The Mitten String:
An interview with local author Jennifer Rosner
by Missy Wick
When her family invites a deaf woman and her baby to stay, Ruthie, a talented knitter of mittens, wonders how the mother will know if her child wakes in the night. The surprising answer inspires Ruthie to knit a special gift that offers great comfort to mother and baby—and to Ruthie herself.
Straw Dog Writers Guild member Jennifer Rosner wrote this modern day folk tale – The Mitten String – as a picture book. Although Rosner is best known for her memoir If a Tree Falls, and a collection of essays she edited, The Messy Self, she loves the picture book form for its beauty and word economy. I recently had the pleasure of talking to her over tea about how a long-form writer goes short.
The Mitten String is based on a true story. Can you tell me more about that?
Jennifer: Yes, it is based on a story I learned about my great-great aunt Bayla, who lived in an Austrian shtetl in the 1800s. Bayla was deaf and when she had a baby (whom she could neither see nor hear in the dark of night), she tied a string between them. When her baby cried, she felt the tug on her end of the string an
d woke to care for her baby. The Mitten String features a little girl, Ruthie, who adds something special to Bayla’s innovation.
Why did you choose to write a picture book?
Jennifer: There is very strong imagery in my story: Bayla uses a Sign language and, of course, she connects to her baby with string. I love the way picture books enable discovery through words and images – it’s a wonderful form – and my illustrator, Kristina Swarner, did a fabulous job portraying the essence and the emotional heart of my story in her illustrations.
You are used to writing longer prose. How did you shift to being so “economical” with your words?
Jennifer: My background is in (academic) Philosophy. This is not always helpful to my creative writing pursuits! However, I am as a result well-trained in the art of cutting words! Most of my writing is “economical,” even when I wish to be expansive.
Which picture book authors inspire you?
Jennifer:There are so many! Barbara Cooney, Maurice Sendak, Tomie dePaola, Mem Fox, Dr. Seuss – not to mention all of the amazing authors and illustrators right here in the valley. I’m inspired by the imaginativeness, the soothing cadences, the silliness, and of course the delight of reading such wonderful books to my own children.
To learn more about Jennifer’s work, go to her website, here.
And meet Jennifer in person in November:
• Sunday,November 2nd, 2pm, At the Odyssey Bookshop book launch and “craft-ernoon”
• Sunday, November 9th, at 2pm, The Eric Carle museum will hold Storytime with Jennifer. Illustrator Kristina Swarner will also talk about her art process.
An ASL interpreter will be at both events.
Missy Wick, Interviewer and Straw Dog Blog Editor