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Guest post: Jewish Childrens' Writers & Illustrators Conference

Ellen Tilman, Director of Library Services at Meyers Library, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel?, attended the recent Jewish Childrens' Writers & Illustrators Conferences and offers this summary of her experiences and impressions.

A Library Person’s View of The Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

By Ellen Tilman

I attended the Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in New York City this past November out of curiosity as a Jewish Children’s book person. I knew no one at the conference. I was looking for a children’s author to do a program in my congregational library and have always considered writing a children’s book. For me, the conference was a success. I left with a stack of business cards, names of potential speakers, a list of possible books to purchase for my library and helpful advice on becoming a professional writer.

I heard about the conference from the Jewish Book Council and on Barbara Krasner’s Blog: The Whole Megillah.  I find her book reviews on Jewish children’s books to be very helpful in making library selections. She did a yeoman’s job organizing this event. Every minute was scheduled with presentations from editors, agents, and authors. There was an extended lunch hour to permit networking among participants.

Aileen Grossberg and Kathe Pinchuck represented AJL and discussed the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition and the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. The participants I met were either published authors or individuals looking for publishers. Several had books that were scheduled for publication this spring.

Stephanie Lurie, an editor at Disney-Hyperion,talked about the 3 H’s of Jewish children’s books: Holidays; History; and Holocaust. She shared titles of her favorite Jewish Children’s books. As a library person, I found her discussion of the types of books being published at mass market publishers, such as Disney-Hyperion, to be upsetting. They are interested in books with a universal appeal, that can be shared with the family, have positive role models, subtle values, leave the world a better place, etc. Fantasy and Science Fiction titles are in high demand. This would seem to severely limit books on Jewish themes.

Mark Levine, the Executive Editor at Behrman House shared the innovative new directions for this publisher. They are interested in “Digital Interactive Books.” As I understood his description, the reader will help develop the story line and will participate as a character. These books will be multi-sensory with audio and video components. The author and reader will have a shared communal experience. They are also exploring “Trans-Media Story Telling.” He described this as a multi-platform approach to publishing with books, on-line features, and the ability to be interactive with games, etc. I am not sure how this type of publishing would relate to a congregational library, but I am certainly eager to learn more.

Judye Groner, Editorial Director of Kar -Ben Publishers, said that they are publishing books featuring new Jewish traditions (such as Tashlich or Rosh Hodesh); American Jewish history, and today’s kids. An unusual feature of this conference was the opportunity for authors and illustrators to arrange individual consultations with publishers. Other speakers discussed the Agent-Author Relationship and marketing secrets. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the final speaker and Question and Answer Panel in order to catch my bus back to Philadelphia.

My “follow-up” list includes researching these titles for possible inclusion in our collection: “Jumping Jenny” by Ellen Bari (Kar-Ben); “Noah’s Swim-A-Thon” by Ann Koffsky (URJ); “The Life and Opinions of Amy Finewitz” by Laura Toffler-Corrie (Roaring Brook), and “Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword” by Barry Deutsch. I enjoyed this Conference and would encourage other AJL members to attend in the future.

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