Posts Tagged Jewish

Author Spotlight: Chris Baron

I’ve been a fan of Chris Baron’s work since 2019, when I fell in love with his debut MG novel in verse, All of Me. My admiration for Chris’s books—and for his gorgeous, critically acclaimed writing—continued with The Magical Imperfect (2021), and most recently with The Gray, published last month by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, and hailed by Colby Sharp as “a magical and important book.” Now, it is my greatest pleasure to extend a warm Mixed-Up Files welcome to Chris Baron, shining brightly today in the Author Spotlight!

But first…

A Summary of The Gray

It’s been a tough year for Sasha―he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing. Sasha’s dad tells him to “toughen up”―and he does, but with unfortunate, hurtful results. His parents and therapist agree that a summer in the country, with his aunt Ruthie, might be the best medicine, but it’s the last place he wants to be. Sasha will be away from his best friend, video games, and stuck in the house that reminds him of his beloved uncle Lou, who died two years earlier.

 Aunt Ruthie is supportive, and there are lots of places to explore, and even some potential new friends. When Sasha is introduced at a local ranch to a horse coincidentally, and incredibly, nicknamed the Gray, he feels he’s found a kindred spirit. But his own Gray is ever-present. When one of his new friends disappears, Sasha discovers that the country is wilder and more mysterious than he imagined. He tries to muster enough courage to help in the search . . . but will the Gray hold him back?

Chris Baron: The Interview

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Chris! It’s such a pleasure to have you here.

CB: Thank you! I feel so honored to be here with you!

MR: Could you please share your inspiration behind The Gray, including your thoughtful and detailed exploration of Sasha’s struggle with anxiety disorder?

The original inspiration for the story is rooted in imagery. That’s always an important part of writing any story. There was a time in my life where my parents abruptly left our busy life in New York City and moved us to a farm in Upstate New York. There were horses, an abandoned farmhouse, bats in the barn above the haylofts, and horses! That’s where I started riding horses—where horses became an important part of my life. Of course, as magical as it all was, there were all kinds of adventures, conflicts, and undiscovered things that I learned about myself and my family.

The other significant setting that really inspired me was my summer at Camp Shalom, a sleepaway camp that just happened to be across the lake from another camp, which had been abandoned. We spent some “unauthorized” times taking rowboats over to that camp. We were sure it was haunted!

As far as the anxiety: Certainly, my personal experience is a factor here in the inspiration—but also that we are in “undiscovered country” when it comes to understanding the kind of anxiety that kids are dealing with from the pandemic, and so many other factors in modern society. I see it in my college students, in my kids, and their friends. Anxiety is on the rise. I think books can help.

I Need A Hero

MR: In your Author’s Note, you state that Sasha, the protagonist of your novel, is an “unlikely hero.” Could you please elaborate?

CB: I don’t think Sasha would ever claim to be a hero. But sometime, somewhere in the adventure of our lives, we “step up” into something bigger than we are and play a part. In the story, Sasha is surprised when he feels a strong sense of purpose coming alive around his friends—discovering what they need, and how he might help. It’s love. Love inspires us to be a hero, even the most unlikely of us. For Sasha, it helps him get out of himself and navigate The Gray.

Dealing with Anxiety

MR: Like Sasha, you struggled with an anxiety disorder as a child. Can you tell us about this experience? How were your struggles similar to Sasha’s? How were they different?

CB: It’s true. I struggled a lot (and still do). When I was a kid, anxiety disorders were not commonly recognized or diagnosed, and mental-health awareness and treatments have evolved so much since then.

Just like Sasha, I shared a great sensitivity to my environment. That’s the core of Sasha’s gift: sensitivity to nature and his environment. That’s the core similarity. When the environment is challenging, overwrought, overwhelming, it can affect my nervous system, and growing up I didn’t always have the tools to handle things. So I often imagined worlds within worlds, sat beneath trees and read books, and played games with close friends to find safety and healing. This is true for Sasha, but he experiences a much more exacerbating and tangible form of anxiety that permeates his whole life: a world he calls The Gray.

Talking Tech

MR: When Sasha leaves Manhattan for Aunt Ruthie’s house in Upstate New York, he’s forced to leave his devices and video games behind, at the suggestion of his therapist, to help ease his anxiety. Video games, phones—and social media in general—are pervasive features of modern life, but how are they particularly harmful for kids with anxiety?

CB: I am definitely not an expert, but one of the things I see is that technology and social media lives at the core of constructing self-image. As a parent, I see it with my own kids and their friends. Here is one article from the American Psychological Association that gets into some of it. For The Gray, I did extensive research including having Sasha “diagnosed” by a therapist. There are so many credible, peer-reviewed articles on this topic that are worth researching. For Sasha, devices and video games help ease his anxiety as part of his routine; but when those things stop working, the therapist suggests “an immediate break.”

I think it’s always good not to demonize things like video games and technology; there are many proven benefits for brain development, social activity, and so on. But in Sasha’s case, and the case for many of us, the things you mention can be so harmful. For Sasha, it was overwhelming for his senses and activated his imagination in unexpected ways. In the book, it’s alluded to that Sasha’s sensitivity to nature, his “gift” as Uncle Lou called it, gets taken over by his use of tech—until the tech squeezes out everything else.

This can happen sometimes: The technology dominates until it squeezes everything out and reforms the lens we look through. Sasha needs to make space for his natural gifts to grow, and shape him as they are meant to. I think that might be a little bit true for all of us.

Navigating Social Media

MR: As a follow-up, are there any concrete steps a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult can take to help kids navigate social media as well as their dependence on their devices/phones?

CB: Ha! Again, I am not an expert in this. I think we are all learning, all the time. My wife, Ella, and I are big believers in openness and honesty with our kids. We watched documentaries about social media and tech dependence. We monitor things while trying to allow freedom and discovery. Every family is different. For us, it was no phones until high school. But that isn’t for everyone. I think one concrete step might be community. Isolation can be one of the most harmful things, so being in a community of care and trust can help so much.


MR: Change is an important theme in this novel as Sasha grudgingly learns to love his gadget-free life at Aunt Ruthie’s house in the country. He also learns to ride horses and takes lessons in the martial art of Krav Maga. At the same time, Sasha’s dad wants his son to change—to “toughen up,” despite Sasha’s anxiety. What is it about change that, for most of us, is satisfying and terrifying in equal parts?

CB: Yes! I love this question, because it almost answers itself. The world is changing fast, and even good change can be difficult. Change is such a natural part of who we are—and this novel, like my others (and so many middle-grade novels)—is a coming-of-age story at its core. For Sasha (and like many of us), we don’t like change because it’s the unknown.

I suppose this is particularly hard for Sasha, because for him the unknown means that The Gray might find him. But by taking some control, and actively pursuing things like horseback riding, Krav Maga, and of course, new friendships, he learns that he is more capable, brave, and resilient than he thinks he is. This has a hugely positive effect on understanding his anxiety. Change can often define us, but Sasha doesn’t face these changes alone. None of us should have to.

An Unlikely Friendship

MR: Friendship is another central theme in this novel, when Sasha meets Eli, an older boy who is struggling to come to terms with a violent assault perpetrated against his younger brother. Sasha, who has struggles of his own—including bullying, which heightens his anxiety—hires Eli as his bodyguard. In time, the boys forge a strong if unlikely bond. Can you tell us more about the significance of Sasha and Eli’s friendship?

CB:  Eli. One of my favorite characters ever. From the start, Sasha feels a connection with Eli. Eli, somehow, can penetrate The Gray and find Sasha in the midst of it, and because of it, Sasha and Eli form a sort of spiritual bond that draws them together. They need each other. Their unlikely friendship is a turning point for both of them.

(For more on Chris’s thoughts on The Gray, check out his interview in Publisher’s Weekly here.)

Tackling Bullying

MR: While we’re on the subject of themes, the theme of bullying is present in all three of your novels. In All of Me, Ari is bullied for his weight

in The Magical Imperfect, Malia is bullied for having eczema; in The Gray, Sasha is bullied for his anxiety (aka “the Gray”) as well as for his uncommon name. What is it about this theme that impels you to explore it, again and again?

CB: It’s funny you ask this question. Forgive my answer. We were JUST rewatching Captain America: The First Avenger the other night (one of my favorite superheroes), and my daughters always watch my face during the scene where Dr. Erskine asks a then-tiny Steve Rogers if he wants to “kill Nazis.” His response is, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies.” I tear up every time. My oldest daughter actually asked me recently, “Is this why you write about bullying?”

I don’t like bullies. One way or another, we all face bullying—physical, emotional, or spiritual—and it can have a severe and negative impact on our lives. It did in mine, and I always wish I had looked for help from a trusted adult. I was often told, like Sasha is in the book, to “toughen up.” But often we are too scared, too worried, too shy. Stories always helped me with this. I’m thankful I get to write stories that might help some readers feel seen, know they are not alone, and even get help.

The Significance of Judaism

MR: Changing gears, Jewish culture, traditions—and food!—are celebrated in all of your novels. (In The Gray, Aunt Ruthie’s kugel made my mouth water). As a Jewish writer, why is it important to incorporate Jewishness, and Judaism, in your books? 

CB: The world is full of so many beautiful traditions. Judaism is part of me–and of course all of the incredible food traditions that go with it. I think Sasha’s Jewish heritage is very close to mine. The faith, the culture, and even the more mystical parts were all something I experienced with my family. For all of the Jewish holidays, big and small, I grew up hearing stories that helped me understand my heritage, my faith, my culture, and how I might fit into this giant world we live in. Those stories are relevant today, and I share them with my own children now. It’s fun to see them start to make these same connections as they grow.

MR: Also: Can you tell MUF readers about your upcoming Jewish MG anthology from Abrams, On All Other Nights: A Middle Grade Passover Anthology?

Oh, my goodness–our upcoming Jewish MG anthology is full of incredible stories from writers we love: Adam Gidwiz, Laurel Snyder, Sofiya Pasternack, and so many others. It’s been a labor of love to help edit (and write for) this project along with Josh Levy and Naomi Milliner, and we hope that this will be a wonderful book for all young readers and a fantastic companion for any Passover tradition.

Verse Versus Prose

MR: Your first two middle-grade novels were written in verse. What inspired you to choose prose for The Gray? How was your writing process for this novel different from the others? Any challenges or surprises?

CB: Since poetry feels more like my native language, I wrote much of The Gray in verse during the writing process. Of course, there are so many books that are poetic and lyrical, and I am hoping that’s true in places for The Gray. But eventually, the verse chapters became prosaic. As I explored the story, it was clear that this is a novel meant for prose. The way chapters unfolded, I found the story demanded more detail and exploration of setting, of time, and of action. So, prose… but the spirit of the book is verse.

(From the MUF archives: 5 MG authors–including Chris Baron–share their thoughts about writing novels in verse.)

The Juggler

MR: In addition to writing novels for young people as well as poetry (“Under the Broom Tree” was published in the anthology, Lantern Tree), you are a professor of English at San Diego City College and director of the Writing Center. How do you juggle these very different roles?

CB: It’s never easy to juggle. I love ALL MY JOBS, and this is an absolute gift. I often joke around with my creative writing students that when we write, we MUST be sitting in the bay window overlooking the rushing river while holding a warm tea. The reality is that we do what we can—when we can—making space when we need it and asking for help, and learning to value the creative parts of our lives in equal measure.

Advice for Writers

MR: As a professor of English, what’s your go-to advice? Also, are you a proponent of the common wisdom of “Write what you know”?

 CB: Don’t wait. The perfect moment to start is likely not coming. Just get to it. I try to teach my students that revision is not a bad word; it’s actually the fun part.

As far as “writing what we know…” Of course! Every book I write is layered with aspects of my own life and experience. It’s also important to push past the “simple” and literal truths that we know and into what we hope for, dream about, are terrified of, and desire most, in order to reach into the complexities of story and song that evolve into book-worthy ideas.

Writing Rituals: Map It Out

MR: What does your writing routine look like? Do you have any particular rituals?

CB: So many rituals! They are always changing. All of Me was written in the late hours of the night, The Magical Imperfect in the early morning. The Gray was written whenever time allowed. No matter what, I try to put on the right music. Of all my rituals, the most important thing is that I start with a map of the world, which seems to push my brain into the right focus. I always loved maps in books. I hope one day one of these maps will show up in a book!

Sneak Peek?

 MR: What are you working on now Chris? Mixed-Up Files readers (and I!) are dying to know…

CB: Oh! We already mentioned the Passover anthology….but next up is The Secret Of The Dragon Gems, a middle-grade novel I cowrote with the one and only Rajani LaRocca. We had so much fun writing this book. It comes out THIS AUGUST! Check it out here.

Next year, I also have a novel in verse coming that might just be my favorite one I’ve ever written. Forest Heart. It’s a character-driven story about kids who experience a wildfire in their Northern Californian town, and how they try to save the forest they love.

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Any chip or chip-related snack.

Coffee or tea? COFFEE. Coffee forever.

Favorite horse? My Buckskin, Shawnee.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay. (Please nay–I hope). But I’m ready, just in case.

Superpower? Flight.

Magic… Real or imagined? Real.

Favorite place on earth? Right here with my family. (Cheesy enough?) Okay, there’s a little spot in the San Diego mountains that I discovered last year…it’s old forest and running rivers. It’s my current favorite place.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A water filtration system, a Star Trek food replicator, and while I’m in Star Trek mode—a transporter array. This way I can unstrand myself but also get back to this awesome Island.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Chris. It a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

CB: I am such a huge fan of The Mixed-Up Files. Thank you for all you do!


Chris Baron is the award-winning author of novels for young readers including All Of Me, an NCTE Notable Book; The Magical Imperfect, a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book/SLJ Best Book of 2021; The Gray (2023), Forest Heart (2024)—all from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillion—and The Secret of the Dragon Gems, co-authored with Rajani LaRocca, from Little Bee Books (2023). He is also the editor of the forthcoming MG anthology, On All Other Nights: A Middle Grade Passover Anthology(Abrams, 2024). A professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center, Chris grew up in New York City and completed his MFA in Poetry in 1998, at SDSU. He lives in San Diego with his family and is represented by Rena Rossner from the Deborah Harris Literary Agency. Learn more about Chris on his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

WNDMG Wednesday – Debut Author Noa Nimrodi

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado


WNDMG Wednesday – Debut Author Interview

Hello everyone, and happy WNDMG Wednesday to you. I’m so excited to be able to introduce you to debut author Noa Nimrodi today. Noa’s new book is NOT SO SHY (Kar-Ben/Lerner) and it launches on April 4, 2023. NOT SO SHY was a great read – I truly loved her well-realized characters and her gentle exploration of tough topics.

Full disclosure–Noa and I are in the same debut author cohort, and we also share a launch date for our books AND an editor, the fabulous Amy Fitzgerald!

About Not So Shy

Twelve-year-old Shai hates everything about moving to America from Israel. She’s determined to come up with a plan that will get her back home. Maybe she can go back with her grandparents when they come to visit. Or maybe she can win the drawing competition that’s offering a plane ticket to any destination in the world as a grand prize. Meanwhile, though, she’s stuck in seventh grade at an American school, where she has to communicate in English and get used to American ways of doing things. Worst of all, she faces antisemitism up close for the first time.

But she also finds support and friendship where she least expected it and starts to see her new life with different eyes. Maybe home doesn’t have to be the place she’s always lived. Maybe home is a place in the heart.

Interview with Noa Nimrodi

I loved getting to talk to Noa about her book, Not So Shy, and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Shai as well.

HMC: What is the origin story for Not So Shy?

NN: Not So Shy originated from personal experience (as you probably guessed…). The fictional Shai is loosely based on my middle child ,who was twelve-years old when we moved from Israel to the US. I also shamelessly stole her name for my main character (with her permission of course).

Although the story is fictional, it carries many emotional truths and a few based-on-a-true-story bits.Although the story is fictional, it carries many emotional truths and a few ‘based-on-a-true-story’ bits.

Drawing Courage

HMC: So many important and wonderful themes in your book – being Jewish in the United States, music, learning to live in a foreign country, making new friends, and an exploration of the issue of genetically modified food. Can you talk more about what it was like to write Shai’s experiences dealing with antisemitism?

NN: The main incident of blunt antisemitism that is described in the book is based on a true event that happened to my daughter. Shaping and incorporating that experience into a work of fiction helped me gain insight and in a way, like with other issues I tackled in the book, it was a cathartic process. In real life, Shai kept this incident from me and my husband for years. I hope young readers will draw courage to speak up when caught in similar unfortunate situations.

Tackling Misconceptions and Skewed Opinions

HMC: The subject of food and science is important to Shai—can you talk more about how you became inspired to write about food science?

NN: As writers, what we’re concerned/intrigued/passionate about, finds its way into our writing, and such was the case with GMOs in this book. I’ve always been intrigued with science, my husband has been in the biotech industry for many years and my dad is a scientist.

I worry when important issues, which are too nuanced to be summed into infographics, are shared and reposted carelessly on social media. The ease in which information (and misinformation) is spread these days allows for misconceptions and skewed opinions to be regarded as facts. This goes for how we view new inventions in science as much as it goes for how some perceive the state Israel, so it made sense to me to tie in the controversies of GMOs into the book.

Bridging the Gap Between People

HMC: One of my favorite lines in the book is, “Music is my favorite language now.” Do you play trumpet like your main character, Shai? Do you love the language of music as much as she?

NN: I do love the language of music! I believe it can bridge the gaps between people of all backgrounds. When we listen to music we tap into universal emotions. Music has the power to connect people in a magical way.

(and it’s pretty cool that music notes are the same all over the world).

I myself never played an instrument (I wish I did…), but my daughter Shai played the saxophone in the school band, and she still remembers how in her first tough months when English didn’t come easy, she eagerly waited for seventh period Band, where she felt less of an outsider when immersed in the language of music.

The fictional Shai plays the trumpet since (research has taught me) it’s the easiest instrument to play with a broken arm. (For those who haven’t read the book yet, Shai breaks her arm before the beginning of the school year).

HMC: Each of your chapters has three words. Is there a thematic or symbolic reason for that choice?

NN: Hmmmm. Thematic or symbolic reasoning would have been clever of me… but admittedly, it was a happy accident. I first used the words for myself, just to sum up what happens in each chapter as I wrote it, later deciding (with the support of my critique group) that it does a good job at hooking the reader and hinting what’s to come in each chapter. I suspected this might be cut out at the editing stages, but it remained as an integral part of the book.

Including Easter Eggs

HMC: Authors often include so-called “Easter eggs” in their books—do you have any in Not So Shy?

NN: I love this question! There are some “Easter eggs” in the book. Very few are consciously intentional (the name of the middle school Shai attends, for example, is a nod to the middle school my kids attended, I deliberately slightly distorted the name). Other surprise eggs (which my kids claim to have found) were woven in unintentionally, and so far I have yet to admit otherwise… 😉

((Enjoying this interview on WNDMG? Read this one from our vault, with contributors Jonathan Rosen and Melissa Roske))

Finding Personal Resonance

HMC: What part of writing this book was for you personally, for Noa Nimrodi?

NN: A pretty big part… When I began writing this book from the perspective of my daughter Shai, I believed I was drawing from the experiences of my three kids (we moved from Israel to the US when they were seven, twelve and fourteen). But as I tapped deeper into the emotions of my main character, It dawned on me that I was also writing about myself (by the age of twelve I’ve moved from Israel to the US and back, twice). I realized in hindsight that subconsciously I was uncovering layers of feelings and emotions that were tucked away for decades. (Maybe I was writing for twelve-year-old-me…)

Writing the Next Book

HMC: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

NN: I’m working on a middle grade novel which is pretty different than Not So Shy, but in a way also reflects my concern with misconceptions. I’ll vaguely say it has elements of mystery, bits of magic, a pet pig, a sassy parrot, twin sisters who’s older sister mysteriously disappears and a misunderstood elderly Holocaust-survivor neighbor facing Holocaust denial in the gossip-driven town they live in.

I’m a slow writer, and my agent hasn’t even seen any part of this one yet, so you probably won’t see it on shelves anytime soon.


HMC: Bonus question! Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with us?

NN: I’d love to share how much it means to me to belong to the 2023Debut group. There is such a great sense of comradery in this group, and such heartwarming interactions of likeminded people all rooting for each other. I’m so glad I got to meet you through this group, Heather, and I want to take this opportunity to recommend your fantastic debut Indigo and Ida to everyone reading this interview— I loved it. I’m thrilled that our books are coming out on the same day! (along with another excellent debut— Good Different, by the talented Meg Eden Kuyatt! Looking forward to the triple book-birthday on 4/4/23 !!)

Visiting Israel

HMC: For those of us who plan to visit Israel one day (HMC raises hand) what is one thing you (or Shai) would tell us we MUST do?

NN: Oooo! This is a tough one! Just one thing? Ok, besides the obvious touristy musts (you don’t need me for those), I’d say take a walk on the beach in Tel Aviv and have an Israeli breakfast in one of the restaurants located on the waterline with your bare feet in the sand. Continue to Shuk Ha’Carmel and take in the sounds, the colors, and the flavors of this one of a kind market. Get a freshly squeezed cup of juice (orange, carrot, pomegranate, or a mix!), and if you’re not too full from breakfast have some falafel, or shwarma. Ok, I’ll stop here, I can go on and on, especially about the food, because food in Israel is seriously the best in the world (and Shai would say the same).

Thank you so much, Noa! Best of luck to you with your debut … and I look forward to reading more titles by you one day soon.

About Noa Nimrodi

Noa Nimrodi is an Israeli-American author/illustrator living near the ocean in Southern California. As a designer, oa worked on displays in bookshops and gravitated most to children’s books, sparking her passion to create her own. Two of her Hebrew-language books, one which she also illustrated, have been published in Israel. When not writing, Noa can be found reading a variety of genres, creating all sorts of art, and running on the beach in Carlsbad (with or without her two dogs).

author headshot woman with blue eyes and brown hair smiling at cameraPreorder Not So Shy:


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Stay in touch with Noa!




WNDMG Wednesday – COMING OF AGE Interview

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG Logo

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.

Book Cover for COMING OF AGE antholody features book title and starburst graphic around the text


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.

yellow road sign with word antisemitism lined through with red

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.

Author Melissa Roske with her grandmother posed in front of a decorated orange backdrop

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 Roske at her Bat Mitzvah standing with her parents

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 standing with his father behind him, a young boy and his smiling father wearing sunglasses

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

Author head shot, dark-haired man with beard

Jonathan Rosen

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,, and the co-host of the YouTube channel, Pop Culture Retro. He can also be found on his own site at

Author photo woman in dress sitting in bookstore signing books

Melissa Roske

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 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.