Once I saw David Goldin’s wonderful pictures of Baxter, I immediately fell in love with the little pig. Then I began to imagine where his further adventures might take him. But trying to write a sequel actually feels pretty difficult to me.
I mean, is Baxter actually becoming Jewish? How far can I take that?
The thing about Baxter is that he’s clueless, a total outsider, and so he has the advantage of being able to ask any question without feeling bad about himself for not knowing something. Baxter doesn’t feel ashamed of his lack of Hebrew. Why should he? Think of him as a toddler—a non-Jewish toddler, wandering through a Jewish world. He’s the ultimate simple son!
So in some sense, any Jewish experience he has will be fun, and educational.
In Baxter’s Hole-y Hut, I imagine Baxter might be confused to discover a building with a roof full of holes, and so (being a helpful pig) take to hammering a solid roof on the thing, only to be scolded in the morning. In this way he (and the reader) might learn how to make a sukkah (and why it’s made that way).
In Baxter and the Magical Clothesline, Baxter might try to dry his undergarments, and then find he’s stumbled into an eruv. Of course, Baxter would have no idea what that was, and try over and over again to grasp the concept (with which I’m struggling myself, to be honest).
In Baxter’s Big Bat Mitzvah, Baxter might be informed (by a 12-year-old girl) about the importance of proper attire, and forget his studies in the hunt for a lovely gown, only to find himself floundering on the big day.
In Fast, Baxter, Fast! I think Baxter probably gets invited to celebrate Yom Kippur, and accepts the invitation, though he thinks he’s being invited to a race. When he shows up in a track suit, antics ensue.
Other suggestions that have been made are that Baxter should try his luck at Jewish overnight camp, and that he should visit Israel. But my brilliant friend Jenn has suggested the best sequel so far, which takes things in a whole new direction: Moishe, the Brisket That Wished to Be Treif.
What about you—any suggestions for the next Baxter book?
On Monday, Laurel Snyder wrote about writing a book about inclusion and diversity. She is the author of the picture book Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. She will be blogging all this week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.
For a long time I’ve wanted to write about Baxter’s dedication, which reads: “This book is dedicated to Jerry Sorokin, who offered me a place at the table. But also, this book is dedicated to anyone who ever felt excluded in any way. Which is to say, this book is dedicated to everyone.”
Now — the second part of the dedication is obvious in its meaning. But a lot of people out there have no idea who Jerry Sorokin is, or why Baxter is his book. So I’d like a chance to explain.
Jerry isn’t my husband or my father or my esteemed ex-writing-professor. Jerry Sorokin is the director of Hillel at the University of Iowa. For one short year of my life he was my boss, at the job I only took because I was tired of waiting tables, and because I needed healthcare. It was a year that changed my life in many ways.
I didn’t just grow up in an intermarried home. I also grew up “in the city,” far-removed from most of the suburban Baltimore Jewish community. I didn’t really have any Jewish friends, certainly none in my neighborhood. Then I moved to Chattanooga, where I was one of twelve Jews at my college. With the exception of a semester in Haifa, Jewish practice had nothing to do with community.
But then Jerry offered me a job, and this huge new world opened up for me—this world of community and support. I was intimidated by all that I didn’t know—the prayers I couldn’t say and the mistakes I made, by the fact that the students knew more than I did. But Jerry made that all seem just fine. He said things like, “You know things they don’t know.” He reassured me in a way that felt like the truth.
So I learned to keep a kosher kitchen. I studied with Orthodox rabbis. I built a sukkah and lit candles every Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Me – Laurel Snyder! Instead of fasting alone that year, I gave a d’var Torah at Yom Kippur services, and I did it my way. Over a year I learned something I didn’t know it was possible to learn. I learned comfort.
And when I left at the end of the year, to move to Atlanta for personal reasons, I felt terrible. I apologized to Jerry, and he said, “Never apologize for doing what is right for your family.” I remember this clearly.
And that was when I knew he was part of my family too. He taught me that everyone has something to contribute. He made me believe that all these Jewish values we talk about are true, enacted daily in this rich diverse community of Jews.
He made me feel like that was my job too.
When I talk how I came to write books for children, I often leave out an important part of the story—the miserable failures. There were (and continue to be) many of them. But in particular, there were many failed attempts to write Jewish picture books for intermarried families.
It’s funny, how the memory slips. In recent years I’ve managed to block out these particular manuscripts, because they feel so clunky and heavy-handed to me now. I wrote them a decade ago, when I was only just beginning to think about myself as an engaged Jew, and as a writer for kids. When they didn’t work, I set them aside, and turned my thoughts about intermarriage into an adult book called Half/Life instead.
After that I went on to publish other non-Jewish books for kids. In a sense, I divided my energies into two distinct sets of projects.
But then, through a strange series of events and conversations, I found myself drawn back to the idea of writing for Jewish children. And what happened was interesting — I wrote the book I’d been wanting to write all along.
I didn’t write Baxter to be an intermarriage book. The idea simply popped into my head one day — a kosher pig! It seemed like a silly idea. A fun idea. I didn’t think could sell it. I was really surprised when I did.
In fact, it was only once the book was done and actually looked like a book that I was able to read it and recognize it for what it was—a book about inclusion and diversity. In some ways it was the happiest moment of my publishing career so far.
It was as though I’d planted a seed in my own mind, and left it alone, then come back to find it had grown into something I’d never have made on purpose. Something less intentional, less controlled than the failed manuscripts about intermarriage. In stepping away from my intent, I managed to produce something that might be of interest for the community I’d intended to write for.
Does this make sense? The other books I’d written — 100% Ruthie and The Queen of In-Between — were too much about my own struggle, as a kid growing up with one Jewish parent. They started from a place of frustration, with an axe to grind, and never quite managed to leave it. Or that’s what I think now, reading them.
Stop back later this week, and see for yourself!