I just read this article by about a Jewish writer (Laurel Snyder) who doesn’t write for Jewish kids.
She subsequently published the book Baxter the Kosher Pig. (The publishing of this book was received with drama in our house a few months ago not because of the subject, but because my husband and I had written a similar book and failed to sell it to a publisher. I think it was a Test in taking pleasure in other people’s accomplishments, “fargenign” in Yiddish…and I’m ashamed to say I flunked.)
Snyder feels that Jewish books today are too tame and tend towards the “instructional”, as she calls it. She’s not alone. On the other hand, my kids seem to like the Jewish books they read even if they have instructional motives. Personally, I like a lot of them. However, I’d definitely like to see more variety and innovation in Jewish children’s fiction choices.
Historically, the Jewish people have always enjoyed midrashim (instructional stories from the Oral Torah traditions) and mashalim (fables). In fact, these books seem to sell most. Jewish publishers have told me that when the marketing department runs their numbers, it’s the “teaching” books, books with conservative watercolor illustrations, books that are familiar in tone and style that sell. Publishers have to deal with the realities of the pocketbook, too, you know.
Additionally, each Jewish publisher serves a niche market. Your “atypical” manuscript can easily be bounced around with compliments followed by comments like: “Too Jewish”, “not enough Jewish content”, “could offend some readers”, “not edgy enough” without ever finding the “just right” fit. (See this link for more on the subject.
A few publishers put out books that are edgy–but only in that they address issues very modern or even outside frumkeit. They are often AT LEAST as pedantic as the traditional books and stylistically quite similar. They just try to nudge readers towards a “Reform” mindset vs. an “Orthodox” one, for lack of better terminology.
It doesn’t help that picture books are extremely expensive to print, yet sell less than adult books. Publishers are afraid to gamble in such a situation.
Additionally, there are few incentives for a writer to focus on the Jewish children’s market. You have a smaller audience, smaller paycheck, etc. Many talented writers throw their hands in the air and walk away, or they submit instead to periodicals, which buy in greater volume (they have to fill their pages weekly) and are a little more flexible in what they are willing to publish.
Any opinions out there?