Credit a pack of Medford’s hungry squirrels to the launching of a local children’s book author.
Over the years, the multi-talented Susan Axe-Bronk has held a wide variety of careers as an artist, teacher, Jewish educator and psychologist. Her writing has ranged from academic papers to poetry to Purim shpiels to animated cartoons.
Her big break in the competitive world of children’s books began more than 15 years ago, when the Axe-Bronk family lived in West Medford. Her then-young kids were raking leaves and noticed that a pile of gourds was growing in the very spot where their beloved family sukkah stood the year before. Excited by the discovery, the kids and their parents realized that the gourds were the result of the discarded seeds dropped by squirrels who nibbled at the squash plants hanging as decorations in the small hut they erected the year before to celebrate Sukkot. This year, the eight-day biblical harvest festival, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, begins on the evening of Sunday, September 27.
“I knew at that moment I wanted to turn this into a children’s story,” Axe-Bronk said, recognizing that the squirrel-gourds incident with its element of surprise made for a good Sukkot story about the essence of the harvest festival. Kids are attracted to the holiday, she added, comparing the sukkah with a full-size playhouse that kids can decorate. “The Vanishing Gourds” was published just before Sukkot in 2012 by Kar-Ben, a publishing house that specializes in Jewish children’s books, and this season Axe-Bronk, who now lives in Newton, brings her story back to Medford, in a reading, enlivened with puppets and sing-a-long songs at Temple Shalom on Sunday, September 27. Later that day, she’ll present her book at Kolbo Judaica Gallery in Brookline.
In Axe-Bronk’s fictional tale, a spirited young girl named Sara loves to jump in piles of leaves, bake pumpkin pies, and decorate the family sukkah with colorful and unusually shaped gourds she picks with her younger brother Avi from a local farm. But one year, the gourds, hung from the roof slats of the sukkah, begin to mysteriously disappear. One night, as Sara and her brother Avi are sleeping in the sukkah, they are awakened and discover a family of squirrels eating the gourds.
Sara later dreams that the squirrel family apologizes, explaining that they were hungry. They promise to bring new gourds to Sara next year. In a heartwarming and happy ending, Sara discovers an unexpected gift the following Sukkot.
Kids will delight in Marta Monelli’s large format, bright illustrations that glow with the seasonal colors with a parade of gourds and pumpkins that come in many shapes, colors and sizes. Axe-Bronk is thrilled with the story’s staying power and with her active calendar of readings at synagogues, day schools and Jewish community centers.
“You always wonder how your book will do in a year or two [after publication]. Will it have traction?” Axe-Bronk said. For two years, the book was a selection of the Grinspoon Foundation’s PJ Library. It’s a popular read with high rankings on Amazon’s Jewish and religious children’s book categories and has garnered strong reviews from children’s educators and librarians.
Axe-Bronk is excited about the upcoming reading at Temple Shalom, where the family were active members, in the city where her lifelong dream to become a children’s writer took root.
“Sukkot continues to be a source of inspiration,” Axe-Bronk said, adding that the holiday is the subject of new works yet to come.
A book signing and sukkah decorating will follow Story Time Live on Sunday, September 27, 10-11 a.m. at Temple Shalom, 475 Winthrop St., Medford. Light lunch served. Free, open to the public. RSVP at Bit.ly/VanishingGourds. Visit templeshalommedford.org
Meet the Author at Sukkot Family Book Event, on Sunday, September 27, 1:30 pm, at Kolbo Judaica Gallery, 437 Harvard Street, Brookline. Visit kolbo.com.