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Albert Whitman & Company has been publishing children’s books that entertain, educate, and encourage since 1919. This blog is a means to extend those values. We feature weekly podcasts with our authors and illustrators, nostalgic look-backs through Albert Whitman’s early archives, and "Classroom Connection," news and materials specifically geared for educators. Of course we will also keep you updated with sneak peeks on forthcoming titles, industry news, and Twitter-ready musings.
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Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a New York Times Bestselling author of over twenty novels, writes about how reading The Boxcar Children as a young girl helped shape her love of reading for pleasure:
The Boxcar Children is the book that changed my life. An exaggeration? Nope. Cross my heart. I was seven years old and in second grade. Learning to read had been a terrible struggle for me, and my seven-year-old brain could not comprehend reading for pleasure. And then Mrs. Martin began reading The Boxcar Children to the class at the end of each school day.
I was enraptured with the story from the first page, and to this day, I remember the sick feeling in my stomach when the school bell rang, and Mrs. Martin closed the book—the story UNFINISHED. Then, the agonizing wait through the next day for the magical moment—would it ever arrive?—when she would open the book again.
After that introduction, how could I not beg my mother—not that it took much begging—to take me to the library to get Surprise Island. And then The Yellow House Mystery. My lifelong love of reading had begun.
The Lulubooks have arrived in the United States and Canada with a blast! Thanks to five starred reviews and a number of best book lists — including ALSC’s Notable Children’s Books –Lulu and the Duck in the Park has captured the hearts of kids everywhere. Lulu and the Dog from the Sea is now available here as well. Author Hilary McKay is touring North America via her office at home in England. Please join her travels as she answers questions and muses on a variety of topics from eyeglasses to beaches.
Debut author Cal Armistead is hitting the virtual road for her first blog tour. Her contemporary YA novel Being Henry David (Albert Whitman Teen) has already received great attention in the book review media (a STAR! from Kirkus Reviews) and from many bloggers.
Since this is Autism Awareness Month we want to remind you of some of our great titles featuring children (both real and fictional) with autism. Many of these titles have won awards and are excellent books to read to kids to help them understand more about autism and autism spectrum disorders. Pick up a copy today.
Autism & Me: Sibling Storiesby Ouisie Shapiro, photos by Steven Vote
• A 2010 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
• IRA-CBC Children’s Choices 2010
Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism by Laurie Lears, illustrated by Karen Ritz
• 2002 Children’s Crown Gallery Award Master List
• Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
• Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities 1999, International Board on Books for Young People
• Pick of the Lists, American Bookseller
Looking after Louis by Lesley Ely, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism by Alexandra Jessup Altman, illustrated by Susan Keeter
• Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities 2009, International Board on Books for Young People
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The Buzz on THESE BEES COUNT!: Inspiration and Information
by Alison Formento
One of my favorite questions from students when I visit schools or libraries is how do I get the ideas for my books. For my new book, I have a sweet and tasty answer to that question. Honey, or to be more specific, a scoop of honey-flavored ice cream triggered the idea for THESE BEES COUNT!
Our family was vacationing in Florida and one hot afternoon we stopped at the local ice cream shop. Signs were displayed to promote the special honey-flavor and to bring awareness about the mystery of disappearing bees. The display had a long list of the fruit and vegetable crops that bees pollinate and how important they are for the world. It might have been brain freeze, but I definitely experienced an “Ah ha!” moment about bees. The phrase “Bees Count!” popped in my head and I immediately began writing a draft of the story.
I knew a lot about trees before I ever wrote my first picture book THIS TREE COUNTS!, and now you might call me Bee-ologist after all of the research behind THESE BEES COUNTS! Several university scientists and beekeepers, including the president of my regional beekeeping organization, have been my go-to experts for honeybee facts and in helping me prepare for my own backyard hive. I enjoyed visiting several local hives and shared my research photos and important bee facts to help Sarah Snow plan her illustrations for our book.
If you have a chance to visit a bee farm or a friend’s hives, watching bees work is an amazing experience. They zip and circle, planning their day’s flight to pollinate and gather nectar. That honey ice cream inspired me and I’m in complete awe of what bees provide our world every day. And to quote Jake, one of the characters in THESE BEES COUNT!, here’s a great word to describe about honeybees: “Sweet!”
This unusual weather has made it feel like spring here in Chicago, but we all know that winter is not officially over. With spring break just around the corner, the Albert Whitman staff thought we’d share some of our spring break memories. And while you’re relaxing in the sand, or just relaxing on the couch, why not read Tails of Spring Breakby Anne Warren Smith. Then check out her new book Bittersweet Summer.
“When I was about 15 we took a family vacation to the Ozarks over spring break. I was miserable at first, because I had friends who were spending that same week in Paris on a school-sponsored trip, and here I was in Missouri. The fact that we were CAMPING, traveling with our pop-up trailer, didn’t help. But I’d never taken a road trip in the early spring, and everything around us was so new and green, and what I remember the most is spending Easter in a tiny wooden chapel at the campground listening to local musicians playing bluegrass fiddle music.”—Wendy in Editorial
“When I was younger my family and I would drive to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida for spring break. The road trip from Chicago was just as much fun as the time spent in Florida—driving through the hills of Kentucky, seeing the rocket at the rest stop in Alabama, getting a glass bottle of coke from a gas station in Florala, and finally arriving at the white sandy beaches of the gulf. We enjoyed days on the beach, collecting sea shells, riding the waves, and trying not to swallow the salt water. My dad had family down there and we would spend a little time with them too. It was great to see our Florida cousins and swim in their inground pool—what a treat. Now my dad owns a condo in nearby Destin. My husband and I make the road trip with our kids, and I get to relive it all over again.”—Caity in Sales
“As a kid, spring break was usually spent at my grandparents—playing with cousins, being beaten at backgammon by my grandfather—you know, the usual stuff. I do have one funny spring break memory from college (with nothing to do with alcohol or Florida). About 10 or so students stayed in the dorm through break one year. Our schedule became study until noon and then do something together (movies, shopping, etc.). One day it was a nice, warm, sunny day (by upstate New York standards), so we decided to go for a hike. Let’s just say that the fact that we took a photo around the “closed trail” sign let’s you know that we were clearly not as smart as we thought. We walked the upper trail (we figured that would be safer…further from the gorge). However, in the last 100 yards or so, the shorter route to the parking lot had us join the lower trail. Our leader turned around at one point and said “careful, ice” and the next person slid, fell, and just manage to direct himself to the end of the icy patch. Needless to say, the rest of us backtracked, took the longer route…and we all walked back to our cars via the road. I’d just like to point out that we all still received our degrees—good thing spring break is not ‘for credit.’” —Michelle in Marketing
We at Albert Whitman are no fools: We knowthat everyone literally judges books by their covers. A cover can make or break a book’s success in the marketplace. A book’s cover is its first impression on the world. Good impression: You (might) buy it. Bad impression: You won’t.
With that in mind, the cover design process can be a pretty involved one. The process usually goes like so: Nick, our talented art director and designer extraordinaire, gets the illustrator moving on a cover sketch (or, in the case of many of our novels, he designs the cover art himself—sometimes in many variations, as seen here with The Glass Collector). Once the art portion is completed, Nick mocks up a number of sample covers for that particular book with varying font and title treatments/designs. Then we go pretty old-school.
Nick posts all the covers up on a bulletin-board wall of ours, and everyone in our company—from our VP and President to our customer service staff—weighs in. Everyone’s opinion is important, and at the end of the day, the big questions almost always come down to: Does this cover convey what this book is about? Is it appealing to a child/tween/teen reader? Will it sell? Oftentimes, we’ll debate a particular font or whether certain words need to be larger. If, for example, the author’s name is the big draw, then his or her name needs to be big and easily legible. A lot of the time, this round goes through several revisions, until we wind up with a cover we can all (mostly) agree upon.
Things never stay the same at publishing houses. Offices move, editors come and go, and submissions guidelines change all the time. Within the past five years here at AWCo we’ve relocated, seen two retirements in Editorial, experienced new leadership, and have changed our submissions response policy. For a small house like us with a long history, it feels like a lot of change, but it’s often par for the course at bigger houses.
What’s the best way for writers to respond to all these changes? Don’t panic. I say this because, well, people panic sometimes. I’ve gotten the phone calls. “I submitted my manuscript to Editor X,” the caller will tell me. “But I heard she’s gone! What does that MEAN? What do I do NEXT?”
I can’t speak for other publishers, particularly the bigger houses. But a writer sending us unagented work does nothave to worry that we’ll make a big bonfire of unread submissions addressed to Editor X. Here at AWCo, submissions still come addressed to Editor X sometimes, or for Editor Y, who retired two years ago, or even Editor Q, who left sometime in the 90s. They still get read.
Having an editor’s name is helpful in that it helps your submission get to the right place in a publisher’s office. In the case of our office, an envelope with an editor’s name on it will bypass the big pile of envelopes in the editorial mail bin and go straight to . . . the big pile of envelopes in an editor’s cubicle. One pile gets read a little faster, but both still get read.
How-to-get-published guides will tell you that a cover letter sent to a real name is preferable to “Dear Sir or Madam,” and that’s still true. But an editor’s name is not a Wonka Factory Golden Ticket to the inner circle of a publishing house. To an editor, a personally addressed cover letter lets her know simply that the writer has taken time to research the company and find out her name, or else came across her name in a publication or at a conference, or found her business card on the sidewalk. None of that, of course, is nearly as important as the manuscript enclosed.
Here are some additional tips for when you learn your Editor X has retired or left the company:
Just call. And be calm! Just state that you would like the name of another editor to submit work to now that Editor X is no longer there. (This works better than asking for the name of “Editor X’s replacement,” because sometimes the size and structure of a department changes as staff members come and go.)
When in doubt, just resubmit.If you had an unsolicited manuscript on submission to a recently departed editor, you may not know for sure whether it was read. Rather than trying to get other staff members to solve the mystery, just send your story again.
Don’t make assumptions.One of our other editors was very surprised to get a cover letter saying, “congratulations on your promotion, now that Editor X has retired!” (Luckily she thought it was hilarious.)
Write the best stories you can and put your energy into understanding the market. We tend to forgive the finer points of etiquette when a story is good enough.
My name is Sarah, and I am 10 years old. I am a fifth grader in Mount Prospect, Illinois. I recently read Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret. I was assigned this novel in my reading class at school. At first I thought the story would be sad and depressing. However, I was curious about this being a true story and I wanted to learn more about the author’s disease and how she battled it. I actually enjoyed reading Small Steps and I’m glad my teacher assigned it to my reading group.
I was very impressed by Ms. Kehret’s bravery and strength in fighting polio when she was a girl, not much older than I am now. She worked very hard and stayed focused to accomplish her goal. I think of Ms. Kehret when I believe I cannot reach one of my goals, and she inspires me. The book also left me feeling very thankful that we now have a polio vaccine so no one has to suffer any more like Peg Kehret did. I’m sure she was extremely happy when her children received their first polio vaccination.
Thomas Jefferson, our third President, held a pea growing contest with his neighbors every spring. The first person to have a bowl of peas ready to bring to the table was declared the winner and would invite his neighbors over for a dinner that included the dish of peas.
Goal: To be the first student team in your USDA Hardiness Zone to harvest at least two cups of peas without using a hot house. The contest is open to students in grades one through four. An entering team may consist of one or more students. Each team may use no more than twenty pea seeds. These should be garden shelling peas (often called English Peas), not snow peas or snap peas.
You may not begin the contest until the official start date of 03-1-12. In other words, your pea seeds must not be placed in soil, other growing mediums, or water before 03-1-12. (Depending on the USDA Hardiness Zone you’re in, you may not wish to start until well after this date. The contest closing dates have been set to accommodate for climate differences between zones.) You may not use a hot house.
Winners will be the first team to harvest 2 cups or more of shelled garden peas in each of these USDA Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. To identify your zone, enter your zip code into the National Gardening Association’s zone finder.
In the event of a tie within the same time zone, one winner will be randomly selected from those that tied. The date of harvest must be noted on the harvest form. All Saturday-Sunday harvests will be bumped up to the following Monday.
Entrants must also submit a photo of their pea growing log and a photo of their shelled pea harvest being measured. They are also invited to send in a group photo of the winning team members for posting on the Albert Whitman blog and other promotional materials with express permission for such usage.
Entries must be submitted via email to mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 5 days after the date that your peas are harvested, measured and recorded. This way the winners may be acknowledged in a timely manner.
The contest will close when a winner is announced or, at the latest, on the following dates:
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the tenth annual Anderson’s Bookshops’ Children’s Literature Breakfast in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Anderson’s is an independent bookstore with locations in Napervile and Downers Grove, two Chicago suburbs; Publisher’s Weekly named it Book Store of the Year in 2011. It’s a fabulous institution run by the even more fabulous Becky Anderson—a bookselling legend in the publishing community who, in addition to running an incredible book store, also acts as an advocate for authors through Anderson’s school visits program and through this breakfast.
The event was attended by hundreds of people, primarily teachers and librarians, all seated at round tables in a large meeting hall. Each table was manned by an author, and the authors (many of whom are Illinois locals) rotated tables throughout the event. The authors that sat at my table included Bob Raczka, an Albert Whitman illustrator, author/illustrator Robin Luebs, middle grade author Marianne Malone, Fancy Nancy author Jane O’Connor, and Caldecott-medalist David Small. Each was lovely and gracious.
In the midst of the rotations, we were also treated to talks by headlining authors and illustrators. Jane O’Connor talked to us about Fancy Nancy and her new chapter book series, Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth. David Small read us his new picture book, One Cool Friend. Katherine Applegate spoke about the real-life inspiration for her middle grade novel, The One and Only Ivan. Augusta Scattergood spoke about Glory Be. And Gordon Korman spoke about his writing process as well as about his new middle grade novel, Showoff. We were also treated to a list of favorite new titles from Anderson’s booksellers Kathleen March and Jan Dundon—many of which I can’t wait to get my hands on. All in all, the talks were funny, enlightening, and inspiring.
There’s really nothing like being in a room stuffed with people who are truly passionate about kids’ books. It was also wonderful to realize just how many great authors and illustrators there are in Illinois and the greater Midwest; the sheer amount of talent is pretty incredible. I hope to come back and meet more of them in future years.
Today Chinese and others around the world will celebrate the lunar new year and welcome in the Year of the Dragon. Coincidentally, we have two dragon books available…
The Boy from the Dragon Palace by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa was published in Fall 2011 to great acclaim. It was named a 2011 NYPL 100 Books for Reading and Sharing and received a starred review from Kirkus: “MacDonald’s lively retelling of this folktale is bound to fascinate kids; after all, who can resist a tale with a snot-nosed boy?”
Brand new this season is How to Be Friends with a Dragon by Valeri Gorbachev. Reviews are just coming in on this book and Kirkus said “A sweet and gentle picture book with friendship, etiquette and a hint of dragon breath….Bedtime approved thanks to its soft palette and reassuring tone, and clever enough to land in many a read-again pile.”
Yesterday Michelle spoke about choosing a book title from the marketing department’s perspective, and about the “running argument” she has with us folks in Editorial.
Hmm, is it really an argument? Well, I will admit to thinking that if Marketing truly had their way, the title for every book would be an artless string of words broadcasting its selling appeal. The Hunger Games would be called ACTION PACKED DYSTOPIAN LOVE TRIANGLE and When I Reach You would be FRIENDS ARE IMPORTANT, PLUS TIME TRAVEL. It would be like that Better Book Titles site, except worse, because it would be for real! And mostly not funny!
But I also get why it’s often necessary for book titles to be unsubtle. Since Whitman specializes in “issues books” I understand that a well-chosen title can broadcast its usefulness to those in need. If a child is diagnosed with asthma, chances are her mom would rather not scan endless titles looking for artful metaphors for “hard to breathe.”
If anything, I think my place in the running argument titles is somewhere in between Marketing and the author. In fact, I’m often the actual go-between: sometimes I’ll have to explain to Marketing that the author-illustrator I’m working with would rather not have “A Story About the Importance of Oral Hygiene”as a subtitle for her picture book about a wacky tooth fairy; other times I might have to persuade a writer to let us come up with something better than “Tommy the Turtle” or “Reflections.”
(Note: these are all hypothetical examples.)
And I’ve been there right in the middle myself. A few years back I wrote a picture book about a girl with a peanut allergy. I called it “The Princess and the Peanut,” which I thought was totally the cleverest title in the world for a book about peanut allergy. Except that it didn’t have the word “allergy” in it. Somehow it sounded a lot less witty with that “A” word. But Marketing began to insist, and while it took a while, I finally realized that while “The Princess and the Peanut” was a clever title, The Princess and the Peanut Allergywas a SMART one.
And then we all lived happily ever after, and with continued royalties, too! THE END.
Editorial and I have a running argument about titles, especially titles for nonfiction, informational, and issue books. As I much as I love a funny, quirky book title, the title has to tell the consumer what the book is…really, it just does. Trust me.
There are two main concerns: 1) will a search engine bring the book to the top? and 2) will the consumer in the store/library know the book is for them by looking at the cover?
Search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.) and online retailers (name your favorite) respond to searches by looking at the title field first, then the subtitle, then description and key words. Ideally, you would have your topic or key selling point in all of these fields.
For example, if a consumer wants a book about dragons and your title doesn’t have “Dragon” in it, she may never to see your book on the list. This seems even more true if the book is about peanut allergies or diabetes or bullying.
Editorial and I sometimes compromise with a catchy title and what they call a boring subtitle. But the truth is, when you don’t name your book well, it can get lost — especially once it’s in the backlist.
We have a number of issue books that have been in print for a decade or more. I believe they continue to sell well — despite newer competition — because when a parent types in “kids diabetes book” they get Even Little Kids Get Diabetes (published in 1994) in the top few items.
Using the same example, if the title for this book were Johnny and the Sugar Monster, a parent couldn’t tell from the cover (or the spine for that matter) that the book directly address diabetes in young children.
Thanks to the subtitle, in the first month or so when only the data was available — not the book or even the catalog — I received requests for review copies from several major Jewish organizations. They have search engine alerts looking for Jewish children’s books — they don’t want to miss any. We had buzz even before the marketing began — because of a subtitle in the data feed. (Note: Part of the compromise was to have the subtitle on the title page but not the cover.)
Of course, this is not as much an issue with novels, but it’s still true that the title and what’s on the cover communicates information to the consumer. Perhaps we can talk more about that another time.
Editorial will express their opinions tomorrow on the blog. In the meantime, authors — I encourage you to suggest titles that are both fun and informative. Those are always the best!
There’s no crazier time at the gym than the month of January, when everyone’s over their December sugar highs and onto their New Year’s resolutions.
Not that I would know this year, having not made a single visit so far in 2012.
But perhaps I should take a cue from Miss Fox and her class, who, in Miss Fox’s Class Shapes Up, make a group effort to eat healthily and exercise more. Miss Fox notices one student sleeping in class, another whose tummy is a-rumbling, and others who get out of breath way too easily, and decides to help them get a bit more fit.
This book, with its light touch and humorous illustrations, reminds us of key ways we can all be healthier with easy-to-tackle activities. Eating healthy can be a joy when you cook with family, and there are lots of fun ways to exercise, from jumping rope to hula hooping to going on bike rides and swims with your family. The best part is, this stuff works! Miss Fox and her students see firsthand how being healthier and more fit makes life easier and more enjoyable—particularly when the class wins at Field Day!
Miss Fox and her class have even inspired little old me to get up off the cozy couch, cook myself a healthy meal, and then brave the January weather to head to the gym. If Miss Fox’s class can get fit, then I can, too!
I recently had the pleasure of working at the Scholastic Book Fair at my children’s schools. I always enjoy working at the fair. I get a chance to look at some of the newest books, interact with the kids, and buy some books for the holidays (using my volunteer coupon—a little perk).
Now I wish I could say that the kids are only buying books, but let’s be realistic here. Many of these kids are spending their money on giant pencils and cool erasers (which they’ll never actually use to erase anything), posters and bookmarks. Of course, some buy a book or two first, and then as they feel they have to spend all the money that mom or dad gave them, they finish out the sale with these little tchotchkes.
I was there on the first day of the fair at my son’s school (2nd-5th grades) when kids came in to write up a wish list, or purchase items if they had money and were ready for that. I wasn’t working the cash register, so I’m not exactly sure what the hot items were. But I know the stack of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever was quickly dwindling. Many of the kids also checked out the displays for Lego, Star Wars, Rebecca Caudill, and Blue Stem.
My son went to school with money that morning and came home in the afternoon with a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid along with one about the 25 best pitchers in the Major Leagues for 2011. I wasn’t at all surprised as those were the two books I figured he would be interested in. I’m happy that he spent his money on books and not posters or a cell phone eraser.
Two of our titles were visible at the fair—What Am I? Illinois and Fox Walked Alone. The librarian really liked What Am I? Illinois (even though it’s the wrong age for this school), and thought that it would be a great book for parents to buy as a gift for younger siblings.
At my daughter’s school, which is a PreK-1, I worked the last day of the fair. It was pretty quiet, as most of the kids had already come in to purchase their books. At that fair, I saw our book, Grandma Lena’s Big Ol’ Turnip. They also had a Lego and Star Wars display. Not surprising, they still had stacks of Diary of a Wimpy Kid—it’s a little too old for that school. My daughter picked up a chapter book about a puppy (no surprise) and an easy reader based on the movie Dolphin Tale, along with a cool pen, of course!
A splendid time was had by all and we look forward to partnering with the museum on future events. A special thanks goes to Jessie Aucoin, education manager for the museum, for all her efforts in making the day so wonderful.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. It is also the National Day of Action to Close Guantanamo — organized by Amnesty International. There are rallies all across the country from DC to Chicago to San Francisco…and more.
For our continuing series of asking young readers to comment on our books, we asked Alex (age 13) to talk about Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera and if doing so had sparked any continued interest in the subject. We asked him this question because the anniversaries that began with the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 this past September continue. The 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention center is next week — January 11, 2012.
Guantanamo Boy was an amazing book. I would recommend it to all historical fiction fans anywhere because it has the perfect combination of history and fiction. This book opened my eyes in so many ways to the awful things that happened after 9/11 to mostly innocent people.
This book was important for me to read, because it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and we learned about it in school. After we learned about it in depth, I went back and read this book again and was horrified that the United Sates Government could do such a thing. I know that they were angry with the Taliban, but not all Muslims are a part of the Taliban or are even dangerous. The Taliban and the al-Quaeda are just extremely small extremist groups within a vast population of generally peaceful people.
After reading about how cruelly the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay were treated, I decided to do some more research. I found out that the Taliban had already tried earlier attempts than 9/11. I found out that the prisoners were put in Guantanamo to find out more about the Taliban and al Quaeda through interrogation. Once they were in Guantanamo the prisoners were starved and treated harshly in the hopes that it would break their will and they would tell about the terrorists.
What the government didn’t know was that few prisoners knew anything about the terrorist activities.
I work with most of our authors and illustrators long distance, and don’t usually get to meet them in person, but on the rare occasion that I do, it’s great. But it’s even more awesome when I get to meet a CHARACTER from a book I’ve worked on.
And this fall, on a weekend trip to Iowa, I got to meet Mouse from The Buddy Files! (Also known as “Dori Butler’s dog.”)
The thing about Mouse is that he really does look like a dog who speaks all in caps. He’s HUGE.
Here Mouse is telling my husband, “HELLO. YOU SMELL LIKE PEANUT BUTTER AND SOAP.”
Not only is Mouse a character in The Buddy Files books, he’s also, as a part Golden Retriever and as a therapy dog, the inspiration for Buddy himself. And he loves to play in the yard with Dori and her family.
and potatoes are frying in Jewish households around the world. If you’d like to make some of your own, here is the potato latke recipe from Mrs. Greenberg’s Messy Hanukkah by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Nancy Cote.