The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this book?
Audrey Ades (AA): I started writing this book in 2016, when I felt the moral compass of our country was moving in the wrong direction. I wanted to offer kids a role model to counter the images they might see on TV or hear about from grown-ups.
TWM: What was your research process?
AA: Judah Touro was a private man. As far as we know, he did not keep a diary, and he had all his private papers burned when he died. So the research process was tricky. There were a few books written about him in the 1940s, and there are several articles available online. But I was also lucky to connect with two knowledgeable, generous people who had studied Judah’s life for years. They helped me bring him to life.
TWM: Do you have a critique group? If yes, how did that help?
AA: Yes. I have two critique groups. Those kind souls listened to versions of this book for two years while I tried to find the voice and the correct level of detail to fit the theme. I would also be remiss not to mention the grandson of a dear friend, who read a mid-process version and gave me this invaluable feedback: “It’s the most boring thing I ever read. It’s like every boring thing they make you read in Hebrew school.” If that’s not a call for revision, I don’t know what is!
TWM: In general, please describe your writing process from start to finish.
AA: I try to read as much as possible about my subject. With Judah, this was easy to do, as there isn’t much written about him. I’ve usually got a theme in mind from the start, and I look for accomplishments or events in my subject’s life that specifically support the theme. Then I say a small prayer and start to write.
TWM: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
AA: Do I have to pick just one? The first challenge was to decide when to start the story in the course of Judah’s life. I wrote several full versions beginning in his childhood before deciding to start with him already an adult. That felt a little scary for a picture book. I also wasn’t sure how much “God” to put into the story. There are no contemporaneous sources describing the role God played in his adult life. And then, as in every book, I struggled with how much detail to include. That’s always tricky when you have under 1000 words to develop character, plot, and theme.
TWM: What was the most satisfying?
AA: The most satisfying moment of the writing was when the last line of the book popped into my head and I knew it was right. The first and last pages of a story are usually the ones I agonize over the most.
TWM: I understand that this book was selected by PJ Library. Did you send in the ms. or did Kar-Ben?
AA: In 2018, PJ Library and SCBWI co-sponsored a Jewish book contest. This story won the contest. It was an amazing honor. Kar-Ben bought the manuscript after that.
TWM: Do you have any tips for writers of picture book biographies? Do you have any favorites?
AA: My chief bit of advice would be to keep your eye on the prize. Don’t get distracted by the accomplishments of other writers or twist yourself into a knot from all the advice out there. Just put in the hours and write the best work your heart and brain can produce.
I have a lot of “favorite” picture books. There’s some terrific writing out there! The ones I seem to go back to over and over are by Donna Bowman, Gary Golio, Gene Barretta, and Candy Fleming.
TWM: What’s next for you?
AA: Kar-Ben will publish my second book, The Rabbi and the Reverend: Joachim Prinz, Martin Luther King Jr and Their Fight against Silence, in the fall or winter of 2021. And I have another PB biography that will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux the following year. Right now, I am on my 800th revision of a book about a subject I love, but who apparently wants me to fight for the privilege to write about him!
For more about Audrey Ades, visit her website.