Anyone who doubted that the annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in New York City would continue its longstanding tradition of excellence as sponsorship and venue moved from the 92nd Street Y to the Jewish Book Council (JBC) and the Center for Jewish History would have been proven wrong yesterday.
About 40 registrants sat lecture-style in the Kovno Room listening intently to a superb line-up of speakers, including authors, editors, and agents. About half the audience had attended the conference in previous years.
Now, of course, I’m a bit biased. I’ve been a coordinator of this conference for many years. But yesterday proved that beginner or veteran could learn something new.
The day opened with some opening comments by JBC Board Member Bill Liss-Levinson. Author Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of many book for young readers, including The Doll with the Yellow Star and the Doll Shop Downstairs provided the keynote speech. She talked about the balancing act writers have to strike. She talked about keeping stories and characters relevant to today’s audience. And, she talked about perseverance.
Stephanie Lurie, editorial director at Disney Hyperion, followed. Stephanie shared 18 Jewish-themed books, ranging from picture book to YA to nonfiction us, each with a unique tale but with the common thread of universal appeal. She gave us the three “H”s of Jewish children’s lit: Holidays, Histories, and Holocaust.
The big surprise for me was the direction Behrman House is taking. Executive Editor Mark Levine talked about this religious publisher’s move into “digitally interactive storytelling” and “transmedia storytelling,” an opportunity for authors and illustrators to think and create with innovation and, dare I say, abandon.
Aileen Grossberg, Chair of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition Committee, and Kathe Pinchuck, past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee shared guidelines and successes. Please check the Association of Jewish Libraries website for details and deadlines.
Kar-Ben is a longtime friend of this conference and editorial director and founder Judye Groner talked about contemporary, relevant stories.
The conference’s new sponsor, the Jewish Book Council, has many wonderful programs Jewish children’s book writers may not know about. Carolyn Starman Hessel, Miri Pomerantz Dauber, and Naomi Firestone talked about the work of the JBC and specific programs, including the Jewish Book Network, the Jewish Book Exhibitors Association, National Jewish Book Awards, Jewish Book World, and the JBC blog.
Former conference chair Steve Siegel, now retired from his Buttenwieser Library post at the 92nd Street Y, was a surprise guest. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all the great leadership he’s shown over the years. (And let’s not forget Anna Olswanger, whose vision for Jewish book writers created this conference in the first place.)
While illustrators met and received portfolio critiques from Robbin Gourley, Senior Art Director at Highlights Books, and some writers met with editors in one-on-one consultations, the remainder heard from Elana Roth, agent with the Caren Johnson Literary Agency and her client, Laura Toffler-Corrie, author of The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz, about their agent-author relationship.
Three authors participated in a panel. Laura Toffler-Corrie talked about marketing aspects. Ann Koffsky, illustrator of more than 20 children’s books, talked about her first foray into writing and illustrating a children’s book. David Bernstein talked about his POD efforts.
Viking Children’s Books editor Kendra Levin rounded out the agenda. She spoke of Jewish lit in terms of folklore, historical, and Holocaust-related works.
The conference ended with a Q&A session and closing remarks by Bill Liss-Levinson.
Whew, a whirlwind day. A day well spent. All of you who attended, please comment on your experiences of the conference!