Last Call | Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books

Highlights Foundation Workshop Conference Center

Highlights Foundation Workshop Conference Center–The Barn

You owe it to yourself and to your craft. Where else can you find a hands-on writing workshop geared specifically toward Jewish content?

Have a picture book you’d like critiqued? Who best to do that? Editors who publish Jewish content and fellow writers you don’t have to educate. Novels and nonfiction welcomed, too.

Join me, Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman, Scholastic executive editor Dianne Hess, Philomel assistant editor Talia Benamy, and guest author Kathy Kacer at the 2016 Highlights Foundation workshop, “Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.” The workshop has been running since 2010, giving writers access to editors and agents with an interest in Jewish themes for children’s books ranging from picture books to young adult fiction and nonfiction. The workshop begins on Sunday, May 15 and ends on Wednesday, May 18. We offer an editorial roundtable, one-on-one manuscript critiques, group critiques, hands-on writing exercises, and time to revise.

I hope you can take three days from your busy schedules and join us at The Barn for an inspirational sojourn.

Why you should attend

Here’s what some previous attendees have to say:

“I was so excited to discover the workshop, led by Barbara Krasner. I loved to talk and get to know new people. Everyone was focused on helping each other, it was a generous atmosphere topped off with having prestigious editors of top publishing houses that gave us deeper insight into our work.”—Pia Wolcowitz, New York

“The ‘Writing Jewish-Themed Children’s Books workshop’ I attended at the Highlights Foundation retreat center two years ago was everything I hoped for, and more. I arrived with really only a half-baked idea for a book, with the hope that in the future, I might have a better idea. The writing prompts led me in wondrous directions I hadn’t imagined. The friendships with the other participants continue to this day. And I met an illustrator there whose work so inspired me that I told myself if I ever had a children’s book worthy of doing, I’d hire her. I’m delighted to say that just such a book appeared on my doorstep last year, I’ve been working with this illustrator for over a year now and HaShem willing, that book is now scheduled to be published in February 2017. Never in the my wildest dreams did I envision such a terrific outcome. I was so inspired, that I’ve continued making annual pilgrimages now to the Highlights Foundation as part of my writer’s nourishing self-care project.”—Debra Winegarten, Texas

“Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books was an intense experience in which I felt nurtured by the Highlights staff and challenged by our instructor Barbara Krasner and the editor with whom I consulted to move up a notch in my writing.  Barbara and the guest writer provided valuable information about publishing and the other writers in the group were very open and helpful.  I still turn to some of them to critique my work.”—Lois Barr, Illinois

“The Highlights Jewish Themed Writing Workshop was by far one of the most amazing experiences I have had as a writer. The presenters were top-notch industry professionals who provided great insight into the Jewish book publishing world, and were wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. Barbara Krasner was the perfect facilitator, giving us just the right amount of guidance and space with our own work, and the facility and food were fantastic! I highly recommend this workshop to anyone interested in writing Jewish-themed children’s books.—Randi Sonenshine, Georgia

To learn more or to register, click here>>>

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | April 2016 Report

April was a tough month as the spring semester comes to a close. As a visiting assistant professor of English at William Paterson University, I’ve been teaching four classes a semester, plus taking two classes to complete my MA in History. I sent out no work in April.

But just for fun, here are my April statistics:

Poetry: No submissions, no acceptances, four rejections (BOATT, The Pinch, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Poetry East).

Creative nonfiction: No subs, one acceptance (Jewish Literary Journal), two rejections (Minerva Rising, Hippocampus)Online today, the accepted story, “The Hands That Bind Us,” is based on my genealogical search for the grandmother I never knew, and the search strengthened my relationship with my father. I originally wrote this as a sample chapter of a genealogical memoir. Now I’m inspired to work on another chapter as a standalone piece.

Short fiction: No subs, no acceptances, one rejection (Jewish Women’s Literary Annual). I sent this same story that’s now been rejected 17 times to a critique service. I can see now where the story doesn’t work. I have revision to do—yet another summer project.

Other activities: The National Poetry Month event in my hometown at the Kearny Public Library where I read with library director Josh Humphrey, drew 25 people of all backgrounds and ages. Even the mayor came! We think it’s the start of a creative writing community and we’re delighted. I also snagged two speaking gigs based on my last book on the town, Legendary Locals of Kearny (December 2015).

I didn’t get around to developing an AWP proposal, but I have won three awards from the university related to my MA in History. I am now working on a paper to be delivered on children’s Holocaust literature at the annual Children’s Literature Association conference and gearing up for my fellowship month at the American Jewish Archives.

Anticipating May 2016

I wanted to send out poems I wrote inspired by Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s Writing Poetry to Save Your Life, but it just didn’t happen this month. Not sure it will happen in May as the semester comes to a close. I need to focus on finishing my MA in History thesis.  I am leading the Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books, in May and taking a workshop there on Novels in Verse.

But even with all the rejections, I can say I’m writing more poetry than before, and I think my craft is strengthening. I have great hopes for a new ghazal, “Dancing the Red Carpet,” and another new poem entitled, “Chicken Fat.”

 

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Claim Your Seat for the 2016 Highlights Workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books

Highlights Foundation Workshop Conference Center

Highlights Foundation Workshop Conference Center

Do you want feedback on your picture book or novel? Do you want to learn more about submitting your Jewish-themed story?

Select seats are still available at the 2016 Highlights Foundation workshop, “Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.” You’ll hear and learn from Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman, Scholastic executive editor Dianne Hess, Philomel assistant editor Talia Benamy, and guest author Kathy Kacer. 

The workshop has been running since 2010, giving writers access to editors and agents with an interest in Jewish themes for children’s books ranging from picture books to young adult fiction and nonfiction. The workshop begins on Sunday, May 15 and ends on Wednesday, May 18. We offer an editorial roundtable, one-on-one manuscript critiques, group critiques, hands-on writing exercises, and time to revise.

Why you should attend

Here’s what some previous attendees have to say:

“I was so excited to discover the workshop, led by Barbara Krasner. I loved to talk and get to know new people. Everyone was focused on helping each other, it was a generous atmosphere topped off with having prestigious editors of top publishing houses that gave us deeper insight into our work.”—Pia Wolcowitz, New York

“The ‘Writing Jewish-Themed Children’s Books workshop’ I attended at the Highlights Foundation retreat center two years ago was everything I hoped for, and more. I arrived with really only a half-baked idea for a book, with the hope that in the future, I might have a better idea. The writing prompts led me in wondrous directions I hadn’t imagined. The friendships with the other participants continue to this day. And I met an illustrator there whose work so inspired me that I told myself if I ever had a children’s book worthy of doing, I’d hire her. I’m delighted to say that just such a book appeared on my doorstep last year, I’ve been working with this illustrator for over a year now and HaShem willing, that book is now scheduled to be published in February 2017. Never in the my wildest dreams did I envision such a terrific outcome. I was so inspired, that I’ve continued making annual pilgrimages now to the Highlights Foundation as part of my writer’s nourishing self-care project.”—Debra Winegarten, Texas

“Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books was an intense experience in which I felt nurtured by the Highlights staff and challenged by our instructor Barbara Krasner and the editor with whom I consulted to move up a notch in my writing.  Barbara and the guest writer provided valuable information about publishing and the other writers in the group were very open and helpful.  I still turn to some of them to critique my work.”—Lois Barr, Illinois

“The Highlights Jewish Themed Writing Workshop was by far one of the most amazing experiences I have had as a writer. The presenters were top-notch industry professionals who provided great insight into the Jewish book publishing world, and were wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. Barbara Krasner was the perfect facilitator, giving us just the right amount of guidance and space with our own work, and the facility and food were fantastic! I highly recommend this workshop to anyone interested in writing Jewish-themed children’s books.—Randi Sonenshine, Georgia

To learn more or to register, click here>>>

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Author’s Notebook | April Halprin Wayland, More Than Enough, a Passover Story

Photo: Webb Burns

Photo: Webb Burns

The Whole Megillah (TWN): How did you decide to write a Passover story?
April Halprin Wayland (AHW): When I was little, I loved the song, Dayenu, which we sing at Passover.

As an adult, I’m particularly entranced by the definition and concept of Dayenu: to be aware of and grateful for the blessings in each moment. It’s an idea shared by religions and philosophies the world over.

Am I the only one who struggles between too much thinking and not enough being present, in this moment?  I even set my cell to sound a gentle guitar chord every afternoon at 2:50pm (an arbitrary time). It reminds me to stop. To feel the ground beneath my feet. To be present. To focus on the world around me, rather than on the circus in my brain. Try it.

With this in mind, I was hiking with my family on a particularly challenging trail in Kauai, Hawaii.  I was overjoyed that we were together, and was in awe of the beauty surrounding us. (I also may have just had a cup of coffee, which always gives me a crazy-happy buzz…)

In order to power up the steep trail, I said to myself, “If I only hike up this rich, red dirt, Dayenu; if I only see the blue and green ocean from the top of this hill, Dayenu; if I only dive into the warm waves, Dayenu…”

Later, I wrote it as a poem and read it aloud at our Seder. The response was encouraging, so I revised it. It became the story of a six or seven year old and her family on a hike in Hawaii.

My editor loved it…asking for just a few changes

Thirty-eight versions later, I love what my Hawaiian hike story has become!

9780803741263-236x300TWM: Given your poetry background, how did you approach the development of your story?
AHW: I wrote it for adults, I wrote it for older kids, I stood on my head—I approached it a million ways!

I began it as I often begin writing a poem: by copying what I’m trying to imitate into a blank document, then changing the words to my own. Eventually, I settled on simply making sure the rhythm and meter was the same in every stanza.

TWM: What made you include a kitten? (which I thought could be named Dayenu)
AHW: Ha—great name, Barbara!  I include animals in all my books. They keep me loved and laughing, and make my worries seem unimportant.  And it’s fun to follow them in illustrations.

Beyond that, when we contemplated removing the kitten to reduce the number of words, my friend Barbara Bietz pointed out that this kitten represents releasing the Jews from slavery. Of course we couldn’t take Kitten (hereafter called Dayenu) out of the story!

MORE THAN ENOUGH - farmers marketTWM: What made you publish this with a mainstream publisher vs. a Jewish publisher?
AHW: Dial Books for Young Readers had previously published New Year at the Pier ~ A Rosh Hannah Story, and I loved my editor there, so they were the obvious choice.

 

TWM: Do you have other holiday stories planned?
AHW: Yes. But I don’t talk about future books until every brick is in place.:-)

MORE THAN ENOUGH Nana's houseTWM: Do you do school visits? What is a typical program for you and what age groups are attending?
AHW: I love teaching writing workshops for adults and I love visiting schools! I talk about all of my books (two are specific to the Jewish experience; the rest are not.)

On a typical day, I’ll do two or three assemblies to cover all classes, and then teach a poetry workshop (usually to a small group of fourth or fifth graders) or a teacher in-service writing workshop.

My assemblies for elementary through high school students speak to the writing process. You’ve just read how it took 38 rewrites to get from the initial idea to a 205-word picture book. I take students on the rollercoaster of highs and lows in my writing life. It’s wild ride.

My assemblies for younger children are about stories…and about being grateful.

More Than Enough Seder PlateTWM: Do you participate in a critique group? Please share with us about that.
AHW: Yes. I’ve been in many, always for the long haul. One group lasted for over 15 years and was a spin-off from Myra Cohn Livingston’s Master Class in Writing Poetry for Children.  Every two weeks, we met for three hours in poet Sonya Sones’ pink, retro kitchen. We brought work which someone other than the author to read aloud to the group. It was heaven.

When I was revising More Than Enough to make sure the rhythm and meter were spot-on, I worked with Sonya, line by line. Her ear is brilliant, and it helped that she’s Jewish, as she could suggest additional details, or reword existing ones.

The group I’m in now is led by author Barbara Bottner and requires more “homework,” as we each email everyone our work the day before we meet. Thus, we get six to eight handwritten critiques and also an oral critique that evening. We sit around a beautiful wooden dining room table. I call it Barbara’s Magic Table.

Meeting with other writers adds richness to my life. I am so grateful for what I call my writerly peeps …Dayenu!

For more about April Halprin Wayland, click here>>>

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | March 2016 Report

Here are my March statistics:

Poetry: Sent to seven journals (The Pinch, Diode, Massachusetts Review, Poetry East, Thirteen Ways, and two contests), no acceptances, five rejections (Cold Mountain Review, Diode, Epoch, Cider Press Review, and one contest).

Short fiction: A story originally published in Jewishfiction.net in 2011 was accepted for a Press 53 anthology, Volume II of Everywhere Stories. Three rejections of a short story from Literary Mama, One Story, and Apogee.

Creative nonfiction: Sent to one journal (Jewish Literary Journal), no acceptances, two rejections from Tiferet and River Teeth.

Yes, indeed, March was a month of rejections. But I am inspired by Maria Mazziotti Gillan‘s Writing Poetry to Save Your Life. I’m taking a class at the moment with her and Laura Boss and I would really like to get into the habit of writing a new poem each day. I am also gearing up for a National Poetry Month event in my hometown at the Kearny Public Library where I’ll be reading with library director Josh Humphrey.

Question for you

I’ll reiterate last month’s offer: Join me in baring your writer’s offerings. I’m opening up The Whole Megillah to guest bloggers. You can blog about sending out your work in any genre—poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction, picture books, novels, whatever. Just comment to this post and we’ll work up a plan.

 

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Have You Signed Up Yet for the 2016 Highlights Workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books?

Highlights Foundation Workshop Conference Center

Highlights Foundation Workshop Conference Center

Join me, Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman, Scholastic executive editor Dianne Hess, Philomel assistant editor Talia Benamy, and guest author Kathy Kacer at the 2016 Highlights Foundation workshop, “Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.” The workshop has been running since 2010, giving writers access to editors and agents with an interest in Jewish themes for children’s books ranging from picture books to young adult fiction and nonfiction. The workshop begins on Sunday, May 15 and ends on Wednesday, May 18. We offer an editorial roundtable, one-on-one manuscript critiques, group critiques, hands-on writing exercises, and time to revise.

Why you should attend

Here’s what some previous attendees have to say:

“I was so excited to discover the workshop, led by Barbara Krasner. I loved to talk and get to know new people. Everyone was focused on helping each other, it was a generous atmosphere topped off with having prestigious editors of top publishing houses that gave us deeper insight into our work.”—Pia Wolcowitz, New York

“The ‘Writing Jewish-Themed Children’s Books workshop’ I attended at the Highlights Foundation retreat center two years ago was everything I hoped for, and more. I arrived with really only a half-baked idea for a book, with the hope that in the future, I might have a better idea. The writing prompts led me in wondrous directions I hadn’t imagined. The friendships with the other participants continue to this day. And I met an illustrator there whose work so inspired me that I told myself if I ever had a children’s book worthy of doing, I’d hire her. I’m delighted to say that just such a book appeared on my doorstep last year, I’ve been working with this illustrator for over a year now and HaShem willing, that book is now scheduled to be published in February 2017. Never in the my wildest dreams did I envision such a terrific outcome. I was so inspired, that I’ve continued making annual pilgrimages now to the Highlights Foundation as part of my writer’s nourishing self-care project.”—Debra Winegarten, Texas

“Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books was an intense experience in which I felt nurtured by the Highlights staff and challenged by our instructor Barbara Krasner and the editor with whom I consulted to move up a notch in my writing.  Barbara and the guest writer provided valuable information about publishing and the other writers in the group were very open and helpful.  I still turn to some of them to critique my work.”—Lois Barr, Illinois

“The Highlights Jewish Themed Writing Workshop was by far one of the most amazing experiences I have had as a writer. The presenters were top-notch industry professionals who provided great insight into the Jewish book publishing world, and were wonderfully generous with their time and expertise. Barbara Krasner was the perfect facilitator, giving us just the right amount of guidance and space with our own work, and the facility and food were fantastic! I highly recommend this workshop to anyone interested in writing Jewish-themed children’s books.—Randi Sonenshine, Georgia

To learn more or to register, click here>>>

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Three-in-One Notebook | Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town

not for all the hamantaschenThe Whole Megillah interviews here Laura Aron Milhander, author, and Inna Chernyak, illustrator of the new Kar-Ben picture book, Not for All the Hamantaschen in Town, a Purim story. Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman also participates. Here goes…

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Welcome, everyone and congratulations on such a fun book (I laughed out loud while reading). Laura, let’s start with you. What inspired you to write this book?
Laura Aron Milhander (LAM): One of my favorite books to read with my children was Leola and the Honeybears, by Melodye Benson Rosales. The subtitle of this book is “An African-American Retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”  This really caught my eye, and I enjoy reading familiar stories with a cultural twist.  I thought about what Jewish retellings of familiar tales, including “The Three Little Pigs,” would be like, and I began to write.

TWM: What made you think of the three little pigs? Did you worry at all about bringing to the market a Jewish story with pigs?
LAM: One of the most well-known tales is “The Three Little Pigs,” and in order to put a Jewish twist on it, I wanted to relate it to a Jewish holiday.  I chose to focus on Purim, a holiday which includes dressing up and telling “shpiels” (comical stories).   Since the traditional story is so familiar to young children and those reading to them, and since Purim includes expecting the unexpected, I felt that pigs would be accepted and would make the perfect main characters.

TWM: What was your writing process like?
LAM: I wrote many drafts, usually late at night when everyone was asleep.  After I had written the basic story I wanted to tell, I set myself a goal of approximately 1000 words, which is standard for a children’s picture book.  This was an excellent and challenging tool for focusing on how reasonably to tell the story.  Then I revised the story to fit the goal.  Because I was combining a familiar tale with a Jewish holiday, it was necessary to create parallels between the tale and the holiday:  The houses built with varying effort, three Purim costume crowns made with varying effort, check.  The wolf visits the three houses, the wolf visits three craft stations which reflect the celebration of Purim, check.  The familiar refrain with a Purim twist, check… and so on.

TWM: Do you have a critique group?
LAM: No.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
LAM: My greatest challenge was managing all the details I wanted to include within 1000 words while remaining focused on retelling the story of “The Three Little Pigs” in a “Jewish way” (vs. retelling Purim in a “Three Little Pigs” way).

TWM: The greatest satisfaction?
LAM: My greatest satisfaction has been writing what I feel is a really good story, and then having it accepted by a publisher and working with a very talented team to create an excellent final product. This experience has been a thrill!

TWM: What’s next for you?
LAM: I hope to follow Not For All the Hamantaschen in Town with other Jewish holiday retellings of traditional tales.  I have more in the works!  Additionally, I am always looking for ideas and inspiration for more stories with various themes.

TWM: Thanks so much, Laura. Joni, what attracted you to this manuscript?
Joni Sussman (JS): While Kar-Ben rarely publishes “take-offs” on existing stories, we felt this cute and funny version of “The Three Little Pigs” worked very well for a topsy-turvy Purim story. We liked the Big Bad Wolf turning out to just be a bully who could be reformed by kindness. We liked the idea of the different materials for Purim costume crowns instead of different materials for the types of piggie houses in the original story. We liked that our young readers could decide to make their own crowns for their Purim costumes—if the piggies can do it, so can they! Purim is a holiday of fun and silliness and we thought this story really fit the bill.

TWM: Why did you choose Inna as the illustrator?
JS: We loved Inna’s art with its cartoon-y bright colors and we thought it would be a good fit for this story. We liked that the animals in her portfolio had personality and she did a great job with our pigs in that sense. We also liked Inna’s attention to detail—the scenes in the town have lots of fun things to look at, great for our littlest readers. Reviewers have also liked this art a lot.

TWM: Thanks. Finally, Inna. How did you develop your illustration strategy for this book?
Inna Chernyak (IC): When I got this wonderful book to illustrate, at first I was thinking over the image of characters. While reading the book script, I was trying to make some drafts for the future characters. I really wanted to create lovely pigs, which have different look with some special features. The wolf is illustrated here as a positive character which isn’t traditionally threatening. So, I added moustaches and he is wearing a suit with a tie, which makes him appear just elegant and nice. After that I always choose suitable colour palette, as for me it’s extremely important. Nevertheless, it should bring much fun for readers.

TWM: How long did it take you to do the illustrations?
IC: The publishing house Kar-Ben provided me enough time to think over precisely on each detail.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in illustrating this book? The greatest satisfaction?
IC: The challenge was to give peculiarities to each of the character in the book and make them look special in their own way. The greatest satisfaction is the feeling when you look at children enjoying the book.

TWM: What’s next for you?
IC: I would try my best to create more and give more fun for readers!

L. Milhander 1 (2)About Laura Aron Milhander

Laura Aron Milhander has a background in Jewish and secular education and has worked in a variety of classroom environments for over thirty years.  She lives in Southern California with her husband, Rabbi Chaplain Kenneth Milhander, and their four children, a chinchilla, and the goldfish they won at a Purim carnival four years ago.

 

 

INNA_CHERNYAK (2)About Inna Chernyak

I live in Ukraine. Strangely enough, the first degree I received was in economics. However the great passion for art which I possessed for all my life brought me to Kharkov State Academy for Arts and Design which I graduated from with a diploma of a graphic designer. Now I have been working as an illustrator since 2008. It’s a privilege for me to be an illustrator and I view my job as the dearest and most precious of treasures.

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