Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Interview With Linda Leopold Strauss Author of THE ELIJAH DOOR, A PASSOVER TALE

Linda Leopold Strauss is the author of THE ELIJAH DOOR, A PASSOVER TALE, which has been named a Sydney Taylor Award Honor Book. Congratulations, Linda!

Here’s a brief Synopsis: For years the Galinskys and the Lippas have shared Seder, the special Passover dinner, together. But no more! Mama Lippa shuts her windows tight against Galinsky voices. Papa Galinsky cuts a new side door into the house to avoid seeing any Lippas. But David Lippa and Rachel Galinsky love each other; and fortunately they have a trick up their sleeves.

This charming folktale, stunningly illustrated with hand-painted woodcuts, celebrates the joys of love, freedom, and family.

1.     Linda, what inspired you to write THE ELIJAH DOOR?

     It’s always difficult to piece together the origins of a book, but I did find some journal notes on this one.  Evidently I was taking a walk just before Passover in a year when it was our family’s turn to host our seder.  And it was to be a big seder, lots of family and friends.  So as I was walking, I was thinking, “Where am I going to put all these people?”  Our dining room table wasn’t big enough; card tables would help, but would all the tables needed even fit into the dining room?  And then I passed a house high on a hill which had its front door open, and I thought, “What if a family seder needed so many tables that the tables ran completely through the house and out the front door?”  And then I imagined two side-by-side houses with seders spilling out the two front doors and meeting in the middle.  And I loved that image.  So that was the beginning of the story…

2.     My favorite thing about your book is the mood it creates, starting with the very first sentence, “Many Passovers past, in side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia, the Lippas and the Galinskys raised their children, pulled their beets, and shared their holidays almost as one family.” What put you in the storytelling mood when writing this book? Did you look at old photographs, travel to Europe, listen to music, or something else?

     The Passovers of my childhood were always spent at the home of my paternal grandparents, so when I think of Passover and seders, I always think of them as well.  My grandparents were from Eastern Europe, from a place that was always described to me as being “sometimes Russia and sometimes Poland.”  Because my grandparents (whose last name, by the way, was originally Lippa) spoke mainly Yiddish, I wasn’t able to talk with them much about their lives there, though I do remember my grandmother’s once saying that the thing she missed most about the old country was her cow.  But I was certainly aware of that Eastern European heritage, and of course as I grew up, I learned more about Eastern European shtetl culture in general.  It was probably because of my association of Passover with my grandparents that I decided to set my story in a town like the one I imagined my grandparents’ town to be.  I also researched pre-World War II shtetl culture, using mostly a remarkable book called THERE ONCE WAS A WORLD, by Yaffa Eliach.  And I think the minute I wrote that first sentence (“Many Passovers past, in side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia…”) the folktale voice for the story was set. 
     In addition, as I was writing the story, I kept hearing the cadence of my grandparents’ Yiddish-speaking voices in my head.  The repetition of phrases, the rhythms, the word combinations.  And I think their voices also very much informed the way I wrote the story.

3.     I love the unique way your book is illustrated with hand-painted woodcuts. Have you met your illustrator? Are the two of you involved in any cross-promotions?

     I haven’t yet met Alexi Natchev, nor did I even speak with him until the book was published.  That’s not unusual, as picture book editors often serve as go-betweens between author and illustrator.  But after THE ELIJAH DOOR came out, Alexi and I talked several times on the phone, and we will meet in Cincinnati when he comes for the closing event of a major exhibit of his original ELIJAH DOOR artwork at Hebrew Union College’s Skirball Art Museum (February 3 to March 31).  In my opinion, Holiday House made the perfect match-up of art and text in this book, and I’m thrilled that Alexi’s artwork will be getting the recognition it deserves.  A personal note:  Soon after the book came out, I purchased the original woodcut of the seder scene from the book as a gift for our younger daughter and her family, and it now has pride of place in their home in Los Angeles.  

4.     I read on your website that THE ELIJAH DOOR has been selected for the PJ Library. Can you tell us more about that for readers who may not be familiar with it?
     PJ Library is essentially a free book club, underwritten by foundations – parents and grandparents sign up their young children to receive monthly selections of books and music on Jewish themes chosen by the PJ Library Committee.  I was delighted to get an email about PJ Library’s selection, since it means that thousands of seven-year-old children will receive THE ELIJAH DOOR free of charge in March, just in time for their Passover celebrations.  And that includes our granddaughter in California, already a member of the PJ Library, who will be receiving a copy of my book as her March 2013 selection!    

     For more information on PJ Library, blog readers can go to

5.     A final note:  As I was completing my ELIJAH DOOR story, I began to write “And to this day they [the villagers] still welcome Elijah the Prophet to their Seder through the famous Elijah door.”  And then it struck me that I couldn’t use those words, because after World War II, Eastern European shtetl communities like that of the Galinskys and the Lippas no longer exist. 
     So I had to change the way I ended the manuscript.  Like the Eastern European shtetl culture, this, too, would have to be a story of the past.


  1. Wonderful post. It sounds like an intriguing book, and I love the title. Thanks for the interview, Ladies!

  2. “Many Passovers past, in side-by-side houses in a small village that was sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia, the Lippas and the Galinskys raised their children, pulled their beets, and shared their holidays almost as one family.”

    LOVE the lyricism and the story and the history in this. That phrase "sometimes Poland and sometimes Russia" - so much history right there. I find those changing boundaries and governments hard to explain. Fascinating to know this is how your grandparents described it to you.

    I am most eager to get my hands on your book, Linda. Congrats on the Sydney Taylor honor! Thank you Shannon for the lovely interview!

    Oh, and those woodcuts - phenomenal!

    1. You're welcome, Joyce. This book would make a lovely read aloud. Most of the women in my writer's critique group are Jewish and I can't wait to share this book with them.

  3. This truly is a perfect match between words and images. Lovely interview!

    1. I agree! I read the words, then I looked at the pages, and then on the third time through I put it all together. So many lovely images both in word and picture.

  4. Good interview. This will be a nice addition to my Jewish book shelf, especially with Passover coming up next month.

  5. Wonderful interview, Shannon. I love this book & feel it deserves every recognition it has received.

  6. Thanks, Kathy. I agree that's it's a lovely, lovely book!