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!