Picture book coming in January 2017 – The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat, written by Barbara Bietz, illustrated by John Kanzler, published by August House
The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come up with the story? What inspired you?
Barbara Bietz (BB): I was born and raised in California and went to college and grad school in Arizona. My identity is deeply rooted in the Southwest. Many Jewish stories begin at Ellis Island, but not all families stayed in New York. I was inspired by Pioneer Jews by Harriet and Fred Rochlin. I had the opportunity to hear Harriet speak and as she described the brave and bold lives of Jewish pioneers, I got the chills. My response was so visceral and I knew I needed to learn more. I was especially interested in the strong women pioneers who maintained Jewish rituals in spite of great challenges. Their stories humbled me. The Sundown Kid is my love letter to all those families who came before me, who created communities that are thriving today.
When I set out to write The Sundown Kid my heart was really with Mama. How hard it must have been to leave a whole life behind! I flipped the perspective to the boy who wants to help his Mama feel at home in a new place, so he invites their new neighbors for Shabbat dinner. The Jewish value of welcoming strangers is as important today as it was in biblical times. Our differences disappear over a shared meal.
TWM: Was it a conscious choice to use first person? Was there a reason the boy was never named?
BB: Using first person helped me feel the emotional arc of the story and it worked, so I didn’t change it. I thought a lot about the naming the boy but I felt strongly that he didn’t need a name, other than his nickname Little Buckaroo. My hope is that young readers to will connect with a timeless challenge of adjusting to a new home, and see themselves in the experiences of the boy.
TWM: How did you decide to have a male protagonist?
BB: The boy character just presented himself. It’s just the way the story came to me – it wasn’t really a decision.
TWM: Did you have any involvement with the illustrator?
BB: I was so fortunate to be able to communicate with John Kanzler. His art takes my breath away and adds incredible depth to the story. John was very conscientious about being accurate—historically and religiously. He respected my input and I was impressed with his level of commitment to the story. In the end, The Sundown Kid is a collaboration. It is “our” story.
TWM: Do you know what medium he used?
BB: I had to ask John about this. He said, “I work digitally. That is, the entirety of the book exists on my iMac. I Used to paint in acrylics until my daughter (now ten) was beginning to explore my studio as a toddler. So I switched over fully for safety. I developed techniques that created art similar to my painted style to satisfy existing clients. I still miss painting at an easel, however, and hope to return to it someday.”
TWM: How did your manuscript land at August House?
BB: My manuscript was sent to August House by the amazing Chris Barash at PJ Library. I am so delighted that The Sundown Kid is a PJ Library selection. August House publishes mostly folktales, celebrating all cultures. I was thrilled and honored that The Sundown Kid was right for their list.
TWM: What were the greatest challenges with this story? Satisfactions?
BB: The process of publication for The Sundown Kid has been a joy. Everyone at PJ Library and August House has been an absolute pleasure.
TWM: What are you working on now?
BB: I just finished a middle grade manuscript and I also have two picture book biographies I have been researching. All of these stories are currently spinning in my head, waiting for my attention.
For more about Barbara Bietz, see her website.