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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Books by Booklist Authors
Books by Booklist Authors: Ilene Cooper’s Jewish Holidays All Year Round. By Stephanie Zvirin. Published in October 1, 2002 Booklist.
This column begins a new series of interview articles showcasing books written by Booklist staff members. It has been and continues to be our policy not to review staff-written books, but we feel that we have been doing a disservice to our readers by denying them the opportunity to learn more about the many fine works written by our talented staff editors. To begin the series, Stephanie Zvirin interviews Ilene Cooper, whose Jewish Holidays All Year Round was published in September by Abrams. -Mary Ellen Quinn
When Booklist Children’s Book Editor Ilene Cooper was asked by Abrams Books to work with the Jewish Museum on a book about the Jewish holidays, she was excited but a little overwhelmed. The book needed not only to encompass some of the differences in celebration among the three branches of Judaism-Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform-but also to serve as a general introduction to children and families who were just learning about the religion.
“I tried to get to the essence of what each holiday means,” Cooper explains. “For instance, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur is a day of atonement. But it is also important that young people think about the 10 days in between the two holidays. That’s when Jews are supposed look inside themselves, consider what they have done wrong during the year, and find ways to do better. Even young children can understand that concept. Each holiday in the book is followed by an activity, and for these holidays, known as High Holy Days, it is writing a diary, which lets kids record their good and bad deeds-take a moral inventory.”
Cooper thinks that this kind of activity, along with parents and children reading the book together, can open up discussions about the deeper meaning of the holidays. Many of the crafts, which range from making New Year’s cards for Rosh Hashanah to preparing such traditional favorite foods as hamentashan and latkes, are also designed for families to do together.
One of the highlights of working on the book for Cooper was a visit she made with her editor, Howard Reeves, to the Jewish Museum in New York. Photos of some of the art and artifacts in the museum’s extensive collection comprise part of the book’s illustrations. A wide-ranging sample was chosen by the museum-ranging from a nineteenth-century Rosh Hashanah scrimshaw greeting from Alaska to a painting by Mark Chagall.
The original illustrations in the book were done by Elivia Savadier. Although authors and artists sometimes work together, in most cases, including this one, the editor picked the illustrator. “I didn’t see Elivia’s contributions until the book was almost finished,” Cooper says. “I was really pleased. I think her pictures are so joyous. The museum wanted the artwork in the book to reflect all members of the Jewish community, and the pictures do that beautifully. They show Jews of different colors and ethnicities, reminding readers that Judaism is a religion whose adherents come from many places. Jews may not worship in the same way, but they are bound together by the same basic tenets.”
In the end, Cooper, who thought she would be introducing the subject to other people, was excited to find out how much she was expanding her own knowledge. “I thought I knew something about Jewish holidays. But these special days are so rich. There is always more to learn.”
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