Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado
COMING OF AGE Anthology Author Interview
We Need Diverse MG is so lucky this month … we get to feature an incredible new anthology called COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman)–which happens to be the number one release on Amazon for children’s Jewish fiction. We’re thrilled to have an “in” with one of the editors and a contributing author–because they’re both MUF contributors! Jonathan Rosen and Melissa Roske graciously agreed to interview with us. Moreover, because they’re so cool, we did half our interview in text and the other half on Zoom audio. So, enjoy our multi-media visit and get excited for COMING OF AGE before it appears on your bookshelves on April 19.
About COMING OF AGE Anthology
Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories: As you might be able to deduce from the title, COMING OF AGE is geared to a middle-grade audience. 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.
Meet Co-Editor Jonathan Rosen
WNDMG: Tell us the origin story for the book?
JR: Basically, the impetus was just wanting to get something with Jewish content for kids out. I’ve experienced someone telling me to make a book “less Jewish”. Or that Jewish books don’t sell well. I’ve spoken to many other Jewish authors who have told me about their similar experiences. Also, in my mind is how over the last ten years or so, antisemitism has been skyrocketing. So, wanted to do something that would feature Jewish characters, not just for Jewish kids to see themselves and their own experiences, but hopefully for non-Jewish kids to be able to read, and see how similar Jewish kids are. I know it’s cliché, but making a difference really does start with children. Lastly, one of the things that was important to me was to have a portion of the proceeds donated to Jewish organizations that fight antisemitism.
WNDMG: How did your selection of authors come together?
JR: To start, it really was as simple as first reaching out to Jewish authors that I knew. I had done a couple of trips sponsored by PJ Library, so I got to meet several other Jewish authors as well. So, I reached out to who I knew. There were also people who were on my wishlist who I didn’t know. When I spoke to Henry Herz, my co-editor on this book, he suggested some people he knew, so between the two of us, we were able to get a great collection of authors. Fortunately, almost everyone that was asked, immediately agreed to participate. My biggest regret was after word got out, many other Jewish authors reached out to me to find out if there was room, because they wished to participate, but there wasn’t enough room. Perhaps, I’ll have to do another anthology. 😊
Centering on B’Nai Mitzvah
WNDMG: What direction/driving question did you give the authors for their stories?
JR: I didn’t want to give too much direction, because I wanted each one to write what they wanted. The only criteria was that it had to be centered around a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, since we were targeting Middle Grade readers, that’s kind of the biggest event in a middle grade Jewish kid’s life. But, otherwise, each author had the freedom to take the story where they saw fit. It was interesting to me that everyone wrote such different kinds of stories. We had memoirs, comedic stories, more serious, and even a few sci/fi which surprised me that more than one person thought along those lines.
Welcome to Melissa Roske
At this point in our conversation, we are joined by contributing author Melissa Roske, whose short story is a lovely exploration of a meeting of generations.
Connecting to Grandparents
WNDMG: Let’s talk about your stories—both are about connecting to grandparents but in very different ways. Melissa, what led you to write about connecting with Grandma Merle?
MR: Unlike Bella, the protagonist of my story, I was extremely close to my maternal grandmother, Molly. We even lived in the same New York apartment building, and she took care of me after school while my parents were at work. Most days we played “School,” where I was the teacher and Granny (that’s what I called her) was the pupil. I insisted on playing this game every single day, and Granny was kind enough to go along with it.
Melissa and Granny
Like most Jewish grandmothers of her generation, Granny loved to feed people—especially me. She even kept a special drawer of chocolate in her kitchen for my sole enjoyment. Unfortunately, the chocolate drawer was the source of multiple cavities and a root canal. J Another thing about Granny, besides her tiny stature (she was 4’10”), was her impressive collection of flowered housedresses. I never saw her in anything else, except on the day of my Bat Mitzvah. She wore a fancy black-and-gold dress to please my mom.
Melissa and Family
Earlier in her life, Granny was against the Viet Nam War and refused to pay her taxes in protest. My mom was convinced Granny would be arrested and begged her to pony up the funds. I was too young to witness this, but it says a lot about my grandmother’s character. She was little but fierce. Maybe that’s why I wrote a story about a girl who didn’t know her grandmother. I was blessed to know mine, and somehow wanted to pay it forward.
((Curious about more books with B’Nai Mitzvah themes? Read Melissa’s book list here.))
Time Travel and Grandparents
WNDMG: Jonathan – same question for you, but I need to add – is there a personal significance to the time travel watch? (I mean, I’m half expecting you to say you met Abraham Lincoln at your Bar Mitzvah, which was of course only 20 or so years ago)
JR: Twenty? More like fifteen! Actually, my kids always wonder why their ages keep increasing, but when I give them mine, it decreases every time they ask.
But as far as the story goes, I had figured that most of the stories would be more conventional stories, or memoir types, so I figured I’d do something different. Little did I know that I’d get other sci/fi submissions as well. But, the idea for me was always to show that the tradition is more important than the spectacle. That’s something that’s sometimes lost, because the tendency, at times, is to treat a Bar/Bat Mitzvah as big as a wedding, and there really have been times throughout history, where Jews had to do these things in secrecy because of certain regimes in power made it illegal for Jews to observe. So, through time travel, the main character kind of gets to experience that.
Jonathan Rosen Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall
Finding the Relatable
WNDMG: As authors, we all want our books to resonate with readers. Beyond that, we also have dreams about how exactly our words might become a part of our readers’ hearts. What do you each hope for with this book?
MR: My hope is that kids from all religious and ethnic backgrounds will find something relatable within the pages of Coming of Age. Yes, it’s a B’nai Mitzvah-themed book, written by Jewish authors and aimed primarily at Jewish readers. But you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the stories and themes each author presents. In my story, “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” I wanted to show readers that there’s more than one way to achieve a goal. In Bella’s case, it was having a Bat Mitzvah—something she thought was unobtainable because she wasn’t “Jewish enough.” Children often feel as if they’re not “enough.” Smart enough, fast enough, thin enough, popular enough… Here’s hoping they’ll see themselves in a more positive light, and acquire greater self-acceptance, after reading the stories in this book.
JR: Really, I just hope that the book as a whole entertains. Of course, there are things that I hope the reader takes away, but the overall purpose for me was to put out something with Jewish stories, and Jewish characters, which Jewish readers could identify with. And even non-Jewish readers could relate to seeing kids their age going through similar experiences to things that they experience in their lives.
The Jewish Equivalent to the Easter Egg
WNDMG: Authors often like to put small references in their books—maybe to a friend’s inside joke, a family tradition, or even a previous book. Ironically, they’re often referred to as “Easter eggs.” What would the Jewish equivalent phrase be? And did either of you put any in your stories?
So, What’s the Answer?
Curious about Jonathan and Melissa’s answer to that last question about the Jewish equivalent to the Easter egg?
We decided to have some fun and offer you all a mixed-media interview: blending text with audio for a true immersion into our conversation. So, to hear the answer,
Click here to listen to the rest of our interview:
We also talked about being Jewish in America, Jonathan and Melissa’s own Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and whether Melissa is going to be able to sell books out of her car at Time Square.
Thank you so much to Jonathan and Melissa for a wonderful chat and CONGRATULATIONS!
Release Date: April 19
COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman) releases April 19, 2022. To buy a copy:
About the Authors
Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker who now lives with his family and rescue dog, Parker, in sunny South Florida. He is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has really been willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of the Spooky Middle Grade titles, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and its sequel, From Sunset till Sunrise, as well as the co-editor of the anthology of Jewish stories, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories, He is an administrator of the Middle Grade reading site, FromtheMixedUpFiles.com, and the co-host of the YouTube channel, Pop Culture Retro. He can also be found on his own site at www.Houseofrosen.com
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” will appear in the forthcoming Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Compay, 4/19/22). An active blogger for the popular MG website, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-grade Authors, Melissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.