Yom Hashoah 2017 | The Whole Megillah’s Top Ten Holocaust Books for Children & Young Adults

In commemoration of Yom Hashoah 2017, I’m listing here my Top 10 Holocaust Books for Children and Young Adults (published since 2010), in no particular order:

  1. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (Balzer + Bray, 2014)
  2. Once and Then by Morris Gleitzman (Henry Holt, 2010 and 2011)
  3. Requiem: Poems from the Terezin Ghetto by Paul Janeczko (Candlewick, 2011)
  4. The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren and illustrated by Fabio Santomauro (Kar-Ben, 2014)
  5. The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb (Arthur A. Levine, 2013)
  6. The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow (Balzer + Bray, 2011)
  7. Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick, 2012)
  8. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Knopf, 2016)
  9. Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz by Carol Matas (Scholastic Canada, 2013)
  10. The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki, translated by Laura Watkinson (Eerdmans, 2013)

There are many, many other fine books published. They span the spectrum of the Holocaust experience ranging from occupation and flight to liberation and recovery. Stay tuned for the launch of my Holocaust kidlit website and database along with the database’s analytical findings in June 2017.

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Poet’s Notebook | Richard Michelson

In honor of National Poetry Month, we continue in our series of interviews with poets of Jewish content. This week The Whole Megillah talks to prolific author and poet, Rich Michelson.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How do you get your ideas for your poems?
Rich Michelson (RM): While writing for children I generally have an idea,  subject or question in mind before I begin, and then I search for the words that will best bring it to life. In writing poetry for adults I most often start with a word or phrase, and only slowly discover the idea or theme as I write. It is the love of language that fuels my poetry, though I am drawn toward narrative, and I am deeply engaged with my cultural and political surroundings, so the words naturally lead me to reflect on subjects I have been reading, conversing or thinking about. If I sit down to write with an idea in mind, it almost never works as poetry; I am better off writing an essay.

TWM: How much does your Jewish culture figure into your poetry? Your submissions?
RM: I have been blessed to see my books valued and shared within the Jewish community. I’ve had poems published in many of the journals (on paper and on-line) I read—Moment, Tikkun, Tablet, Jewish Currents. I am involved with Jewish culture and so I naturally submit to publication I check out on a regular basis; but I submit as often to poetry and general magazines I read. I don’t send work out scattershot; if I do not value a journal enough to subscribe, I have no interest in joining their conversation.

Jewish culture and history figures greatly in my poetry, because that seems to be the lens through which I view the world. Which is strange, as I grew up without a Jewish education of any kind; I never attended Hebrew school and was not “bar-mitzvahed.” My parents were anti-religious and didn’t attend services or socialize with any organized Jewish groups. My mother  wondered where she went wrong when I began to accept invitations to speak at various synagogues (though in hindsight, I guess we can call that a typical Jewish mother response!). But when my wife, Jennifer, converted – against my wishes – I began to read the books she was studying and decided it was about time to learn something about my heritage (Jennifer has since become an interfaith minister, so you never know what paths people will travel).

TWM: How do you find time to write since you run a gallery and also write picture books?
RM: If you want something done ask a busy person! I am a full-time gallery owner, a full-time poet, a full-time kids’ book writer and these days it seems every writer needs to be their own full-time publicist. But I do find time to bike, exercise, go to the theater, and I love traveling and spending time with my wife and grown children. Yes, I do sleep.  But I tend not to watch TV and I don’t see many movies or play computer games. Not because I wouldn’t love to do all those things but there isn’t time and I’d rather be reading or writing.

TWM: What poem do you wish you had written?
RM: Open any book by Yehuda Amichai. Randomly put your finger down. I wish I had written that poem.

TWM: What characterizes a good poem to you?
RM: A poem that appeals to the heart, the ear, and the mind equally.

TWM: When did you start writing poetry? Who inspires you?
RM: I started writing comparatively late. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer and I spent the majority of my school years as “class clown” until my 12th grade teacher, Mr. Ketchum inspired a love of literature. I began writing seriously in my 20s. To paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel: I used to be inspired by clever people but the older I get the more I am inspired by kind people.  I am also inspired by people who strive to make a difference in the world; people who reach for the stars, but always remember where they came from. I’ve written a number of children’s books about individuals who have inspired me including Heschel (As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom), Leonard Nimoy (Fascinating), Lipman Pike (Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King), and William Powell (Twice as Good).

TWM: You recently gave an awesome workshop and reading at the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in New Jersey with Mark Doty. What did you two talk about in the car ride back and forth to Massachusetts? 
RM: Well, thank you. I was pleased to visit PCCC and I thought the audience was engaged and receptive, and that is always half the equation, so give yourself a pat on the back also.

Mark Doty is an amazing poet and all-around good guy. Of course, we discussed philosophy, ethics, and the nature of the universe during the car ride to and from.  OK. Kidding. Mostly we talked about our feet, since Mark broke his distal phalanx two days prior and I’d just fractured a metatarsal bone. 🙂 Sorry to disappoint you, but I am sure you noticed we both hobbled our way onto the  stage. Then we caught up on old times and gossiped about former schoolmates (we were in the same MFA class at Goddard*). We did get around to discussing Whitman for a bit, so maybe I should have just written that.

TWM: What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
RM: I hate to repeat myself but I’d give the same advice I gave to aspiring children’s book writers on your blog previously: read, read, read—and see what the best of your elders and contemporaries are doing. And more importantly, sit down and write. I mean right now. Still here? We all have a million reasons why we don’t have time “right now.” Since this is the last question and you are done with the interview, instead of scrolling back to Facebook, and checking your email: WRITE!!!. Now. Still here?

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Poet’s Notebook | Matthew Lippman

Matthew Lippman Photo by Meriah Burman

Continuing in our month-long series of interviews with Jewish poets, The Whole Megillah welcomes Matthew Lippman.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Matthew, how do you get your ideas for your poems?
Matthew Lippman (ML): The best way to answer this is to say that they really come out of nothing, or, what is seemingly nothing. For instance, when I drove into my school this morning, early, there was a policeman, a traffic cop, in neon yellow, standing in his neon yellow vest. It was way too early for him to be there but he was there. I wondered about why he had arrived so early in his neon yellow vest, standing in the rain. So, I wrote a poem about him. It’s always the littlest things.

TWM: How much does your Jewish culture figure into your poetry? Your submissions?
ML: It figures in and it does not figure in at all. I did, once, write a whole series of poems about being a Jew that turned into a collection called Salami Jew. But, I have strayed from the topic. My wife is in rabbinical school. My kids go to Jewish day school, and I am very secular. I suppose, unconsciously, it’s there but I don’t focus on it too much. In terms of submissions, not too much.

TWM: How do you find time to write since you teach at a day job and then also teach online and in private consultations?
ML: I write every day. I get to school early and write. It’s the blessed time. No one is here. I have huge windows in my classroom and things are quiet. I also write in the evening, after the kids have gone to sleep. Its just part of my day like all the other things—going to the market, making dinner. I don’t consider writing to be lofty in any sense. It’s very mundane and dirty like everything else.

TWM: What poem do you wish you had written?
ML: When I was a kid I wanted to have written “America” by Ginsberg. Now, in my later life, I wish I had written Danez Smith’s “Dinosaurs In The Hood,” or Kerrin McCadden’s, “The Mother Talks To Her Son About Her Heart.”

TWM: What characterizes a good poem to you?
ML: The integration of imagery, internal pressure, voice, attitude, funkiness.

TWM: When did you start writing poetry? Who inspires you?
ML: I started really young, in 1st grade. I was always drawn to it because of the quickness of a poem. I think I probably have some sort of attention deficit situation. I can’t focus too long on a piece of writing and I love language. Poetry was the perfect medium for me, especially as I got older, to indulge in my love of language and to appease my inability to stay focused.

Inspirational folks are Juan Felipe Herrera, Michael Morse, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Murray, Frida Kahlo, Gerald Stern, Chris Burden, Annie Leibovitz, Diane Arbus, Toni Morrison, Matthew Dickman, Jay Nebel, and Tracy K. Smith, oh, and Daniel Nester.

TWM: Great list! What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
ML: Write everyday. Read a lot. Steal from poems and poets that you love. Incorporate imagery and surprise in poems. Write everyday. Oh, I said that. But, it’s true.




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Author’s Notebook | Sue William Silverman, Poet and Memoirist

April is National Poetry Month! The Whole Megillah will post some special content featuring poets. This is the first in the series: an interview with poet and memoirist Sue William Silverman.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): You’ve been publishing a lot of poetry lately. You mentioned in your books before that you had been a fiction writer before turning to memoir. How and where does poetry fit in?
Sue William Silverman (SWS): Ironically, my MFA degree is in fiction, yet this is the genre in which I’ve published the least. Anyway, I began to write poetry after my second memoir was published. At that time, I simply needed a break both from long-form writing, and from such an intense personal focus. My first poetry collection is Hieroglyphics in Neon.

These new poems I’m publishing are part of a second collection, If the Girl Never Learns. Right now, I’m publishing individual poems but the collection itself, as a whole, has not yet found a home.

The origin of this new collection is, well, strange…almost mystical. One night I dreamed an entire poem. When I woke up, I quickly wrote it down before it faded away. The title of it is If the Girl Never Learns to Cook or Sew. From this one poem, a slew of others evolved, all about this “girl” who is tougher than I am, but also, perhaps, more lost. This poem is published in The Bellingham Review, which published additional poems in this series, including If the Girl Receives a Caress from a Man without Hands.

TWM: Some writers say there’s a close connection between poetry and memoir. What do you think about the connection?
SWS: I agree. While memoirs and personal essays usually have some kind of plot or arc, it frequently isn’t as well defined as that in fiction. There’s room to meander and think on the page in creative nonfiction, much like poetry. More than anything, perhaps, the connection between poetry and memoir is how they both pursue emotion and immediacy. Even book-length memoirs rely upon individual epiphanies, and poems can distill years’ worth of experience into just a few lines.

TWM: Is your process for writing poetry different from your process for writing prose? Please explain.
SWS: The main process is the same in that every morning I wake up and write. It’s different, however, in that I feel much more joy writing poetry than I do prose. There’s something about line breaks, that sense of time travel, and the emphasis on each individual word and image that makes writing poems a joyful experience. I feel this to be true even if the poem itself is dark.

TWM: Which poets inspire you?
SWS: My favorite contemporary poet is Lynda Hull.  She’s simply astonishing. She inspires me, actually, whether I’m writing poetry or prose. I also love reading Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich.

TWM: Do you get feedback on your poetry before submitting?
SWS: Yes! My partner, Marc Sheehan, is a wonderful poet and my first reader for everything I write.

TWM: Are you particularly proud of any poem? Why (why not)?
SWS: Not really any one individually. In this new collection, If the Girl Never Learns, I think I just feel close to this unnamed girl…who, as I mentioned, is kind of dark, edgy, and lost.

TWM: Does your reputation as a memoir writer affect your poetry placement at all?
SWS: That’s difficult to say. I have gotten 21 poems from the new collection published individually, so that might lead me to think it doesn’t matter. But I am still trying to publish the whole collection. In any event, we have to write what we have to write! And the writing part itself is more important to me than publication or reputation…though, don’t get me wrong, of course I love to get published!

TWM: Do you have any advice for aspiring poets or for prose writers thinking about writing poetry?

SWS: Do it! Follow your energy and write that which won’t let go of you. And if you’re not sure which form or genre to write, try to listen to the energy of the piece. How does it want to be written? Let the first draft be as strange, scary or uncategorizable as it wants to be. There’s always time in later drafts to smooth out the rough edges — or to make them even edgier!

Links to more of Sue William Silverman’s poems:

“If the Girl Wears the Man’s Green Shirt”

“If the Girl Prepares to Feed a Cannibal in a Dark Alley”

“If the Girl Refuses”

About Sue William Silverman

Sue William Silverman is the author of three memoirs. Her newest, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew,” was a finalist in Foreword Reviews’ IndieFab Book of the Year Award. Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You won the AWP award. Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction is also a Lifetime TV original movie. Her craft book is Fearless Confessions: A Writers Guide to Memoir, and her poetry collection is Hieroglyphics in Neon. She teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  


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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | March 2017 Report

Not much activity to report for March, and I suspect there won’t be much until the semester ends. Rejections continue to roll in from my frenetic December 2016 submissions.

Poetry: 1 submission (Silver Birch Review), 1 acceptance (Gravel), and 4 rejections to report (Agni, Literary Mama, Ninth Letter, Cincinnati Review).

Creative Nonfiction: No activity, but I have three pieces to revise and am about to embark in two online classes to generate at least four more pieces.

Fiction: No submissions, 1 rejection from Circa for flash fiction.

Academic: No activity.

Question 4U: What has your activity been like?

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Kar-Ben Kar-Ben Testing Jewish Chapter Book Waters

The Whole Megillah (TWM): When and why did Kar-Ben move into MG and YA publishing? What’s the relationship with parent Lerner and how does that contribute?
Joni Sussman (JS): Kar-Ben has published occasional MG/YA manuscripts but we haven’t made — nor do we plan to make — a concerted effort to seek them out. However, we’ve continued to receive manuscripts for this age group over the years despite our not soliciting them and I’ve reviewed them as I’ve had time and/or if they’ve come from an author or agent I know. We’re more interested in MG than YA, as that’s the age group on the next step up the ladder from picture books. So when I received a fun Passover-themed time travel adventure manuscript from Eric Kimmel, Scarlett & Sam: Escape from Egypt, a couple of years ago, I thought we’d give that a try. It’s done well, so I’ve decided to pursue a few other stories, including a follow-up to the first Scarlett & Sam book. We now have several MG stories in our pipeline, scheduled to come out in the next couple of years.

Regarding our relationship with our parent company, Lerner has always published books for this age group albeit not specifically Jewish-themed titles. However, when a Lerner title happens to have Jewish content, which occurs once in a while, we carry it in our Kar-Ben catalog and vice versa. For example, Kar-Ben’s new spring 2017 title, The Six-Day Hero, by Tammar Stein, who’s written several other well-reviewed MG/YA titles, is about a 12-year-old Israeli boy living in Jerusalem through the ramp-up to the Six-Day War, as his older brother becomes a soldier and the boy learns that there can be many kinds of heroes. That book became a Junior Library Guild selection, and Lerner is carrying it in their catalog, which tells me there’s real interest out there, even in the non-Jewish world, for good Jewish-themed MG stories that have universal content. I think this interest is reflected in the “We Need Diverse Books” movement; middle-graders will read about cultures different from their own as long as the story is good. Some of the MG titles we’re pursuing are geared very much to the Jewish community; others, like The Six-Day Hero have more universal appeal.

TWM: Do you solicit manuscripts or review those that come to you over the transom?
JS: I don’t solicit manuscripts as we already receive many manuscripts for both picture books and chapter books, over 800 submissions a year to fill about 20 publication slots per year. Picture books will continue to be Kar-Ben’s main focus, but we may do a chapter book or two a year. As for chapter book manuscripts, I’m interested exclusively in MG stories — not YA — with word count in the 10,000-30,000 range and subject matter appropriate for ages 8-12.

TWM: Is there anything in particular you look for?
JS: As with our picture books, I’m interested in all Jewish-related topics. There are already many Holocaust stories in the marketplace for this age group, so, despite my personal interest in the topic, I’m less interested in those for now. Other MG chapter books we currently have in the works, to give you some examples, include an All-of-A-Kind style story about a family with many kids that takes place in 1920s Poland, as oldest sister Adina is about to enter into an arranged marriage. Another is about a young girl with an American dad and an Israeli mom who dreads giving up her summer camp fun to go on a family trip to meet her intimidating (to her) Hebrew-speaking Israeli family for the first time. Another delightful MG story in the works, aimed at the younger end of the MG crowd, is a mystery about a stolen Kiddush cup a la the old Nate-the-Great stories.

TWM: Do you work at all with PJ Our Way on MG titles?
JS: PJ Our way, the PJ Library program for kids 8-11, has purchased some of our chapter books for their program.

TWM: Do you foresee your MG/YA program expanding?
JS: I’m looking at publishing perhaps one or two MG chapter book titles a year for now and we’ll see how it goes.

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March 2017 Jewish Book Carnival

The Whole Megillah is pleased to once again host the monthly Jewish Book Carnival!

Here are this month’s links:


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