Report on Tent: Jewish Children’s Literature, August 2017

National Yiddish Book Center
Amherst, MA

From August 13-August 20, 2017,  the National Yiddish Book Center, in partnership with PJ Library, and funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, hosted the first-ever Tent program of Jewish Children’s Literature. They received about 130 applications and selected 20 writers to attend this inaugural event. I was one of them.

We gathered on August 13 in Amherst, Mass. We represented a variety of Jewish practices, including one pulpit and one recovering female rabbi. There were three attendees from Israel and one from Spain. All of us had children’s writing in common; some were published authors several times over and some had their first books just coming out.

Here’s the gist of the program:

Workshop: Three workshops met three times each for three hours. Emma Dryden and Leonard Marcus led picture book workshops. Kendra Levin led the middle grade workshop. I was in Kendra’s, workshopping a novel in verse. There were six of us; the work was diverse, including historical fiction based in America and Israel and contemporary coming-of-age novels. Kendra led us through several exercises to deepen our understanding of the balance between backstory/exposition and action and characterization. I received some great suggestions for my work in progress.

Lecture: National Yiddish Book Center academic director Josh Lambert delivered several lectures that more or less centered on some brief readings. We had guest lectures, too, most notably one by professor Miriam Udel of Emory University, who spoke of Yiddish tales and the need to modernize them. My biggest take-aways:

  • The market is looking for books about diversity of Jewish life so today’s Jewish kid could find herself in the book
    • Mixed race
    • Mixed culture
    • LGBT
  • Yiddish tales need modernizing to be relevant to today’s kids and we’re the writers who can take this on

Panels: We attended panels on the state of the industry (facilitated by Marjorie Ingall, panelists Emma Dryden, Leonard Marcus, Kendra Levin) and diversity (facilitated by Josh Lambert, panelists, Nicole Tadgell, Grace Lin, and Lesléa Newman). My biggest take-aways:

  • Middle grade is inching toward what we used to call lower YA
  • Picture books are getting shorter, 500 words or fewer
  • A gap exists for young YA, high school freshmen
  • Publishers are hiring sensitivity readers

PJ Library: PJ Library staff attended most sessions and gave a talk on the next to last day. We were able to sign up for one-on-one consultations with them to discuss our book projects, questions we had, etc. My biggest takeaways:

  • Both PJ Library and PJ Our Way are offering author incentives
  • PJ Library needs a lot of high-quality books!
  • Gaps–board books and early chapter books

The Grinspoon back yard is prepared for a BBQ

Dinner at Harold Grinspoon’s home: Another highlight of the week was to hear Harold speak about his mission, to meet him and his gracious wife, and to meet area authors. I sat at a table with Ilan Stavans and his wife. Grinspoon’s foundation, run by his daughter-in-law, funds PJ Library. Key staff members spoke briefly about their responsibilities and what they’re looking for.

My biggest takeaways:

  • To participate in Tent is a huge honor and privilege
  • PJ Library needs a lot of high-quality books!

 

 

Eric Carle Gallery
Eric Carle Museum
Amherst, MA

Eric Carle Museum: We had a special tour of the museum and several of us participated in book signings. Needless to say, I left there with a few more picture books to add to my collection, most notably Eric Carle and Friends’ What’s Your Favorite Color? and Uri Shulevitz’s How I Learned Geography.

Exploration: For some participants, the week provided a period of deep reflection. For others, an opportunity to write. For me, I reflected and I wrote. I learned some new sources like Moses Gaster’s book of Jewish tales and Nathaniel Deutsch’s discussion of S. An-sky’s pre-war ethnography study in The Jewish Dark Continent. The week felt like an MFA mini-residency.

The program is funded for 2018. Stay tuned for announcements. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with fellow Jewish children’s writers, your own practice of Judaism, and your identity as a writer.

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About Barbara Krasner

History writer and award-winning author Barbara Krasner writes Jewish-themed poetry, articles, nonfiction books, and novels for children and adults.
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10 Responses to Report on Tent: Jewish Children’s Literature, August 2017

  1. Susan Tarcov says:

    This is a terrific post. Thank you! I always look forward to your posts.

  2. winegarten says:

    Thank you for this, I’m so glad you were selected! I was one of the 130 who weren’t chosen, maybe next year!

  3. csheer18 says:

    This post was intriguing, informative, and inspiring! Thanks for sharing it, Barbara. I’d love to know how to apply next year.

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  6. Faigie Horowitz says:

    I really appreciate the time, effort, and reflection you put into sharing each part of Tent with your readership. It gave us a taste and motivation! Best wishes for a shanah tovah and a year of gentleness.

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