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The Backstory of A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale

The Backstory:

After sending countless stories to one editor, and getting rejected, I asked her, "What would you like to see from me in the future?" She told me to send her a folktale.

So, that day, I went to the library and took out a lot of folktale books--about 20 or so--borrowed more from friends, and bought some on-line. Then for days, I sat and read folktales from morning to night. I didn't skip any--just in case the one I skipped happened to be the perfect one. I kept looking for a folktale I could simplify--folktales that no one reworked for a while--folktales that Disney didn't redo.

I had many more books, but these are the three that I wound up buying....

I came across two Yiddish folktales that I loved: one of them I had heard back when I was younger and the other one I had never heard of before.

At 3am that night, after going over and over one of the folktales in my head all day long, I wrote this down on a sticky note:

In case you can't chicken-scratch, it says:

No room to sit,

no room to pace,

no room to rest,

no extra space!

That little rhyme was just what I needed as a starting point. I couldn't wait to begin working on it in the morning.

I love repeated refrains, bits of rhyme, and lyrical writing. I'm also a sucker for a good animal pun, if it isn't forced. And, most of the time, I add in a touch of adult humor to my books. Also, after reading hundreds of folktales, I noticed that not one of them had a wise woman in charge. So, I put a wise woman in my folktale instead of a wise man. Times have changed.

Once I finished the story, sent it to my critique groups, proofread it (until I couldn't see the words anymore), I sent it to the editor that asked me to write a folktale for her. But, as luck would have it, by the time I wrote it, and sent it her way, she had already acquired a story that was too similar. Okay.....

This time though, unlike my previous 14 traditionally-published books, which I sold myself and negotiated with the help of Mary Flower (a book lawyer), I had an agent. I ran it by her and she loved it. She sent it out on submission in March and we got a response in April!

During that process, I also re-imagined another Yiddish folktale. It's simplified, lyrical, and very loosely based on a folktale. But, I haven't sold that story yet as I'm waiting to get another agent. (My agent had to cut back her list.) I can't get into the publishing houses that I used to get into without one. So, right now that other folktale is tucked away in my drawer with all of the other manuscripts waiting to get published, or waiting to be reworked. (I've been writing for years. Don't be scared at the massive amount of files.)

When my agent first submitted the book, it was called, "No Extra Space," but my editor, Andrea Hall, wanted to change it to have the word "folktale" in it, which was a great suggestion. It's now called, "A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale."

Andrea also chose an amazing illustrator for my story: Kristina Swarner. Her work has a whimsical, dreamy feel to it. Kristina even added humor in her illustrations which elevate the story even more.

Here's the toilet paper scene, which quacked me up (Check out the duck.):

Kristina showed her process on Instagram. She's a print maker, so it takes her a long time to do each illustration.

First "she does a sketch, and then transfers it onto a linoleum block.

Then she carves out areas that will be white or light colored in the final piece, inks up the block, and makes a black and white print on heavy paper.

Once that's dry, she works over it with watercolors and colored pencils."

Here she is working on the flaps for our book:

I can't stop looking at her illustrations. Every time I do, I see something new. Her work is very detailed: the wallpaper, the curtains, the fabric on the wise woman's dress, the fur on the cats, everything has intricate patterns.

I can't wait until this book comes out on October 1, 2020. It feels like a lifetime away, but it's really just around the corner.

People have been asking me where they can get signed copies of, "A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale," once it comes out on October 1, 2020, and I've been telling them that they can call The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ. Here's the info:

I can sign them!

The Bookworm can ship them!

The Bookworm


Here's the book trailer for "A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale":

If you don't need the book signed, just order it from any book store or order it on-line at Amazon:


About the Author:

Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of many picture books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match, was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Children's Literature Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit's Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children's Book Council Children's Choices Award recipients; three of her books, Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (in 2005), Bandit (in 2009), and Ferret Fun (in 2012) were all chosen for the 100 Best Children's Books in the Bureau of Education and Research's Best of the Year Handbook. Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo and Ferret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen's book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples and Honey Press, a division of Behrman House, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017 and went out to 21,000 4-year-olds in the US and Canada. Her latest books will be coming out in 2020: A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Whitman) and Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen), which is also a PJ Library Selection and will be going out to 29,000 children in 2021. She's also published a board book, Tea Time (Marshall Cavendish) , Ferret Fun in the Sun (Marshall Cavendish), a novelty book, Food Fright (PSS), The Family and Frog Haggadah (Behrman House), and 4 adult humor books.

She is an active member of SCBWI, and she has twice co-chaired the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature's One-on-One Conference. Karen is also one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs!

You can learn more about her at:






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