Interview: Barbara Bietz, Jewish Books for Children

Jewish Children's Books, Like a Maccabee, Barbara Beitz
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Barbara Bietz (abbreviated “BB” below), who blogs at Jewish Books for Children. As you will see from the interview, Barbara is a children’s author and has a special place in her heart for Jewish Children’s Books.  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Barbara’s blog, Jewish Books for Children; its focus on Jewish children’s books makes it a unique and important member of the kidlitosphere.  Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Monica Edinger of educating alice.

Q: I understand that you write children’s books.  How and when did you decide to become a children’s author?

BB: I have always enjoyed writing and did quite a bit of academic and technical writing. From the time I was young I would write poems and stories but was afraid to share them with others.  Finally, I took a class on children’s literature with Alexis O’Neill. In the safe environment of a critique group I gradually became brave enough to share my work. Over the years I have met some wonderful writers in classes and workshops. Writing is a passion but it is also a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured.

Q: Tell me about your book Like a Maccabee.

BB: Like a MaccabeeJewish Children's Books, Like a Maccabee, Barbara Beitz is about Ben, a typical 10 year old boy. His soccer team made the league championships but the rival team’s best defender is the school bully who torments Ben on and off the field. No one at home seems to understand and, making matters even worse, he has to share his bedroom—and his family’s attention—with his grandfather, who has recently come to live with them. Facing humiliation at school and being misunderstood by those who love him most, Ben finds an unexpected friend in his grandfather.

I was inspired to write a story that combined elements of tradition in a contemporary setting. I also wanted to explore the relationship between a child and grandparent – it is such an important connection. Sometimes grandparents hesitate to tell their stories – and they have so much to share! Kids need to understand that despite changes in fashion and growth in technology – emotions are the same, no matter the generation.

Q: Why children’s books and not adult books?

BB: I love the magic in children’s books. There is always a sense of hope and wonder in a good children’s book. It just seemed like a natural fit for me. Plus, those who are involved in the world of children’s literature – authors, editors, librarians – are warm and generous people whose company I greatly enjoy.

Q: How and when did you start your blog?

BB: I started my blog several years ago after attending the SCBWI retreat in Santa Barbara. It was in the early days of social media and seemed like a perfect opportunity to create a community for Jewish children’s authors. I jumped in with both feet. It is time consuming but very enjoyable, too.

My goal was to create a community for authors and others who are passionate about Jewish literature for children; a place to celebrate the books that we love to create and read.

Q: Why do you feel it important to focus your writing and blogging on Jewish children’s books?

BB: For me, it is a matter of passion. I am passionate about children’s books. With my own book and my work as a reviewer and member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, the focus on Jewish children’s books has become a natural niche.

Q: What is the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and what is your involvement with the award?

BB: The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category. I am currently the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. It is a lot of hard work but enormously meaningful and lots of fun, too!

Q: If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?

BB: READ, READ, READ and support your local library and independent bookstores!

If you enjoyed this interview or found it helpful, I encourage you to “like” it, or post in on Facebook or Twitter—the “Like” and “share/save” buttons below make it easy. Thanks!

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