Mining for Heart: “Using Family History to Write Your Story” by Melissa Stoller

Family stories are near and dear to our hearts, but it can be a challenge to shape them into a story. Here, Melissa Stoller shares her process of crafting her own story into Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. 

Melissa is offering a GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of Sadie’s Shabbat Stories.  

Using Family History to Write Your Story by Melissa Stoller

Thank you so much for featuring me on your blog, Beth!


The inspiration for SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, releasing from Clear Fork Publishing on October 20, 2020) developed from my own family history. This book is truly the story of my heart. As a young girl, I loved hearing my father, Harry Z. Berger, tell me stories about his journey with his mother from New York to Europe in 1913, when he was a year old, to visit his grandparents for the first time. Unfortunately, World War I broke out, and Harry and his mother were stuck in Europe for almost ten years. Finally, they were reunited back home with his father. Also, I heard about the immigration journey of my husband’s grandfather Reuben, who left Russia when he was a teenager in 1917 during a time of violence against Jewish people. Reuben and his younger brother voyaged on a train and a boat to find a better life in America. I knew I wanted to write about these brave family members. At the same time, I also loved hearing stories my Nana Jessie told me about her childhood and experiences growing up in New York City. Finally, I have three daughters, and I always encourage them to find and use their voices. It took many years before I wove all these threads together into a picture book.

In SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES, Sadie loves listening to her Nana’s Shabbat stories, and hopes that one day, she will find her unique voice and tell special stories of her own. Three vignettes tell the stories of Sadie’s ancestors, surrounding the Shabbat candlesticks, a kiddush cup for wine or grape juice, and a challah cover for the special Shabbat bread. Illustrator Lisa Goldberg’s Chagall-like artwork perfectly brings the words to life. I hope that this story touches the hearts of children and encourages them to reflect on and treasure their own heritage.

SToller interior


When I visit schools and libraries, I remind students that we are all storytellers. Each of us has a unique family history and our own perspectives, experiences, and memories. I drew upon my heritage for this book, and I encourage children and adults – and especially writers – to mine their family photos, journals, legends, and heritage in order to tell their own special stories.

Stoller int 2


  1. Think about your family history and unique heritage – are there any family stories that resonate with you that you can expand on and turn into a book? Story ideas come from everywhere – they might be lurking in your family history!
  2. Interview family members – now is the perfect time to capture your relative’s stories. Older relatives especially may love recounting their joys and hard times. 
  3. Research to find ideas and confirm facts – try to find relevant records that might be helpful such as birth certificates, census data, and military records. Old letters, photos, and documents buried in boxes in the basement can become a treasure trove of ideas. Have fun researching!

Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of the book. (continental US addresses only, please)

BIO:stoller headshot

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, and the picture books, Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork Publishing). Sadie’s Shabbat Stories, illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, will release from Clear Fork in October 2020. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal research and writing instructor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a volunteer with SCBWI/Metro New York, a blogger and course assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs group, and a member of the Jewish Book Council’s Literary Society. Melissa lives in New York City, where she is a board member at Temple Shaaray Tefila, and enjoys museums, theatre, and researching ancestry.


14 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: “Using Family History to Write Your Story” by Melissa Stoller

  1. I think layers of stories deepen the cultural fabric of the family. Congrats, Melissa, on your new book! It reminds me of a picture book I read to my son when he was much younger. It was about a Jewish man who moved to the U.S. (I can’t recall the time period or reason for the emigration) and then kept sending money to bring the love of his life over, but each time she would send a different family member in her place. She arrived last, and then they married. I recall it being a very poignant story, one that made me cry each time I read it. The author was telling the story of her grandparents. I now remember lending it to someone, and of course I didn’t keep track of who I leant it to! I wish I could recall the title! I’ll be thinking about this until I do….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And I was clearly wrong about their not getting married until she came over. The synopsis said they married and then were apart. But it is the book I was talking about. My memory just failed me on that part. And I couldn’t remember why they emigrated, but yes, it was the pogroms in Russia. Thank you for finding it!!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Maria – yes I agree! Lisa Goldberg evokes a beautiful and touching mood in every spread. And she also included a secondary line with a cat and dove (symbolizing peace). Kids at school visits love looking for that cat!! Thanks for commenting!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your life must have been filled with interesting stories from your family. My grandmother came over from the Netherlands with three small children, one in a body cast, in the early 1900s. I never got to talk with her about her experiences, but my mother told me stories even though she was only 5 at the time. I have written a story about the problems they had getting her handicapped brother through Ellis Island. I might have read your book about Ellis Island while doing research. I would love to read the stories from your family. I love reading about early immigration. Great interview! I’m going to read your book and then read it to my grandchildren.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you and your grandchildren enjoy Sadie’s Shabbat Stories! And good luck with your manuscript. It sounds like an incredible story and I hope it becomes a book one say!! Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

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