Creating Jewish-positive, but otherwise secular characters, has become increasingly important to me.
How did you come to do what you do?
I started out as a children’s book editor at Scholastic and was always itching to write my own book, because I had always been a writer-type in high school and college. My boss gave me the opportunity to write a historical fiction novel about World War I, as part of the Dear America series, and, ironically, we called it When Christmas Comes Again. I got to live out all my Jewish girl Christmas fantasies through that book—and put my American Studies degree to some good use! Sadly, I lost my job at Scholastic when I was 8-weeks pregnant with my first daughter, Grace. I had loved my job so much, it felt like a huge loss, but in the end it provided me with the push I needed to become a writer. Soon, I was a mom and later a mom to two, but I was also able to develop a freelance writing career, while keeping my novel writing dreams alive with another historical fiction novel for young adults. It was a busy time and I felt that even though I was knee-deep in diapers, I was kind of on my way. It took quite a few more years to develop the idea for Jules and as I tell kids when I speak at schools—quite a few more rejections—but with a lot of support from my agent, Jules would become a reality soon enough!
How does Judaism influence your writing?
My writing, and characters, are heavily influenced by Judaism. Though Jules was basically unaffiliated, having to do with my own reluctance to push back against the publisher’s desire to keep her so, her life was what I call, aesthetically Jewish. That was intentional. In my latest novel, Izzy Kline Has Butterflies, Izzy, by contrast, is EXPLICITLY Jewish, by my choice. In the Izzy sequel, The Cure for Cold Feet, Izzy’s Jewish life is brought more to the forefront. Izzy’s pride in that fact is something I care deeply about and I feel grateful that my publisher has encouraged this exploration. Creating Jewish-positive, but otherwise secular characters, has become increasingly important to me.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday or tradition?
Shabbat. It serves as a touchstone for my family, even when done in a hurry, which is often! Blessing the children, grounding them at the end of a busy week, in something else, something meaningful and unique to our family-it’s important to all of us. Grace recently spoke about our Shabbat traditions in her Bat Mitzvah Dvar Torah, which was really special.
Favorite food that you associate with Judaism?
Challah, because…Shabbat. Though, Grace asks for brisket every year on her birthday, which borders on the ridiculous, but I occasionally indulge her.
Earliest memory of being Jewish?
Elementary school. The Jewish kids had to line up as walkers on Tuesday and Thursday so they could go to Hebrew school. It felt like a very singular experience, with so few Jewish kids.
How do you incorporate Judaism into your daily life?
Our family is grounded in Jewish values, learning, kindness, being good to others – those basic tenets of Judaism. Jon’s brother is a Rabbi, his father writes for Jewish Week, and the kids go to Camp Ramah. There is plenty of Judaism in the household.
What’s on the horizon?
The second Izzy Kline novel is coming out in May, where Izzy will be in Middle School. I also wrote a picture book called “I Was a Hamantaschen,“ which I’m hoping will find a publishing home sometime soon, just so you can all see my nursery school Purim picture on the cover. I also have a more grown-up novel in the works, and a memoir.
Fall in love with Jules and Izzy.
Beth runs a school assembly called How to Be a Writer (or Anything Else You Want to Be), focusing on creativity and positivity and perseverance. She also runs smaller classroom workshops focusing on the butterfly moments/poetry writing she developed in writing Izzy Kline Has Butterflies in verse format.
Learn more: bethain.com