Author Ellen Leventhal on Enjoying the Process- PLUS a GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish! Today I have the pleasure of welcoming a friend of mine, and a member of my book promotion team PB Spree. Her name is Ellen Leventhal and she’s here to discuss her latest nonfiction picture book, Debbie’s Song: The story of Debbie Friedman, published by Kar-Ben and illustrated by Natalia Grebstova.

BUT first- YAY! Ellen is generously giving away a FREE a critique OR an Ask Me Anything session via Zoom. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends Feb 17, 2023, US only.

Please describe the journey to publication for Debbie’s Song: The Debbie Friedman Story. 

First of all, thank you so much for having me on your blog, Lydia. I appreciate it!

The journey to publication for this book is a funny story. I was told that one publishing house was looking for a story on Debbie, so I quickly worked on what I had already and sent it there. They were super nice and asked for a few R and Rs but ultimately passed. The day I got the pass, I sent it to Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben (with whom I always wanted to work), and it wasn’t long before I found myself jumping up and down because I got an offer. It shows how subjective this business is. Working with Joni and the staff at Kar-Ben has been great, and I know I found a wonderful home for Debbie’s story. I am thankful to both Kar-Ben and the other house which did get their story from someone else, by the way.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

During my teaching days in a Jewish Day School, the kids and staff sang Debbie Friedman songs all the time. I loved how she made her songs inclusive and fun to sing. Debbie drew inspiration from the folk singers of her time (which was my time too!), so I was drawn to her immediately. One day after I retired from full time teaching, I was teaching part time, and I heard a class singing one of her songs. Memories came rushing back, and I realized that I hadn’t heard her or about her in a long time. I knew enough about Debbie to know how amazing her story is, and that was that day that I knew I had to tell it.  

PB bios area tough sell in today’s market, how did you ensure your book would stand out?

Ha! I couldn’t ensure that it would stand out and someone would want it. Are we ever sure? I feel passionate about the story, and I hoped that would come through. I knew I had to write it, and I just took a leap of faith and subbed it. I wanted to tell the highlights of Debbie’s life and make it kid friendly, so I wrote it in somewhat of a lyrical format (as you can see below). I worked hard on those aspects, and hopefully, I hit the mark. Natalia Grebstova’s illustrations are very different and quite beautiful, so I believe they will help the book stand out on the bookstore shelves.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

For Debbie, it was like riding a twisty roller coaster.
Up, up, up, she’d climb, knowing she was making many people happy—
but the grumbling continued,
and . . . WHOOSH!
down she’d slide,
landing with an unhappy THUMP!

What is your writing process and does it vary depending on the project?

In general, I work on a few things at a time. If I have a deadline or I am especially focused on one of them, I’ll let the others go for a bit, but usually, I tweak a little of this, write a little more of that, etc. And yes, the process does depend on the project. Of course, with non-fiction, such as this book, it starts with a lot of research. Some of my work starts with poetry, and I then try to craft a story around that. That’s how A Flood of Kindness got started. But one part of the process that is the same with everything is looking at and digesting feedback from critique buddies and doing loads of revision. My problem is that I have a hard time determining when it’s time to stop revising! Every time.

Please share your favorite books from 2022 that have inspired you.

SO many wonderful picture books came out in 2022. And then of course, there were some amazing middle grade novels that sparked my interest in writing MG. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll just mention three picture books that have inspired me, each for different reasons. Each of these stories is very different, and I’m currently using all of them for mentor texts for different projects.

The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs, by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Susan Gal

Knight Owl by Christopher Denise.

Poo-Dunit? A Forest Floor Mystery by Katelyn Aronson 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

I’d say to enjoy the process. If you are only focused on the outcome, you may lose the joy of creating. This is a tough business, but focusing on the joy of storytelling will keep you on an even keel.

And a bonus question just for kicks! Would you rather forget the ending of every book shortly after reading it OR not be able to re-read a book ever again?

Hmm… I like to re-read books, so I guess I’d like to forget the ending.


Ellen Leventhal is an author and educator in Houston, TX. DEBBIE’S SONG: THE DEBBIE FRIEDMAN STORY is her fourth published picture book. Ellen’s work has also appeared in various poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with students and spread her love of literacy, compassion, and  kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, and school visits, please go to Ellen’s Website


Webpage  (blog is on the webpage)



Signed books: Brazos Bookstore


7 thoughts on “Author Ellen Leventhal on Enjoying the Process- PLUS a GIVEAWAY!

    cinzialverde said:
    February 23, 2023 at 4:03 pm

    Congratulations! Loved hearing about your tale and seeing your exerpt. Thanks Lydia.


    Jilanne Hoffmann said:
    February 23, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    Terrific story behind the book, Ellen! Yes, it’s all so subjective. Congrats on finding your match!


    kathalsey said:
    February 23, 2023 at 9:11 am

    Great interview, Ellen. Lydia, love your platform for boosting authors! Ty both. I agree with your age advice about being focsued on more than the journey!


      Steena Hernandez said:
      February 23, 2023 at 10:51 pm

      I love reading about the inspiration for this book! Congratulations, Ellen!! And thank you Lydia for sharing this lovely interview.


    Gayle C. Krause said:
    February 22, 2023 at 7:57 pm

    Great interview, Lydia and Ellen. Can’t wait to get my copy of Debbie’s Song.


    seschipper said:
    February 22, 2023 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks. Lydia foe another great post!
    Looking forward to reading DEBBIE’S SONG!


    cbloomy said:
    February 22, 2023 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you, Ellen, for the reminder to stay focused on the joy of storytelling. I’m looking forward to reading Debbie’s Song!


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