Friday, December 16, 2011

Not so Hanukkah Books for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is almost here!  It's been lovely to see Estie the Mensch turning up on lists of recommended Hanukkah and holiday books:

I think it's a great idea to include Jewish-themed but not Hanukkah-specific books on Hanukkah lists.  Why not give a book a family can enjoy all year?

Here are a few of my favorite (mostly) more-recent Jewish-themed but non-holiday-specific picture books.  Happy reading all year long!

The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert

One of the rare Jewish-themed picture books to take place in the here and now rather than during a mythical or historic Jewish past.  This 2011 book celebrates the grandmother/granddaughter relationship, Jewish women, and traditional Jewish cooking.

The Friday Nights of Nana by Amy Hest

Shabbat is the holiday that comes every week, and this picture book, beautifully illustrated by Claire Nivola, is a quiet, atmospheric, satisfying story of a girl who spends Friday with her Nana, preparing for Shabbat dinner with her extended family.  Another contemporary Jewish family in a picture book, yay!

What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street by Elsa Okon Rael

A rich piece of historical fiction that illuminates the lesser known tradition of Package Parties among American Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side.  The rich illustrations and strong character development set this one apart.

Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater

A celebration of Yiddish and the meeting of different immigrant groups in America (Brooklyn, to be specific).

Friday, November 18, 2011

In which I talk at length about myself

This past week, not one but TWO interviews with me appeared in wonderful children's literature blogs.

Here's the one from Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations, in which I am a featured "New Voice!"

And here's one from a newer blog that is doing an excellent job of highlighting and promoting picture books and their authors and illustrators. Picture Book Reviews, you deserve much love from the writing community.  Here's the link:

Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will be less self-centered and thinking more about Jewish children's books in general.  What's going on with contemporary Jewish kids' books?  Come back to find out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not Just for Sunday School: Jewish Books for Kids

Going as a children's author to places that loom large in childhood memory is an anxiety-filled experience, at least for me, so far.  What if somewhere you loved no longer loves you?  Happily, that was not the case for me this time.  Last week I had the moving experience of visiting the synagogue where I went to Hebrew School and religious services growing up.  East Midwood Jewish Center was an important place for me.  It was the place where my lifelong interest in Judaism and Jewish history was born.  So when I published a Jewish-themed children's book, I thought about going back and talking to the next generation of children there.  My query was met with warmth and enthusiasm, and last Friday and Saturday I read at Tot Shabbat and Shabbat Kids and spoke to adults at a Lunch & Learn after Shabbat services.  Rarely have a come across such a friendly and enthusiastic group and rarely have I ever felt so popular.  I'm so glad to see that despite the demographic shifts and other changes of the past two decades, the synagogue is once again a vital and growing place. A huge todah rabbah to Michael Sucher and Larry Isaacson, co-presidents, Audrey Korelstein, education director, Sam Levine, cantor, and everyone else who made me feel so welcome and at home, once again.

I also went to another home, of sorts, Montclait New Jersey, where my husband grew up and where his family has made me feel at home from the start.  Thank you to the wonderful independent bookstore, Watchung Booksellers for hosting me.

I've also been doing some very stimulating and fun school visiting.  Smart kids are the best.  I'm also VERY excited about a project being done by the fourth grade at the Rashi School, which I visited last week.  They are animating Estie the Mensch! I can't wait to show it to you.

And now for upcoming events!

This Thursday at 7pm at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA, I will be speaking on a panel called Not Just for Sunday School: Jewish Kids Books.  Four authors of Jewish-themed children's books (picture books, non-fiction, and middle grade) will be speaking about the ins and out of Jewish-themed books for kids -- writing them, publishing them, and their place in classrooms, homes, and the world at large.  Kathy Bloomfield of the Jewish book review blog forwordsbooks will moderate.  The event is being sponsored by one of my all-time favorite indies, Wellesley Books.  Here's a link to the event on their site with bios of the authors:

And on Sunday at 4pm I will be speaking on another panel at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton, as part of their Jewish Book Festival (November is National Jewish Book Month -- that's why I'm so busy!)  The panel will be discussing writing and publishing children's books.  I'll be speaking along with Wellesley author Liz Suneby and Charlesbridge editor Julie Ham.  This one requires tickets. Here's a link with more info on that:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Bissel Yiddish for the Whole Mishpoche

A reminder that I will be visiting Park Street Books in Medfield, MA this Saturday from 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM.  Park Street Books is a hidden gem of a bookstore in the Boston Metrowest area, with room after room (and two floors) of used and new children's books. There will be a read-aloud of Estie the Mensch with lots of participation, followed by an interactive program.  Learn about Yiddish words that have entered the English language and how to pepper your speech with lots of fun expressive Yiddish phrases.  I'll also answer any questions you might have about the process of writing an publishing a picture book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Remembering a Book about Memory

I've been away from this blog for a while, due to circumstance.  I have neglected but not forgotten my project of taking a fresh look at Jewish-themed children's books.  So many of these books are historical fiction.  Jews prize memory, though memory and history are not one-in-the-same (an argument made by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in his book Zakhor).  Writers of Jewish-themed books for children, I think, are working at both the projects of history and memory.  And what better way to embed Jewish historical memory in people's minds than to make it their own memory, the memory of books read, pondered, shared, and loved.

One series of books that has been keeping Jewish memory alive for going on three generations now, is the All-of-a-Kind Family saga by Sydney Taylor.  These books burn so brightly for people that a prestigious children's book award has been named for their author.  And the books have not only been important to Jewish readers, they've been, I've heard tell, the means by which children who knew no Jews learned about Jews and Jewish life.  And what better books to do that than tales of a warm family who love each other, love Jewish life, and love books.  I have a second project -- reread all of these books and report back with an adult writer's eye.  And to imagine how writers can bring more of this kind of reading experience into the lives of children, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.  We have so many important books about the sad, horrific, terrifying events of Jewish history and memory.  I needed those books as a child, but I also needed the ones that reflected the joy I felt in family and Jewish life.  And I hungered for contemporary stories like this, ones that featured children like me.  Can this be done?  What do you think?  What's already out there?  I'll be featuring more recent books in the weeks to come.

I reread another beloved childhood book recently, one which is all about memory and which brought to mind my interest in Jewish memory:

Tom's Midnight GardenTom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not, as a rule, a huge fan of sad book when I was a child, but I remember both loving Tom's Midnight Garden and finding it heartbreaking.  Sometimes I'm reluctant to reread something that gave me so much pleasure as a child, because I want to hold on to that initial experience.  But the rereading was well worth it.  It is a story about the power of memory, the relentless passage of time, and the fleeting but intense beauty of the world and childhood.  One might think that these are not themes that would resonate for a child the way they do for an adult, but I found the story more mysterious and sadder as a child than I do now, while finding it just as compelling.  Now I appreciate the story in a more articulate way, while having the added pleasure and poignancy of being able to remember the experience of being a child reading the book for the first time.

I think this book would work well read alongside Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jewess with Attitude

I wanted to link to an interview I did with the Jewish Women's Archive's spectacularly named blog, Jewesses with Attitude. While you're there, check out the other interesting content and take a look at the great work with JWA does.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fall Events

I haven't been able to update here for a couple of weeks due to an unexpected 50,000 pound tree falling on my house during Hurricane Irene, a power surge that nearly gave us an electrical fire and wiped out our furnace and other appliances, and then a blessed couple of days in Maine with friends.

Things are at last getting back to normal, and I have lots more Jewish-themed books to post about in honor of Estie's release, but that will have to wait until after Saturday's book launch! If you're in the Boston area, consider coming out to Wellesley Books at 2 pm on Saturday (9/10). I'm at work preparing a fun Yiddish lesson for kids and adults as well as an interactive read-aloud of the book.

I thought I'd also take this opportunity to post some other places I'll be visiting this fall:

First up -- I'm offering a Writing for Children workshop at the JCC in Newton. No need to be Jewish for this! The class will meet once a month for four months and in between I'll critique work online. Here's a link: The first class meets on Sunday, September 25th from 11-1.

On Saturday, September 24th I'll be at Celebrate Holliston Day, for all of you a little more west of Boston. This is my hometown festival, lots of fun for kids! I'll be at the Fiske's General Store table from 9:30-4:00.

On Sunday, October 9th, I'll be teaching a one-time 4 hour picture book workshop at the Newton JCC, from 12-4. Same link as above!

On Saturday, October 22nd at 2pm, I'll be at Park Street Books in Medfield, a hidden gem of a children's bookstore.

In November I'll be heading for New York and New Jersey!

On November 4th and 5th I'll be at East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn (the synaogogue I attended as a child) for a Tot Shabbat read-aloud on Friday night and a more extensive program on Saturday morning.

And on Sunday, November 6th I'll be at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ from 2-3 for more Estie and Yiddish fun.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Estie is now out in the world, and in honor of her week, I'm talking about other Jewish-themed children's books I've loved.

Last time I wrote about three funny folk tales that have stayed with me since childhood. Folk and fairy tales have been a rich genre for Jewish-themed picture books, so one post wasn't quite enough. Here's two more:

Elijah's Violin & Other Jewish Fairy Tales, retold by Howard Schwartz and illustrated by Linda Heller is the kind of book you go back to again and again, finding treasure each time. I owned this book as a child (and own it still), and perhaps the most amazing thing for me was that the source and place of origin of each tale is included at the end of the story. I was amazed at how varied the Jewish world was and longed to learn more about Jewish history. This is a great place to read stories that are not of European origin.

Then there was Deborah the Dybbuk by Marilyn Hirsch, a Jewish ghost story, published by Holiday House in 1978. Reading this book was definitely my first exposure to the idea of the dybbuk, a malevolent spirit that possesses the body of a living person and must be exorcised through the toe! This seems to be long out of print, and I can't find a cover image to show you. I'd love to find this again though -- there seem to be a number of used copies online and I'm sure it's in libraries.

Next time I'm moving on to a another rich category, historical fiction. And then I'll talk about some excellent brand new Jewish-themed picture books.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

If you like Estie the Mensch, you might also like . . .

Estie week is here!

In honor of the Tuesday release of my debut picture book Estie the Mensch, this week I'll be showing off some Jewish-themed books by other authors. I'm starting with books that meant a lot to me as a child and then moving on to favorites I've read more recently.

The first book is The Tale of Meshka the Kvetch by Carol Chapman, illustrated by Arnold Lobel, published by Dutton in 1980. This book was a perpetual favorite in my Hebrew School library. Kids really loved those watermelons on Meshka's feet. Here's a link to the book on the website of the PJ Library, a non-profit that provides Jewish-themed books to Jewish families. They include a reading guide. Keep an eye on the PJ Library site -- I'm thrilled that Estie will also be there soon.

Sticking with the humorous Eastern European folk tale genre, as well as the theme of the power of
optimism, here's It Could Always Be Worse, retold and beautifully illustrated by Margot Zemach. I'm linking the title to the PJ library -- this one has a reading guide as well.

And finally, rounding out the hilarious Ashkenazi folk tales, The Children of Chelm by David A. Adler has three retellings of classic stories about the fools of Chelm -- a town over which the bag carrying fools broke when the world was being created. This book, published in 1979 by the Hebrew Publishing Company (for which my mother briefly worked when I was growing up) has traveled with my personal library since my childhood. In fifth grade I won a schoolwide storytelling competition with my dramatic rendition of "The Day It Snowed." Sadly this one is out of print, but you can find it used!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Are You a Mensch? Take the Mensch Challenge!

In Yiddish "mensch" literally means "person." But to be a "real mensch" is so much more . . .

In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten writes, "As a child, I often heard it said: 'The finest thing you can say about a man is that he is a mentsh!' Jewish children often heard this admonition: 'Behave like a mentsh,' or 'Be a mentsh!' . . . To be a mentsh has nothing to do with success, wealth, or status. The key to being 'a real mentsh' is nothing less than character: rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous."

Estie might prefer being a turtle or an octopus on the outside, but when it really counts, she finds her inner mensch.

What about you (or your favorite children)? Are you a mensches? Send me a short description of a way you've been a mensch and, if you have one, a photo, and you could be my Mensch of the Month! I'll feature you here and send you a signed copy of Estie the Mensch. You can post your entry in the comments here, on Twitter (include @janekohuth and #menschchallenge), or on my Facebook page. And make sure I have a way to get in touch with you! You just might win!

Goodreads ESTIE Giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Estie the Mensch by Jane Kohuth

Giveaway ends September 02, 2011.

at Goodreads.

Estie will be available for sale in only three weeks! I've been busy getting ready, setting up events, which I'll be sure to post here. My book launch party will be at the fabulous Wellesley Books, where I am a sometime bookseller, on Saturday September 10th at 2 pm. I'll also be at Park Street Books in Medfield, MA on Saturday October 22nd at 2.

It looks like I'll also be traveling to Cape Cod, Brooklyn NY, and Northern NJ, as well as one or two more spots in New England -- more on that as soon as dates and times are definite. I'm very excited at the prospect of sharing Estie at the synagogue I attended as a child in NY. It will be a bit surreal, but also quite special for child Jane, who still lives not too far below the surface.

And I'm happy to announce that you have the chance to win a free copy of Estie the Mensch on Goodreads! Just click on the link to enter.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ESTIE THE MENSCH Book Launch Party!

What: What's a "mensch" anyway? Come find out, enjoy some interactive storytelling, eat bagels and rugelach, and get an intro to the ways Yiddish has become part of the English language.

Where: Wellesley Books, 82 Central Street, Wellesley, MA

When: Saturday, September 10th, 2011, 2:00 pm

Can't make that date?
How about Saturday, October 22nd at 2:00 pm,
Park Street Books, 26 Park Street, Medfield, MA

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Estie's (Book) Birthday

On Tuesday, August 23rd, my picture book, ESTIE THE MENSCH, will be available for sale online or at a brick and mortar bookstore near you. You can preorder, too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Fiske's General Store, Saturday May 7th

This Saturday, May 7th, from 1-3, I will be at the fabulous community-oriented Fiske's General Store in my own town of Holliston. For you city dwellers, this is a great time to head west of Boston, where small town charm abounds, the woods and lakes beckon, and the crepes next door at Pejamajo's are yummy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Event at Eight Cousins in Falmouth, MA

On Sunday April 17th, I will be sharing my early reader, Ducks Go Vroom at Eight Cousins Children's Bookstore in Falmouth, MA from 12 pm - 2 pm. Stop by at anytime to chat and get a book signed! I'll be doing an interactive read-aloud or two starting at noon and will talk about how a children's book gets made.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hunger Mountain

The Katherine Paterson Prize stories are now online at Vermont College of Fine Arts Journal, Hunger Mountain. You can read my story, Something At the Hill, as well as those of the winner and other runners-up. And browse while you're there -- Hunger Mountain has wonderful essays on children's literature as well as fine fiction and poetry for adults.


Ducks Go Vroom is now on sale online and in a bookstore near you!

I'm celebrating the release on Saturday, February 12th at 2pm at Wellesley Booksmith, 82 Central Street, Wellesley MA. There will be cake, ducks, coloring, and a presentation on how a book goes from an idea to a finished product, probably not in that order. Get a book signed for your valentine!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Picture Book Class at Leventhal-Sidman JCC

I will be teaching a class on writing picture books this winter on Monday mornings and Thursday evenings at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton, beginning on January 20th. Registration is now open. For more information and to register go to:

Scroll down to find my class!


We're getting closer! There will be a fun (pre-tested) interactive story time and duck valentine craft for the littler folks, a slide show and brief talk for everyone interested, and treats for all! Come and let me a sign a book for the special people in your life.
Location: Wellesley Booksmith
Time: 2:00PM Saturday, February 12th