Maggie Tokuda-Hall, y’all! @maggietokudahall’s relentless passion, humor and conviction are palpable on and off the page. Here are some highlights:
▪️The influence of Judaism’s reverence for narrative and the importance of using stories to understand the world around us
▪️Judaism sits at the intersection of so many identities, which makes intersectionality critical for expansive Jewish storytelling moving forward
▪️The harmful impacts of gatekeeping with Jewish identity, especially for those that are not white, cishet, Ashkenazi Jews
▪️Why our writing and activism needs to call out the systems that give us privilege, not just the systems that oppress
▪️The enduring beauty of Jewish ideals: you never know where an angel is coming from, treat everyone with kindness and constantly question.
Thank you, thank you for your time and conviction during Jewish American Heritage Month, @maggietokudahall. I hope everyone will join me in pre-ordering the deliciously dark and fantastical SQUAD, which comes out this October. For those of you along for the ride this week, I hope to see you tomorrow at 9:30am PST for a conversation with the fabulous @saraharoeste.
For quick reference, here are books referenced in the talk:
SQUAD by Maggie (pre-order now!)
ALSO AN OCTOPUS by Maggie, illo. @benjidavies
LOVE IN THE LIBRARY by Maggie, illo. @yas.illustration (pre-order now!)
THE MERMAID THE WITCH AND THE SEA by Maggie
MILK FED by @realmelissabroder
What a gift to kick off this week’s Jewish American Heritage Month conversations around kidlit with the award-winning author Katherine Locke! @bibliogato talked about everything from writing characters with a similar lens to our shared fears around reciting the Hanukkah story in public. Here are a few of my favorite bits of Katherine’s experience and wisdom:
▪️ A sense of Jewish identity rooted in the pursuit of justice, arguing and learning through narrative— which includes challenging our worldview
▪️ Their distinction between Judaism and Jewishness
▪️ The experience of editing an anthology during a wave of rising antisemitism that helped deconstruct Jews as a monolith while centering joy
▪️ Desire for a diversity of traditions, practices, observance, genre (e.g. historical, romance) represented, as well as a diversity of authors outside white, cishet Ashkenanzi backgrounds; 12-14% of American Jews are POC but hardly represented in authorship
▪️ How critical it is to talk about issues like race and Israel, especially when it feels taboo to address directly: “Not talking about it didn’t give me the skills to talk about it.”
Thank you for sharing your experiences with such honesty and vulnerability, @bibliogato!
For quick reference, I hope you’ll join me in supporting their recent and upcoming projects:
WHAT ARE YOUR WORDS? A BOOK ABOUT PRONOUNS illus. by @passchieranne
THIS IS OUR RAINBOW: 16 STORIES OF HER, HIM, THEM, US co-edited by @nicolemelleby (add to Goodreads!)
THIS REBEL HEART (add to Goodreads!)
(Conversation held on May 17, 2020 on IG Live @carolinepritchardwrites)
I learned about Jewish American Heritage Month for the first time this past January and my mind, unsurprisingly, went straight to the world of children’s books. I remembered my worn copy of Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins, the one Jewish book we owned & the same one that kept me up nights convinced that goblins were hiding under my bed. I imagined Eric Kimmel in front of a blank notebook & Trina Schart Hyman pulling out her acrylic paints. What were the traditions & memories & pain & joy that wove together to inspire this story? Were they similar in some fundamental way to what inspires my own writing? Different?
I felt eager to sit in community with Jewish children’s book authors who I admire to learn about their own experiences. These upcoming talks, one every day next week, are the result. We’ll discuss how their relationship with Judaism informs their writing, the books they love, their hopes for Jewish storytelling moving forward & beyond. My personal hope is that these conversations are an opportunity to share a range of reflections on American Jewish identity, community & storytelling. It’s also a way to lift up the voices and work of these thoughtful, talented writers who I deeply respect.
I also want to name outright that this is a fraught time to be discussing Jewish identity. I wrestled hard with whether to move forward with these conversations this month, not wanting to deflect from or decenter those suffering and oppressed by the Israeli government. I realize my fear is in part rooted in my own internalized antisemitism, which I have to actively name & fight against. Ultimately, I came to understand that stories are what breathes life into our shared humanity. We need more of them, not less, to chip away at the insidious pull of dehumanization.
It’s in this spirit that I hope you receive this offering during Jewish American Heritage Month. I hope it also underscores that advocating for Palestinian lives & human rights is not somehow outside of Jewish values but firmly rooted in them. If stories combat dehumanization, then there is urgency in seeking out & believing the voices of those directly impacted by state-sanctioned violence & fear.
Here’s to celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month with a sassy little picture book stack.
It’s got all the Jewish basics: big questions… immigration journeys…mooing monkeys… mysterious magicians… Ladino… talking matzahs… RBG… spider apologies… Goodnight Moon parodies… multicultural Shabbat celebrations… daring book rescues… and the most *brilliant* anthology of translated Yiddish children’s stories.
You better BELIEVE I snuck in my favorite chapter book of all time, too. I stan Henny.
We all know the stats on rising antisemitism and white nationalism in recent years are grim. So here’s your friendly PSA: Share a full range of Jewish stories beyond just this month. Stories about ALL the things, not just the Holocaust and holidays. And don’t forget to center the joy.
P.S. Had to include a banger from the unforgettable Jewish duo of Simon & Garfunkel. It was between that and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (which, yes, was written by Jewish mensch Johnny Marks) #themoreyouknow
The recent attacks against the Asian community are inextricably tied to a history of anti-Asian racism in our country. It is one of the many reasons terms like “Kung flu” are not just hateful but dangerous and need to be called out in real time. As a white and Jewish woman, not to mention a Bay Area resident where attacks are rampant, denouncing anti-Asian hate in all of my communities is critical and long overdue.
Below are brilliant Asian American individuals and organizations who are making change by doing the relentless work of telling their own stories— oftentimes while simultaneously being attacked for using their voice and platforms. I’m including the below for reference, but hope you will follow, connect and engage directly with the work of these educators. In the words of Liz Kleinrock, “I had no idea” doesn’t cut it anymore:
For white people like me to engage in hard, honest conversations with kids *and* adults, we have to interrogate our own biases and do the work for ourselves. Demanding answers and resources from BIPOC folx, often strangers, repeats the same cycle of expecting free labor from those oppressed by the systems we are claiming to deconstruct. Thank you @britthawthorne and @teachandtransform.
I’d love to hear from others about what this personal interrogation looks like after yesterday. Here are some of the questions on my mind— so I can educate my own self and identify the defenses that come up for me when seeking out answers:
▪️ Why does saying “America is better than this” ring hollow, particularly for BIPOC? Did I feel shock and surprise by yesterday’s events? How does that reveal a socialized whitewashing of our country’s history?
▪️ How did Trump’s rhetoric incite this violence? How are leaders and citizens who echoed these sentiments with their voices and votes complicit? What are ways supporters will minimize the events, “other” those involved, and further distance themselves while continuing to support the same systems and rhetoric that caused it? What are ways I distance myself from whiteness and engage in the same complicity in my own life?
▪️ Why is it dangerous and racist to conflate yesterday’s attempted coup with Black Lives Matter protests? What is the specific U.S. history of white mobs attacking people and systems when their supremacist delusion is threatened?
▪️ What personal responses to these events are performative by design? What will it mean for me to move beyond hot takes and towards meaningful action in my own life? How do things like calling Stacey Abrams “magic” play into this performance, particularly with no follow-up action?
Swipe for @ohhappydani’s powerful depiction of shifting from the cycle of inaction to action. For me, identifying questions and actively seeking out answers is one step in the “rejection of performative allyship in exchange for the real, vigorous work.”
That’s a wrappp! The 8 Days of Picture Book Craft Talks series is officially in the books (…because why NOT end on a bookish pun).
After the intensity of this past year, my hope was to swirl the values I cherish from both Hanukkah and picture book writing— community, connection and resilience— into a tiny, easy-to-consume burst of joy in your day. It’s my sincerest hope that folx gained something meaningful from these conversations. A craft tip, a new way of viewing stories or just a well-earned deep breath.
Thank you to the brilliant creators who took time to share their hearts and expertise! I feel more inspired and emboldened than ever by the magic you put into the world.
Thank YOU, you tenacious writers/picture book lovers/humans who followed along, shared love and engaged! Here is a final roundup of some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom shared. The last slide also includes ideas for carrying on the conversation.
These talks have been a balm in more ways than I anticipated in my own world right now. They’re also the closest I’ll get to my dream of waking up as Terry Gross… so thank you for contributing to that sacred life goal.
I would *love* to hear any specific conversations or nuggets of wisdom that rang true for you or helped nurture your creativity. And if you have any notes or feedback, please share!
The #1 NYT bestselling author and lyrical guru Joanna Ho lets us peek into her mind and learn how to dig deep to find fresh, poignant words! Joanna reveals how the unique heart of your story is often buried under layers of cliches.
Some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom from this conversation:
💜Ask yourself: What am I trying to say? What am I *really* trying to say?
💜Get your first thoughts out on the page or surface it in your mind, then give yourself permission to wrestle and cycle through layers of meaning until you find the words underneath
💜Move from your initial intention (e.g. eliciting Disney princesses) to evoking that feeling with nuanced language; avoid stopping with language that’s too on the nose
💜Ask yourself “why” on repeat to uncover truth, then PLAY! Watch Joanna describe moving from the impact of racism > internalized messages in media > bullying about eye shape > standing up for oneself > strength, power and beauty > final language: “My lashes curve like the swords of warriors…”
💜Lyrical writing is NOT flowery writing; sometimes the simplest, most straightforward words are the most powerful
Thank you, thank you @joannahowrites for sharing your time and expertise. You help me recognize how beautiful language is born from a brave, true core. The closer we stick to that heartbeat, the more evocative our stories will be.
What a rush diving into first person narration with the prolific, award-winning author and translator David Bowles! David explains why first person point of view is rare in picture books, and why it may be necessary to tell a full, empathy-inducing story.
Here are some of David’s many insightful gems:
🗣 Wondering whether to use 1st POV? Ask: To what degree is the interiority of this child so important to the story that not having their voice would prevent us from full connection?
🗣 First person voice isn’t neutral or universal— it must be specific and rooted in geography, culture, religion, rhythm and linguistics (e.g. Mexican-American speech)
🗣 Strike a delicate balance between signaling authenticity and warmth of a child’s natural speech, while providing context for those outside the community
🗣 Essential to listen as children recount their own stories and to learn from mentor texts (but be wary of their undue influence on your character’s voice!)
🗣 Erase your didactic impulse; let your character speak and discover lessons on their own
🗣 Think of your story as a poem (even try writing it as one), balancing sparseness of text with meaty revelation
🗣 The backstory of My Two Border Towns and the experience of asylum-seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border
Thank you, David, for your time and commitment to authenticity and hard truths in your storytelling. Follow David on Twitter @davidobowles to learn more about #DignidadLiteraria, the activist movement he co-founded to negotiate greater Latinx representation in publishing. David embodies speaking truth to power in his life and writing, and I am grateful to learn from his work.
Consider me verklempt. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, inspiration and hope after this conversation with Elana K. Arnold around writing difficult topics for young readers. Elana is a craft expert, of course, but it’s her soulful approach to the world and her readers that resonates above all else. NOTE: we had some lively troubleshooting issues early on (3:44-8:12), so feel free to scroll ahead!
Here are some of my favorite treasures from our conversation:
❤️ Write about whatever you love that also terrifies you, NOT what you think a child needs to hear. Kids want what adults want: connection, honesty and vulnerability
❤️ A story is like a house with wonderful doors where you can enter: character, plot, setting and beyond. But theme is a false trap door— it is something that should be discovered, not a starting place
❤️ Theme is a complicated expression of belief about what it means to be human; help your readers see what you believe, not convince them of it
❤️ What happens when we invite sex, death and G-d to our dinner table?
❤️ Story = lived experience + observed experience + “what if.” Watch to see how this process played out in Elana’s gorgeous crafting of AN ORDINARY DAY
Thank you for your time, heart and belief in children as whole humans worthy of truth. I will come back to this conversation time and again to remember why I believe in this work, and why stories are critical to grappling with the big, scary topics in life.
AND: Scholarships are available for Elana’s Revision Season course via @weneeddiversebooks! One more day to apply!