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.
About SHIRA AND ESTHER
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.
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!
You can also preorder on
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 (annaejordan.com).