During one of my Google searches for Jewish children’s books, I visited Barbara Krasner’s website, The Whole Megillah. I was immediately hooked. Two of my passions, Jewish history and writing were being simultaneously nurtured. I encourage anyone who shares my interests to visit Barbara’s wonderful site.
Barbara recently published Goldie Takes A Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade. Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Barbara.
In exchange for an honest interview and review, Barbara sent me a copy of Goldie Takes A Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade. She is participating in a book giveaway. Remember to leave a comment on this blog so that you will be eligible.
Your passion for writing struck early. However, you didn’t take it seriously until after your father’s death. Why did you start researching your ancestry at that point in time? What prompted you to publish excerpts from your research?
I began to research my family’s history after the birth of my son in 1989 and later that year, after my bout with bacterial meningitis. I realized that I had spent so much effort adding to my corporate resume but had little to show of me as a person. I wanted to produce a legacy. Although I had been a professional copywriter, writing for magazines and writing for children became new goals. I approached genealogy with fervor, wanting so desperately to connect with my past. I thrilled at seeing photographs of my paternal grandfather with hair and of his mother with her traditional wig. My father drove me to Jewish Genealogical Society of North Jersey meetings (he didn’t want I should drive alone in the dark). These became special times for us. It seemed only natural that when I began writing for magazines, genealogy would be the subject.
Can you share 3 lessons that you learned from these early writing experiences?
I learned how to present myself as a professional: Accepting criticism, packaging my work, and submitting on time. Perseverance is also key. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again—as cliché as that is.
Later on, you chose to focus your attention on children’s writing? What steps did you take to make this transition?
I really began to think about writing for kids during my 15-day hospital stay to deal with the meningitis. I wanted to completely turn my life upside down, reframe my priorities. So when I received a promotional mailer from the Highlights Foundation for its week-long Chautauqua writers’ conference, I knew I had to go. There, I was assigned to a mentor—editor Carolyn P. Yoder—who gave me great, practical advice. She said, “Query every issue of the Cobblestone magazines.” The next month I received my first assignment from Calliope. I made it a habit to attend Highlights Foundation workshops. My corporate job as a marketing director made funding possible. I must have participated in more than 30 workshops and still join my history writer pals every August at the Carolyn P. Yoder Alumni Retreat. I also joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended the annual winter meeting in New York City.
Why did you decide to write for children’s magazines? Can you provide a few helpful tips for prospective writers who would like to submit articles to these periodicals?
By the time I went to Chautauqua, I had already become contributing editor to three adult-market magazines: Heritage Quest (as the columnist on Jewish genealogy), Family Chronicle, and History Magazine. It seems like a slam-dunk to write about history for kids. The best advice, I think, is to read the magazines you want to write for and to practice the art of the query.
Which children’s age group is your favorite audience? Understanding their mindset is crucial to your success. How do you learn about their evolving perspectives?
I have to say, I don’t think much about the reader when I write. I don’t think about age groups or grade levels. I just want to focus on the story. I don’t have a favorite age group.
You reached a new crossroad when you opted to write books. What aspects from your magazine experience helped you with this new endeavor? How did you fill in your content knowledge gaps?
I actually owe that transition to Carolyn Yoder. She said constantly, “Stop writing articles. Write books.” But with my corporate career, writing “short” made sense. Writing for magazines, I think, actually made it more difficult to write books. Here’s what I mean: my articles were more journalistic. Books needed emotion, which is not my strong suit. But I had written books for the adult market and knew how to put a book together, how to conduct photo research, work with archives and archivists, etc.
I still write short by focusing at the moment on picture books. It’s not a matter of filling in content knowledge gaps. Rather, it’s a matter of finding voice.
If children are given a choice, most tend to avoid reading historical non-fiction. Thus, engaging children in this genre can be an uphill battle. What creative devices should authors use to bridge this gap?
I think it’s about creating relatable characters. With Goldie, for instance, she’s an immigrant who helps her classmates. Today’s kids who are immigrants or are in communities with immigrants can relate. In fact, I’m participating in a Westchester synagogue program in November with helping immigrants as the program’s goal—and Goldie is at the center.
For over a decade you have worked in a variety of capacities for children’s writing conferences and are currently an adjunct writing instructor at William Paterson University. Can you share 4 tips for creating realistic and engaging characters?
- Know who the character is: her favorite color, her favorite foods, what makes her happy and angry, what haunts her; dig deep (akin to write what haunts you, my favorite advice from my first faculty advisor in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program)
- Focus on/show the character’s emotional journey
- Using dialogue to show character
- Using appearance to show character through sensory images (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound)
A significant number of Jewish picture books recall elements of the Holocaust. Should these children’s books have a limited objective? Many parents and educators question whether elementary school children should be exposed to the Holocaust. At what age should parents and teachers share Holocaust picture books?
I’ve not counted the number of Holocaust-related picture books, but I’m not sure I’d say the number is significant (I have my own addition, Liesl’s Ocean Rescue, coming out in late November 2014 with Gihon River Press). I don’t think they should have a limited objective. I think we owe it to our culture, to our heritage, and to our families to tell the stories. More and more books are being published, because there are still stories to be told that have yet to be told. I learned about the Holocaust in elementary school—my Hebrew school teachers were survivors, their numbers tattooed on their forearms. I think we need to have curricula guides/discussion guides in place to help teachers approach the material in ways kids can understand and in ways parents can engage in the conversation. I don’t think it’s a matter of age.
Why did you choose to write a picture book about one segment of Golda Meir’s life? What type of sources did you review?
I read Golda’s autobiography, My Life, and found this little snippet about when, as a fourth-grader, she formed a society, named herself president, to raise funds for kids’ schoolbooks in Milwaukee. Bells rang in my head: She’s a kid, she’s in America, she did something extraordinary…and years later became Prime Minister of Israel. From here, I contacted sources in Milwaukee, including the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. The archivist there sent me a copy of the 1909 Milwaukee Journal article that talked about Golda’s society and the fundraising event. I supplemented this with books about Milwaukee’s Jewish community and its school district and biographies of Golda Meir. Norman Provizer of the Golda Meir for Political Leadership at Metropolitan State College of Denver vetted the manuscript.
What was the duration of your writing and editing process? Prior to publishing, did you share your manuscript with beta readers or a writing group?
As best as I can remember, I wrote the draft in October 2010 and submitted to Kar-Ben in April 2012. I shared the draft at a picture book workshop and at a Carolyn P. Yoder alumni retreat at the Highlights Foundation. I owe a lot to Candy Fleming and Carolyn for their help with the manuscript—as well as to my editors, Judye Groner and Joni at Kar-Ben, for the final shaping (it was 1400 words when submitted).
Nowadays, many children’s writers are weighing the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. Why did you choose to work with Kar-Ben Publishing? Did you submit your manuscript directly or did you contract with a literary agent?
I have absolutely no interest in self-publishing. I was a judge for Writer’s Digest’s self-published “Life Stories” contest years ago, and the entries were, in general, poor. I submitted my manuscript directly to Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben. It was important to me to work with a Jewish press for my first children’s book.
Are you currently working on one or more books? If so, can you share some information and future publication dates?
Liesl’s Ocean Rescue—based on the true story of a ten-year-old girl (whom I interviewed at her home in a Philadelphia suburb in 2010) aboard the ill-fated MS St. Louis, the ship of nearly 1,000 German-Jewish refugees that wasn’t allowed to land in freedom in 1939—is due out late November from Gihon River Press. I’m circulating a couple of other picture book biographies. I’m working on a narrative of the St. Louis from the captain’s perspective and then will turn to the Cold War era. I continue to write short stories and poems for the adult literary market and genealogy and history articles for adult magazines.
Barbara, is there anything else that you would like to share with my readers?
Do not give up hope. Just keep working at your craft. Realize your pet project may never sell, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t persevere with other projects. Stay true to yourself.
Should primary school aged children be exposed to Holocaust picture books? Leave a comment and be eligible for the book giveaway.
Anyone who leaves a comment on this blog by Sunday, October 5 will be eligible for a book giveaway.Barbara Krasner will send the randomly selected winner an autographed copy of Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir’s First crusade.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards