In each installment of "Three Questions With" we ask a different PJ Library author or illustrator questions about their work, their process, and their interests. Today we're chatting with author and educator Shira Hecht-Koller.
What do you hope readers get out of this book?
We hope this book will offer the opportunity for parents, grandparents, and children alike to learn, explore and make discoveries of their own – both about the characters in the book, and about themselves. In Jewish culture and tradition, study starts with the classical canon of texts (Bible, Talmud, Legal Codes) and then becomes a process of interpretation. For millennia Jews have been studying the same texts as their ancestors and offering layers of interpretation and nuance. This book is an additional layer of interpretation and midrash, and we wanted children of all ages and their adult readers to be familiar with the foundational narratives as a starting point for their own journeys of learning, self-discovery and creative interpretation. We hope they have fun with it!
Who is your favorite character from Jewish folktales/midrash/the Bible?
I think that would have to be the Daughters of Zelophehad – five sisters Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirza - who challenge the law and challenge Moses so that daughters, too, can inherit property. They are early feminists, trying to make their way in the male-dominated ancient world, and God was on their side. That is something for every child - male or female - to be empowered by. They didn’t make the first round, but we’ll just have to include them in the second volume of our book.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors/creators?
To be bold and if you have a crazy idea in the middle of the night, run with it! I did not set out or intend to write a children’s’ book, but a lightbulb went off in the middle of the night when I was working on a big Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) project, and I just followed my instincts, took some risks, and acted on a bit of my NYC chutzpah as I approached Hanoch after a workshop and said “You don’t know me, but I’m a really big fan of your style, and adore your books. And I have a project for the two of us. I think we should write a book together. When are you coming to NYC so we could talk?” A month later we met at a cafe in NYC and I explained to him the vision that I had for the book. We discussed biblical narratives and characters, thought about Eve in new and creative ways, and the rest is history.
More about Shira Hecht-Koller
Shira Hecht-Koller, coauthor of Dream Big, Laugh Often, is an educational entrepreneur, attorney, and writer, whose work has appeared in both scholarly and popular publications. She teaches and lectures widely on topics of creativity, family life, and Jewish texts and ideas. She lives in NYC with her adventurous clan and many books.
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May 8, 2023