Monday, December 7, 2009

Writing Jewish Kids Books-- My Top Four Conference Takeaways

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Jewish Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference at the 92nd Street Y. It was an incredibly jam packed day, and if you want a wonderfully detailed summary of the highlights of the day, be sure to check out Stacy Mozer's wonderful blog post!

Since Stacy did such a wonderful job of summarizing the day, I figured I would do something a little different. Below are four of my top takeaways from the day:

1. It is A LOT of fun to be in a room of people who truly "get" what you do. A room full of kidlit people is awesome! And a room full of Jewish kidlit people is definitely awesome! Everyone in the room really gets the unique excitement and challenges of this specialized genre. (Plus, it's just really fun to be at a conference where phrases like tikkun olam(repairing the world) and mishpacha(family)are casually bandied about!)

2. There are lots of great editors out there looking for books for the Jewish market. Some of them, like Scholastic's Dianne Hess are looking for "stealth Jewish books" and others, like Kar-Ben's Judye Groner, our own Meg Wiviott's awesome editor, suggested an "original approach to a traditional subject" mentioning upcoming books including "A Tale of Two Seders" about a child of divorce and a future Purim book written as a Reader's Theater version of the story. Margery Cuyler of Marshall Cavendish even got specific and noted a "big need for good Jewish mysteries and time travel" as well as a need for "contemporary Jewish stories". But, no matter what they're looking for exactly, the point is that they're looking! As writers of books for the Jewish market, that is definitely heartening to know!

3. There are as many ways to get a Jewish children's book published as there are Jewish authors. Each path-to-publication story told by a member of the new author panel showed the value of persistence and honing one's craft. (And, of course, this panel was incredibly inspirational. These were real people with real stories of how they got their Jewish book published! Wouldn't it be fun to join them up there some day? :o))

4. For me though, this final point was probably the most transformational one: What editors are looking for today isn't what the same as what they were looking for twenty years ago or even ten years ago. As Judye Groner said, "The Yiddish speaking, stay at home Bubbe is not the grandma of today's kids" and "the appetizer they serve may be sushi and not gefilte fish". Similarly, Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media challenged us as writers to create Jewish fiction in the age of Twilight. I left the day inspired to go in fun new directions in my Jewish writing just like I do in my secular writing!

And, on top of these more "official lessons", there were all the other wonderful benefits of attending the conference:

*getting a chance to meet and talk with wonderful writers from Verla Kay's Blue Board who were previously only screen names-- (Hi HollyB and SMozer!)

*meeting up with a mother of one of my former Kitah Alef first graders and saying to each other, "YOU write for children?" (Looking forward to some fun writing conversations next time I see her at synagogue!)

*casually chatting with wonderful authors and illustrators and remembering, once again, that they are real people too. Sitting at a table with Judye Groner and author Norman Finkelstein was such a pleasure! I was lucky enough to sit right next to Norman and he was so modest, funny and encouraging! Plus I chatted with Carolyn Yoder and Andrew Gutelle (both of whom I had met years ago at Chautauqua) while on line for lunch. What lovely, friendly people! (Hopefully I'll have an appropriate manuscript ready for critique by one of these many insightful authors or editors next year!)

So, I'm curious, how have the conferences you've gone to shaped you as a writer?


  1. It was a great conference!

    I agree with Brianna 100% about the friendly, welcoming, and supportive atmosphere of this conference. Sitting across from Norman Finkelstein, author of somewhere between 15 and 20 non-fiction books, and hearing him talk about HIS rejections was fascinating.

    Reconnecting with Carolyn Yoder (with whom I got to work at Chautauqua back in 2006) and Andrew Gutelle (another familiar Chautauqua faculty member), and speaking with Margery Cuyler were certainly highlights.

    But for me the best was seeing Judye Groner (my editor!) whom I met at this conference three years ago. And even more wonderful than that...
    Seeing the F&Gs for BENNO was unsurpassed.

  2. I had no idea there was such a thing!

    I love the photo with the cat in the sink.

  3. Bish-- Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Meg-- Watching you with your F&Gs for BENNO was definitely one of the highlights for me too. It is such a beautiful book!

    Anita-- It is a pretty specialized market, isn't it? Those of us who write for it are really lucky to have this conference! (Thanks so much to the organizers and presenters for all their hard work!)

  4. I know it might sound corny to say this, but I think every conference I've been to has helped shaped me as a writer. My times at Rutgers One on One stand out the most since I've had some pretty awesome author mentors. I'm still blown away by the generosity of writers sharing their craft.

    Sounds like a great conference!

  5. Interesting post, Brianna. I never considered putting "Jewish" and "edgy" into the same sentence...until now. Maybe Jedgy will be the new vampire!

  6. If I can leave a conference with one take-away that improves my writing I consider it a success.

  7. Me thinks the agent is branding herself well.