Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Q&A with Sarah Aronson



Sarah Aronson is a contributor to the new anthology Coming of Age: 13 B'nai Mitzvah Stories, edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz. Aronson's books for kids and teens include Just Like Rube Goldberg. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.


Q: How did you become one of the writers participating in the Coming of Age anthology, and what do you see as its significance?


A: I was lucky enough to attend a TENT event, sponsored by PJ Library, with Jonathan Rosen. After many discussions about Jewish literature for children, anti-Semitism, and our hopes for young readers, I was so happy to be asked to submit.


I am the granddaughter of a rabbi. I have worked as a Jewish educator. I even worked for Jewish Lights Publishing for a while. I have a lot to say to young readers about the experience of growing up Jewish.


In fact, I feel like all my stories address the Jewish experience in one way or another. It is who I am. And that point of view always shows up in one way or another.


Q: What inspired you to write the story "The Assignment"?


A: It’s a true story! (Well, 99 percent true—I changed the name of my friend in the story, since I think it’s nice to do that!) Yes—I was that student that put off doing my homework. During those years, I was also beginning to see myself as a feminist. I already had so much to say.


Those journal entries in my stories were plucked from MY journals! I will never forget the moment when I found out my mom knew Abbie Hoffman…and then I found out who Abbie Hoffman was…well, let’s just say NOTHING was ever the same.


I saw my mom in a new way.


I also saw myself in a new way. As a future activist. As a progressive thinker. (Truth: I was already very excited about Bella Abzug’s work.) I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Christmas City. I knew that I wanted to live in a city. That I wanted to get involved. That I had something to say.


When I was in college, I was lucky enough to spend an evening with Abbie. He was an amazing man. A gifted speaker. A performer. These days, I think about him often. I think he would have so much to say about the book banning and rise in antisemitism that we are seeing all over our country. We need brave voices more than ever.

Also, if you haven’t read Liza Wiemer’s novel, The Assignment, READ IT!!!! It’s a phenomenal novel!


Q: Do you see common themes among the stories in the collection?


A: What I love most about this collection is how different all the stories are. There is something for everyone. But all of them are celebrations. Of our faith. Of our community. Or what it means to be Jewish.


Q: At a time when antisemitism is becoming more prevalent, what do you hope readers take away from your story, and from the book as a whole?


A: I hope young readers will feel seen and supported. I hope they will celebrate what makes them unique. For me, being Jewish has always been part of my voice and intention. I am so proud of our children’s literature community that we are embracing diversity. We still have a lot of stories to write, but we are doing it!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A couple of things! (That’s how I roll!) I am revising my first adult novel about four Jewish friends (all over 70) as well as a picture book biography about Marty Glickman, the sprinter that was removed from the 4 x 100 relay…for being Jewish. (He became one of the most amazing play-by-play sportscasters ever.)


I’m very excited about two new picture books: Brand New Bubbe, a story about a blended family, soup, and grandmas, will be published by Charlesbridge this August.


And Abzuglutely: Bellowing, Battling Bella Abzug, a picture book biography about one of my childhood heroes, Congresswoman Bella Abzug, with Astra Publishing/Calkins Creek.


If you had told me when I was a young girl that I would be the author of books about Rube Goldberg and Bella Abzug, I wouldn’t have believed you! I really was the girl who had trouble studying. I had such a hard time paying attention. I am so grateful that I can bring my gusto to readers!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am so very grateful to be part of this anthology, and to be able to share what I think is a funny story about my childhood. I am also very proud to be offering workshops and classes at as well as the amazing Highlights Foundation.


Highlights has been so supportive of the Jewish children’s literature community. Their mission is my mission: to positively impact children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves—without harm or hate.


Deb, all of us have stories. All of us have something to say. All of us are ready for a greater discourse. I am so proud to be part of this community. It gives me strength. It fuels my determination. It gives me hope.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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