A South Jersey writer turned a Chanukah story about a teenage girl with a big heart into a whimsically illustrated children's book.
It started out as a tale that Lynn Taylor Gordon told her three children more than a decade ago, a sweet story about a teenage girl with a big heart. Now, the South Jersey mom has put her words to paper in a whimsically illustrated book geared to kids, but with messages for everyone.
Gracie’s Night: A Hanukkah Story "is about love, caring and being a miracle for somebody,” Gordon said. “The star of the story is not Chanukah – it’s compassion."
Set in the 1950s, the heroine of Gracie’s Night is a New York City teen who works at Macy’s so she can buy her widowed father gifts for each night of Chanukah. But instead of following her original plan, Gracie gives all the fine gifts away to a homeless man living in a cardboard box, without revealing herself to him.
It was at Chanukah years ago that Gordon began evolving the story for her own youngsters, now in their 20s.
“We’d have a 'Gracie’s night' during Chanukah when we didn’t get presents ourselves, but we’d find someone in need – maybe by going to a school counselor who knew of somebody – and bring in gifts for them,” said Gordon, 53.
She would purchase the gifts and the counselors would distribute them anonymously, just as Gracie did.
"‘Gracie's Night’ showed me at a young age that there are people to think about other than yourself," said Gordon's middle daughter, Brooke, a 22-year-old graduate student studying speech pathology at La Salle University. "Now that I know how easy it is, I find myself giving back more often than just one night a year."
Gordon points to her maternal bubbe, who came from Russia, as the original storyteller of her family. She lived with them in a bustling Jewish and Italian neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia and conversed with the grandchildren in Yiddish, which Gordon also spoke when she was young.
“I remember my Bubbe Fanny asking did I want a meintze – a story,” Gordon recalled.
Later, after Gordon had left home to study advertising at Temple University and married her best friend from Northeast High School, she was the one making up meintzes for her children.
She worked as a copywriter and freelanced while raising her family in Mount Laurel, N.J. She also began writing at her kitchen table, borrowing details from her childhood for Gracie's story, including memories of her father, a Philadelphia bus driver who wore the iconic cap, shield and Eisenhower jacket made popular by Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden character on The Honeymooners.
Unable to find a publisher and determined to spread Gracie’s message, Gordon created her own publishing company, Cookie & Nudge Books, and sought out professional editors to mentor her. She found an illustrator in Texas who isn't Jewish but had no problem making the latkes look "fluffier." From Rachelle Stern, Macy’s in-house historian, she learned details about the famed department store where Gracie works, including what the shopping bags looked like in the 1950s.
Macy’s plans to put up a display of her book at its flagship store on Manhattan’s Herald Square, Gordon said. She hopes Gracie becomes a mass-market ragdoll, based on one she had made to order by an Etsy crafter.
Outside of writing children's stories, Gordon attends Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel and employs her creativity in staging homes for prospective buyers and teaching yoga. Yoga "aligns with how I want to live my life, helping get in touch with the inner self and knowing generally what is more important and less important.”
Around this time of year, the pescatarian also supports an online “Adopt a Turkey” program that provides sanctuary to animals that might otherwise become Thanksgiving dinner. This month, during a rare convergence of the American and Jewish holidays celebrating religious freedom, Gordon is sponsoring Martha, a gobbler rescued from a live market before Thanksgiving 2012.
The animal rights activist has ideas for other books she’d like to write under the Cookie & Nudge imprint, but they may have to wait because readers say they haven’t seen enough of Gracie.
“People are telling me they want other Gracie stories," Gordon said. "One friend said Gracie has to have a Passover story. And I’m like, ‘She does?’ ”
For more information on Gracie’s Night: A Hanukkah Story and related activities for kids, visit www.cookieandnudgebooks.com.
You can also meet Gordon at the following book signings:
- Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. at Doylestown Bookshop, 16 S. Main St., Doylestown, Pa.
- Nov. 24 at 11:30 a.m. at Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan
- Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. at BookCourt, 163 Court St., Brooklyn, N.Y.,
- Dec. 1 at 12 p.m. at Luda’s Judaica, 319 Old York Rd., Jenkintown, Pa.,
Gordon will also read her book at Havdalah in Pajamas, a program held at Adath Emanu-El, 205 Elbo Lane, Mount Laurel, on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. The event costs $20 per family, which includes an autographed book and cookies and milk. Proceeds will go to a children’s charity. Call (856)608-1200 for tickets.