In the Jerusalem Forest by Devora Busheri and illustrated by Noa Kelner, 32 pp., Kar-Ben Publishing, 2019. Israel-based Devora and I met as inaugural fellows at the 2017 Jewish Children’s Literature Tent at the Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, MA.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come to know the work of Hayim Bialik? How exactly did his poem, “The Pond,” inspire you? What was your process for writing this book?
Devora Busheri (DB): One night I read the poem “The Pond” and was smitten: the imagery, of a pond longing for the reality which she reflects was so beautiful, and I had already known that this was actually a metaphor also for the relationship between the Torah and the world (which is it that reflects which in this case? is the Torah a reflection of the world or is the World — as the famous Midrash would have it — an outcome of “God looked at the Torah and created the world?”).
Anyway, I thought: I wish I could paint. I NEED to adapt this thing. I need to own it, BE it. My son paints beautifully, but precocious as he was, (12 years old at the time), “The Pond” by Bialik was a bit much to ask him to interpret.
One night I did what God does in the Midrash I just quoted: I sat at my computer, opened the fat Bialik poem book, steadied it onto the page where “The Pond” begins, stared at it, and started typing. I looked at the Bialik poem like a painter looks at scenery, and I typed. And this little tiny story of reflections came out: the back and forth reflection of city and nature, of mother and daughter, of woods and water-pond, and of monumental-poem and current picture-book.
TWM: What was your greatest challenge? Greatest satisfaction?
DB: The greatest challenge was knowing when to stop: even though it is a small vignette, a slither of life, it is a meaningful one, and I believe children’s days are filled with meaningful little things, and not grand plots. (Please look into Mr. Roger’s wonderful articulation of what he tries to give children in minute 2:10 on the attached link.)
TWM: Do you participate in a writers’ group? If yes, what is the process there? If no, do you ask for feedback from anyone?
DB: I do not participate in writer’s group. My feedback came to me, and often comes to me, when I suggest the manuscript to an illustrator. In this case, the wonderful Noa Kelner said she loved the book, and indeed did wonders with it.
TWM: What do you want readers to take away from this book?
DB: I would love it if any child or parent suddenly sparks up an interest for Bialik’s poems for children or adults. I’d love it if parents and children see how precious it is to just spend time together. I love the moment when the girl is a little afraid and Noa drew her mother so wonderfully attentive and ready with a hug and then a let-go. Because fear doesn’t have to last long. It can go away, much like a ripple in water.
TWM: What’s next for you?
DB: I have a new book about R Akiva coming out in Sifriyat Pijama (Israeli PJ) in Israel. I’d love to see it in English too. Also, my book My Sister Is Sleeping is coming out in PJ library in the U.S. in May.
and this from publisher Joni Sussman…
TWM: What attracted you to this manuscript?
Joni Sussman: I was attracted to this book because I love Bialik’s poetry, introduced to me as a child by my Lithuanian mother, and I knew that many children today – and their parents! – aren’t familiar with his poetry. Devora’s manuscript put a lovely spin on the poem, giving it a new and kid-friendly interpretation for today’s kids. This book received a starred review in Kirkus!