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  About Rachel's Gift

Rachel’s Gift was my second picture book, and also the second book in the Rachel Series. Until I started writing Rachel’s Gift I didn’t know how lucky I had been in the writing of my first book, Rachel Captures the Moon.
I knew I wanted to write a Passover story and I also knew I wanted to include Elijah the Prophet in the story (Elijah is rumoured to wander the world in disguise, visiting homes during Passover and bestowing good fortune on those most deserving).

After a few false starts, I came up with a story that I thought was a real winner. It was set in Chelm just like Rachel Captures the Moon, and was a story of a bowl of soup that falls into the wrong hands (or the right hands, depending which way you look at it). I called it “Soup with Legs”. Here’s the cover from the dummy book I prepared.

Soup with Legs

It needs Editing!!

I really loved this story (in fact, I still do even though when I ‘rediscovered’ it a few months ago and showed it to my thirteen year-old son, he said ‘Dad, it needs serious editing’).

Anyway, it turns out I was the only one who loved it. My publisher sent me back to the drawing board. But in a nice way. So I returned to the Jewish Public Library (where I did all my ‘research’ which involved reading tons of Jewish folktales) and found a great story…. ‘The Magician’ by I.L. Peretz.

In that story, Elijah comes to the Passover Seder and magically makes a wonderful meal appear, to the delight of a poor family. For me, the combination of Passover, Elijah and magic was irresistible.

But it wasn’t until about a year later that I actually sat down to write Rachel’s Gift. The first draft was written the evening before the Passover Seder at my home and read to the guests. A nice story, everyone agreed, but when is dessert? Over the course of the next year and a half, I revised it a few times, met with my writing group and revised it a couple of more times, met with my editor and revised it yet some more.

An Inspiring Photograph

And then it was time to do the pictures.

I use photographic references for some of my art. My favourite sources are Roman Vishniac’s “A Vanished World”; and the photos of Alter Kacyzne. I copy bits and pieces from different photographs and incorporate them into my own sketches.

One bonus of using images as references for my art is that looking at them can sometimes inspire a direction for a story. In Rachel’s Gift, the “miracle” that Elijah brings is a rose in full bloom at a time of year when it is too early for flowers to grow. The idea of the rose as the “miracle” came to me from a Vishniac photograph. The photo depicts a young girl – she can’t be much more than 7 or 8 years old – sitting upright on her bed, covered by blankets. She is in a windowless basement and is looking straight at the camera with big soulful eyes. But the viewer’s eyes are drawn from the girl’s face to directly behind her, where, etched on the otherwise stark cement wall is an incongruous drawing of two flowers. The caption of the photograph reads:

“Since the basement had no heat, Sara had to stay in bed all winter. Her father painted the flowers for her, the only flowers of her childhood. Warsaw, 1939.” (Vishniac, 1983)


** click here to read more about the making of Rachel’s Gift in my 2004 Speech to the Association of Jewish Libraries Annual Conference, "Heaven and Chelm, Writing and Illustrating the Jewish Folktale"

  click to enlarge

Published by Tundra Books
ISBN: 978-0-88776-616-9

        Cover artwork used with permission.
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content & artwork © Richard Ungar | website by Hoffworks