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Happy New Year! This week we’re celebrating the new school year and our very own April Halprin Wayland’s book, New Year at the Pier—A Rosh Hashanah Story, which is about another kind of new year—the Jewish New Year.
Give us a feel for the time line of this book—from the first inkling of an idea to Book On the Shelf.
I’ll tell you, but if you’re an aspiring children’s author, it might be best to cover your ears and sing “La, la, la” through today’s post…especially the very end.
So—here’s how it started. An editor asked me if I had any Jewish stories in me. I had a few…but one ritual was the standout for me: tashlich.
I began by writing down everything I knew about tashlich—how it feels to walk up the pier, singing, with two hundred of my friends, the sun, the waves, the butterflies in my tummy, the feeling I have when I give my “sins” to the winds.
Next, I read books about tashlich, starting with children’s books, though there weren’t many. The most recent children’s book I found in which tashlich is the main subject is Carol Levin’s A Rosh Hashanah Walk (Kar-Ben, 1987).
Then I interviewed my friend, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom Temple in Santa Monica, California. Rabbi Neil is very tuned into kids; he’s written many albums of children’s songs.
I just re-read my notes from that afternoon and realize how much of what he taught me infuses the book. Look over my shoulder at a few of my notes:
• Rabbi Neil doesn’t like using the word “mistake,” as mistake means not on purpose, and sometimes you do some of these things on purpose.
• There’s a famous story of a man who goes to his rabbi and says that he gossiped about someone in town and he is now sorry and wants the rabbi to help him make it right. The rabbi said no, he can’t help this man. What? What do you mean, says the man. I really am sorry. I want to make it right. No can do, says the rabbi. But why? Asks the man. Go get me a knife and a feather pillow, says the rabbi. The man does. The rabbi stabs the feather pillow and takes out all the feathers and throws them to the winds. The idea is that you can’t always fix a situation. A situation can be changed through apology, but not undone.
• His example, regarding how you can’t fix something completely, was of a child stealing a doll and bringing it back. She might say, “I know I can bring the doll back, but I can’t make you trust me again.”
• Not: “It’s okay.” (Because maybe it’s not okay.) But: “I accept your apology.”
• Neil suggests that instead of burning her list, she uses it as a checklist.
After the manuscript was written and accepted, my editor, Lauri Hornik, guided me through the rewrites with her clear vision. I growled at her under my breath. She sent edits. I stomped around my computer. She sent more edits. Back and forth, back and forth.
But ask her now how many “Thank you, my dear darling editor!” notes I’ve sent her since the book came out! (Lauri’s since been promoted to President and Publisher of Dutton Children's Books, in addition to her previous title of President and Publisher of Dial. My new fabulous editor at Dial is Jessica Garrison.)
So here, finally, is the spoiler…the actual time line of New Year at the Pier:
• April 2002: interviewed rabbi
• October 2004: accepted by Dial
• many, many, many edits, changes, drafts…
• May 2007: projected publication date is 2008
• September 2007: book delayed until 2009
• April 2008: tiny edit—five small word changes
• June 2009: book is on bookstore shelves—YAY!
SEVEN YEARS?!?!?! Well, yes. Would you believe me if I told you it was worth the wait? Look at the harvest—a starred review in Publishers Weekly and lots of other wonderful reviews!
photo of people walking up the pier by Rachel Gilman