The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Lauren Kerstein and Review of Remembering Sundays w/ Grandpa
From a young age, Lauren H. Kerstein's passions included reading and writing!
She writes fiction and books in her field. She enjoys crafting picture books, middle grade, young adult novels, and even adult novels. Lauren always has a work in progress, an idea brewing, courage for tough revisions, and a host of characters milling about waiting for their stories to be told. Lauren’s books include themes of courage, flexible thinking, friendship, social emotional learning, foster care, seeing your strengths, sensory issues, and emotion regulation.
Lauren is the author of Home for A While, illustrated by Natalia Moore (2021) and the Rosie the dragon and Charlie picture book series, illustrated by Nate Wragg (2019).
Her newest picture book, Remembering Sundays with Grandpa, was released November 7th.
Welcome Lauren, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest picture book and your writing.
Hi Maria! Thanks so much for having me. It is so much fun to celebrate these milestones with other creators.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
The where and when I write has changed over the years and years I’ve been writing. I have loved writing since I was a child. I wrote professional books—one of which I wrote literally while nursing my youngest. (I’m not sure whether to be proud of that fact or horrified.) About ten years ago, I shifted my daytime job (I’m a mental health clinician) and dedicated every single Wednesday to writing (Wacky Writing Wednesday). I wrote from the car, while my kids were in activities, and even on the pool deck during swim practice. Now that my girls are 16 and 20, I still block out Wednesdays to work on my own writing, but now I try to at least touch my writing most days of the week. I recently shifted my calendar to protect more writing blocks. I still write everywhere—doctor’s office waiting rooms, my bedroom with Hallmark on mute in the background, my office, the kitchen, you name it. I love writing picture books (nonfiction and fiction) and I also love writing YA, middle grade, and adult. I like writing everything, but my favorite type of book to write is one that is actually coming out of my brain in some sort of organized fashion, and not giving me fits.
I love that explanation of your favorite book to write. What do you like to do outside by yourself or with family or friends?
I work WAY too many hours. But when I’m not writing, critiquing, working with editorial clients, ghost writing, seeing private practice clients, or running writing challenges like #ReVISIONweek, I love taking walks. Walking or hiking with my family or friends is truly my happy place. I also love reading. In fact, when I walk, I listen to audiobooks. It is glorious! I also enjoy watching Hallmark movies with my youngest daughter (16-years old), and every Marvel movie or cop/legal show out there with my whole family.
Enjoy those moments with her, they disappear quickly. What was the inspiration or your spark of interest for Remembering Sundays with Grandpa?
The inspiration for this book was the wonderful relationship I had with my grandmother. Her name was Henrietta. The original draft of this book was written many years ago (around 2013). The first main character was female and named Hannah—with an H for Henrietta, and she missed her grandmother. But over time, this book morphed into Henry and his grandpa. I wrote this book as a way to pay tribute to her. I also wanted to write a book for my daughters to help them with grief they might experience, especially as their great grandmother, Mimi, aged.
In addition, as a mental health clinician, I wanted to write a book that would capture the fact that even when someone isn’t part of our day-to-day/ our physical world, their love still lives on. The final iteration includes bits and pieces of many important people in my life. From cucumber hiccups to dancing to the jewelry box, each scene represents a way that my loved ones will live on forever.
That's such a wonderful tribute to your loved ones and your daughters. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
My favorite book was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. I LOVED Pippi! I wanted to BE as brave and free and as real as Pippi. Her spunk, courage, and infectious enjoyment captivated me. I also loved Shel Silverstein’s poetry. I can still recite some of it by heart. Between his simple, yet powerful illustrations and relatable poems, I adored his work. I still do.
There is no character quite like Pippi! What was the hardest part of writing Remembering Sundays with Grandpa? And what was the most fun or rewarding?
The hardest part of writing Remembering Sundays with Grandpa was wrapping my brain around a recommendation from the amazingly talented, Erin Dealey, to switch from Hannah to Henry and Grandma to Grandpa. But once I did, that switch became the most rewarding part of writing it. Erin’s reasoning resonated with me—spotlighting a male character in his grief offered important representation for all children to see. And Henry’s character felt so real and authentic to me. I just loved creating his character and his relationship with his mom and grandpa.
So interesting that this shift made such a difference. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Remembering Sundays with Grandpa?
It took approximately eleven years from initial draft to publication. In fact, this manuscript sat in the proverbial drawer for around nine years. I plucked it from the drawer after a meeting with an editor (a different editor) who said she wanted a book for her son about grief. I re-wrote it for her and although she ultimately declined, the incredible Andrea Hall with Beaming Books acquired it right away. So, after years of sitting in the drawer, I ripped it to shreds, put it back together and sold it a couple of months after that rewrite.
Wow! Talk about kismet. When you first saw Nanette Regan’s illustrations, did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Lauren Kerstein, 2023. Image © Nanette Regan, 2023.
The whole thing amazed me, but I was particularly captivated by the fact that she put a butterfly on nearly every spread. It felt as if Grandpa was actually there in that butterfly. My daughters and I always think their great-grandmother, Mimi, is saying “hi” when a ladybug appears. The butterfly just felt so perfect and reflective of the way my daughters and I look at the world. My favorite spread is the one when Henry and his mom are in the garden. My grandparents had a wonderful garden, and I have such vivid memories of picking green beans, blueberries, and cucumbers. The spread is so incredibly stunning and resonant. I am so grateful to Nanette!
It is stunning. I love the tall cucumber plants and sunny sunflowers. Is there something you want your readers to know about Remembering Sundays with Grandpa?
I would love readers to know that every single memory Henry and his mom have are actually memories of my loved ones. It was fun to weave them throughout the book.
Thank you for sharing that. It makes it so much more personal. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a few things on the horizon and I’m so excited. I have a very soon-to-be-announced book coming out with Union Square Kids. It is a lyrical nonfiction picture book, but I can’t share many details yet. I received initial black and white sketches this week and they are ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. I am awaiting a contract for another picture book with SEL components that should be out in 2025 as well. I’m also working on many other picture books and a young adult novel. I love infusing my Jersey Girl humor where and when I can. Finally, I’m doing a lot of developmental editing for clients and ghost writing and having so much fun helping others bring their stories to life!
These books sound interesting, can't wait to hear more about them. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park (anywhere in the world)? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Central Park is my favorite! In fact, it’s possible I’m working on a nonfiction picture book featuring Central Park. Stay tuned…
Thank you, Lauren, for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
To find out more about Lauren H. Kerstein, or contact her:
Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/LaurenKerstein
Review of Remembering Sundays with Grandpa
This is a very touching and uplifting book of a mother and son exploring and experiencing their memories of Grandpa as a way to keep his love close after his death.
Remembering Sundays with Grandpa
Author: Lauren H. Kerstein
Illustrator: Nanette Regan
Publisher: Beaming Books (2023)
Family, loss, grief, healing, memories, and forever love.
Henry and his mom feel Grandpa's love in all his special places: in the rocking chair where he read stories with silly voices, in the cucumbers that always made him hiccup, and in the jewelry box he used to wind up so they could dance. As they remember the many loving moments they shared, they work through their grief.
Remembering Sundays with Grandpa illustrates how even when someone is no longer part of the physical world, their love lives on forever.
Henry peeked out from under his covers.
Sundays weren’t the same since Grandpa died.
Grandpa had slept a lot when he visited last month, but he’d also said
something Henry would never forget.
What I LOVED about this book:
Such a powerful opening. We immediately feel the depth of Henry's loss as he stares from under his blankets at a photo of Grandpa, Mom, & himself on the bedside table. And his memory of Grandpa. But also, a sense of curiosity - what had Grandpa said?
Text © Lauren Kerstein, 2023. Image © Nanette Regan, 2023.
“I’ve done a lot of things in all my years,” he said. “But the most wonderful
thing has been loving you.”
Henry would give anything for one more Sunday with Grandpa.
Nanette captured such a precious, tender moment between Henry and Grandpa looking through a pair of scrapbooks. Throughout the book, Henry's memories of things Grandpa said or did are beautifully set into similar enclosed circular, "spot" images (though of varying sizes), while the current day house and yard are represented as full page images. It's a very effective way to highlight Henry's memories of Grandpa. When Henry heads downstairs and mentions to his mom that he wishes Grandpa weren't gone, "Henry and his mom held each other. Sometimes hugs were better than words." And Nanette gives us a poignant, wordless moment to savor this loving, commiserating, consoling hug shared between them.
Mom challenges Henry to see the love Grandpa left around the house. Exploring with him the places and things that Grandpa loved - his rocking chair, the garden, Mom's matching smile, and a special hat. Until Henry himself choses Mom's music box and "They danced silly moves, just like Grandpa. Their laughter grew and grew until . . . tears danced down their faces." I think this might be my favorite spread because I used to dance as a child around the room with my grandfather.
Text © Lauren Kerstein, 2023. Image © Nanette Regan, 2023.
Lauren's succinct and heart-felt text combines beautifully with Nanette's soft, tender, and often wordless illustrations. As Lauren mentioned above, kids will enjoy searching for the butterflies Nanette added to almost every spread. With the first real butterfly outside the window as Henry sits in Grandpa's rocking chair and remembers reading there with Grandpa. This particular orange butterfly appears to follow them through their search for special places.
With a fun, very child-like sense of humor, Henry explains where he'll always feel Grandpa's love. His infectious impishness makes this memory perfect. The ending is both encouraging and acknowledging that it isn't an instant fix, but a special Sunday routine to ease the ache and help a young boy happily remember his grandpa. This is a touching and helpful book for children (and adults) coming to terms with any loss.
- Grandpa and Henry enjoyed sharing chocolate chip cookies. Are there special foods or desserts you enjoyed making or sharing with your family member or friend? Create a special little book or notebook of special recipes. Add a drawing or photo of you sharing it together.
- can you think of a special place or something you did with a family member, friend, or pet? Draw a picture or write a note about the memory.
- pair this with Grief is an Elephant by Tamara Ellis Smith, illustrated by Nancy Whitesides, Remembering Ethan by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop, and You'll Find Me by Amanda Rawson Hill, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.