Marilyn Singer on “Awe-Some Days”

In Awe-Some Days (Dial, $18.99) a family decides to celebrate every Jewish holiday for a full year, “the ones we know well, the ones we do not.” Starting with apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah all the way to flowers and chocolates on Tu B’Av, the joy and meaning of the various holidays are explained through poetry and prose. Author Marilyn Singer talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about how she came to write this delightful collection. 

Yona Zeldis McDonough: There are many books about the Jewish holidays for kids; what inspired you to write this one? 

Marilyn Singer: It started with a wonderful librarian, Lisa Silverman, who asked me several times to do it. I write in many genres, but I’m probably best known for poetry. Lisa said there are books about the Jewish holidays, but no poetry book about them. At first, I balked because, even though I’m Jewish, I knew there were holidays I didn’t know much about and I’d have to do a lot of research. Fortunately, I like doing research, so that part was okay by me. But the other issue was that I didn’t want to write an unconnected collection of poems. Then I hit on the idea of a family that decides this is the year they’ll celebrate all of the holidays with a young girl as the narrator. That sang to me and enabled me to write the book.

YZM: Why did you decide to use poetry to explore these holidays?

MS: That was Lisa’s suggestion. Poetry is my favorite thing to write, so it was appealing to me, once I came up with the connective idea. I knew that I wanted to combine it with prose, though, to elaborate on the holidays. The tricky thing was making the poems personal to the girl and her family, but the prose general although not too elaborate and wordy.

YZM: How do the celebrations you describe tie into your own Jewish background? What were the holidays of your childhood like? 

MS: The family’s celebrations in the book are pretty different from the ones my family celebrated. My parents were not particularly observant—they didn’t go to temple and so I didn’t either. But they were culturally Jewish, and we lit the menorah at Hanukkah and exchanged gifts then and we had small short seders on Passover. Most of my memories about my childhood celebrations of these holidays revolve around food. I like to think that nowadays I honor some of the tenets by being charitable and trying to be and do better in the world and not just eat.

YZM: What’s your favorite holiday and why? 

MS: I love to eat, so Passover and Hanukkah. I love the idea of Sukkot, and we have built sukkahs in the past. And, having recently learned about it, I like Tu B’shevat because it’s about environmentalism and that means a lot to me.