Thursday Links

Here are this week’s links:

  1. From Tablet: “A Holocaust Fairy Tale from France
  2. Looking for something to do on Christmas Eve? Join the Jewish Review of Books Dec. 24 interview with historian Sarah Abrevaya Stein, author of Suitcases Full of Letters: A Sephardic Journey through the 20th Century
  3. From the Jewish Book Council: Read about the Jewish roots of Wonder Woman.
  4. From JSTOR Daily: How to Revive a Dead Language–the emergence of Modern Hebrew.
  5. From Literary Hub, a piece about buying from indie bookstores during the pandemic.

Stay safe and healthy!

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Mid-Week Field Notes

Three quick things this week:

  1. In preparation for my year-end assessment, I’ve gone through my notebooks of Amherst writing from March to the beginning of December:

Poetry: 64 poems, including contributions to my YA contemporary novel in verse and my bio in verse

Nonfiction: 70 pieces

Fiction: a full short story (Holocaust survivor, ms sent out into the world in October), beginnings of two short stories (a Kindertransport kid sent to Scotland, the meeting of a historical commission), and pieces of a novel (Holocaust survivor in NJ).

Of the nonfiction, I think there are maybe eleven pieces of writing I could work into finished pieces. Two are done (“Why a Kosher Butcher’s Daughter Made Ham Sandwiches” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” about my grandfather’s matchmaker card). Other topics include lost friends, DNA secrets (I think I’m going to do this as a found poem), my grandparents, my father, the dining room table, and a distant but notable relative.

From all this, I want to figure out what to work on in 2021.

2. I’m delighted that my paper, “Storyscape: The Convergence of Historical and Narrative Truths in Yizkor Books,” has been accepted for presentation at the July 2021 conference of the Memory Studies Association. The conference was originally planned to take place in Warsaw but will now be virtual.

3. I spent a few days this week cleaning my office space. Two full garbage bags of paper and four stacks of books, mostly old literary journals. Now I have room to enter Revision Land later today.

Be safe and take care.

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Thursday Links

Here are this week’s links:

  1. From the Association of Jewish Libraries: AJL PRESENTS: The Sydney Taylor Real and Mock Book Awards
    Wednesday, January 6, 2021 at 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET
    This event is sponsored by AJL’s SSCPL Division. All members and non-members are welcome.
    Register at
  2. Save the Date: Maus Author/illustrator Art Spiegelman gives a talk at Gratz College on Sunday, March 7, 2021, at 1 pm ET. Registration opens in January.
  3. Want to learn Yiddish but don’t have the time? Try it in 15 minutes with the National Yiddish Theatre/Folksbiene.
  4. New York’s Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center announces its Winter-Spring 2021 program.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

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Mid-Week Field Notes

Three quick things this week:

  1. Serendipity strikes again. I mentioned Erica Goss‘s newsletter last week and bought a book from Dos Madros Press. The press was promoting the work of Prague poet Lucien Zell. I wondered: Was that the ex-pat poet who recited his poetry on Neruda Street my first full day in Prague in 2011? I looked up his bio, and sure enough, same guy. I’d never known his name. We exchanged emails and find we have some things in common, including writing about the Holocaust.
  2. My Artist Date this week started with a two-hour celebration of CavanKerry Press‘s twentieth anniversary. I was inspired by the press’s fine poets and prose authors. I’m continuing my “refilling the well” with a public (virtual) reading with Sewanee Writers Conference Reading Series Thursday night.
  3. As soon as I finish grading final papers, exams, and projects, I’m launching into Revision Land to work on an academic paper, a picture book bio (in sestinas!), and a bio in verse.

Happy Chanukah!

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Mid-Week Field Notes

Three quick things this week:

  1. Inspired by Newspaper Blackout, a collection of “found” poems by Austin Kleon, I’m going to try my hand at them. I have a theme in mind. I’m trying to see if I can get access to my hometown newspaper from 1920 to use as my base. Is the universe conspiring to help me? In her most recent Sticks & Stones newsletter, poet Erica Goss just reviewed a collection of found poetry (Karen George’s A Map and One Year). I ordered the book.
  2. I’m re-reading Julia Cameron (revered author of The Artist’s Way), specifically Vein of Gold. I’m starting up my Morning Pages again. (See Austin Kleon’s take on them.) I desperately need those weekly Artist Dates (an hour-long “date” to replenish the creative well), but in this COVID world, I’m not sure how to implement them. Any ideas?
  3. I am excited to be teaching an MFA class in the spring at William Paterson University on Book & Magazine Editing. Our textbooks: Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and Amy Einsohn’s and Marilyn Schwartz’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Fourth Edition (University of California Press, 2019). I’m inviting book and magazine editors into the Zoom class to share their experiences with us.

Be safe and take care.

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Thursday Links

Trying out a new feature: offering The Whole Megillah readers some useful links:

  1. From Trish Hopkinson, “9 Literary Magazines Seeking Volunteer Readers & Why You’d Want to Participate” at Authors Publish
  2. From Allison K. Williams at Brevity, “Freshening Up” about activities you can do over the holidays to boost your literary platform
  3. An event tonight, December 3, from the Yiddish Book Center, “Keeping It in the Family: Yiddish Writers and Their Legacies

Be safe and take care.

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Two-in-One Author’s Notebook | The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Written by Erica S. Perl, Illustrated by Shahar Kober

Perl, Erica S. The Ninth Night of Hanukkah. Illus. Shahar Kober. Sterling Children’s Books, 2020, 32 pp.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired this story?
Erica Perl (EP):
The story was inspired by my two daughters. One Hanukkah night, they lamented the fact that the poor shamash candle works hard for eight nights without any fanfare or appreciation. This astute observation stayed with me for years. I pondered how to write this story and decided to give it a try.

TWM: What were the challenges in writing it?
I stumbled a lot in the beginning. I knew I wanted it to be a book about helping and gratitude, but I didn’t want it to feel preachy or didactic. In an early draft, the family didn’t light candles until it was too late because their lives were so busy. But this version was missing something. Workshopping The Ninth Night of Hanukkah at the Tent: Children’s Literature program (at the Yiddish Book Center) with the guidance of Leonard Marcus and several fellow picture book authors was incredibly helpful. I realized that having the family be overwhelmed by a recent move, rather than just overextended, would make the thoughtful and welcoming gestures of their neighbors all the more meaningful and appreciated.

Erica S. Perl

TWM: What were the satisfactions in writing it?
I was really satisfied when I saw Shahar Kober’s art and felt that he had captured the emotional texture of the book. Seeing the smaller characters in the book, like Mr. Patel with his baby, made me so happy because he captured my vision of this lovely little urban apartment building. That was also satisfying for me because so many Jewish picture books are set in rural and suburban settings (or are set in the past, rather than showing contemporary families). I love books like Chik Chak Shabbat which show Jews and gentiles living together in urban settings. I think this kind of representation is important. I was also proud to create a story which shows an inclusive Jewish holiday celebration.

TWM: You use a refrain: It was nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah. Can you comment on how you developed that?
I love books with repeated refrains (they’re so much fun to read aloud). I also love books where, due to the narrative arc, the refrain has to evolve – and this was precisely that story. Throughout that book, Max and Rachel settle for “not-quite-Hanukkah” item substitutions (for example, chocolate chips instead of gelt). But at the end of the book, they finally experience the warm communal feeling of a real Hanukkah party, even though – ironically – the holiday has already ended. So, readers will notice that the refrain changes in the book’s last line to subtly convey the book’s message.

TWM. How important is creativity and community to the observance of Hanukkah? To Jewish values? To where we are now in COVID-19 times?
Creativity and community are Jewish values, and go hand-in-hand with Hanukkah observance. I also think that the most important things we can do during Covid-19 times is to help each other and appreciate those who help us. It goes without saying that the first responders and all of those who have risked their lives deserve our recognition and gratitude… but also, it should be said! And drawn on the front of cards, which we then mail or deliver! (Click here for a free downloadable template.). Smaller acts of kindness can make a difference, too. This morning a neighbor dropped off a dozen bagels (his daughter works for a bagel bakery) and it completely made my day. It lifts my spirits during these challenging times to notice and appreciate the often unseen and unheralded helpers among us (the garbage collectors! the delivery people!) and I feel excited about creating something that, hopefully, motivate others to thank the helpers in their lives, too. In that way, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is more than a book. It’s also sort of a movement. (Which I see as a very Jewish thing, too.)

TWM: What’s next for you?
I am working on a middle grade novel, as well as several series books – I write the Truth or Lie nonfiction series, the Arnold and Louise early chapter book series, the Lucky Dogs beginning reader series, and the Craftily Ever After chapter book series (under the pseudonym Martha Maker). I am also virtually visiting a LOT of communities to help them get ready for Hanukkah and Shamash Night. If you want to connect with me and find out more about my books and my virtual visits, please visit my website and follow me on social media @ericaperl.

Thanks so much, Erica! Now let’s turn it over to illustrator Shahar Kober.

Shahar Kober

TWM: What medium did you use and why?
Shahar Kober (SK): My work is digital. I use Adobe Photoshop for every stage of my work: Initial sketches, line art and final colour. Photoshop is an amazing tool for illustrators. It’s versatile and user friendly, and gives me the flexibility to amend my work as I go. Nowadays Photoshop brushes allow me to mimic real brushes on paper. Actually, there are so many options there, unlimited options really, and the real challenge is choosing the right tools and work methods for me.

TWM: Did you experience any challenges in illustrating this book?
SK: The main challenge I had while working on this book was to try and balance the many details I had to include in some illustrations while still keeping focus on the main subjects. This is especially noticeable on the last few spreads where many characters are crowded together on each page. I had to use all kinds of composition and colour tricks to make this work.

TWM: What were the satisfactions?
SK: I was very happy with the freedom the publisher gave me for character design and colour palette. I tried to use a limited palette while keeping a general feel of a very colourful work. I think that worked pretty well! 🙂

TWM: How do you decide to use a two-page spread vs. an illustration on just one page?
SK: That’s a tough question. Sometimes this is actually dictated from the designer and sometimes it’s just a feeling I have, based on my experience. Before going to detailed sketches, I create a rough mockup of the book with very sketchy thumbnails, to get a general feeling of the spread and flipping order. Then, I sometimes notice that after going through a few double spreads, a single page illustration or even a vignette can break the sequence and give the audience the ability to take a visual time out before going back to double spreads.

TWM: What strategies do you use to get readers to turn the page?
SK: I’m not sure it’s my job to do that actually. When reading a book the reader will turn the page eventually! I think it’s usually how the text is divided into spreads that has the most impact on getting readers to turn the page. But, I would say my job is very important to make a reader pick up a book in the bookstore in the first place. So the book cover art is probably the most significant piece of work in that sense. It must be appealing and intriguing enough and I hope I managed that.

For more about Shahar Kober, please visit his website.

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things this week:

  1. In a bout of insomnia, I started to think about a matchmaker’s photo postcard of my grandfather in front of his Newark grocery. The card is made out to “Miss Belous” in East Harlem, New York City. I am now sleuthing who was this “Miss Belous” and figure out the year of the card. His sister had married Ber Belous, so this might be a niece.
  2. I am officially a Ph.D. candidate in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Gratz College. I became “ABD” (All But Dissertation) last week.
  3. I’m gearing up to work on revisions of my bio in verse and an academic book chapter this weekend. For the former, I’m gathering up my mentor texts like Eleanor by Gray Jacobik, White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, by Kiki Petrosino, and Exuberance, by Dolores Hayden.

Be safe and take care.

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