McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Woodcarver’s Daughter. Kar-Ben, April 2021, 128 pp.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write The Woodcarver’s Daughter?
Yona Zeldis McDonough (YZM): I had gone to the Museum of American Folk Art to see a show of carved carousel animals—mostly horses. Because the museum has a mission to promote the work of women—particularly unsigned, unattributed work, like embroidery, quilts, rugs etc.—there was a wall note to explain why there were no women carvers included in the exhibition. The answer was that girls were not allowed to join the guild, and so would have been unable to gain the necessary experience, tools and materials to become woodcarvers. Well! When I read that, Batya, the main character, came bounding into my mind, wanting to tell me her story.
TWM: What was your research process?
YZM: I did research about how Eastern European woodcarvers, many of whom were Jews and who worked on synagogues, bimas, Torah scrolls and the like, were hounded of their homes by pogroms and other forms of anti-Semitism and then reinvented themselves in a secular context in America. I also read about the Golden Age of Carousels, and the importance of the carousel in American leisure life, as well as the factories that produced them.
TWM: What was your greatest challenge?
YZM: Some books are harder to write, and kind of resist their own creation. This was not one of them. But I did have a hard time finding a publisher—I was told that it was “lovely,” “ moving,” “original” and “touching,” but also that it was too quiet and dealt with a historical period that was not especially popular. Yet I felt strongly enough about this particular manuscript to keep trying. Moral of the story: persist!
TWM: Greatest satisfaction?
YZM: Reading the book when it’s all finished and between two covers and thinking, now this is a book I would have loved when I was young.
TWM: Was the process in writing this story different from writing your other novels for young readers?
YZM: Not really. I feel like the nine-year-old girl who loved and devoured books is still alive and well in me, and it’s that girl I channel when I’m writing for kids.
TWM: Who inspires you?
YZM: I turn a lot to the past—stories that moved me when I was a young reader. Interestingly enough, they were stories that took place in earlier times—I had a taste for the by-gone days even then. Some favorites include Anne of Green Gables, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Little Princess, Understood Betsy. I read these books again and again—they were like old friends, and I was always happy to spend time with them.
TWM: How do you receive feedback on your manuscript? For instance, do you participate in a writers’ group?
YZM: No, but I do have a few trusted readers with whom I share manuscripts while they are in progress.
TWM: Do you have an agent?
YZM: Yes, I do have a wonderful agent, Susanna Einstein, and she has been enormously helpful in an editorial capacity as well as in finding great homes for my work.