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Thursday, September 22, 2011

BLOOD LIE - Shirley Vernick

If you are looking for a compelling historical YA, don't miss The Blood Lie (Cinco Puntos Press, September 2011)by Shirley Vernick. The book is based on the first blood libel ever reported in the Western Hemisphere. It took place in 1928 in a small New York State village; the same village that has been the home to the author's family for more than a century. Today, Shirley lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two daughters, and two frisky dogs. I had the pleasure of meeting Shirley at the AJL Convention in Montreal and I'm happy to welcome Shirley to my blog.

What inspired you to write The Blood Lie?

When I was a sophomore in college, my sociology professor sent us all home for fall break with this assignment: identify a community conflict – past or present – and write a paper about it. Boy, was I mad. I had one measly long-weekend off, and I was going to have to spend it doing a paper? Besides, no juicy controversies ever happened in my dinky little hometown of Massena, NY. I thought I was sunk.
So I asked my father, who also grew up in Massena, if he had any ideas. That’s when he told me, for the first time, about the blood libel that happened in Massena when he was a high school senior. It was erev Yom Kippur, and a little Christian girl disappeared. The next thing you know, the Jews were being accused of kidnapping and murdering that little girl and baking her blood in their "holiday foods." Some of the accusers decided to take action. I couldn’t believe it. In America? In the 20th century? I got an A on the paper.

A few weeks later, the semester ended, I took the final exam, and promptly forgot everything I’d learned in that class – everything except the story of the blood libel. I knew that one day I’d need to write more than a school paper about this important event in American-Jewish history. I'd need to write the book that became The Blood Lie.

Can you tell me a bit about the research required?

I was lucky enough to have access to people with firsthand experience of the blood libel, including my father, a cousin, and the son of the then-officiating rabbi. Unfortunately, when I looked for secondary sources, I discovered a dearth of documentation. Further, the few written sources I did find often contradicted each other. So it was definitely a sleuthing, read-between-the-lines process.

What did you learn that was beyond what you had expected?

I learned that, despite the teeming hate and fear, there were also examples of great compassion, loyalty and friendship during this difficult time. People's true colors – the good and the bad – really do show during a crisis. I also learned a lot about how rumors spread and take on a life of their own. This blood libel happened in the days before email, Facebook, Twitter, or cellphones, yet the lie went viral.

How has the community responded?

Wherever I am, hardly anyone I talk to has heard of the Massena blood libel – very few Jews and no Gentiles. Massena itself is no exception, since the Jewish community there has all but died out, I'm sad to say. So when I do mention the blood libel, people respond with surprise and fascination, much as I did back in college. Jewish people tend to say, "Wait, there has been a blood libel outside of Eastern Europe or Russia? I never knew." Gentile people usually say, "What's a blood libel?" (although the media frenzy over Sarah Palin's use of the term has somewhat changed that).

What is the best part of being a writer?

For me, the best part is the creating: creating characters, settings and plots. Even if a book is based on real events, there's still the challenge of shaping the facts into an engaging story. I love translating my mental images into words that allow readers to recreate those images for themselves. Not that readers have to imagine the exact images I have in my own head. Part of the beauty of being a writer is knowing that I'm continually co-creating the story with readers. I can't imagine anything more satisfying – or fun!

Shirley, thank you for sharing the story behind The Blood Lie

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

When Life Gives You O.J. - Erica Perl

Erica Perl is an award-winning children's book author.She grew up in Burlington, Vermont and is now based in Washington, DC. She writes picture books, novels for older readers, novels for teens. Read on to learn about her latest book, When Life Give You OJ. A special treat - Erica shares a favorite recipe!

Tell me about When Life Gives You O.J. What was the inspiration for the story?

When Life Gives You O.J. is the story of ten-year-old Zelly Fried has recently moved to Vermont from Brooklyn and longs for a dog. Her eccentric grandfather, Ace, proposes that she use an old orange juice jug as a "practice dog" and challenges Zelly to walk, feed, and clean up after it to prove to her parents that she is responsible enough for the real thing. Zelly’s desire for a dog collides head-on with her desire not to stick out, and she can't help wondering if Ace's plan is so-crazy-it-just-might-work or - as Ace would put it - completely meshugge. Ace uses Yiddish words frequently and the book includes a Yiddish glossary written in Zelly's voice.

Is there a Jewish persepctive in the book

There is definitely a Jewish perspective in the book. The narrative in many ways reflects my own experiences growing up Jewish in Vermont, the child of New York Jews who suddenly found themselves in a distinct minority in the Green Mountain state (when we joined a temple, it met in a Methodist church where they had installed a curtain to cover the gigantic cross during our services). It was important to me that the book reflected my adolescent angst that the very things that were touchstones of my cultural identity (for example, my frizzy dark hair, some of the foods my family enjoyed - including tongue sandwiches - and, of course, my New-York-Jewish grandparents) set me apart from my peers. The serious aspects of the book notwithstanding, I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is also a lot of distinctly Jewish humor in it!

What is the best part about being a children's writer?

The best part about being a children's writer, hands down, is sharing my books with kids. I have a life-long obsession with children's books and I always dreamed of being an author.

Did you have pets as a child? Now?

Unsurprisingly, I lobbied for a dog for about five years. While I did not resort to dragging an orange juice container around, I did finally succeed by asking for a dog as my bat mitzvah gift. Now my family is "between dogs", as our beloved dog Lucy passed away at the age of 19 this summer. Our guinea pig is doing her best to fill the void in the meantime.

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Purim. I love dressing up in costumes and I love participating in the noisy, silly and festive annual schpiel at our temple (Temple Micah in Washington, DC). As a kid, I loved how our cantor held up red and green ping pong paddles (marked "stop" and "go") to try to rein in our efforts to drown out the dreaded name. I also have the best recipe for hamantaschen in the world and it contains - would you believe it? - orange juice. Here it is:

Erica's (and Zelly's) Famous Hamantashen
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons packed finely grated fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2/3 cup jam (I usually use apricot and raspberry all-fruit preserves)

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat shortening, sugar, and egg at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add zest and juice and beat until incorporated. Add flour mixture, stirring, until a smooth dough is formed. Gather dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

2. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 375° F.

3. Halve dough. On a lightly floured surface roll out half of dough (keeping other half wrapped and chilled) 1/4 inch thick. With a 3-inch cutter (or drinking glass) cut out as many rounds as possible. Transfer rounds with a metal spatula to a large baking sheet, arranging about 1/2 inch apart. Reroll scraps and cut out more rounds. Put 1 teaspoon filling in center of each round and fold up edges to form triangular cookies resembling a tricornered hat, pinching corners together and leaving filling exposed. (Pinch dough tightly enough so seams are no longer visible and sides are taut enough to prevent cookies from leaking filling as they bake.)

4. Bake hamantaschen in middle of oven 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool hamantaschen on baking sheet 5 minutes and transfer to racks to cool completely. Make more hamantaschen with remaining dough and filling in same manner. Hamantaschen keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

Thanks, Erica - I can't wait to try out your recipe!

Erica is part of the Jewish Book Council's NETWORK program, so please get in touch with them if you want to book Erica to come to your JCC. She is also available to visit with schools and book groups worldwide by skype for free (schedule permitting!)

For more about Erica, including some fun videos and downloadable items, visit her web site at:

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Three Literary Agents in One Workshop!

On behalf of my friend, Anna Olswanger I am happy to share the following announcement about a terrific writer's workshop in the New York area.

Fall Workshop

Where Do I Go From Here?: 3 Literary Agents, 3 Opinions

You took the first step: you wrote a children's or YA manuscript that you are excited about—but where do you go from here?

We think we can help! We are three literary agents (Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency, Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates, and Ann Tobias of A Literary Agency for Children's Books) who specialize in children's books and who are in regular touch with our clients and their publishers. We are once again offering our workshop Where Do I Go From Here?: 3 Literary Agents, 3 Opinions in New York City for children's book writers.

We offer this one-day workshop to help those who are trying to make sense of the publishing world. We will cover such areas as how to find an agent and/or a publisher, marketplace considerations, writing tips, and joining critique groups. We will read part of your manuscript in advance of the workshop and be prepared to discuss it with you in a small-group roundtable setting. We cannot guarantee publication but we can bring much-needed clarity to your pursuit of becoming a published author, and help you make the next step.

Workshop date:
Sunday, November 13, 2011

SLC Conference Center, 352 Seventh Avenue (at 30th Street), 16th Floor, New York, NY 10001

9:00-4:00 p.m.

Fee (includes continental breakfast and lunch):
$295.00 to September 30, $345.00 thereafter

Our previous workshops have all been a sell-out.

Contact Information

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jognau, the Dreamer

"Jognau, the Dreamer" is an original story by award winning author Sylvia Rouss and Raoul Wallenberg Prize recipient Ambassador Asher Naim, illustrated by Dawn Phillips. The animated version is narrated by Geoffrey Bennett and produced by Jordan Rouss. If you are interested in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel, you can view the animated version, and download the book and coloring book. All are free!

I was excited to hear about this project from Sylvia. She was able to share a bit of background with me:

I met Ambassador Asher Naim when my husband and I attended an alumni event for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After his lecture, we went for coffee and we struck up a friendship that continues to this day. We have visited the Ambassador and his wife in Jerusalem, and they have visited us in Los Angeles.

In one of our earliest conversations, the Ambassador told me how well he was received when he lectured at churches. Christians generally, but particularly African-American Christians, were “overwhelmed” by the story of the modern day Exodus of Ethiopian Jews. We wondered out loud if we could create a children’s book. After reading his book, Saving the Lost Tribe: The Rescue and Redemption of the Ethiopian Jews, I knew that this was a story that should and could be presented to children. Jognau, the Dreamer was written shortly thereafter.

I “met” Dawn Phillips on FaceBook last year, and the Scholarship Fund for Ethiopian Jews contributed the money to pay for her art work. Ambassador Naim and I donated the story, and my son Jordan, an attorney, and his good friend Geoffrey Bennett, an NPR producer, volunteered to produce and narrate the animated version.

We hope the story of Jognau will bring this remarkable story of the rescue of Ethiopian Jews to a new generation of readers.

Find the story here:

Sylvia, thank you for making this story available to your readers!