The Whole Megillah (TWM): Tell us about Kalaniot Books. How, when, and why was it founded?
Lili Rosenstreich (LR): After a lifetime of work in the mainstream book world, my partner (in life as well as business), Mitchel Weiss and I, finally felt that it was time for us to concentrate on the community that is truly close to our hearts: Jewish kids. So, in 2019 we started developing Kalaniot Books with a list of four books. The pandemic forced us to alter plans and we ended up launching with a single Hanukkah book this September. We have three more books due out for spring and four more next fall.
Jews are known as “The People of the Book” and this applies to children’s books as well. This community has an embarrassment of riches. There are several strong players publishing in this niche already and so many talented authors and illustrators. We are excited to add our voice to the conversation. In our opinion, there can never be too many good books.
TWM: Who is your target audience, your intended reader?
LR: Young people and families interested in learning about the surprisingly diverse traditions and culture of Judaism and the Jewish people.
TWM: What kinds of submissions are you looking for?
LR: We love books that celebrate Jewish culture. Jewish holidays can be easier to market for us, but they don’t guarantee a good Kalaniot book. For a book to have meaning, it has to reflect a Jewish value or ideal. A story must be more than a celebration of the holiday, it needs to be a celebration of the connection to the culture.
TWM: How can writers submit to you?
LR: Writers can submit through our website at KalaniotBooks.com or via email at Submissions@KalaniotBooks.com. We apologize in advance. Sometimes it can take us a month to respond because of the numbers of submission we receive. Nudges are welcomed. Please note that our list is VERY small. This means that we often pass on many wonderful manuscripts because we simply don’t have space in our program.
TWM: Who and what inspires you?
LR: We are inspired by the Jewish community—past and present. Here is a people, often living in countries where they are in the minority. Yet, somehow Jews find ways to interact with these cultures, at times incorporating local traditions. At the same time Jews have the commitment to continue to practice and celebrate their own customs. So, while a Jew in India and a Jew in Italy may have a slightly different flavor to their Shabbat dinners, ultimately they both hold the same basic ideals. If they were to meet each other on the street, there would be an understanding between them. In researching content for these stories we continue to be amazed by the diversity of people and practices of Jews around the world. We’re excited to expose kids to this rich mosaic of Jewish culture and history.
TWM: What are your favorite Jewish children’s books?
LR: Because my foundation in publishing is from the art director’s chair, I tend to look at the illustrations first. However the story is equally important. Great books intertwine story and art seamlessly. That being said, I love Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, by Eric Kimmel, or just about anything by Patricia Polacco. I also have a soft spot for Margot Zemach’s It Could Always Be Worse. As a young designer at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, I worked on the paperback reissue as one of my first projects—I guess I’m dating myself there, huh? While those titles are clearly in the “oldies-but-goodies” category, I really do love some of the more current stories that are highlighting elements of Jewish culture that haven’t historically been given a voice. I think these are very important books and a trend we’d like to continue. Some of my favorites are Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom, by Sarah Aroeste with illustrations by Ayesha L. Rubio, Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams with illustrations by Chiara Fedele, and A Sweet Meeting on Mimouna Night by Allison Ofanansky with beautiful illustrations by Rotem Teplow.