Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour - chatting with Barbara Diamond Goldin

Cakes and Miracles: A Purim TaleWelcome to Barbara Diamond Goldin, whose lovely picture book Cakes and Miracles was awarded with the 2011 Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Younger Readers. It has been a treat to get to know Barbara through the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. We are both in library school, passionate about sharing books with children, and have a long background of teaching before we came to becoming librarians.

Please take a moment to read about Cakes and Miracles on my review here, and then stay for a cup of coffee as I take a moment to get to know Barbara a little better. You'll find out about what inspired this wonderful story, her thoughts on how important parents are in helping their children develop a love of reading, and what projects she's working on next. Here she is reading one of her most popular books: The Best Hanukkah Ever

Mary Ann @Great Kid Books: What brought you to writing books for children originally?

Barbara Diamond Goldin: When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I started babysitting for the neighbor’s
children. Often I’d make up stories with them as the lead characters – wild outer space adventures - and they loved them. When I taught preschool later on, I continued to make up stories and tell them to groups of children. One year, a girl who had been in my class for a couple of years in a row, asked me to repeat a story from the past Halloween. I remembered shutting out all the lights to create a scary atmosphere in the room for that story, but I’d forgotten almost all of it. It was then I decided I’d better start writing the stories down. That’s when I became a writer.

Mary Ann: What was the inspiration for this story, Cakes and Miracles? Does it come from a specific folktale?

Barbara: The inspiration for Cakes and Miracles came from a dream where, in my sleep, I put together aspects of tales I’d been reading in a new way. I love Isaac B. Singer stories, and had just read one about a blind boy and girl who were friends. I was also reading a book by Bella Chagall, where she mentioned that on Purim in her home town, people gave each other not only hamentashen, but also cookies in the shapes of violins, etc. That night I had a dream about a blind boy who makes cookies in wonderful shapes. As soon as I woke up, I wrote these ideas down. Then I had to fill in the story.

Mary Ann: What do the new illustrations bring to this story? What do you like about the new edition?

Barbara: I am thrilled with this new edition of Cakes and Miracles. It’s amazing to see the story come to life again after being out of print. It’s also amazing to see how a different illustrator interprets the story. I love the colors and tones of Jaime Zollars’ paintings, and how each double page spread is different and fresh. I appreciate that she based her work on what actual shtetl life in Eastern Europe was like, and then interpreted that life in a touching and unique way. I also love the little birds and feathers - red, blue, orange, purple-gray - that appear on many of the pages. I think children will, too. I wonder if the birds have a special significance to Jaime and her vision of the story.

Mary Ann: What advice do you have for parents as they try to share the love of reading with their children, and as they look for books to read with their children?

Barbara: My advice: read to your children as much as possible. Since children will often ask for the same stories over and over again, read some that are your favorites, too. Keep reading to children as they get older. With my own children, we found that listening to audio books on car trips was a great way to share in the experience of a good book. And don’t despair if your children read graphic novels or series that you don’t think are the “best” reading. Chances are they’ll broaden their reading later on. Mine did. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for graphic novels and series. I loved comic books as a kid.)

I remember my Dad reading National Geographics and books on Ancient Civilizations, especially Ancient Egypt. Growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist until I entered college and fell asleep at my first archeology meeting where they were talking about how to get the dirt off pots. Dad was a great reading model for me. He also loved museums and libraries, other things I inherited from him. And my Mom read me lots of stories when I was little, then taught me to read when I didn’t catch on to the sight reading method they were using in my first grade. Parents are so important to the developing reading habits of their children!

As for finding books – there are so many sites on the web now with lists of recommended books, not to mention those trips to libraries and bookstores for ideas. American Library Association (ALA) and Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) have lists on their websites, as do many public libraries. There are also fun sites like Novelist, which many libraries subscribe to, and informative blogs like Mary Ann’s Great Kid Books.

Mary Ann: How does being a librarian and parent influence you as a writer?

Barbara: I began to write children’s books when my own children were small. My experiences with them certainly influenced my stories and gave me ideas. A tip from a conference, “write what you know” was helpful. That tip, plus the fact that I couldn’t find many Jewish children’s books to share with them, was what inspired me, also. Immersing myself in the writings of such authors as I. B. Singer, Sholom Aleichem, and Sydney Taylor gave me a wonderful background. The encouraging notes from editors saying there was a real need for books about the Jewish holidays for young children mattered, too. Being a librarian now keeps me in touch with books, children, and parents. I also love listening to all the conversations in the youth department. It helps keep the scenes and dialog in my own writing real.

Mary Ann: Do you have any projects you’re working on?

Barbara: As soon as I finish the MLIS program I’m in (I’m due to graduate in May 2011!), I’ll be returning to work on a non-fiction book I’m co-writing with my mentor Jane Yolen. The subject is women of the Bible, and the audience is mainly girls ages 10-14. I’ve never worked with another person on a book before, so this is a new experience for me, a nice next step in the learning process. We’ve narrowed the project down to concentrate on 9 women, and the chapters will have a mix of poetry, text, midrash (commentary on the Biblical text), historical information, and contemporary pieces.

After this project, I’ll be revising a novel I’ve written about a boy’s experience during the year leading up to his bar mitzvah. It’s sort of a funny and not so funny, “the trials and tribulations of,” kind of story. Having been a bar and bat mitzvah tutor for several years (including for my own son), and having taught Hebrew school as well as middle school English in a Jewish day school, I have lots of personal experience to draw upon for this novel.

Mary Ann: Thank you so much for a lovely visit. Best of luck finishing your MLIS! I so appreciated the chance to spend a little time together, learn more about the inspiration for this story. I am very excited to read your nonfiction book about the women of the Bible - I admire Jane Yolen tremendously, and would love to share a book like that with my own daughters. Many congratulations for being honored with this award.


  1. Mary Ann and Barbara,great interview! I love the idea behind Cakes and Miracles and look forward to Barbara's new work. I'd like to add that now we have specially designed conferences and workshops for writers of Jewish children's lit, so we can collectively continue to nurture our children, and of course, through the Sydney Taylor Book Award, a way to recognize outstanding accomplishment. Well done!

  2. Lovely interview, though I feel more like Barbara's colleague than her mentor since the mentoring phase ended almost thirty years ago!

    I love the way Barbara's mind works and how she moves from strength to strength. Hurrah for the new award for the new version of an old favorite book.

    Jane Yolen

  3. Barbara,

    Mazel Tov! A truly special and timeless story.

  4. The original edition of Cakes and Miracles has always been my favorite Purim story to share with my students and my own children. In fact, I keep a treasured copy in my office. Now it is no longer irreplaceable and I am thrilled to be able to share it as part of the circulating collection!

  5. Barbara is a such a great storyteller, and it is great to see this book again with warm, beautiful illustrations.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this interview.

    Barbara Goldin has written many wonderful books.
    Cakes and Miracles is one of my favorites.

    Jaime Zollar's illustrations are as magical as the storytelling. It's a great match-up.

    Barbara mentions Sholem Aleichem. Both the words and pictures invoke the feeling of old-European dream-like beauty that you might get from one of his short stories.

    Congratulations to both! I hope they make many more books together.

  7. Barbara, I really enjoyed your interview, too.

    I'm looking forward to adding to my Barbara Diamond Goldin collection of great Jewish children books. Your first addition of this and your other holiday books helped give the Jewish holidays special meaning & enrichment to my daughter & I, especially since your our very special cousin.

    I look forward to getting more stories from one of my favorite story tellers.

  8. Barbara - It was wonderful to hear how your writing process worked - how all these different aspects of your "awake" life came together during your dream life, and that you quickly caught that "fish" and started "baking" the story.....such a beautiful story in itself to convey to young authors the magic of fiction...and answer to that question -- where do you get your ideas from...

    Another part that stood out was your feelings about the new illustrations, again something young writers don't often get hear from the writer's pov.

    The interview is so generous with references, that is worth reading over several times, and taking notes.

    Mazel Tov. Sorry to post so late. apparently I've been sleeping under a rock. Dorothy Goldstone