Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
How are you all doing? It’s been a little over a month since we were last together, and we have soooo much to catch up on! So, instead of continuing with the pleasantries, how about we get right to it?
Anyway, this past week, I was fortunate enough to have been one of the invited authors to the TENT program for Jewish Children’s Literature. The retreat is sponsored by PJ Library and takes place in the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Other authors and illustrators included in this program were: Sarah Aronson, Nancy Churnin, Paula Cohen-Martin, Nancy Cote, Meira Drazin, Donna Gephart, Ari Goelman, Alison Goldberg, Megan Hoyt, Sarah Klinger, Elisabeth Kushner, Yael Levy, Varda Livney, Sherri Mandell, Tamar Meir, Susan Meyer, Suri Rosen, Vesper Stamper, and Elaine Vickers.
Besides us, there were also some returning alumni from last year’s trip: Evelyn Krieger, Joanne Levy, Erica Perl, and Alan Silberberg.
Honestly, it was humbling to be surrounded by that much talent. And like any program with writers, discussions led to our chosen field, and that may have been one of the best experiences. First off, to get to meet in person, others who you have respected or admired from afar, and also just to get to hear their experiences. You get to see that you aren’t alone. We celebrated successes and also got to understand that the things you’re going through aren’t isolated cases. It helps having a support system of your peers, and I’ll say that this group was incredibly supportive.
Still, the main focus of the program is to get artists to create Jewish stories. Now, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I’ve been a huge advocate for the need for Jewish books for kids. With antisemitism seemingly escalating daily, it’s important for Jews to be represented in kidlit. First, it’s important for Jewish kids to see themselves, but it’s also important for non-Jews to see them as well. This weeklong retreat was all about that.
The first day we arrived, we hit the ground running with a tour of the Yiddish Book Center, and getting to hear Aaron Lansky, the founder of the center, talk about the history of the center and how he’s rescued over a million Yiddish books from around the world. There were so many fascinating and historical items, you really didn’t know where to look first. We also heard from Sue Macy and Stacy Innerst, the author and illustrator of the upcoming book about Lansky, The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come. The book comes out in October, and I can’t wait for all of you to read it.
We spent a couple of sessions with Miriam Udel to discuss the history of Yiddish literature, which was fascinating. And also, three days were spent on workshops with people from within the industry. I was in the middle grade workshop, so I was lucky enough to be part of a group of seven authors led by Kendra Levin, an Editorial Director from Viking Children’s Books. It was a supportive environment, and the feedback in these workshops was in-depth and extremely helpful.
Tuesday night, we were all taken to the home of Harold Grinspoon and Diane Troderman, who graciously hosted us for dinner and to discuss Jewish books. It was a great discussion, and by the way, the food was delicious!
One of the main highlights was getting to go to the Eric Carle Museum and getting a peek behind-the-scenes at artwork which isn’t always on display to the public. Such incredible pieces that can only be shown every so often. And I must say, that caterpillar car was incredibly cool.
The last couple of days, we had discussions with author Marjorie Ingall, from Tablet Magazine, about the importance of diversity and Jewish books. She was amazing and so well-versed on the issue.
The last full night, we had a cocktail event at the Rich Michelson Gallery. Each piece of art was more incredible than the last. I kind of loved the Dr. Seuss display. There were also surprise appearances by Jane Yolen and Barbara McClintock.
As always, with these types of things, it’s sad when it’s over. You’ve made so many new friends, that you hate to say goodbye. But the good thing is, you’re definitely inspired. At least, I know I am. This was a great group and I’m sure we’ll all keep in touch and push each other. Hopefully, the end result of all of this will be a contribution of plenty of Jewish stories for many future generations of kids to enjoy.
If you have the opportunity, I’d definitely recommend applying for this retreat next year. It was well worth it in both a creative atmosphere and for a worthwhile mission. And who knows, maybe you’ll get to see me there as well, as part of returning alumni! (Hint, hint!)
So, thanks to the Yiddish Book Center. Thanks to PJ Library. And thanks to all the authors and illustrators who participated in this, to make it a fulfilling and inspirational week!
Well, that’s it for now my Mixed-Up friends! According to the hundreds of texts I’ve received, Dorian Cirrone wants coffee, and it’s my turn to bring it to her.
So, until next time . . .