Today, I welcome Audrey Ades, the author of Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous. This picture book is based on events that took place between the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. While some people living in New Orleans were aware of Judah Touro’s accomplishments and philanthropy, Touro lived a modest life. During this interview, readers will learn about Ades’ background, why she chose to write this book, and her entry into the picture book market.
When did you first realize that you had an interest in writing children’s books?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I started reading children’s books to my son that I considered writing them myself.
Who are your top three children’s authors and what have you learned from each?
Boy, that’s a tough question. The more you read, the more you learn; and there are so many wonderful children’s authors out there. For picture books, some of my contemporary favorites are Donna Bowman, Cynthia Levinson, Gary Golio, Shutta Crum, Gene Barretta. And of course, the authors who laid the modern foundation: Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendack, and Jane Yolen.
Do the authors that you mention have anything in common?
That’s another good question- but a hard one! I’d say the thing they have common is that they all write with passion, clarity, imagination, and craft. I have used all their books as mentor texts. The second group of authors has written what I consider to be some of the classics.
Why do those authors stand out? In other words, what makes a great picture book author?
Writing is an art, and like all art, it is very subjective. Picture book authors must choose their words carefully and wrestle with the tough decisions about how to shape their story, what to include, and what to cut. He or she must also be able to visualize how the illustrations will help tell the story. A great picture book author is someone whose writing can touch a child’s heart, using as few words as possible. That may be 300 words or 1500 words, but every word must earn its place.
Did you take any classes, join a writing group, or hire a mentor before writing children’s books?
I started writing before I ever joined a writing group, in fact, before I ever knew there were groups for writers. I was very naive and just dove in to write my first 10,000 word, moralistic, boring, condescending picture book. I had a LOT to learn! Since then, I have attended many conferences, classes, and workshops. The SCBWI conferences can be very good. I have also attended Highlights and the Writing Barn. For me, the more specific the conference topic, the better. The SCBWI conferences are usually the most comprehensive and cover many topics. Highlights and the Writing Barn offer a wide variety of excellent, small classes on specific genres or aspects of the writing life.
Is writing your primary career or do you have another occupation that you combine with your writing?
At this time, writing is my primary career, but I am very active in social action in my community.
Does your interest in social action affect your writing?
Yes, absolutely. The book about Judah is all about social action. My next book focuses on civil rights, and the third one on the treatment of women in the 18th century. The manuscript I’m working on now is a little different, but still has an important message. I’ll keep you in suspense on that one!
When was your first children’s book published and how many other books have you worked on so far?
I wrote three middle grade “work for hire” educational books several years ago. It was a great experience, but I knew I wanted to write those large-format, beautifully illustrated picture books I loved so much. I’ve probably written 20 picture book manuscripts, but Judah Touro is the first to be published.
Are all of your non-fiction children’s books geared to the K-3 audience?
Many picture books are “layered” and speak to readers of different ages on different levels. Judah is written for children ages 6-9, but older readers could certainly enjoy the story and would understand more deeply why Judah did what he did. My next two books are geared for slightly older readers, ages 8-12.
What prompted you to write this book and where did you do the research?
I began writing this book in late 2016. I felt concerned that our country was losing its focus on caring for each other. I wanted to give children kind and compassionate role models to look up to.
Because Judah lived a quiet, private life so long ago, there is not much written about him. For research, I used a few books and articles, and spoke with two Jewish historians who were very helpful.
Why do you think children should read a book about Judah Touro?
Judah was a hard-working, kind, modest man who saw the troubles in his community and decided to do something about it. We all have the opportunity and the ability to do that. Sometimes it’s helpful to see that other people have done it before us.
What do you hope children will learn from your onsite presentations?
Each presentation is geared toward the age of the participants and what they would most appreciate about the story. The book has many tie-ins to American history as well as Judah’s personal journey- and, of course, the important theme of helping others, which is sometimes called in Hebrew, tikkun olam.
In what ways did your illustrator capture the essence of your book?
I think Vivien Mildenberger’s illustrations are wonderful. They are humble and gentle, just like Judah, but have a lot of detail that depicts the historical era in which the story takes place.
Can you provide three tips for people who are interested in writing children’s books?
- Study other books in the genre you would like to write.
- Listen to advice from others but trust your gut.
- If writing for children is really what you want, don’t give up.
Choosing my subjects has been very challenging. I have spent thousands of hours researching and writing about subjects who will never become a picture book for a variety of reasons that a more experienced writer would have recognized. It’s also challenging to choose which parts of a subject’s life to include in the story. It’s not easy to squeeze theme, plot, and character development into less than 1000 words.
Do you anticipate publishing any other books in the near future? If so, can you share anything about these upcoming books?
Yes! In 2021, my book, The Rabbi and the Reverend, will be released by Kar Ben Publishing. It’s a story about the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Joachim Prinz. They were both important and courageous civil rights leaders. And in 2022, I, too, Am Mozart will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It is the story of Mozart’s talented older sister. Both of these books are picture books.
Can you provide a brief overview of your background?
I have been lucky enough to have had three careers, all of which have been interesting and rewarding. After college, I worked as a theatre stage manager. I later went back to school and became a clinical psychologist. Twenty -three years later, I decided to change careers again and begin my journey as a writer. I live in South Florida with my family and our 15-year-old Pomeranian.
To learn more or to purchase Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous, please visit Ades’ website.
Let me introduce you to a few more children’s authors?
Do you have a favorite author? Please share in the Comment Section below.
Parents and teachers— Ades is reaching out to kids of all ages and needs your help. To be eligible for the Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous book giveaway, please assist children in sending an email to Ades’ website by June 1, 2020.
The email should include a description of the child’s good deed. Ades will randomly choose one email and send the winner a free copy of Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous. If the book was previously purchased, Ades will send a copy of her next book when it comes out in 2021.
Kar-Ben Publishers sent a complimentary copy of Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She was a licensed Colorado teacher who taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college-level courses. In addition to reviewing books and interviewing authors, Sandra is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer. Many of Sandra’s stories appear on the For Readers page. Additional stories can be read on TheTravelingBornsteins website.