Author Interview and GIVEAWAY with debut author Jenna Waldman about her PJ Library Books: Larry’s Latkes, illustrated by Ben Whitehouse, and Sharkbot Shalom, illustrated by Sharon Davey

Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,

We’ve got a double feature today with our interview with my wonderful friend and agency sister Jenna Waldman! You’re in for quite a treat!

Kaitlyn: Hi, Jenna, thank you so much for joining us!

Jenna: Kaitlyn! I am so thrilled to be here!

Kaitlyn: Awe, I’m so glad you’re as excited as I am! First, can you share what inspired each of these books and a bit about their journeys into the world?

Jenna: Of course! Although Sharkbot Shalom will be released prior to Larry’s Latkes, I actually wrote and sold Larry’s Latkes first. It began as an entry to Susanna Hill’s 2018 Holiday Contest. The theme was “Holiday Hero”. Being Jewish, I wanted to write a Hanukkah story, and the first stanza of Larry’s Latkes popped into my brain while brainstorming:

Big Larry ran a latke shop

for tater loving gators.

And it went on from there! The story tied for fourth place in the contest, and I felt it had potential. After some revising (thank you CP’s!) it received a 1 from Rate Your Stories, and later, it caught Lori Degman’s attention for the inaugural #PBChat Mentorship in 2019. By that point, I had an R&R with Apples & Honey Press, so the timing was perfect. With Lori’s help, I revised and sold the manuscript at the end of 2019.

The joy of selling my first book fueled my wish to sell another, and now, I had the ear of a publisher (I was still unagented). Apples & Honey Press is a Jewish publisher, and Larry’s Latkes was my only Jewish themed story, so I was starting from scratch. My older son was obsessed with everything shark, and my younger son loved robots. I started teasing them with my own version of the song “Shabbat Shalom!” that I had transformed into “Sharkbot Shalom!”. I wrote the first draft of the Sharkbot manuscript at the beginning of January, 2020, and received the offer in February, 2020. This turnaround is VERY unusual, and I don’t expect it to happen again!

Ben Whitehouse

Kaitlyn: Haha, I just adore “tater-loving gators” and I’m so happy it, as well as wonderful contests, brought about the wonderful Larry as your character. And, wow, that is amazing turn-around!! Can you share a bit more about why you chose an alligator for your main character?

Jenna: As I wrote above, the first stanza came to me while brainstorming, and became the launching point for the story. Since the stanza mentions “gators”, I went with it! We’re always told to not let the rhyme dictate the story, and this is VERY good advice. Except, sometimes “tater” will rhyme with “gator” and suddenly you’re writing about a latke loving alligator with a food truck! So while the rhyme shouldn’t dictate the story, it definitely can help inspire it. The original story was “gator-centric”, but the final book evolved to include other animals as well, and that original first stanza no longer exists, but I’m thankful for it. 

Kaitlyn: It can be so difficult to let our beautiful words go, but I’m so glad you found words that you love even more for Larry. Now, for your other story, Sharkbot Shalom, you focus on slowing down and recharging your batteries, how did the character Sharkbot come about?

Jenna: I told the story about my boys’ interests inspiring the transformation of “Shabbat Shalom” into “Sharkbot Shalom”. While thinking about the story, it felt natural to have a robot wanting to “recharge” on Shabbat, and that adding the countdown would add a natural hook, and tension. 

Kaitlyn: Yes, I love the added layer of a countdown, and I’m also a huge fan of mindfulness, so I really adored your Try This at the end of your book! Can you share how you came up with this?

Jenna: Apples & Honey Press loves including extra content in their books, and I love it too! Larry’s Latkes has a latke recipe that I created (through a lot of trial and error) using ingredients from the book. It was my brilliant editors’ idea to include a mindfulness exercise for Sharkbot Shalom—thank you Alef and Dena! I enjoyed creating the exercise and filling it with ocean imagery. Like Sharkbot, we all have our moments of anxiety or stress. I‘ve had my own experience with anxiety as a child, and as an adult. I hope the exercise can help kids and parents alike to “recharge”. 

Sharon Davey

Kaitlyn: Ha, I think I need a picture of the trial-and-error latkes, and love that you enjoyed creating an exercise to help kids and parents recharge. Both of these books are fun rhyming books. Can you talk a bit about writing in rhyme?

Jenna: Oh goodness, where to begin?! I love puzzles: logic puzzles, number puzzles, word puzzles, puzzle puzzles. Writing in rhyme is solving a puzzle—you have to make the combination of words agree with the intended rhyme/meter, while still moving your story forward. Does it require a lot of coffee? Yes. Is it easier with a cat purring on your lap. Well, yes, but only if you like cats. 

Since I was little, I’ve loved rhyming. Meter, on the other hand, I didn’t even really understand what it was until I began receiving critiques on my poetry/rhyming pb’s. I read, studied, and received critiques, until it clicked. I always recommend reading Mary Oliver’s, Rules For The Dance, if you are looking for an introduction to meter. Absolutely get yourself a critique group with people who are better at rhyming than you. Practice. Read. Ask questions. Really, it’s fun! (I swear my fingers aren’t crossed under the table.)

One last thing—I am not a talented singer, but I do find it extremely helpful to make up songs. I play around a lot with silly words and ridiculous lyrics, and sometimes, like with Sharkbot, they end up working.

Kaitlyn: Yes yes yes! Rhyme is definitely a puzzle, and what a great recommendation, thank you! Meter is such a beast, but once you get a hang of it, it can be so fun! Both of these fun books are published by Apple & Honey, can you share a bit about your editorial experience at Apples & Honey?

Jenna: I’ve really enjoyed working with Apples & Honey Press! My primary editor is Alef Davis, and she’s amazing. I am so thankful that she enjoyed Larry’s Latkes enough to ask for an R&R, and saw its potential. It went through a transformation during the editorial process, and I was lucky to have someone with wonderful humor and intelligence to work with on my first experience with publishing. I’m currently working on a third book with her, and hope for more beyond.

Kaitlyn: That’s so wonderful to hear that revise and resubmits can have such a happy ending–and start to a long picture book career! Can you share who your agent is and why you enjoy working with this agent? 

Jenna: Many thanks to Justin Colon and the #PBChat Mentee Showcase—it’s how I connected with the wonderful Joyce Sweeney! Joyce is available, fun to speak with, and inspiring. She listens to all of my wacky ideas, and encourages them. I’m happy to have an agent that pushes me. For example: I have an art/design background and a dream of illustrating. Joyce has challenged me to make it happen. I hope to be back on your blog with an illustration debut someday!

Kaitlyn: Ah! Yes! I love that about our agent, she is so wonderful, and I can’t wait to have you back when your first author-illustrated book is coming out! You have been matched up with some wonderful illustrators. Can you share a bit about your experience with illustrators?

Jenna: I love both Sharon Davey (Sharkbot) and Ben Whitehouse’s (Larry’s Latkes) work! We had the typical structure of not working together directly, but had our editors as the middle-women. I had some art notes, with the original manuscripts, and was surprised when one of my editors asked for more notes for Larry’s Latkes. We’re always told to limit notes in our submissions, but my editor was curious about my ideas for some elements in the story. Both artists created amazing worlds, adding their own unique visions. I love the little details in Larry’s Latkes, and the gorgeous palette in Sharkbot. Sharon and Ben both live in the UK, and we’ve connected over social media. I love attending events with both the author and illustrator present, and hope that might happen someday. My books simply wouldn’t be what they are if it weren’t for these two talented individuals—eternal thanks to them.

Kaitlyn: I love this answer so much; they are both so talented just like you are, and it’s absolutely wonderful to see what you’ve created together through your wonderful editors! Can you share some advice you like to give to aspiring authors?

Jenna: A lifetime ago, when I worked as a toy designer, I didn’t understand why the toy company didn’t have kids come in to test out our prototypes. I had no kids of my own, and no one I knew did either. Now, as a mom, I realize what a difference it would have made if I had kids in my life at that time—seeing what they liked/didn’t like, how they interacted with the product, it’s strengths and weaknesses, and being inspired by the kids’ creativity. 

My advice to aspiring kidlit authors is to have face time with kids! Or have friends/family read your work to their kids and give feedback. It’s good to know your demographic. I recently attended a webinar with the poet Janet Wong. She spoke about testing children’s poems in front of a classroom to gauge the poems strength. The same is true for your PB, chapter book, etc. It can be intimidating to share your work with a room of 5 year olds, or even just one 5 year old, but their feedback might be just what you need!

Kaitlyn: Great advice! Little kids can definitely give you some fun and interesting and definitely honest reactions. You have the wonderful honor of having both of your books being PJ Library selections. Can you share a bit about this fantastic organization and what this honor means to you?

Jenna: Yes! We’ve been receiving PJ Library books since my youngest began preschool. PJ Library sends children, ages 0-9, free age appropriate books that speak to Jewish values, and traditions. We’ve received everything from classic Jewish folk stories to a biography of RBG. They’ve also sent craft projects, aprons, and a set of family Haggadahs. I can’t believe my books will be sent to tens of thousands of PJ Library households this Fall, it’s mind blowing! I’m really honored. 

Kaitlyn: Just so amazing! Congrats again! Can you share how you and your team work on marketing your books?

Jenna: I am really lucky to be a part of the promo group, Picture Book Playground. It’s a group of 22 PB creators, with books coming out in ‘21 and beyond. We work hard to spread the word of each other’s books, and the group’s support has been amazing. Apples & Honey is not a large publisher, but we spoke about marketing, sharing my work on fantastic blogs (like yours!), and pros and cons of swag—which I’m still finalizing. I spent the whole year watching and learning about virtual visits/launches, but my first event will be in person. I’ll be reading Sharkbot Shalom at a PJ Library of Silicon Valley event, at one of my favorite beaches. (Join us if you’re in the Bay Area!) There are future events in the works. 

Ashley Belote

Kaitlyn: How exciting! I can’t wait to see the swag and hear all about your beach event! Can you share with us what’s next for you or what you’re working on now?

Jenna: I have another book coming out in Spring ‘23 with Apples & Honey Press that is in the editing stage. I usually have poems in the works, although it’s been hard to keep up with them this summer. I have some ideas for projects I plan to tackle when the boys are back in school. But even when I’m not putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, I’m brewing ideas in my brain. Always Be Brewing! Where’s my coffee...

Kaitlyn: Hahahaha you’re so hilarious, Jenna! And I hope you get back to writing soon but enjoy time with your kids! Finally, if you could meet your favorite author, illustrator, historical figure, or mathematician would you chat by a fireside or go on an adventure?

Jenna: Oh my, so hard to choose! I’d have a chat with Maurice Sendak. Aside from In The Night Kitchen being one of my favorite books, he was an interesting (and complicated!) character, with wisdom to pass on. I mean, here’s a quote from a radio interview: “I’m writing a poem right now about a nose. I’ve always wanted to write a poem about a nose. But it’s a ludicrous subject. That’s why, when I was younger, I was afraid of [writing] something that didn’t make a lot of sense. But now I’m not. I have nothing to worry about. It doesn’t matter.” I don’t want to wait until I’m 83 to write my “nose poem”. 

And then I’m off on an adventure in Busytown with RIchard Scarry—I’ve gotta get a ride in one of his pencil cars!  (And the pickle car, cheese car, doughnut car, and most definitely…the shark car.)

Kaitlyn: Wow, I adore Sendak’s quote and love that you’re following your passions, too! Look at the wonderful places it’s taken you already, and I always wanted to be in the pickle car too. I will join you and we can race! Thank you so much for sharing and for joining us today, Jenna!

Jenna: Thank you SO much, Kaitlyn! 

Book info and links (This is where the info for my books and order links are located. Feel free to use the descriptions from this page)

For ordering books: Pre-order Sharkbot Shalom and Larry’s Latkes wherever you buy books! (Patronize your Indies!  If you would like a signed copy, please order from Linden Tree Books, and ask for a signed copy in the order comments.

Author Bio and links

Jenna Waldman is the author of the forthcoming picture books, LARRY’S LATKES and SHARKBOT SHALOM. They will both be released in 2021 by Apples & Honey Press. Jenna is originally from Rhode Island, but now lives in the SF Bay Area. She shares her home with her husband, their two boys, and two felines. Jenna is represented by Joyce Sweeney of The Seymour Agency.

Twitter: @sarafinadesign

Instagram: jennawaldmanauthor

Kaitlyn’s Review of Larry’s Latkes and Sharkbot Shalom

Larry’s Latkes

This story is such a wonderful treat for every child and especially those, like my daughter, who love cooking. The story is super fun and one of my favorites to read aloud with great rhymes and fun exclamations. For those who love beautiful, bright artwork, this will also be a hit. It gets a big thumbs up from our household!

Sharkbot Shalom

This story is a wonderful way to help children understand that it’s okay to be anxious while also showing them how they can deal with it without being didactic. There’s also a great countdown element that is super fun for kids!


Do you want to win a signed copy Larry’s Latkes, Sharkbot Shalom, (US only) or a picture book manuscript critique?

You can enter in the follow ways (each earns you another entry into the random drawing)

  1. Comment on this post
  2. Share in the comments below that you added Larry’s Latkes or Sharkbot Shalom to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist 
  3. Share in the comments that you ordered a copy of Larry’s Latkes or Sharkbot Shalom
  4. Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for Larry’s Latkes or Sharkbot Shalom at your library
  5. Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.


Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez

PS. If you haven’t signed up for our summer soiree, sign up before spots run out; we’re going to chat about kidlit and dance dance dance! Hope to see you all there!

40 thoughts on “Author Interview and GIVEAWAY with debut author Jenna Waldman about her PJ Library Books: Larry’s Latkes, illustrated by Ben Whitehouse, and Sharkbot Shalom, illustrated by Sharon Davey

  1. Getting the meter correct is definitely like a puzzle to me too and I’m still studying mentor texts to figure out how to solve it for myself. Thanks for the fun interview! I added both books to my Goodreads.


    1. Thank you so much, Danielle! I was given the advise to transcribe mentor texts to help with understanding the meter. It forces you to pay close attention to what works! Good luck, and keep rhyming ; )


  2. I loved reading about your writing journey. Congratulations on your books! I can’t wait to read them!


  3. Thank you ladies for sharing this interview. It’s jampacked with great insight into all parts of the picture book process. Love that you agree rhymes shouldn’t dictate the story, but can certainly “inspire it.” That’s a terrific takeaway for understanding the rules, but still doing what feels right for the story.
    These books look terrific! And I’m completely in love with Big Larry and Sharkbot ❤


  4. HUUUGGGE congratulations, Jenna!!!

    You are an expert rhymer and expert storyteller, with a really fun voice. Kids will love these!

    Fantastic interview! Best wishes with your new books! 🙂


  5. So interesting!! Thanks for sharing the meter resources; I will definitely check them out. I love hearing about a successful rhymer getting published. Gives me hope 😉 also surprising about the art notes! Congrats on the books.


  6. Both books sound like such fun! It was especially rewarding to read about Jenna’s experience creating them.
    Added both to Amazon wishlist. Looking forward to them.


  7. Congratulations! What a lovely interview! I added both books to my kindergarten book wishlist on Amazon! I can’t wait for them to come out 🙂


  8. How fabulous, Jenna! Congrats! I can’t wait to read these myself, and maybe I’ll even let my grandkids borrow them! Fun interview!


  9. It is a delight to see these out in print, Jenna, and to see another is on its way. I can’t wait to pore over the pictures but mostly I am curious about the directions the text took. Well done!


  10. I’ve admired Jenna’s writing ever since I saw the holiday contest version of Larry’s Latkes — it really stood out!


  11. Delightful interview Kaitlyn and Jenna. Jenna, thank you for sharing the journey behind your two books. I also appreciate the tip about Mary Oliver’s book on rhyme. Congratulations Jenna and illustrators Sharon and Ben! These books are going on my TBR list!


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