June 21, 2010

Writing Jewish-themed Children's Books: A Conference Dispatch by Barbara Krasner

Writing Jewish-themed Children's Books: A Conference Dispatch
Guest Post by Barbara Krasner

For about two years, Kent Brown, head of the Highlights Foundation, and I had been discussing the possibility of bringing a workshop for writers of Jewish-themed books to the line-up of the Highlights Foundation workshops. We finally scheduled it for May 23-25, 2010.

Intended for ten participants only (okay, we let an extra person in for a total of 11), this three-day conference in an intimate workshop setting featured:

  • Lisa Silverman, children’s book review editor of Jewish Book World and director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library in Los Angeles
  • Peninnah Schram, master storyteller and professor at Yeshiva University’s Stern College
  • Jane Yolen, award-winning author of some 300 books
  • Devorah Leah Rosenfeld, editor, Hachai Publishing
  • Françoise Bui, executive editor, Delacorte (Random House)
  • Rubin Pfeffer, agent, East/West Literary
  • Mary Kole, agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • Carolyn Yoder, editor, Calkins Creek Books
  • Debra Hess, senior editor, Highlights for Children

Eleven participants gathered at the Poconos home of Highlights founders in Boyds Mills, PA. Among the participants, we had two author-illustrators and several accomplished authors.

After brief introductions, Lisa Silverman started us off with a comprehensive overview of Jewish children’s literature, starting with the 1930s Adventures of K’ton ton and moving through each decade to today’s contemporary YA. She then described the book review process at Jewish Book World and the author support services the Jewish Book Council offers.

Peninnah Schram talked about getting oral tradition down on paper. She told us a few stories and we could see why she’s a master storyteller. Several of us teared up at her stories, she told them so vividly.

After dinner, Lisa led us in a book discussion of three picture books and a chapter book.

Day Two began with an editors/agents panel, each one stating what he or she looks for. These talks will be available soon on my blog, The Whole Megillah, in video format. Each workshop participant had a scheduled time to meet with an editor or agent to discuss her work in depth. By late afternoon, we gathered as a group once more to hear about writing Jewish fiction from Jane Yolen.

Jane was joined by Highlights senior editor Debra Hess in providing critiques in an after-dinner group critique session. For many of the participants, this was the workshop’s proverbial icing on the cake.

On our final day, Boyds Mills art director Tim Gilner joined us for breakfast and met with our author-illustrators. We then devoted our remaining time together to a discussion of each individual’s challenges and goals for the next 12 months. After lunch, several participants took the tour of Highlights and Boyds Mills Press and spoke with some of the editors.

Whew. Will this become an annual event? If this year’s participants have anything to say about it, the answer is yes.

So, for those of you who write Jewish-themed children’s books, stay tuned. Also be sure to be on the lookout for more information about the one-day conference in New York City, now sponsored by the Jewish Book Council and scheduled for Sunday, November 21 at the Center for Jewish History. We’ve got a great agenda lined up for you!


Bio: Barbara Krasner is an award-winning author and speaker based in New Jersey. She blogs at The Whole Megillah The Writer’s Resource for Jewish-themed Children’s Books and has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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