Arts and Culture | Local

Tucson Festival of Books to host Jewish authors from Kellermans to R.L. Stine

The Night Before My Birthday Book cover cmykWhen local Jewish writer Joni Rubinstein’s children were babies, she began a birthday practice that became a cherished family tradition.

“When my first daughter, who is 35 now, was born, I found this tiny little poem that was about birthdays,” says Rubinstein, an elementary school counselor in the Marana Unified School District. “I would read that to [my children] the night before their birthdays. … We would cuddle up and I would read this poem. I would give them a kiss and … it was so magical.”

Eight years ago, when a family friend had a baby, Rubinstein sent the new mother a copy of the poem and that gave her an idea. What if she wrote her own birthday poem and made it into a book?

The result, “The Night Before My Birthday Book,” illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, will be available for sale at the Tucson Festival of Books, running March 11 and 12 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the University of Arizona. Rubinstein will sign books in the exhibitor section, booth 318.

Dozens of Jewish authors from near and far will participate in the eighth annual festival’s jam-packed schedule of talks and workshops, including bestselling mystery writers Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, who have more than three decades of storytelling between them (and almost 30 years of marriage). The Kellermans, who have independent careers, also have collaborated on two crime novels, and Jonathan recently launched a new series with their son, bestselling novelist Jesse Kellerman, which began with “The Golem of Hollywood.”

Interviewing the Kellermans will be Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. The author of six books including “Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime,” Simon also will present “A Conversation with Scott Simon” and take part in a panel on memoirs.

Ari Berman, political correspondent for The Nation and a frequent commentator on MSNBC and NPR, will speak on “Voting Rights in America.” His books include “Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics” and “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.”

Children of all ages will recognize author R.L. Stine, writer of the bestselling “Goosebumps” series, who will take part in a variety of talks, including one on the influence of Edgar Allen Poe.

Amelia Saltsman, a longtime champion of local family farms, clean, fair food and farmer’s markets, will take the festival’s culinary stage to present “Not Just Any Chopped Liver,” drawing on her latest book, “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen.”

Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel and Adam Monsbach, co-authors of “Ben Franklin: Huge Pain in My …” will discuss “Collaboration and a Lot of Laughs.” Zweibel also will give a solo talk on comedy, moderated by local cartoonist Dave Fitzsimmons.

Former Tucsonan Arlene Weintraub, whose most recent book is “Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures,” will be one of three authors talking about “Animals and Humans.” She’ll also take part in a panel on literary agents.

For a complete list of authors by genre and a schedule of festival events, visit