Five on Friday: Happy 5773 Edition

If you missed it, last Wednesday marked the Jewish New Year. (Edited to add: Technically, Wednesday was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement after the new year, Rosh Hashanah a week before.) Civil, religious, or cultural, the new year gives us a chance to right our wrongs, wipe the slate clean, set goals, and get to work. Some of us need that more than others and therefore, I invite everyone to participate and take advantage of all new year celebrations.

For me, the holiday is not about sin but about what I can do to move the world (or my little piece of it) towards peace, good health, and prosperity through good-work and kindness. I see it as sort of a sliding continuum with goodness at one side and discord at the other. At the end of the day I can look back and see what things made the sliding marker move towards one end of the continuum or the other. I can make an effort to live in a way that skews towards goodness and helpfulness.

1. I’ve found this year to be especially challenging. As of this writing my husband has been away from home for a year. We expect him back from his Navy deployment in February. This week, a single-parent friend of mine told me, “What you’re doing feels hard because it is hard.” It is. I yell at my kids when they are not to blame. The house is often a wreck even though I feel that I should be able to manage it. Long distance relationships are wicked hard. Take everything that is difficult in your own marriage or relationship and then add 6,000 miles to it. Yeah. Not easy. Still, positive thinking– skewing towards goodness– is a good goal.

2. The summer found me submitting my YA manuscript to five agents. I was pleased to get notes from each of them with helpful feedback. I wish the notes had been “Yes, and…” notes instead of “No, but…” notes, but there are still some open doors there and many more waiting for me to knock. I am using the feedback in another round of revisions and hope to have the manuscript back out and about by November 1. (Public announcement of goal. *check*) This paragraph makes me sound like robot writer– get notes, make revisions, send it out again. However, the late summer and fall were emotional and filled with self-doubt. Of course, my current life situation was a factor. (see #1) I sat down a couple of times to write a big post about self-doubt and fear in art but just couldn’t do it–couldn’t bare my soul.

3. Because of #1 and #2, I found myself looking for “real jobs” again. I applied to a couple right away, got interviews and didn’t make the final cut. I subscribe to the everything-happens-for-a-reason theory and believe that right now writing and taking care of my family need to come first. I’m still looking (searching “Event Planning, Teaching, Writing, Public Relations” in all possible job search engines) but hope to find something that starts more towards January of next year.

4. I am not idle. On Saturday, the 2nd annual Children’s Book Illustration Symposium took place at New Hampshire Institute of Art. As the main event organizer, I’ve been knee deep in those preparations for a good six-eight months. The event was a huge success. We had about 60 participants, wonderful presenters, and new this year– portfolio reviews. Evals are still coming in but generally, the symposium faculty and attendants were all pleased.

5. Friends and family have been so important recently. I’ve found amazing support from friends in my town who have taken my kiddos for overnights, or invited us to dinner. My bookclub and writer’s groups have been irreplaceable. Mom and sister know that they might have to initiate the contact but that I’m so grateful to get the call.

For those of you who enjoy a capella, here is a parting song.

Book Review Wednesday: The Matzah that Papa Brought Home

Shop Indie Bookstores


Books with a “This is the House that Jack Built” format often use the first line as the title of the book. However, the first line is just a starting point from which to build the actual story. “This is the house that Jack built,” is not about the house at all but about the community around the house. Similarly, The Matzah that Papa Brought Home, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Ned Bittinger, is not about matzah at all but about the Passover seder.


With tight and lyrical rhyme, Manushkin captures the high points of the Passover Seder from a child’s point of view. The narrator is clearly the child of the “Papa” who brought home the matzah. The child voice is unmistakable in the fourth spread into the story, when we read, “This is me standing tall and proud/ to ask the Four Questions nice and loud/ during the Passover Seder we shared/ to eat the feast that Mama made/ with the matzah that Papa brought home.” This passage reveals that the narrator is the youngest child in this family and the illustration portrays a sweet six-year-old girl who is glowing with the responsibilities of her question-asking task. My inner-child especially connected with the line, “This is “Dayenu,” a very long song/ that we sang with our stomachs growling along…”


Bittinger’s paintings are rendered in oil paint on linen using deep shadow and glowing light to intensify emotion and lead the eye of the viewer around the painting. From the feast, to clearing the table, to the child trying to sneak a bit of matzah, the images capture the chaos and order of a Passover Seder. My favorite image is of the narrator sitting on Papa’s lap, each of them taking pinkies full of wine to diminish their pleasure while reciting the plagues. The figures are bathed in light, the background a deep brown/black but in the middle values, frogs and locusts hop, and rains fall on enslaved Hebrew workers. This dreamy sequence allows two stories, Manushkin’s and the Exodus, to be told at the same time.


The only issue I had with the book was the line, “This is the feast that Mama made with the matzah that Papa brought home.” I stumbled over this line when reading it aloud to my boys and we all looked at each other. My son said, “The roasted chicken [in the illustration] didn’t come from the matzah.” I agreed. Obviously, the feast was made to go along with the matzah but the syntax suggested that the whole feast was made from the matzah.


Scholastic published the book in 1995, and it is well worth the interlibrary loan. If you are looking to buy the book, it was reprinted in paperback in 2001 and should be available for order through your nearest Indie-bookshop. Happy Passover to all!



Atonement: please pass the mashed potatoes

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holy day of atonement. This means that I’ve been fasting all day and thinking about the wrongs I’ve committed throughout the past year. I’ve also been thinking of how I can make myself a better person and the world a better place. I went to services with my children. It was the first time we went to the synagogue in our new town and as in many smaller communities, it isn’t even in our town and required a bit of a hike. The book that they used was wonderful. Developmentally appropriate and focussing on peace and sharing and apologizing because none of us is perfect. It really spoke to me as did the Rabbi who spoke to the kids about laundry as a metaphor for Yom Kippur. Our clothes get dirty and it just happens. Then Yom Kippur (laundry day) comes and we ask for forgiveness. We come out clean and pure, as white as linens flapping in the breeze. We should try to keep our clothes clean but we know that they are bound to get dirty again. That we all make mistakes but we can always ask for forgiveness. 

The sun sets at about 6:30pm today and I haven’t eaten since last night. I’m feeling pale and weak so I’ll take just a moment to atone in public. (At least in cyber space.) I certainly make mistakes.

  1. I yell at my children more than I should and sometimes I’d like to whack their tushies. (Usually an, "I’m so angry I’m going to bite your nose off," gets everyone laughing instead.)
  2. I sometimes speak without thinking which hurts people I love. (I hope you’ve accepted my apology C.)

Recently though, jealousy, has been my undoing. (and at the root of #2) I can only speak for myself but I think that there are probably more than a few of us in this children’s publishing game who have been chugging away for a while watching friends and acquaintances receive their first, second, third… (you get the picture) contracts while we are yet to get our first. It’s hard not to feel that green nibble of envy, the hardness of heart that sneaks like a shadow over an otherwise cheery, supportive countenance. Perhaps it is only me and once again, I’ve spoken without thinking. In this case, please blame the light headedness that comes from lack of food. Or just accept my apology. I’m sorry. Sincerely.