Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. I thought I had an academic journal article due by June 1. Turns out it’s due late September. After reading three articles by Eliyana Adler, I am so glad I have more time. While I focused on memorial books as a source, she focused on USC Shoah Foundation testimonies. I went on that website last night and found testimonies about my maternal ancestral home, some of which will help my article. These testimonies will also help me understand what happened to members of my own family.
  2. I’m writing a chapter for a book about Atrocity in Children’s Literature. My chapter is about the changing nature of Holocaust children’s literature. I’ve identified 12 categories that align with genocidal stages. Using nifty qualitative software for content analysis, I also identified that survival and family are two major themes. Stay tuned to an upcoming The Whole Megillah interview with a seasoned Holocaust writer to see how she nailed those two themes.
  3. If you need time and space to write without worrying about cooking and cleaning, why not write in a fully-equipped cabin and dine with fellow writers? (You could even take your meals back to your cabin, if you want to.) Check out the Unworkshops at the Highlights Foundation Barn. You don’t need to be a children’s writer. I actually finished my master’s thesis at an Unworkshop.

That’s it for this week. Have a good one.

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Author’s Notebook | The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero by Amalia Hoffman

The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero, written by Amalia Hoffman and illustrated by Chiara Fedele, 40 pp., $17.95 (Capstone, June 2019)

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this story?
Amalia Hoffman (AH): My parents lost their entire families during the Holocaust. I visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem annually where I spiritually connect with my would-be grandparents, uncles, aunts, their spouses and babies. During one of my visits, I walked through the promenade of the Righteous Among the Nations, which honors those non-Jewish individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust. I noticed that a new name was added—Gino Bartali. Thus began my journey which led me to writing The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero.

In an article entitled, “Long Overdue Honor for Righteous Christian Italian Cycling Great Bartali” (Alon Sinai, The Jerusalem Post, 8 October 2013), I found out that Gino Bartali was recognized by Yad Vashem in 2013 and included in the long list of righteous rescuers.
Another article, “Gino Bartali: the Cyclist Who Saved Jews in Wartime Italy” (Peter Crutchely, Belfast: BBC, 9 May 2014), ignited my passion for this courageous and generous person. A documentary film, My Italian Secret (Oren Jacoby, PBS Distribution, 2015), inspired me to research further. I went on to read numerous books and publications and realized that I must write a book for young readers about this brave champion who rode hundreds of miles on his bike and smuggled forged identification cards for Italian Jews so that they could escape to safety.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing it?
AH: Since the book touches on difficult subjects such as the Holocaust, Benito Mussolini’s anti Jewish laws and dictatorship, I had to figure out how to tell the story in a simple way that would be easy for young people, ages 9-12, to understand. I also had to learn a lot about bicycling competitions, particularly the Tour de France.

TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
AH: My greatest satisfaction was knowing that young readers would be inspired by Gino Bartali’s heroic acts during the Holocaust. In Judaism, one of the most enlightening concepts is that of Tikkun Olam, which in Hebrew, literally means—to fix the world. We have the right and the ability to make the world a better place. The Brave Cyclist is a testament to the fact that one individual can make a difference and fight against discrimination, prejudice, antisemitism and racism.

TWM: Who inspires you?
AH: I am inspired by “unsung heroes.” I love to read and write about amazing, generous and courageous individuals who never seek fame or recognition for what they have done.
Such an individual was Gino Bartali, who once said: “If you’re good at a sport, they attach medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to your soul and shines elsewhere.”

TWM: Your picture books span anthropomorphic animals to nonfiction. Do you prefer any particular style?
AH: I don’t prefer any particular style. I like to experiment and create books in different genres. Sometimes, I’m in a silly mood, playing around with board books for babies and painting anthropomorphic animals. Other times, I find myself researching and writing a nonfiction for older kids. For me, as long as I’m passionate about the project, I prefer not to limit myself and to dip into just about everything.

TWM: Do you have a critique group?
AH: Yes, I belong to a wonderful and inspiring group which I formed in 2017. We call ourselves, The Mavens. We help and support each other in our writing journeys.

TWM: What’s next for Amalia Hoffman?
AH: I’m experimenting with a different illustration style while working on a new board book. At the same time, I’m writing about another “unsung hero,” this time—a woman.
I’m also working on a very personal YA novel that I started five years ago but never gathered enough courage to complete. My new board book, All Colors, is coming up on September 28, 2019 (Schiffer Publishing).

For more about Gino Bartali, click here.

For a Kirkus review of The Brave Cyclist, click here.

To learn more about Amalia Hoffman and her work, click here.

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:


  1. I met up with a writer pal and fellow adjunct English professor this week to exchange and critique our writing. She read my 25 pages of a new contemporary YA novel in verse–and liked it! She said the voice is strong. I am writing one new poem a week in response to prompts from my poetry mentor. It may take a while, but at least I’m writing.
  2. A new Facebook group for Jewish Children’s Lit mavens started this week, organized by Susan Kusel and Heidi Rabinowitz, Association of Jewish Libraries leaders.
  3. How about we set aside one Sunday to send our work out into the world, an activity I tend to neglect during the academic semester? We can keep in touch through The Whole Megillah Facebook page. How does July 7 sound? Please comment below if interested.

That’s it for this week. Have a good one.

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Editor’s Notebook | Honeycake Magazine: An Interview with Founder and Editor in Chief Anna Caplan

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What prompted you to begin a magazine for Jewish kids?
Anna Caplan (AC): Honeycake was an idea I dreamed up for my own children. One day as I was renewing my four-year-old’s subscription to Ladybug magazine, it occurred to me that I had never seen a similar type of publication for Jewish kids. I started to think about the gaps I saw in contemporary American Jewish children’s literature, and how a magazine could fill some of those gaps for our family. The idea began to take on a life of its own and Honeycake was born.

TWM: Why this particular age group?
AC: The first issue of Honeycake will be for two- to six-year-olds (similar to magazines like Ladybug and High Five). Because this age group encompasses both pre-readers and early readers, we know that many of our young readers will experience Honeycake read aloud, while older children may enjoy the magazine on their own. It’s exciting to design a magazine for children at this transitional moment in their experience of reading.

TWM: How is it distributed?
AC: We’re distributing the first issue of Honeycake on our own. For a limited time, the first issue can be pre-ordered through our Kickstarter campaign (launching May 14, 2019). Backers will receive their copy of Honeycake in the mail in early December — just in time for Hanukkah!

TWM: What can you tell us about your editorial needs? What are you looking for?
AC: We’re looking for a freelance editor to work on our first issue. The ideal candidate will have experience working on manuscripts for young children as well as a background in Jewish education. If this sounds like you or someone you know, we’d love to hear from you at hello@honeycakemagazine.com.

TWM: How can writers submit to you?
AC: Writers can submit work to us at submissions@honeycakemagazine.com. Visit our website for details about what we’re looking for.

TWM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AC: We have big plans for Honeycake! As we grow, we plan to publish four to six issues each year. We’re also exploring the possibility of adding a section for older children, so that the magazine can be shared with the whole family. Our vision is that the magazine will serve as a platform for Jewish writers and artists and inspire the creation of new work. To follow us on our journey, you can subscribe to our email newsletter. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at @honeycakemagazine.

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. My publisher and I have begun to discuss the cover for my YA historical, Matchless. I can’t wait to see the design! I’ve sent her my photos of my grandfather’s shtetl from my 2008 visit for inspiration. The photo on the left is from that shtetl, Zaromb (Zareby Koscielne in Polish), northeast of Warsaw. I think this is the street where my grandfather may have lived.
  2. Aside from my two fellowships this summer, I’ll be attending a three-day workshop for community college language arts instructors at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have a grant to help defray travel and lodging.
  3. Thanks to those of you who contacted me seeking agency representation. It’s going to be a busy summer!

That’s it for this week. Have a good one.

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Why We Write and Publish Holocaust Books for Young Readers

To commemorate Yom HaShoah, The Whole Megillah sponsored a survey of writers and publishers/editors of Holocaust books for young readers. The writers include Jane Yolen, Janet Wees, Susan Lynn Meyer, Andria Rosenbaum, Nancy Churnin, Susan L. Ross, and Kathy Kacer. The publishers/editors include Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben, Dena Neusner of Behrman House/Apples & Honey Press, and Dianne Hess of Scholastic. We’re not able to always identify by name the sources of the responses (my mistake in survey design), but here are the results.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspires you to write or publish children’s Holocaust literature?

Dena Neusner: It’s a hard topic to address for young children. I’m inspired by good stories that will engage and educate, in an age-appropriate way.

Dianne Hess: My family came from Germany and Hungary. Some fled the Holocaust, some did not. I feel a strong responsibility to keep the stories alive and to ensure it never happens again.

Susan L. Ross: I was inspired by my son’s 7th grade research into my own mother’s experiences as a refugee to write Searching for Lottie, a contemporary middle grade mystery about a 12 year old girl trying to discover what happened to the young violinist she was named after, who disappeared during the Holocaust. My middle name is Lottie, and I was named after a lovely young cousin who did not survive. Although the novel is fictional, it is largely based on family stories. I was especially struck with the notion that although the history of the Holocaust is further away in time, it is more accessible to kids today because of the astonishing reach of the internet and also because kids are able to ask questions that were simply too painful for our generation. I thought it was important to write a contemporary book that offers kids a pathway into a difficult legacy. The intergenerational relationships at the heart of Searching for Lottie matter most to me and reflect my deep appreciation for my own mother’s determination to raise her children with optimism, hope, and love in spite of early loss and hardship.

Response: The Holocaust is an important part of modern Jewish history and children are often exposed to Yom HaShoah and Holocaust-related topics at a young age. My goal is to publish a variety of age-appropriate materials for children of all ages beginning with about age 8.

Response: I’m a child of Holocaust survivors, committed to keeping this history alive, particularly as the survivor community ages and disappears.

Response: The fact that antisemitism is alive and well. The hope that by teaching children about the horrors of history they’ll be inspired to stand up against evil. The fact that it is a part of every Jew’s history whether they like it or not.

Susan Lynn Meyer: I wanted to tell the story of my father’s experiences in and escape from Nazi-occupied France, as listening to and trying to make sense of this story shaped my childhood.

Nancy Churnin: Learning about the Holocaust helps us see the horrible, ugly natural conclusion of prejudice and dehumanization, issues that we still wrestle with today. Learning about the Holocaust makes us, as a society, look in the mirror and think about the choices we make in being oppressive, passively supporting oppression by doing nothing or resisting oppression by helping the vulnerable among us.

Yolen: I was too young to speak out then. But now I can, and boy! is my voice loud!

Response: This is my first book for children about the Holocaust. I was inspired by actually seeing the Hidden Village and by the stories told to me by a man who lived there as a little boy while hiding from the Nazis.

TWM: Has anyone ever told you not to write or publish about the Holocaust? If so, what was the rationale?

Neusner: There’s been talk that there are too many Holocaust stories, or that we should focus on positive Jewish stories instead. I think it’s important to publish a variety of stories about the Jewish experience, and Holocaust stories address the imperative to never forget.

Hess: Sometimes people have concerns about publishing Holocaust stories for children. There is a spirited debate about what age is appropriate to bring up the subject.

Ross: When my children were in elementary school, not all parents wanted their children reading Holocaust books because they felt they were simply too upsetting. I understand this concern and tried to find a way to introduce the topic in a story that is meaningful to kids, but not overwhelming for younger children. I also hope to engage readers who might not be especially interested in historical fiction. In Searching for Lottie, 12-year-old Charlie worries that she needs to live up to her great aunt’s legacy as a violinist but comes to realize she must follow her own true path. I hope that kids will relate to Charlie’s search into the past as she make important discoveries about her family and her future.

Response: I’ve only heard and read articles about there being too many Holocaust-related titles at the expense of other aspects of the Jewish experience. While this may be true, there continues to be great interest in the marketplace—among both Jewish and secular readers—for Holocaust-related books.

Response: I’ve never had anyone tell me not to write stories about the Holocaust, and I have 25 published books about this history! On the contrary, my experience is that publishers are keen to have these important stories available to young people.

Response: Yes. It’s too dark and terrible to share with children. No one wants to read, or buy another book about the Holocaust. The PJ Library won’t even consider Holocaust literature.

Meyer: When I was writing the novel (Black Radishes, my first), I talked to my father about it, and he, actually, discouraged me from doing it, saying nobody would be interested in such “ancient history.” I’m happy to say that he was wrong about that. But I wonder what responses he must have had, in the course of his life, when mentioning his own past to people, that he was so sure that this was the case.

Churnin: I write for younger children and there is that question about whether the Holocaust is too much for that age to process. I feel it is all in the way you present the material. Children, sadly, see and experience prejudice from the time they are born. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote in their song, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” prejudice can become ingrained early—”at six or seven or eight/to hate all the people your relatives hate.” We need books for that age group to offer a different way of looking at the world, books that question prejudice, books that show where prejudice can lead, books that show the heroism of those that resist and those that stand up for and protect others.

Yolen: No, rather an editor begged me to write the novel we discussed, The Devil’s Arithmetic.

Response: No, in fact I get encouraged to write more about the Holocaust.

TWM: Here is a listing of possible Holocaust narrative categories. Select those in which your books appear.

TWM: In which Holocaust narrative categories would you like to see more published within the next five years?

TWM: Here is a listing of possible Holocaust narrative settings. Select all those in which your books take place.

TWM: In which geographic settings would you like to see more published within the next five years?

TWM: In what genre(s) do you currently publish your Holocaust narratives?

TWM: In which genre(s) would you like to see more published within the next five years?

TWM: Now we come to age group. For what age group do you currently publish?

TWM: For what age group would you like to see more published within the next five years?

TWM: Any final comments you would like to make?

Hess: We do always need holocaust books because they are important to publish and on the curriculum, so there is a steady market from schools. The stories that come to us you could have never imagined existed. It’s up the authors to discover and write amazing stories about things they are passionate about. This is always what makes the best books of all.

Meyer: I’d like to see lots of stories of all kinds and in all places published. Even after writing my two novels, I still feel an obsessive preoccupation with this subject.

So, there you have it. Despite the flaws in our survey design, Holocaust literature for young readers serves an important purpose and there are still stories to tell: nonfiction, teen, postwar and Jewish resistance narratives, and narratives with settings in China and South America—just to mention a few of the opportunities. Will you be the one to write one of these narratives?

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. I have signed a contract with MB Publishing in Maryland to publish my YA historical novel, Matchless. It’s slated for publication in May 2020. I think of it as Pride & Prejudice meets the Jewish shtetl in interwar Poland. This is a novel that’s had many lives, started in 1999!
  2. I’m looking for students for my online fiction and creative nonfiction classes. If interested, please contact me through Comments. One of the current fiction classes is in Cycle 14—we began in July 2016.
  3. Finally, my family history informs much of my creative writing. While I began my research nearly 30 years ago (yikes!) with rolls of microfilm, it’s never been easier to find your roots. Taking Ancestry’s DNA test last year has introduced me to new cousins and has reinforced the concept that we’re all connected. Now if only I knew who the people in this photo are. I could be looking at my great-grandmother and not even know it.

That’s it for this week. Have a good one and stay tuned for a Yom Hashoah post tonight about Why We Write and Publish Holocaust Books for Young Readers!

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