The Sephardic Stories Initiative is part of PJ Library’s mission to represent the diversity of North American Jewish communities through the books we send to families. With generous support and guidance from the Seattle-based Samis Foundation, and following extensive research and recommendations from a specially formed advisory committee, the Author Stewardship Team invited seven experienced and published authors of Sephardic and Mizrahi backgrounds to create stories inspired by their own experiences over a two year period.
These authors will be granted the opportunity to dig deeper into stories with the support of experts in the field, customized virtual meet-ups, and an Israel experience. They will also act as mentors to emerging Sephardic and Mizrahi authors from spring 2024 through winter 2025. Read about the Sephardic Stories Initiative mentors below.
Arnon is a writer/director and author of character-driven adventures and thrillers, where heroes grapple with the extraordinary, and in doing so, learn important truths about themselves. His films have captivated audiences around the globe, and his award-winning screenplays have been optioned by producers in the US and abroad. Arnon recently expanded his visual narrative range with the successful release of his first graphic novel, José and the Pirate Captain Toledano (a PJ Our Way selection for April 2022). Arnon writes and develops his films, screenplays and comics from a small town outside of Boston, though you'll often find him in Los Angeles, taking meetings and soaking up the sun. Arnon has a wife, three children, a dog, a cat, and a lot more stories to tell.
Etan M. Basseri
Etan was born and raised in Berkeley, California and is based in Seattle, Washington. He is known for his focus on writing children's books that shed light on underrepresented Jewish communities around the world. Through his work, he seeks to promote greater understanding and appreciation of Jewish diversity and culture. His books are designed to inspire children of all backgrounds to learn more about the world around them, and to develop empathy and compassion for people from all walks of life. Etan's first book, A Persian Passover, was an Association of Jewish Libraries 2022 spring Holiday Highlight, was featured in Hadassah Magazine and the School Library Journal for its historical authenticity and cultural significance, and was a PJ Library selection for March 2023.
Gail Carson Levine
Gail has written twenty-six books for children. Her best-known is Ella Enchanted, which won a Newbery honor in 1998 and was made into a motion picture in 2004. Her latest book, Sparrows in the Wind, is a retelling of the Trojan War. Most of her books are middle-grade fantasy, but two are historical novels for kids. Dave at Night (a PJ Our Way selection for April 2019) is loosely based on her father’s childhood in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and A Ceiling Made of Eggshells is about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Gail’s Writing Magic and Writer to Writer are middle-grade nonfiction about writing stories. She and her husband David and their Airedale Tess live in Brewster, New York.
Ruth is the James W. Fernandez Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She is a MacArthur Fellow, a Carnegie Corporation “Great Immigrant,” a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her scholarly books include The Presence of the Past in a Spanish Village, Translated Woman, The Vulnerable Observer, An Island Called Home, and Traveling Heavy. She is the author of a bilingual collection of poems, Everything I Kept/Todo lo que guardé, and her documentary, Adio Kerida/Goodbye My Love, on the Sephardic Jews of Cuba, has been screened in festivals all over the world. She now writes literature for young people and is the author of the middle-grade novels, Lucky Broken Girl and Letters from Cuba (PJ Our Way selections for September 2023 and August 2021 respectively), as well as the forthcoming Sephardic-themed novel, Across So Many Seas. She has written an award-winning picture book, Tía Fortuna’s New Home (a PJ Library selection for June 2022) and has a new picture book, Pepita Meets Bebita, co-authored with her son Gabriel Frye-Behar.
Inspired by her family’s roots in N. Macedonia and Greece, Sarah has spent her career bringing Sephardic culture to new generations. Since 2001, Aroeste has toured the globe presenting traditional and original Ladino songs with her unique blend of Balkan sounds, pop, and jazz. She has recorded eight albums, including the all-original Ladino children’s album, Ora de Despertar, and the bilingual Ladino/English holiday album, Together/Endjuntos. In 2014 she won the Sephardic prize at the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam, and in 2015 she represented the USA in the International Sephardic Music Festival in Cordoba, Spain. In addition to composing and performing, Sarah has published numerous essays about Sephardic cultural preservation and writes Sephardic themed books for children, including Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom (Kar-Ben 2020, and a PJ Library selection for January 2021) and Mazal Bueno (Kar-Ben 2023, and a PJ Library selection for April 2023). Her forthcoming books include Anyada Buena, Shanah Tovah (Kar-Ben 2025) and Uno, Dos, Tres (PJ Publishing, date TBA).
Terri is the New York Times bestselling author of the popular illustrated middle-grade series, Emmie & Friends. The books have garnered numerous awards and have (so far) been translated into approximately twenty languages. Terri is also the Reuben Award-winning cartoonist of the internationally syndicated daily comic strip, The Pajama Diaries (2006-2020) and was previously an award-winning humorous card writer for American Greetings. Terri lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband, Mike. She is the proud mom of two grown daughters and a spoiled poodle, Rosie.
Yehudi is a Mexican Jew, born in Mexico City and raised in Texas. He was an Art Director at Disney Interactive, where he co-wrote and art directed the Guardians of the Galaxy mobile game, then segued into writing and illustrating his own graphic novels like Pantalones, TX, Fun Fun Fun World, Hero Hotel, Rocket Salvage, and Sci-Fu. The latter is currently being developed by DreamWorks Feature Animation. Yehudi was also the showrunner for a narrative podcast for the Pinna Network based on Hero Hotel. He is currently writing two films for DreamWorks Feature animation. His middle-grade graphic memoir series Chunky and Chunky Goes to Camp (for Harper-Collins) was featured in the New York Times Book Review. Yehudi has written and illustrated two middle-grade graphic novels for DC Comics: one is a Shazam story, and the other is set in the Batman universe called Barkham Asylum (May 2024).