was also inspired by my mother who developed a program called Motion Potion that was a way to teach dance to children through stories. I started making up stories for the program and realized how much I loved writing. To this day, I still perform some of the stories I made up way back then.
How did you come to be a performer? What is your favorite aspect of performing?
I majored in theater in college, but I always loved working with kids. After I graduated, I got a job in children’s television where I had the chance to write, produce and host fun educational segments that came between the cartoons. I met my husband Kenny (a former Ringling Clown) when I interviewed him for my show. After he left the circus, we decided to see if we could combine his background in clowning and improv with my theater, dance, and storytelling skills. That’s how our company Page Turner Adventures was born.
My favorite part of performing is firing up imaginations and seeing the audience transported somewhere else. It’s magical. I think it’s the same thing I love about writing.
There are a few different names which people use to refer to you; how did you get those names?
When I started working on TV, they decided my screen name would be Riley Roam because I was roaming around the world interviewing interesting people. When Kenny and I started performing together on stage, I wanted to create a new character inspired by Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones, and Amelia Earhart and the intrepid Storyologist, Page Turner was born. But for my publishing journey, I decided to use my real name, Jill Ross Nadler. Although, now I have another new persona, Miss Understood, the wacky librarian from Such a Library!
You’ve had many interesting jobs. Please tell me about them. How have they inspired/ influenced your work?
Let’s see…I’ve been a Storyologist (a word and job I made up), a TV host, a stilt-walking toy soldier, and a perfume sprayer at the mall. They’ve all influenced me in interesting ways.
As a Sociologist, I learned the magic and power of storytelling and how to engage an audience. I’ve also had the opportunity to test out material in real-time with actual kids.
My years working on TV really helped me learn how to edit my work, but still keep the essence of what I’m trying to say. I often had just thirty seconds to get my point across.
As a perfume sprayer in the mall, I had to develop a thick skin, an important skill to have when you’re trying to become a published author. When people literally run from you screaming, you discover that rejection isn’t personal.
I think stilt walking taught me to be fearless (or at least how to fake being fearless) and take big risks.
How do you find the time for both writing and performing?
I find it difficult to write when I’m on tour but traveling definitely helps me fill my creative well and gives me lots of story ideas. When I’m not on tour, I have large swathes of time at home when I can focus on writing.
What do you think is the most rewarding part about writing?
I adore the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made through writing. Writers, especially children’s writers, are some of the loveliest people in the world.
As a writer, what is one piece of advice you would give to other authors.
Be persistent. And revise, revise, revise. (Sorry, I guess that’s four things.).
What is Page Turner Adventures?
Page Turner Adventures is the company I created with my husband when we decided to see if it was possible to combine circus, improv, comedy, theater, interactive storytelling, and steampunk into one show. We perform SUPERSIZED Stories that combine all of those things and more, but the most important piece of the puzzle is the audience. During the shows, everyone becomes the hero of the story, solving problems, overcoming obstacles, and interacting directly with the characters on stage. We then transform kids into Storyologists and encourage them to collect, tell, and write stories. We perform at theaters, schools, and libraries around the country and the world. Now, with social distancing making live performance a challenge, we plan on producing online content that will inspire kids to become Storyologists at home. If anyone is interested in finding out more about what we do, they can visit www.PageTurnerAdventures.com. There’s also a place there to sign up for my Storyology Newsletter that I send out once a month (more during quarantine) with crafts, activities, and author interviews.
Can you please describe a typical performance with Page Turner adventures?
One of our signature shows, THE MIXED-UP FAIRYTALE, is a great example of how we combine circus, storytelling, and participation. All the kids in the audience must help us break a spell on sleeping beauty (played by my husband Kenny in a wig, of course!). Along the way, they meet the Fairy God Mother, Red Riding Hood, a Wolf, and a real ten-foot tall giant (Kenny again, but this time he’s on stilts). There’s lots of comedy, music, a steampunk airship, and giant props, but again, the magic comes from the kids becoming completely involved in the story.
Please complete the following sentences:
A great picture book.... has humor and heart. My ideal Jewish children’s book… has humor, heart, and hamantaschen.
Thank you, Jill! We are so very excited to have you as an author in our Intergalactic Afikoman family!