Almost all of Rochel Burstyn’s books have focused on Orthodox characters, reflecting Burstyn’s own family and communal life.
Rochel Burstyn is at it again.
The Southfield mother-of-eight, occasional Jewish News humor columnist and author of children’s books published two new picture books last fall and two more in late February.
Almost all of her books have focused on Orthodox characters, reflecting Burstyn’s own family and communal life.
One new offering, a picture book called Benny the Bus Gets the Job Done (Israel Book Shop publications) is “what you get if you mix The Little Engine That Could with Thomas the Tank Engine and throw in a yarmulke,” she said.
The other, The Surprise Carnival and Other Stories (Judaica Press), includes mostly lighthearted stories designed to make kids laugh out loud — “or at least to groan and think, ‘How corny!’ because those reactions are fun, too,” she said.
One of the books published in November, Chaim’s Juicy Mistake, originated with an idea from Burstyn’s friend Miriam Amzalak of Oak Park. The idea is to remind readers not only that everyone makes mistakes but to provide some guidance for caregivers on how to respond when kids screw up (take deep breaths, focus on solutions, pray and so on).
She also published Out of Mind, which was originally serialized in The Circle, a magazine for Orthodox children. It’s about a girl in Detroit and a girl in Australia who share a “mind connection” despite having never met.
“I’m from Australia and, of course, live here, so it’s kind of handy when I write about places I don’t need to do any major research for,” she said.
Burstyn’s father, Nathan Greenwald, grew up in Oak Park, and she came to Michigan in 1998 to stay with her grandparents, Lillian and Arthur Greenwald of Oak Park, and get to know her local family.
“I ended up meeting and marrying my husband (Jaron), and have been here ever since,” she said.
The Burstyns’ children range in age from 3 to 20. The eldest, Bentzi, joined the Israel Defense Forces in December. A second son, Yoni, 19, is studying at a yeshivah in Israel. Their three daughters, Raizel, Atara and Zahava, attend Yeshiva Beth Yehudah’s Bais Yaakov School for Girls in Oak Park, and her youngest son, Azriel, 3 is in a local playgroup. Burstyn has been homeschooling sons Avi, 15, and Binyomin, 12, since September 2019, “so we were 10 steps ahead of everyone else when schools shut in March,” she said.
Burstyn says she considers The Surprise Carnival to be her “COVID book.”
“I found a lot of comfort in writing The Surprise Carnival and focusing on something creative and fun. I worked on it for about three months in total, sometimes waking up at 4 a.m. to work on it until my kids woke up.”
She said working on the book served as a distraction and gave her a sense of purpose during a “restless, anxiety-filled time.”
Burstyn’s books are available from amazon.com and locally at Borenstein’s and Spitzer’s.