Posts Tagged #jewishauthors

WNDMG Wednesday- Interview with Anna E Jordan

Shira and Esther cover

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

I’m super excited to be able to introduce you and interview debut author Anna E Jordan today. Anna’s new book is SHIRA AND ESTHER’S DOUBLE DREAM DEBUT (Chronicle Books) and it launches on October 10, 2023.

I am extra excited to do this, as Anna and I are Agent siblings! I can’t wait to hold a copy of Anna’s book in my hands, and I am eagerly waiting for my preorder to arrive in October.

Shira and Esther cover


A fun middle grade book that draws on the fun switched identity  in THE PARENT TRAP and comedic tone of THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, this beautiful book features two Jewish girls navigating family, friendship, and faith.

Description taken from the publisher:

When Shira and Esther first meet, they can hardly believe their eyes. It’s like looking in a mirror! But even though they may look identical, the two girls couldn’t be more different. Shira dreams of singing and dancing onstage, but her father, a stern and pious rabbi, thinks Shira should be reading prayers, not plays. Esther dreams of studying Torah, but her mother, a glamorous stage performer, wishes Esther would spend more time rehearsing and less time sneaking off to read books. Oy vey! If only the two could switch places . . .

Would Shira shine in a big-time televised talent show? Would Esther’s bat mitzvah go off without a hitch? What’s a little deception, when it means your dreams might finally be within reach? One thing is certain: Shira and Esther are going to need more than a little chutzpah to pull this off. But if they do, their double dream debut is sure to be the performance of a lifetime.

Interview with Anna E. Jordan

I loved getting to talk to Anna about her new book and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Shira and Esther as well.


SSS: What is the inspiration behind Shira and Esther?


On a trip to the Society of Illustrators in the spring of 2014, I saw an exhibit of Drew Friedman’s book Old Jewish Comedians. I hadn’t gone to the museum to see it, but one drawing and explanation card caught my eye. It was about a comedian, Benjamin Zuckerman, whose father wanted him to be a rabbi, but he wanted to be a comedian. What if, I thought, there were two kids and they each wanted what the other had. From there, my research led me through the evolution of Jewish theater and comedy in this country.

SSS: So many important and wonderful themes in your book – could you elaborate on which themes resonate the most for you, and that you hope will be the most impactful for young readers.


I resist having themes or a lesson when I start to write the book and hope that by the end, I pose more questions than deliver answers to young readers. The characters struggle with some big questions in the text including: When and how should you follow your dreams? What does it mean to obey your parents? How can family and community support young people as they dream? What are different ways that we express our culture and are they all valid? How can we make room for magic in our everyday lives?

I’m sure that young readers will come up with their own big questions. Hopefully, they will find interpretations I didn’t even consider when I wrote the book. That’s the best part of sending a book baby out into world!

SSS: How are Shira and Esther similar? How are they different? Was it difficult to write a book in two points of view?


The book is actually told by a 3rd person omniscient narrator, but you are absolutely right about the difficulties involved with having two main characters.

Shira, the rabbi’s daughter, is a confident risk taker. She wants to sing, dance and tell jokes all the time. As you can imagine, that frustrates her father—the rabbi.

Esther, is happiest with her nose in a book and especially in books that teach her more about Judaism. Esther has big questions about the world and her place in it while her mother just wants Esther to take the stage.

 A lot of the revision work that I did with my first editor was about honing the differences between the two characters. Not only their character traits, but also their wants, needs, and faults. We wanted to make sure that the reader knew each character well before they switched places, so they could root for each character throughout her journey. Like the movie Parent Trap, the characters pretend to be the other character. When Esther became Shira, she still had to have her essential Esther-ness, and Shira had to hold on to her Shira-ness as Esther.

SSS: The subject of music and theater is important in the book—can you talk more about how you became inspired to write about music and the performance arts?


I sang, danced, and performed from the time I was six through high school. My two sons were also very active in school theater. I loved supporting their theater programs with makeup and set design and creation. As a 5th-grade teacher, I help with the annual production in my school too. It’s wonderful to watch students shine outside the classroom. Like writing, theater allows the artist to step out of their own life story and into another character for a time.

Also, as I mentioned previously, my research led me through the evolution of Jewish theater and comedy in this country from the Yiddish Theater and Vaudeville, to stand-up comedy in the Borscht Belt (the group of hotels in the Catskills that were owned by Jewish families for Jewish families when we weren’t allowed in other hotels), to television and finally Hollywood. 

SSS: Diverse books are so important (and a passion of mine!). How does the Jewish Faith play a role in your book and in Shira and Esther’s lives?


The Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group with an identity, culture, language(s), and religion. Judaism is our religion but we experience it in different ways. Shira has been raised as a practicing Reform Jew and Esther has been raised within the vibrant Jewish culture of the Yiddish theater. Each character goes on a journey to learn more about being Jewish and coming to understand their own experiences.

 Ultimately, both Shira and Esther embody pieces of my own Jewish Journey: the part of me that strives to study Torah and the part of me that wants to be immersed in my culture and community.

As the narrator of the book says:

“There is a saying that if you assemble ten Jewish people in a room and ask them a question about Judaism, you’ll get ten different answers. This is one of the most wonderful things about being Jewish: No one is Jewish in quite the same way.”

 One thing that was important to me as an author was filling a space in the children’s book market with Jewish Joy. So often, Jewish books have to do with the 3Hs: History, Holiday, or Holocaust. With the rise of anitsemitism in the U.S., it’s important that Jewish and non-Jewish children read about the positive aspects of Judaism such as education, social justice, community, and yes—humor and joy.


SSS: Will there be more Shira and Esther in the future?


As we say, “From your mouth to G-d’s ears.” Seriously though, one of the supporting characters, Benny Bell, has been talking to me more and more. I need to give him space in my writing time to listen to his story.

We’ll see!

Writing Process

SSS: How long did it take to write SHIRA AND ESTHER? And was it an emotional process (as a fellow author, all my books seem to come from personal experience. Was this the same for you?)


I’ve had other wonderful publishing experiences in my 22 years as an author, but I’m so proud that SHIRA AND ESTHER’S DOUBLE DREAM DEBUT is my first published novel. The seed of the book was in 2014, the manuscript was purchased in 2021, and now it’s 2023. That nine-year period includes two agents, a divorce, raising two children as a single mom, a variety of day jobs, many moves, many submissions and rejections, a pandemic, and the death of my father. It was a very long and emotional process.


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


I’m grateful that Shira and Esther found a publishing home with Chronicle Books. The team there gave this book so much time and attention. I had a double dream team of editors—Taylor Norman, who helped me hone the story and characters, and Daria Harper who worked with the sensitivity readers (for Yiddish and Jewish accuracy) and with the copy edits, mechanicals, and design. The designers did an amazing job as did the cover illustrator Marco Guadalupi (visit him on Instagram @marcoguadalupi85) It’s such a long process, and I feel so lucky.

Thank you so much Anna for answering my questions!

I hope everyone picks up a copy of your beautiful book.


Yes, please. Preorder, post, and review! Thanks so much for this lovely interview.

Those who preorder from Anna’s local independent book store will receive a signed book and swag!

Politics and Prose preorder link

You can also preorder on



For more Middle Grade diverse books, check out this wonderful book list on our site!


Anna Jordan picture

About Anna E. Jordan

Anna E. Jordan, an author and middle grades educator, was the recipient of the 2013 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery award and has an MFA from the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. SHIRA AND ESTHER’S DOUBLE DREAM DEBUT (Chronicle Books, 10/10/23) is her first novel. In addition to the rhyming picture book THIS PUP STEPS UP, her poems appear in the anthology THE PROPER WAY TO MEET A HEDGEHOG AND OTHER HOW TO POEMS (Candlewick, 2019). You can also find her work national magazines including Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights High Five. Follow Anna on Facebook and Instagram @annawritedraw or on her blog Creative Chaos (

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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).

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