Interview with Yael Molchadsky, JCBA judge, director of the Children’s and YA department at Kinneret-Zmora-Dvir and author
What do you think makes a great children’s book story?
I think you have to have a good plot and a narrative arch, the twists and turns that always surprise the reader and a nice conclusion that is also satisfying. I think it’s important to have memorable characters that stay with you, that you never forget, that you continue a dialogue with even after you finish the book. And I’d say the third thing is an idea or a question that lurks behind the story, beneath the text and between the lines, not easily discoverable, something that would make the reader think and ponder. You may call it an afterthought – a story needs to have a good afterthought.
What do you think is important to bear in mind when illustrating kids’ books?
I think an interesting relationship with the text is a must. Illustrations should not just copy the text or tell the same thing as the story tells; illustrations need to have a narrative structure of their own, because we are telling a story in two mediums – text and pictures, and the pictures have to have a sequential narrative quality to them.
In a story without the pictures we ourselves have to imagine the characters, and in an
illustrated book that is done by the illustrator. So an interesting interpretation of the characters is also important when it comes to kids’ book artwork.
What advice would you give to those setting out to write a Jewish kids’ book?
Find your own story, find your own voice, connect to the Jewishness within you. Find something in your personal heritage or your personal story, but then go and study it. Find something that touches your heart and intrigues your thoughts and then connect to it on a deeper level – and take it from there.
What is one feature of your writing space you cannot do without when working on a book?
For me it’s actually not so much a space: my imagination really needs movement, so I think best when I am on the move. When I walk, when I take a train, when I drive a car, that’s when my imagination flourishes. I always identify with people who pray: you see these Hasidic people who always move when they read or study. Movement is very important to me and my imagination. The best ideas come to me when I am on the move.
What is your favourite Jewish kids’ book?
Until I was eight years old I didn’t know I was Jewish, so my parents never read Jewish stories to me when I was little. Then we moved to Israel, where I discovered the Bible stories, and I still think this is one of the best Jewish texts written ever. This is the only adult text that children are allowed and even encouraged to read. There is homicide, and rape, and wars – there is real life there. So discovering those stories when I was 9 or 10 was really overwhelming for me, and I still love them, I still go back to them today.
What drew you to children’s literature that made you want to work in this genre?
I love art and I love text, and I think the combination of word and image is really interesting. I love the teamwork, I love working with artists and authors, and I love combining these two mediums in my work. And I also love young readers, I think they are the best readers –curious, keen, frank; they would read a book over and over again. I think they are true fans of literature, books leave a big mark on them, and it’s a big responsibility but also a great joy for me to publish books for young readers.
Why do you think it is important to support and develop Jewish children’s literature, for instance through literary prizes?
Today on the world cultural scene there are two colliding forces: the internet and the
assimilation it brings, and on the other hand the drive towards diversity. If we want to keep the world diverse culturally – and I think that’s really important – then we have to encourage artists to create within a certain cultural framework. I think a prize can be a great framework and a great encouragement to the artists and authors. Without diversity the world will become uniform, and encouraging this diversity is an important role literary prizes and our Award in particularly can play.