Today, I’d like to share with you this interview with Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein, the author of the upcoming picture book I Live With My Mommy. This new, groundbreaking picture book for the first time focuses on growing up in a single-parent, Orthodox Jewish home. I learned about the book through its illustrator, the gifted Dena Ackerman, and upon my request, she hooked me up with Tzvia for a bit of Q & A via email.
RK: What led you to write about children living with a single mother?
TEK: Over 30 years ago I got divorced. At that time it was — or at least seemed to be — very rare [in the Orthodox community]. Walking my (approximately) 4-year-old daughter home from gan (nursery school) with her friend, I overheard her explaining to her friend: “No, my abba (daddy) didn’t die. They got ‘vorced.”
As I couldn’t find any books for children on being [at home with a parent who was] divorced, I wrote my own to read to her.
RK: So, do you feel the audience is primarily single-parent families, or do you feel this book will appeal to other children, whose playmates and classmates may include children living with only their mother?
TEK: I assume single-parents will primarily buy the book, though I hope that their friends and neighbors will also do so as it is really important for them to understand, and thus be able to relate to, the feelings, insecurities, and the daily reality of both the parent and the children living in a single-parent home. I don’t know if the book will particularly “appeal” to two-parent families, but I think it’s important that they read it — both for the parents themselves and for their children.
RK: Did you have to overcome any obstacles when submitting this book to a publisher? For example, were there sensitive issues you had to navigate? Did you get rejection letters before landing with Menucha Publishers?
TEK: Every few years I would try sending it to various frum (Orthodox) publishers. No one would touch it (just as no one would publish I Thought It Would Be Different, written together with Miriam Adahan and showing the different types of abusive relationships and how to deal with each).
About 25 years ago I was visiting my father, z”l, in the USA and showed it to a famous non-frum publishing house. The editor said it was very powerful and that I should add a little boy, which would make sales easier, but that it wasn’t appropriate for their house. So it stayed in the filing cabinet for a few more years. B”H I recently sent it to Menucha [Publishers], and they accepted it!! They did ask for an additional “Jewish” situation, which I immediately sent them, and the pictures they added at the end changed the ending to make it happier (I had the little girl sitting on a big rock with a dolly drooping from her hand, with the little boy standing nearby).
RK: Have you received any feedback from single moms or the children living with them?
TEK: No feedback as it hasn’t been published yet.
RK: …but it sounds like you did test it out on your own before sending out the original version for submission. If that’s the case, how did they react?
TEK: I only have one child. She heard the story and that was it. B”H, I invested a lot in making her feel secure and okay with the divorce — to the point of having her call her father every erev Shabbos — so I don’t think it was ever really a “thing” if you know what I mean. I think that because I was raised with so much love and acceptance, I was able to pass some of it on to her, BE”H. I was an only child, raised by my father as my mother died when I was 5 1/2.
RK: What surprised you most about the process of publishing a picture book?
TEK: How much the pictures can alter the text of a story.
RK: Have you seen Dena’s illustrations yet? (I saw a little preview of a couple pages, and they’re gorgeous.)
TEK: I saw an example before she was chosen, and the pictures before it went into final production, B”H.
RK: Do you have a favorite image?
TEK: My favorites are the pictures of the children making Shabbos in the gan.
RK: Do you have any other writing projects in the works?
TEK: Yes, I’m working on two. An historical novel showing the beginnings of the Holocaust, and that it can happen again, and a collection of articles I wrote for The London Jewish Tribune and the Israeli-European Yated Neeman.
Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein is a prolific editor and writer. Her work includes: To Dwell In The Palace, Readings on Eretz Yisroel, [ed.], Feldheim Publishers (1991); On Bus Drivers, Dreidels and Orange Juice, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem (2000); and On Cab Drivers, Shopkeepers, and Strangers, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem (2002).