Green Bean Books

Q&A with Katie Sassienie

1. Why was this book a project you were excited to take on? 

Though it can’t possibly top the chocolate and gifts at Channukah, or the dressing up at Purim, I think Sukkot is one of the most child-friendly festivals – the story, the themes, and of course, the sukkah! I wanted to create an exciting, accessible and insightful story that didn’t feel too educational, but could still be a springboard to discuss the festival in greater detail with little ones.

2. In what ways do you hope this story inspires children? 

I hope that by seeing the sukkah come to life, young children – even those who have never experienced Sukkot, or won’t be building their own sukkah – will be inspired to get outside, explore and enjoy nature and see what they can create! 

3. Where did the inspiration for the book come from? Did any personal experiences inspire this story? 

There are lots of brilliant books out there about construction, diggers and building things, as well as books celebrating nature – these are things many young children really love and connect with. I thought that focusing on the building element of Sukkot, set in a garden, could be a good way to teach children about the festival, tapping into the themes and topics they love!  

4. Do you see a Jewish value behind the tale, and if so, what is it?

As well as building the sukkah – which shows two children being really helpful! – the story also offers a glimpse into how the sukkah is used during the festival, demonstrating the importance of family and quality time together. And beyond the story, Sukkot is the perfect festival to practice and discuss Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. Hopefully this book will be a great springboard into discussing these issues. 

5. Where do you stand on the ‘Own Voices’ debate? For a Jewish story, do you think it’s important to have a Jewish author? Could your story have been written just as well by a non-Jewish author? 

This is a HUGE question to answer in a few lines, so I’ll answer in terms of my story. This isn’t based on my personal experience (admittedly, I have never built a sukkah!), and I do think a non-Jewish writer could have carried the required research to write this text as accurately as I have tried to. However, if a Jewish child reads and enjoys this story and sees it’s written by an author who is Jewish like them, it could inspire them to want to write too! 

6. Do you still grapple with what it means to be Jewish? What does it mean to you? 

Growing up, I felt a huge sense of community at my synagogue, where I went to Sunday School and summer camps, and I had a Bat Mitzvah and became a youth leader. I definitely felt at home there, and connected to my Judaism, without needing to consider my own specific religious beliefs. But as an adult, and particularly since my grandparents passed away, I’ve given more thought to what my religion means to me and how I can honour the traditions I grew up with, even if I’m not typically ‘religious’. This is something I am still navigating, but writing Jewish stories definitely feels like something my grandparents would have loved me doing! 

7. Which Jewish stories, or secular children’s books, did you love as a child? 

My Sunday School teacher read the iconic Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume with my class when I was 10 or 11. I remember it felt really exciting that there was a Jewish main character in a ‘regular’ coming-of-age book. I was so excited to see it released as a movie in 2023! 

8. What words of wisdom can you offer for aspiring writers?

Getting the first lines down on paper is always the hardest part, but just start writing! I’ve had to teach myself not to worry about the first draft being perfect, as I usually chop and change it until it’s unrecognisable anyway.