books

B’nai Mitzvah books + a giveaway!

My bat mitzvah reception was held at Roma di Notte, an Italian nightclub in Midtown Manhattan. Described by New York magazine as the perfect spot for an “after-hours rendezvous,” the club boasted an impressive collection of Roman statues, medallions, and urns. Hidden caves, or “grottos,” insured ultimate privacy for lovers indulging in “a romantic nightcap.”

Mystery of the White Gym Socks

Why my parents chose this particular venue to fête my coming of age as a Jew is beyond me. Another mystery is why I wore a pink floor-length dress best suited for a five-year-old flower girl at a fancy wedding. Or why my mom allowed me to wear white gym socks with my patent-leather T-straps.

Turning the Tables

Another thing I don’t get? Why I didn’t claim my rightful place at the head of the kids’ table instead of way down at the end, next to my dorky cousin Jordan. (I dare you to find me in the picture, below.)

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

These details aren’t important, of course. I’m telling you this because, to be brutally honest, it’s all I can remember about my mitzvah. The day went by in a blur.

Sure, I have photographic evidence of the event, courtesy of my shutterbug cousin Keith, and I know I read from the Book of Leviticus, which details how and when religious offerings should be made to God. (I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say I learned more about animal sacrifice than a 13-year-old old should ever know.) Other than that…? Nada.

That’s why, when I was asked to write a short story for the upcoming Jewish MG anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories, out from Albert Whitman & Company on April 19, I chose not to borrow from my own bat-mitzvah experience. I had too many unanswered questions, and no one to answer them for me. Fiction felt more real—and more immediate—than anything my memory could provide.

With that in mind, here’s a collection of middle-grade novels that feature characters preparing for a b’nai mitzvah. Their fictional memories are way more reliable than mine. 🙂

PLUS don’t miss a chance to win a copy of Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories if you enter the giveaway. Scroll down for details! 👇👇👇

B’nai Mitzvah Books

Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson

Ari Fish, who’s in the throes of studying for his bar mitzvah, believes in two things: his hero-Wayne Timcoe, the greatest soccer goalie to ever come out of Somerset Valley—and luck. So, when Ari finds a rare and valuable Wayne Timcoe trading card, he’s sure his luck has changed for the better. Especially when he’s picked to be the starting goalie on his team. But when the card is stolen—and his best friend and the new girl on the team accuse each other of taking it—suddenly Ari can’t save a goal, everyone is fighting, and he doesn’t know who, or what, to believe in. Before the team falls apart, Ari must learn how to make his own luck—and figure out what it truly means to be a hero.

The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Seventh-grader Caroline Weeks has a Jewish mom and a non-Jewish dad. When Caroline’s nana dies around the same time that Caroline’s best friend, Rachel, is having her bat mitzvah, Caroline starts to become more interested in her Jewish identity.

The Long Trail Home by Kiersi Burkhardt and Amber J. Keyser

Rivka can’t wait to get away from her family for the summer. Since that terrible day last year, she wants no part in their Jewish community. At least at Quartz Creek Ranch, she feels worlds away from home among the Colorado scenery, goofy ranch owners, and baby animals. Other parts of Quartz Creek, however, are too familiar, including the unsettling wave of anti-immigrant threats to ranch workers. On a trip to the country, Rivka is also surprised to learn the history of Jewish pioneers in the area. When she and her defiant cabinmate, Cat, face disaster in the wild, Rivka will need to find strength deep within her to help them both get home safely.

The Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie

Karma Cooper is a seventh grader with thousands of followers on SnappyPic. Before Karma became a social-media celebrity, she wasn’t part of the in-crowd at Merton Middle School. But thanks to one serendipitous photo, Karma has become a popular poster on SnappyPic. Like most kids at MMS, her smartphone—a bejeweled pink number Karma nicknamed Floyd—is like a body part she could never live without. But after breaking some basic phone rules, Karma’s parents take Floyd away, and for Karma, her world comes to a screeching halt. Can Karma learn to go cold turkey and live her life fully unplugged?

My Basmati Bar Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend, Ben-O―who might also be her boyfriend―and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown, Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido

Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew . . . ish. Not that she really thinks about it. She’d prefer to focus on her favorite pastime: baking delicious food. But when her best friend has a beyond-awesome Bat Mitzvah, Hannah starts to feel a little envious …and a little left out. Despite her parents’ firm no, Hannah knows that if she can learn enough about her own faith, she can convince her friends that the party is still in motion. As the secrets mount, a few are bound to explode. When they do, Hannah learns that being Jewish isn’t about having a big party and a fancy dress and a first kiss—it’s about actually being Jewish. Most importantly, Hannah realizes that the only person’s permission she needs to be Jewish is her own.

This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan Long Shang

Twelve-year-old David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy. That includes his friend, Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate: David’s best friend, Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turns south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems.

Echo Still by Tim Tibbitts

Twelve-year-old Fig’s life at school is perfectly normal: He’s sure his science teacher hates him, his dad is forcing him to attend Bar Mitzvah classes because his mom would have wanted it, and he’s just been passed over for the football team in favor of Gus Starks, a ball hog and a bully. And, as if Fig’s life needed one more complication, his grandmother Gigi is unexpectedly coming to stay with him and his dad for a while. As Gigi helps Fig navigate the obstacles of school and a tough football season, Fig comes to understand some important things: about his religion, about his family, and about Fig himself.

Pink Slippers, Bat Mitzvah Blues by Ferida Wolff

After her Bat Mitzvah, all Alyssa wanted to do was dance. She loved the practice sessions at the studio. And she loved performing. But suddenly there were so many other pressures. The persistent but sympathetic rabbi wanted her to join the confirmation class. Alyssa’s best friend was very sick and needed her badly. And if Alyssa missed another dance rehearsal, she would be thrown out of the Nutcracker. If only she could decide what to do.

And last but not least…

Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz

What does it mean to become an adult in your faith? Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their b’nai mitzvah. And whether celebrating with a lavish party or in reception room A with an accordion player, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there’s something in this anthology for every reader, regardless of their faith.

Giveaway!

For a chance to win a copy of COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIEScomment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 3/25/22; U.S. only, please.)

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Company). An active blogger for the popular MG website, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-grade AuthorsMelissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Are you ready to hone your skills in Ready Chapter 1??

Hello Mixed-up Files! Today, I’m sharing with you an incredible opportunity for your writing journey that is taking the craft world by storm (not a stormy night) called Ready Chapter 1.

Ready Chapter 1 begins its inaugural year-long workshop dedicated to propelling writers into publishing in February.

The faculty is an All-star group of writers, agents and editors, including middle grade gurus Jonathan Maberry, Greg Neri, and Henry Neff.

Writer/illustrator Fred Koehler, who facilitates the first class on “Story Ideas the Sell”, is the mastermind behind this new and innovative project.

Here are some thoughts from Fred on the website, www.readychapter1.com, as they prepare to launch:

Writers are the nicest people you will ever meet. There is nothing quite as refreshing as finding yourself surrounded by fellow creatives who are passionate about the same things that ignite your spirit. Any place you find community within the writing world will become a refuge for you, especially as you deepen your roots. Because in those communities of like minded creatives, you discover that you are not alone. Others share your brand of weirdness. And every time you return to your normal life after hanging out with fellow writers will leave you feeling wistful. Like making friends at camp and then having to say goodbye till next summer. 

There are two writers inside each of us, and success requires both of them. The first writer, and the one that comes most naturally, is the pure creative. It’s the one that revels in the descent of the muses. The one that finds joy in the perfect turn of phrase or the plot twist that not even they saw coming. The second writer is the public persona of an author. It dresses up. Pushes past insecurities. Delivers the keynote. Invites others into the circle. Without the first writer, the writing itself will be transparent and shallow. Without the second, your stories may never see the light of day.

You can’t make Luck, but Luck can make you. I have had several serendipitous moments in my writing career to which I can attribute no amount of effort or talent on my own part. There was the TV station manager I met in line at the coffee shop. A month later I was on the CBS morning show. And then there’s the editor who thinks I bear an uncanny resemblance to their firstborn son. That editor always responds to my submissions. The more time you spend putting yourself out into the world, the more chances you will have to cross paths with Luck. And if you have a great manuscript ready when Luck comes knocking–that’s when the real magic happens.

Getting discovered is a dream come true for more than you. Yes, I realize that sounds a little bit like Dr. Seuss but we’re going to run with it. Everyone gets excited about the buzz of a shiny new talent. Publishers love to debut their latest rockstar, fingers crossed for chart-topping sales. Editors and agents build reputations on bringing brilliant books to life from previously unknown voices. And let’s not forget about all of your writing friends who get to dress up for the launch party. When and if it happens, embrace it. You only debut once so enjoy the ride!

Publishing takes its own sweet time. The publishing industry is the grocery store equivalent of that person who gets in the ten items or less lane with 25 items, asks for three price checks, tries to use expired coupons, and then insists on paying with a personal check for the part that the gift card doesn’t cover. Put otherwise, publishing is slow. If you write a story about the latest greatest pop culture moment of today, it will be forgotten by the time your book comes out. So write to trends instead of fads. Better yet, write from your source and ignore everything that is currently popular.

The book is never done until the publisher sends it to print. There are so many times I have thought that a story was (mostly) perfect just the way I wrote it and nobody else better say otherwise thank you very much. The crit group loved it. The agent said it was ready for submission. Editors who got a chapter asked to read the full. The story never would have gotten that far unless it was good. But good isn’t good enough for a publishing deal, much less a publishing success. Be prepared to trust your editor when they say that it needs a lot of work. Perhaps even a substantial revision. Fight for what matters in your story. Rewrite the rest.

If you’re not careful, you can forget why you’re here. If it’s money and fame you’re after, you will never be happy no matter how much money or fame comes your way. But if you create for the simple delight of exploration, letting your curiosity roam free until it hooks on an idea you can elevate to art–you have a lifetime of joy ahead. Everything else is gravy.

In addition to Koehler, Maberry, Neff and Neri, the award-winning faculty contains authors Janice Hard, Lisa Cline Ransome, agents Michaela Whatnall and Joyce Sweeney, and editor Lorin Oberweger and Harold Underdown.

Sweeney, also an author of 14 YA novels, represents a plethora of middle grade authors and will deliver the August workshop on Stakes and Tension for Ready Chapter 1.

Here are some of her thoughts on the website:

For RC1 Academy, you will be teaching Stakes and Tension in August. Can you give us one example of who has done this brilliantly in a book?The last thing I read like that was a graphic novel. THIS WAS OUR PACT by Ryan Andrews. It was non-stop surprises, yet every plot turn was satisfying. In recent picture books, I felt it in DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Le and Dan Santat. In middle grade, Christina Diaz Gonzalez would get the prize from me.

Describe the perfect client. No wait. Describe an imperfect client that you are willing to invest in. Perfect client participates in the process, wants to be an equal partner with me, trusts my business judgment but also holds to their own creative vision, is willing to pivot, revise or do whatever it takes to get to the goal. Is fun to talk to. The imperfect client has all the same traits, but perhaps projects that are harder to sell.

If your goal for 2022 was to finish drafting or revising a novel with a community like Ready Chapter 1, how would you prepare? I would pick a project that I know has a good hook and could sell, regardless of how much work I feel it needs. RC1 is the place to do that work. And I would write down every question I could think of to ask this amazing assembledge of teachers.

 

Hope this information on Ready Chapter 1 was helpful. To register, visit the website  www.readychapter1.com/ The first class starts Feb. 1 and there are still some spots available.

Steve Jenkins’ Books: a Middle-Grader’s Treasure

Author/Illustrator Steve Jenkins’ recent and sudden death surprised and saddened fans of his informative, engaging books about animals and the natural world

Now is a good time to celebrate and enjoy the many books we have by him (they never go out of print) and to share them with young readers. I’ll speak of Steve here in the present tense, because he is still very much alive in his books, and there are more to come!

Steve Jenkins’ career and  books combine in marvelous ways his life-long love and understanding of science, of art, and of children, how they think and wonder. He’s never lost his playfulness or his own childhood curiosity about the natural world. His book ideas often begin with an irresistible question that kids (including his own) have asked.  Or one that he has asked himself. How do different animals see? What do animals do on their first day? What animals are the stinkiest? What are tails actually for?

A great place to start reading or re-reading Jenkins is with The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest,Toughest,Cleverest, Shyest–and Most Surprising–Animals on Earth. Imagine a 208-page picture book! The Animal Book is a kind of Steve Jenkins compendium and masterwork. It combines hundreds of his stunning cut-and-torn paper collage images of animals–living, endangered, and extinct. His illustrations are so lively you expect to feel their texture when you touch the flat page. Facts in his clear language, both basic and believe-it-or-not, accompany these stunning animal portraits.

Jenkins expected The Animal Book to be one a reader could browse in, starting anywhere. But he has also organized it in a progression of themes and subtopics–from a definition of animal to family relationships, senses and defenses, to an outline of animal evolution in “Story of Life.” Jenkins always strives to lead his readers to an understanding of how the world works and how these facts fit into a larger picture. The time-lines and other infographics in the book are beautifully clear.  His seamless book design makes the topics and their subtopics easy to follow.

A real treasure comes as an extra at the end of the book.  In a section simply called “Making Books,” he shows readers how he gets his ideas and  how he does his research.

Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT

Then he takes us into his studio, with his collection of textured papers filling color-coded drawers. We learn how he selects just the right paper to cut or tear for a jaguar’s fur or a toad’s belly, a terror-bird’s beak or a rhino’s hide.  He also includes a graphic timeline of bookmaking from idea to finished publication. This book belongs on every public, school, and home library bookshelf.

So what are the new titles  from Steve and his wife and collaborator Robin Page that we can look forward to in 2022? One of them obviously began with a question. The Animal Toolkit: How Animals Use Tools explores some surprising ways we’re discovering that animals solve problems and interact with the world.  Disasters by the Numbers came out this month, and there will be two more By the Numbers titles this year. The series has included Earth by the Numbers, Dinosaurs by the Numbers, Insects by the Numbers, and Solar System by the Numbers. These books are chock-full of accessible infographics and are a middle-grade trivia buff’s gold mine. The 2022 additions will be One Day by the Numbers and Animal Facts by the Numbers.

Steve Jenkins has always had great, serious fun deepening his knowledge of animals and the natural world. His readers will, too. When you buy a Jenkins book for a child–or for yourself–get the hardback version if you can. His books are keepers.