Happy holidays, Baxter…

September 24th, 2020

A decade ago, I published a book that’s now out-of-print.  It changed my life,turned me into a “Jewish children’s author!” and opened a million doors for me.  Have you ever met Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher?

Now, here we are, in the Days of Awe, and the world is totally upside down.  But I thought folks might like to read the “Jewish Fallidays” Baxter story I never published. I love Baxter, and have quiet dreams that someday he’ll find someone to reprint him.

In the meantime, welcome to BAXTER’S BIG FALL!

1

Leaves were turning yellow.

Smoke was in the air.

Baxter had new socks on, and…   IT WAS   FALL !

2

Down at the grocery, there were things to see.

“What’s this?” Baxter asked a small woman with a large dog.  He held up a round red thing.

“Why, that’s a pomegranate!” said the woman.

Baxter had never seen a pomegranate before. “What’s it do?” he asked.

“You eat it, silly!” said the woman.  “On Rosh Hashanah. Everyone knows that!”

“Oh,” said Baxter.   He didn’t know.

3

Baxter made his way to the counter, where a man was stacking jars of honey and whistling.

“Excuse me,” said Baxter.   “I wonder—can you tell me what a Rosh Hashanah is?”

The man smiled.  “Of course. Rosh Hashanah is the new year. The start of the fall holidays.”

“You mean like Halloween?” said Baxter.  “Thanksgiving?

“Not exactly,” said the man. “But I don’t have time to explain today. It’s my busy season!”

“Oh, okay.”

4

Baxter left the deli, munching his pomegranate. It did not taste very good.

5

The next day Baxter went to visit his friend Rabbi Rosen, at the synagogue.    She smiled when he trotted into her office.   “Can I help you?”

6/7

“I was hoping, “ said Baxter, “you might tell me about Rosh Hashanah.”

“Oh, it’s wonderful!” said Rabbi Rosen, setting down her pen.  “It’s when the book of life is written, and everyone starts fresh!”

“Book of life?”

“If you want to know more, you should come on Tuesday!”

Baxter nodded.  He certainly didn’t want to miss the book of life!  It sounded important.

8

That Tuesday, Baxter returned. Sure enough, Rosh Hashanah was terrific, full of cheerful prayers and bright songs. A man blew a horn.

And Baxter discovered honey cake.

9

“What comes next?” he asked a little boy who was being dragged to a car.

“Yom Kippur!” called out the boy. “In ten days!”

Ten days? That seemed a long time to wait for more honey cake.

10

Ten days later, wearing a new tie, Baxter arrived at the synagogue.

He looked for honey cake, but didn’t see any.

And why was everyone being so quiet?

11

Baxter excused himself to the lobby, where he found a man in suspenders.

“I wonder, sir, if you know what’s happened to all the honey cake?”

The man knelt down.  “This holiday is different,” he whispered. “On Yom Kippur we say we’re sorry for all the things we’ve done wrong. We think of ways to make the new year better.  It’s not fun, exactly, but it’s important.”

“And the cake?” asked Baxter.

12

“No cake,” said the man. “In fact, we don’t eat a single bite until sundown.”

No eating?” said Baxter. He wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.

13

Still, he stayed, and spent the day listening and thinking, hard…

When Baxter left the synagogue, he didn’t feel exactly happy. But he felt—better.

And also hungry!

He went home and ate fourteen bagels.

14/15

A few days later, Baxter returned to the synagogue.

He had so many questions!

But the rabbi was busy with power tools.

In fact, the entire neighborhood was out in the yard, banging and pounding.

16

“What’s that?” asked Baxter.

“A sukkah!” said a girl with brown braids, “for the festival of Sukkot!”

“Another holiday?” said Baxter.  “What’s this one about?

“You’re looking at it!” said the girl.  “It’s the feast of huts.”

“Huts?”

17

“Sure, we build a hut, fill it with fruits and things, and celebrate the harvest.”

“Ooh!” said Baxter.  “I like fruit!  Can I help?”

“Of course! “ said the girl. “But we’re almost done.”

Then what will you do with it?”  asked Baxter.

“Plenty,” said the girl. “We’ll eat, and play, and dance, and pray.  We’ll do everything in the sukkah.”

18

 

“Everything?”

“Everything!”

Baxter wasn’t sure he had the energy for everything.  But he got to work, banging and pounding.

When the sukkah was finished, it was beautiful!  Baxter felt very proud.

19

That week Baxter brought his lunch to the sukkah each day.

He read, and talked with the rabbi.

When the kids had a party, Baxter danced and grooved.

It was all very wonderful.

But…

20

Baxter was getting drowsy.

And droopy.

He was plumb tuckered out!

21

“Come, Baxter” said the rabbi one day, “Join us in the synagogue. Today is Shemini Atzeret!”

“Shemini what?”

“It’s a holiday!”

22

Another holiday?”

Baxter could feel his feet trembling. His eyes glazed over.

The rabbi chuckled. “You know, Baxter, though it’s a mitzvah to do everything in the sukkah, you are allowed to take a break.

23

“I am?” said Baxter.

The rabbi nodded. “Certainly,” she said. Nobody can do all there is to do. The world is too full of wonderfulness.

Baxter thought about that.

24

“In that case,” said Baxter, “do you know what I would really like to do in the sukkah?”

“I can’t imagine,” said Rabbi Rosen.

“I would like—” said Baxter, “to take a nap!”

25

Rabbi Rosen laughed.  “Luckily,” she said,  “that is a mitzvah too.”

26

With a sigh of relief, Baxter fell over in a little heap.  Right there, with the green leaves above him, and the smell of apples in the air, he curled up and began to snore.

27

There he slept.

He slept and slept, through a day and a night and another day.   He was that tired.

28

Baxter was sleeping when they took the sukkah down around him.

He was sleeping when everyone went home, and when they came back!

30

And when the thumping feet and the clapping hands of Simchat Torah began, Baxter didn’t stir.

31

But that was okay.

There was always next year…

32

And in the meantime, the songs and sounds from the synagogue were sure to give him lovely dreams…

Virtual author visits!!!

August 19th, 2020

 

I’m missing my school visits, and the kids, so right now I’m developing some new online programs.

Of course, I’m always happy to present my traditional author visit online, and can condense or expand it to fit different time limits. And for groups that have read one of my books, I offer FREE 20 minute Q&A sessions. But I’m currently working on creating some online writing workshops for all ages.  These are interactive small-group sessions in story-building and poetry craft.  So please reach out if that interests you!

How do we weed and water?

June 4th, 2020

 

I do not want to center the white experience, but I heard Jason Reynolds say this week that it’s important for white people to speak to white people, and that feels true to me. So here goes:

Watching my (largely white) feed, I am seeing what seem to be a lot of heartfelt expressions of new awareness. I’m seeing vulnerable admissions of bias, and confusion about how to change behavior. That’s a good thing! One of the hardest steps for the comfortable is to accept that we are the root of this problem. This is one reason why the protests need to happen. Not just to change the government, but to change the culture, to change us. Until this moment, a lot of white folks have been able to look away, to feel it doesn’t concern them.

Not only does racism concern us. WE are the ones who must fix it, because we are the ones with the problem.

The truth is, we are all racist. I know there are folks who don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. No matter how we join the right organizations, and march, and read the right books, and make the occasional donation, or stick a BLM lawn sign in the yard (and yes, I’m talking about myself) we have all been raised by this system, and the only way we can make change is by ACTIVELY making change. We cannot magically remove the racism from our bones, but we can work to counter its existence with concrete steps that might mean we do less harm daily, and also that our children and their children have a chance for better bones.

So I want to say that right now, one challenge before us to is to set new patterns that we will CONTINUE to uphold, to establish behaviors that we won’t abandon as soon as the news cycle shifts. I see a lot of lists right now, of black authors to read and black-owned businesses to support, and I think that while these things may seem small when we have armored vehicles rolling through our streets, the truth is that they are things we we still be able to do when the protests end. (the protests never really end, but that’s another conversation).

My question is HOW DO WE MAKE SURE TO KEEP IT UP? For many of us, this is going to be a lot like a workout regimen, where you start out with a lot of good intentions and energy, and quit in few weeks. So how can we task ourselves with maintaining the change? I don’t have an answer exactly, but I do feel like this requires some planning and forethought.

You may say you want to support black businesses, and tonight you’ll order from the black-owned pizza place across town, but in 6 months, will you default back to the white-owned pizza place nearer to your house? You may say you plan to read all the books you see floating by on anti-racism lists, but when your book club picks the newest white-lady historical romance, you’ll probably read it, and say nothing.

I don’t mean this to be a lecture. Rather, I am trying to ask a question. HOW DO WE MAKE SUSTAINABLE CHANGE IN OUR OWN WHITE HABITS? We are all racist, and we are all, this week, resolving to take anti-racist steps to do better. This isn’t about changing who we are, but about changing what we do.

Maybe we set alerts in our calendar, so that every Wednesday night we are reminded: “Order dinner from a black-owned business.”

Maybe we send an email NOW, to our book clubs, suggesting a year of reading only black women authors.

I don’t know, do you? What can we do now that will help us carry this moment and this movement into the year ahead of us? So that when our busy lives distract us from our best intentions (and they will), we will not be able to so easily look away from what our better selves wanted to do?

One thing I am going to suggest right now is that parents join Raising Race Conscious Children and follow them for details on upcoming events and ideas for reading. Because all events are virtual right now, it’s a great time for people who don’t live in the Atlanta area to participate. Regardless of how much you participate, this will give you a regular online reminder that there is work you mean to be doing, no matter what else is going on.

I’d love to hear from folks who know of other online groups that might offer regular structure, education, and a chance to grow in community, so that we don’t forget all the things we intended to do differently in the coming months.

Okay, I’m done, but I want to ask: what thoughts do you have? What resources, but even more than that– what concrete ideas do you have for setting ourselves up for sustainable change? If you’re planting a seed this week in the garden, how will you make certain that you remember to weed and water?

(Related: I just did a search for “seedling” in free stock photos, to use here, and guess how many pages of scrolling you have to get through before you find a pair of non-white hands in an image? I don’t know, because I never found one. THAT is systemic racism, right there. White people not noticing that all the stock photos are full of white people, unless they make a point of seeking out melanin. I wonder if I would have noticed that two weeks ago? I wonder if I’ll notice in a year. I’m going to try my damndest)

 

A Day for Discomfort

June 1st, 2020

This morning, I am remembering a lot of hypothetical conversations during the primary season, as it became clear that Bernie and Warren were going to lose.

My father, in particular, said, “This election can be about revolution and systemic change, or it can be about the rule of law, restoring the status quo. I’m not sure it can be about both.” Neither of us, in that moment, thought the country was ready to consider the former. And as good white progressives do, we sighed and bemoaned that we might be forced to vote for Biden in November. And then probably we ate sandwiches or something.

I am remembering other hypothetical conversations over the years, when friends and I asked each other, “How bad will it have to get in this country before enough Americans are willing to demand real change?” People were too comfortable, we thought, and we wondered what it would take to make them uncomfortable enough. (And then probably we ate sandwiches or something.)

Trump is a horror show. Covid-19 is a horror show. But maybe, together, they’ve made enough middle class Americans uncomfortable that we can wake up and stare directly at two things that are truly making our nation sick, and always have: systemic racism and income inequality (which cannot be divorced from American capitalism).

For the last week, we’ve been seeing young leaders in the streets, who are not comfortable. Their discomfort is a gift to us now. And yesterday, my rabbi posted something powerful. He said: “To tear down a system built on white supremacy, we would do well to let our discomfort unsettle us.”

I would ask my comfortable friends– the people who call themselves progressives, to consider discomfort right now. If you say you hate racism, but have some amount of power in the corporate world or the law or government structures or the arts/media community. If you have money because you have benefitted from those structures– I ask you to think about how you can turn your discomfort into change. (Before you go eat a sandwich or something). How can you disrupt the system that creates your own comfort, to improve the world at large?

I feel like shit that I haven’t taken my immunocompromised body out in the streets, but a wise friend yesterday said to me, “there is a difference between choosing to be physically safe which is smart and necessary and choosing calculated intellectual/emotional/economic risks.”

I’ve been sitting with that, and I think it’s exactly right. Risk. In the streets, people are taking risks. They are giving up comfort, in hopes of actual structural change. And I want to suggest that for those of us who are not in the streets, there are other roles to play.

I have not been doing that myself, I’m ashamed to say. Instead, I’ve been seeking comfort–in my garden, my kitchen, my television and my bookshelf, my liquor cabinet and my search for a fucking plastic kiddie pool. Trump and the virus have made me unsettled, uncomfortable, unhappy, so I have tried to soothe myself.

But that’s not what this moment is for, I think. Even for those of us at home, the question is: what can we unsettle from where we are? What can we smash, and then rebuild? Not the window of a barber shop, but the structures we have been supporting with our jobs, our privilege, our daily lives?

I don’t have an answer yet, but I know I have struggled with this all my life– the balance of my comfort/privilege with what I claim to be my convictions and beliefs. And if I’m uncomfortable now, it’s because these protests are shining a light on the fact of my complicity, and all the ways I’ve benefitted.

People are attempting to dismantle the very worst thing, our national shame. And every day, we are either helping them do it, and/or we are supporting the structures that enable it. At the very least, we should be able to sit with our discomfort, and not soothe ourselves with wine and Netflix.

We post a picture of MLK to FB, or send 50 bucks to the NAACP for bail. But really, aren’t those just other small ways of seeking comfort?

Hopefully, those of us who claim to want change, to hate racism, will move from discomfort to action now. Right now. If not in the streets, in the spaces we live– our jobs, schools, etc.

You want to talk about November, but it’s June 1 right now, and the kids are in the streets. An election can’t undo the systemic problems of this country. An election never has.

 

The Beastly Collective!!

March 20th, 2020

Hey, folks!

Wow, everything is suddenly weird and different, but life goes on, and so do stories.

Today, I’m writing with a request. I’ve written a story that has no ART, and art is important. Locked in my house this way, I’m reaching out to folks who might be inspired to make and share art for my story. Give a listen to the story time, and then, draw or paint or sculpt me a collective of YOUR favorite animal, and I’ll post them here.

Cool? Cool. Check out the amazing art that’s already come in!

Here’s a PITEOUSNESS of DOVES!

And a MUMBLE OF MOLES.

And a CLOWDER of CATS.

And a CONVOCATION of OCTOPI.

And an ERST of BEES!

 

Keep em coming!

Waking up the blog…

March 17th, 2020

The world is different than it was a few weeks back, huh?  I find myself thinking it might be a good time for a more regular record of what’s going on… so I’m waking up the old blog.

The  Coronavirus (Covid 19) has hit everywhere, and while we aren’t in a full lockdown yet here in Atlanta, things feel… odd. My family is staying inside mostly, or working in the yard. Once a day we take a walk, but we carry a lacrosse stick with us, to make sure we stay 6 feet away from other folks.  We cook a lot, and watch movies, and read. I’m feeling very lucky to have a screened porch for when it rains (which it does this time of year in GA, a LOT).

I’m writing, and that’s a very good thing.  As terrible as all of this is, there are blessings too. I’ve been spending a lot of time doing everything BUT writing the last few years, and this feels like a chance to refocus.

Two weeks ago, I was visiting schools in NY and NJ, still flying around the country. I was planning for my son’s bar mitzvah on June 13, which probably won’t happen now. I was having dinner with friends. Now, everything is different.

But life has to continue, right?  So I’ll take a shower, make the coffee! I’ll garden and clean out the closets. I’ll do what I can to support the agencies and organizations helping people get through this hard time (support your local food pantry, if you possibly can, and call your local government to demand rent/mortgage relief, and a freeze on utilities!) I’ll help my kids with their school work and learn to play an instrument.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be posting some content to my Youtube channel, for parents who might like some storytimes and writing activities. This is me reading CHARLIE & MOUSE OUTDOORS (book 4), and offering a little explanation of fiction/nonfiction, as well as a loose writing prompt, that might require a pillow.

 

 

 

Ta dahhh…

February 12th, 2020

 

CHARLIE & MOUSE ARE BACK, and they’re going camping!

It’s spring!  And after a very very very very busy year, I’m home at last, living life at a more relaxing pace, thank goodness.  We’re fully settled into the new house, and gearing up for Lew’s bar mitzvah in June, and that all feels really nice.  I have a few trips planned (see the sidebar for my calendar, if that interests you. I’ll be in Knoxville, Athens, and Jackson, MS for festivals, and I’m doing a few school visits out of state), but mostly, I’m staying put, so I can write the next book, and bake muffins, and  maybe even see what comes up in my new garden.

Of course, there’s lots going on in the world, and I’ll also be canvassing and phone banking for whoever wins the democratic nomination. Another reason to stay home and tend to things. So many gardens to water…

I hope you’re well!

Golly…

December 13th, 2019

Catching my breath…

November 8th, 2019

The big news this fall is that we MOVED!

How did I forget that moving is so totally exhausting?  Can someone remind me, the next time I decide to move? Especially if I also have a teaching schedule, two books publishing, two teenage kids, and a full travel schedule?

That said, it feels worth it, because I finally have an office, for the first time in over a decade? It’s pretty thrilling to spread out, write at a desk, and unpack all my wonderful clutter!

Too many things happened this fall to catch up, but I do want to mention that I got an absolutely amazing review in the Times,from one of my very favorite authors.  The kind of review you don’t forget.

More soon, I promise, as soon as I unpack everything…

What a year!

June 21st, 2019

WOW!!

It has been an unusually crazy spring, full of travel.  Honestly, I overdid it this season, and learned some lessons about what I can and can’t handle. Moving forward, I’m hoping to do a better job about not overbooking myself. I LOVE visiting schools and meeting kids, but I need to do a better job of remembering my own kids, back at home.  I know that if I can be more thoughtful about booking events I’ll be able to give everyone my very best.

That said, one of the highlights of my spring was visiting the Shanghai American School.  I can’t believe my little books took me to CHINA!  I am, however overbooked and tired, a very very very lucky girl…

And of course, I do have new books coming out this fall, so I WILL be hitting the road a bit in the beginning of September. I’m hoping to do a little driving tour in the southeast, to visit some schools and bookstores. So if you happen to be in GA, SC, NC, TN, or AL, within about 5 or 6 hours of Atlanta, shoot me a message, and we’ll see if we can’t make it happen.  Ideally, this would involve school interested in doing a grade-wide read of My Jasper June…

And speaking of My Jasper June, just look at the amazing things people have to say about it:

“This book is a treasure—a touching story of friendship, loss, and finding beauty in the every day, with characters who stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. I absolutely loved it.” (R. J. Palacio, New York Times-bestselling author of Wonder)

“Honest and beautiful, My Jasper June shows us what real friendship makes possible in the face of the impossible.” (Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of When You Reach Me)

“Unflinchingly true and hopeful at once, My Jasper June gives us a friendship so intense and magical, we feel lucky to be there for every gut-wrenching minute of it. Snyder is a truly wonderful writer.” (Emily Jenkins, New York Times bestselling author of Brave Red, Smart Frog)


I’m so excited to share this book with you!