You know her from HBO's Togetherness and about a million great movies—The Way Way Back, Syriana, The Whole Nine Yards—but now Amanda Peet's children's book Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein means you'll also know her as the creator of the book your nieces and nephews don't want you to stop reading. And it's not just for kids: Any grown-ups who remember what it's like being a Jewish kid when everyone else seems to be caroling around Christmas trees and putting out cookies for Santa will love it, too. Peet's first picture book was co-written by her longtime friend Andrea Troyer.
Rachel Rosenstein's family is Jewish, but she's determined to get her house on Santa's Christmas Eve visitation list. She hunts down Santa at the mall, writes a letter to mail to the North Pole, and decorates her house with sparkling lights so he can find her—all covertly so her parents don't find out her plan. But her wacky series of adventures only teaches her to appreciate her own identity, build by her own culture, traditions, and family.
In a statement Bustle received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Peet explained why she decided to write a book about a girl like Rachel.
When my two older children, Frankie and Molly, started asking me why we don’t have a Christmas tree and colored lights on the roof and a plate of cookies for Santa, it was hard to come up with an appealing answer. The book came out of a desire to capture the feeling of being left out during the Christmas holidays and to explain how you can’t always get what you want — and how sorting that out, for Jews and Gentiles alike, is part of what the holiday spirit is all about.
To further get into that holiday spirit, Peet is donating a portion of the proceeds from Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein to Seeds of Peace. The nonprofit aims to help teenagers learn leadership and peace-building skills in areas of conflict across the globe.
To celebrate Peet's first children's book and the upcoming holiday season, Bustle talked to Peet about her own favorite holiday memories.
BUSTLE: What were your favorite childhood Hanukkah traditions in your family?
AMANDA PEET: We didn’t celebrate Hanukkah in a real way. We maybe did one night. But my favorite part is always lighting the candles. And, of course, any excuse to eat latkes!
If you could ask for one gift this Hanukkah, what would it be?
I would love for my husband [showrunner David Benioff] to be home since he’s away filming Game of Thrones almost all the time during the fall.
What’s your favorite family holiday memory?
I lived in London when I was little, and we used to do an evening excursion with our school. All the kids went door-to-door caroling right before the Christmas holidays. I really loved the feeling of being all bundled up against the cold and singing with little flashlights in our music books. I guess that’s not a very Jewish answer.
What’s your favorite holiday to celebrate?
Passover is my favorite. I love the way all the kids participate. It’s a highly competitive hunt for the afikomen in our house, and it usually ends with a lecture about sportsmanship. Last year I massacred the matzah balls for my soup, and my friend who is a chef had to come and save them. Luckily, my mother-in-law wasn’t here because I would have had a nervous breakdown if she’d seen what I did.
What book characters inspired you growing up?
I loved Eloise. I know she sounds spoiled when she orders room service, but she’s also pretty scrappy and inventive. I always say “Getting bored is not allowed” when my kids tell me they’re bored. I also love Charlie Brown. And Linus. I love how neurotic and weird they are. I just read the one where Linus is trying to explain to Lucy why a blanket could be a receptacle for her rage and she listens to him for about half a second and then beats the crap out of him. You don’t find protagonists like that these days. Everyone has to be so deeply good, and their stories have to be sweet and redemptive.
If you could give your character Rachel Rosenstein one piece of advice, what would you say?
Frankie’s tennis teacher in Belfast said, “I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you to get on with it.” Isn’t that great?