SPRINGFIELD – As a member of the PJ Library’s book selection committee, Vivian Newman and her colleagues have always been on the lookout for books that will fit PJ Library’s mission – providing high quality Jewish children’s books for families across North America each month.
“Our biggest need is books for from one-year-olds to three-year-olds. It can be hard to find good Jewish books for that age,” Newman said.
Now Newman has written her first book, “Ella’s Trip to Israel” illustrated by Akemi Gutierrez.
The book, aimed at three-year-olds, tells the story of a young girl who travels to Israel with her parents and stuffed bear “Koofi.” During Ella’s adventures in Israel, Koofi has some adventures – and mishaps – of his own.
“This book is a sweet and charming introduction to Israel for our very youngest children and their families,” said Chris Barash, director of the PJ Library Book Selection Committee. “We are particularly pleased because it fills an important niche for our youngest of readers.”
With lots of experience as an early childhood educator, Newman’s foray into writing seems like a natural progression.
A native of Springfield, Mass. she got her Masters degree in early childhood education from the Bank Street College of Education and trained at its family center. She worked at child care centers and ran “Mommy & Me” groups and for several years she served as the Judaic educator at the Springfield JCC while also consulting with the PJ Library. She lives in Springfield with her husband Moses Pava and their three children.
Three years ago Newman joined the PJ Library’s book selection committee.
“I read to kids so I hang out at preschools and libraries, trying out different books,” she said. She also tries out books at a drop-in play group that she runs. Newman also teaches on-line courses through PJ Library and Hebrew College to help train PJ professionals.
Newman had no intention of writing children’s books, until she began working on the PJ Library book selection committee.
“One of our jobs on the book selection committee is that publishing companies come to us and say, ‘We would love to do books for you – what kind of books are you looking for?’ So we made up a list of kinds of books we were looking for. As we were coming up with the list I was saying, “If you tell a publishing company you want a book about Israel for two-year-olds, what does that really mean to them?’ So I started thinking, what could a book about Israel for 2 or 3-year-olds look like?”
Newman began playing around with the idea of a little girl traveling to Israel with her family.
In the book, Ella, her parents, and Koofi begin their trip on the long flight to Israel with Ella spilling mango juice on her stuffed friend. An Israeli flight attendant says “Eyn ba’aya. No Problem.”
The rest of the trip results in Koofi being covered with bits of Israel – some tahini from an outdoor market, some mud from the Dead Sea, and some milk from a cow on a kibbutz — becoming a sweet physical reminder of the many places Ella visited in Israel.
“I wrote it out, originally thinking we would hand it to the publishing company and that they would hand it to an author who will flesh it out a little bit more.”
But then Newman got into the story a bit more and got some feedback from some of the people on the committee, encouraging her that her story was worthy of its own children’s book.
“Vivian’s early childhood knowledge and experience shines on every page of this book,” Barash said.
“Ella’s Trip to Israel” published by KAR-BEN Publishing will be mailed out to PJ Library families in April.