By Cindy Mindell
FARMINGTON – Avi is all set to go out with his friends when he overhears his father on the phone. Grandpa isn’t feeling well and Avi is the only one able to visit. Should he make his friends wait? Should he disappoint his grandpa? Avi’s parents give him the choice, but he is torn.
That’s the dilemma at the heart of Avi’s Choice, a new children’s book by Rebeka Rahmani Simhaee with illustrations by Farmington resident Janice Hechter, and published by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s Merkos Publications in March.
Hechter moved with her husband and their daughter, Dara, to Connecticut nine years ago. Members of Beth El Temple in West Hartford, the family celebrated Dara’s bat mitzvah in November. All three are active at the synagogue, where Dara works as a teacher’s aide in the religious school.
Hechter had illustrated four picturebooks when she emailed her online portfolio to the Merkos editor, who thought her style would be a perfect fit for Avi’s Choice. She recruited West Hartford residents Yehuda Meyer to model for Avi and Sidney Keller to pose for the grandfather – real-life grandson and grandfather.
“In one of the illustrations, Avi and his sick grandfather are shown together, and there is a look of joy on the grandfather’s face,” Hechter says. “This shows how the mitzvah of bikur cholim can brighten someone’s day and really make a difference. In another illustration, Avi and his friends are playing baseball, something he was really looking forward to. This is an activity which kids will be able to identify with. The scene shows the true dilemma a child might face when trying to decide whether or not to forgo an event they really enjoy in order to lift someone else’s spirits.”
Hechter never discussed ideas for illustrations with Great Neck, N.Y.-based author Simhaee, and only connected with her via Facebook once the presses were rolling. She experienced a surprising coincidence when she delivered a copy of the book to the Kellers, who saw Simhaee’s name and realized that she was a relative by marriage.
When working on a book project, Hechter consults with her daughter, who is an avid reader and offers feedback from a young person’s perspective. Hechter is currently doing the illustrations for a Sukkot-themed book by Merkos Publications, The Little Esrog, set in Russia circa 1895.