New Picture Book for Children of Divorce

A couple weeks ago I finished illustrating a book called “I Live with my Mommy,” written by Tzivia Erlich-Klein and to-be-published by Menucha Publishers. It’s a story about a little girl and boy whose parents are divorced, and it is geared toward frum (religious) Jewish families. I think it is the first of its kind!

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It’s a difficult topic and the story is sad at times, but through the illustrations I tried to create a warm, comforting book that children and parents will want to read. It is due out this Spring (2014) and I am curious to see what the reaction will be like.

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The author explains that sometimes small children have a hard time verbalizing the things that worry or disturb them.  This book was written to provide kids with an opening to talk about their feelings surrounding the divorce.mommymommy1

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Not Always Perfect

I admit it… even I am not always perfect, however this time I’m referring to the title of a small reader published by A.E.L. publications, called “Chaya’s Story: Not Always Perfect.”

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It’s always fun to see my illustrations in print! This one has one color illustration on the cover and seven black-and-white ones inside. Working on Book 2 now!

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(Self)Portrait of an Artist

This piece was published in Family First/Mishpacha magazine this week. Enjoy!

Portrait of an Artist

The self-portrait: every artist’s got one. Some have many. I, personally, have done three.

What is it about a self-portrait that is so engaging? Is it merely a reflection of the artist’s peculiar self-absorption? Is it the belief that in all of G-d’s glorious creation there is nothing as lovely or as worthy of recording for posterity as my own exquisite face? Maybe it is simply a practical exercise in light and color using the most readily available model? Or perhaps it is an honest attempt at self-discovery, an inner struggle to answer the eternal question, Who am I?

As an artist, I will tell you the truth: I don’t know. All I know is that there is something oddly satisfying about the self-portrait.

Art, thankfully, is not photography. When you see a picture of yourself, you are more likely than not going to exclaim, “That is not me! I am not that pale! Is that my nose? I do not have that many wrinkles! And is that a sheitel or a bird’s nest sitting on my head?!” And when, due to a miraculous fluke in the lighting, you finally get a picture that makes you look taller, younger, thinner, and prettier than the person you usually see in the mirror, you have an urge to blow it up and hang in the living room. Or maybe put it on a billboard. Instead, you simply send it out on the upcoming holiday card, or forward it to everyone on your email list. Cropped in a number of interesting ways, in case anyone wasn’t paying attention the first or second time it flashed across the screen.

But with a paintbrush, you are master of your own destiny. You want roses in your cheeks, an aristocratic nose, and silky chestnut curls? Not a problem. While I’m at it, I’ll erase those fine lines and blemishes.

That’s not to say you won’t recognize the finished product as me, in all my painted glory. I pride myself on my ability to capture a likeness. But a little artistic license never hurts, if you know what I mean.

When you use self-portraits as landmarks in the journey of self- discovery, it’s a fascinating ride. The first recorded self-portrait of the great artist, Dena Ackerman, dates back to her youth, when she was about thirteen years of age. You can see that she takes her art, and herself, very seriously. Not a glimmer of a smile, no Mona Lisa mystery. Just a fine pencil drawing of an awkward adolescent, large plastic glasses and all. It will be a few years before she learns that staring straight into the mirror with a poker face is not the ideal way to portray oneself to one’s best advantage.

Here we are, a few years later. We see a bit more creativity in terms of pose and attitude. This self-portrait is all long hair, long legs, and ego. I suppose that’s what being sixteen is all about. Shockingly narcissistic. Let’s move right along.

Ah, 2013. An absolutely lovely self-portrait! See how serene she is, how demure, as she gazes down tenderly at her brood of four? See how they cluster around her like little angels dressed in white, so innocent and loving. And clean!

Acrylic portrait on canvas

The Angelic Ackermans

Yes, this is me! These are my children! I could stare at this vision of loveliness for hours. Again I have to wonder, am I really so obsessed with myself? The painting is finished; it has a happy home in Florida on my grandparent’s mantel. Let’s get back to real life, and put in a load of laundry. Or pull the kids apart before someone gets seriously injured.

When the kids are not exactly behaving like angels, and I’m feeling frazzled and not particularly loving, I wish I had that portrait hanging in my own living room. Then I could reassure myself that the image on the canvas is what my real life looks like. The scene in my kitchen, with all four kids screaming for my attention at the same time, where I’m wearing the same clothes as I wore yesterday because I fell asleep in them and didn’t bother to change this morning, is an aberration. Really, my life is picture-perfect. Or rather, painting-perfect.

My sixteen-year-old self done in pencil would agree.

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Bats, Cats, & Hats: Counting on Kindle

I was asked to illustrate an e-book for someone in my area. The story is cute, but simple, and is called “I Love Everything Pink” (sound like a little girl you might know?) As I was working on it, I thought, “Why not write and illustrate my own e-books?”

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I wanted to keep it simple, since I wasn’t sure how it would go over… The results are this super cute (if I do say so myself) counting book for kids, which also has a kind of Halloween theme for the upcoming holiday. “Bats, Cats & Hats“…it’s up now on Amazon!It was fun to make, and I hope you’ll find it fun to read, too! I can’t wait to do more!

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How to get your Jewish Children’s Book Published

I received the following email from someone who is looking for advice on publishing and/or self-publishing and finding an illustrator for a children’s book. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I figured I’d post whatever I have learned that might be helpful, in case it can help any one else out there!

QUESTION: I have a few questions, if you have time to answer. Any info or advice would be really helpful. 1. Can you choose the dimensions and paper stock of the book? 2. How do you submit the work once the text and illustrations are finished? 3. How do you get an ISBN and copyright? 4. How does distribution work? Can u choose where you distribute? 5. How many copies will be distributed? 6. How does profit work? 7. Where do you start? Do you know of good self publishing companies? Are there Jewish ones that I can submit to? Thanks!

DISCLAIMER: this post is really only about publishing children’s books with Jewish publishers, who are for the most part more “heimish” than the other publishing houses out there. If you are looking to publish a book for the general public, then this post will probably not be helpful, as the process is often more complex.

Submitting Your Book to Jewish Publishers

For people like me who want to focus on their art (writing, illustrating) and not on the nitty-gritty business end of things, or who don’t have the funds to invest, you should submit your book to a publisher who will cover the costs of editing, printing, marketing, and distributing your book, as opposed to self-publishing. You may be paid an advance and/or earn royalties when the book starts selling.

It’s a good idea to do your homework first by reading the submission guidelines of various publishers, looking around their website, or browsing in your local book store to see what type of books are being published by which publishers.

Here is a list of the Jewish Publishers I know of, who publish books for children. If anyone want to add to the list, please leave a comment, and I will update it! If you click on any of these links, you will be taken to their Submissions Guidelines.

The ones with a star after them cater to the Orthodox community. The others have a broader Jewish readership (correct me if I’m wrong!). Some of these publishers accept very few children’s books manuscripts annually. Like I mentioned before, you should figure out which publishers would be the best fit for your book, rather than sending it out randomly.

Most publishers do not appreciate simultaneous submissions. This means send each manuscript to only one publisher at a time, and wait until you get a response before sending it to someone else. This can take a few weeks to a few months. If you don’t get any response after a couple weeks you can follow up just to make sure they received your submission.

Finding an Illustrator for your Children’s Book

Most publishers do not require that you submit illustrations with your book. Many do not even want you to, preferring to chose their own illustrator. Then there are some publishers that do require the author to hire their own illustrator. In this case you can include sample illustrations or a link to the artist’s portfolio. The author then has to pay the illustrator out of pocket, find a sponsor, or  make some kind of deal with the artist, such as paying an advance (this means some money upfront- artists have bills to pay too!) and splitting royalties.

However, I have learned that even the publishers who do not request illustrations are open to receiving samples and suggestions. If there is an illustrator you admire or really want to have illustrate your book (ahem!) you should let the publisher know, and they may well agree to it.

Self-Publishing: I don’t have much information on self-publishing, other than the fact that is involves a big investment on the part of the author. The author finances the entire publishing process and works with the distributor. There is always an element of risk since you can’t be sure how well the book will sell. But if it does sell well, you make all the profit as opposed to just earning a small royalty.

Some publishers also offer joint-publishing, where the author and publisher share the costs involved.

Book size, Paper stock, ISBN, Copyrights, Distribution…. If you find a publisher to take on the costs of your book, they will deal with all this stuff. You can discuss everything with them (from my experience they’re all really lovely people and aim to please!) but they’ll probably have the final say. If you are self-publishing then, again, I’m not sure how it would work.

E-books: Not the topic of this post, but a whole new way of publishing that requires a minimum (if any) investment and can be accomplished in a fraction of the time it takes to publish a “real” book. And of course you don’t have to wait for an editor to accept your book!

Anyone out there who wants to share their experiences and advice would be very welcome. Thank you!

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2nd Place at the Beit Shemesh Art Festival!

Last Wednesday, I was super excited to have a painting displayed in the first annual Beit Shemesh Contest for the Arts… and I was even more excited when my painting won 2nd place!

The Beit Shemesh Center for the Arts is a new initiative in our city, whose purpose is to encourage artistic development in different areas, including art, music, photography, and literature.

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I took the kids in the afternoon to look around at all the beautiful artwork. They enjoyed it for about  2 minutes before turning their attention to the pastries and soda. Isn’t culture wonderful?!

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The theme was “Shalom Beit Shemesh” which is NOT, as I originally thought, “Hello Beit Shemesh.” Nope! That would be “shalom” as in PEACE, not “Shalom” as in HELLO! Good thing we cleared that up before I started working on the painting!DSCN5232

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All the other entries were stunning. If you want to check out the other prize winners and submissions, you can view this Facebook album!

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In the evening there was a short program during which the winners were announced. Here’s the mayor, who announced the winners, holding my painting!Mayor Abutbul holding the painting I didn’t understand every single word, since of course he spoke in Hebrew, but I did catch the phrase “meel-yon do-llar”. Mayor, if you want it for a million dollars, it’s yours!!

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Ruth Paper Dolls for Shavuot!

Girls love princesses and pretty clothes. Girls love coloring and crafts. Put them together and you get… paper dolls! But we can do so much better than Cinderella, don’t you think? Introducing the Ruth paper dolls, just in time for Shavuot!

Lots of Jewish mom’s seem glad to have a modest-yet-beautiful figure for their girls to play with. One of my friends said: “What a great idea! I love it! My daughter is always commenting on the Disney princess’ lack of coverage.” And another mom said “So nice to have a Jewish Barbie.” This is exactly what I had in mind– REAL role models for our girls–princesses, no less– who are beautiful and royal, strong and resilient, modest and kind. Like Ruth.

Don’t know who Ruth was? Read all about her here!

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The Ruth paper doll comes with 4 costumes (Moabite princess, Wealthy Wife, Pauper, and Mother of Royalty) and a cast of 3 supporting actors (Naomi, Orpah, and Boaz)!

Color them in, cut them out, add some popsicle sticks if you desire (to make them into puppets), and bring the story of Ruth alive!

So… where can you get them? My friend Abbey who does all sorts of cool, crafty and creative things has just put out a new e-magazine called JCreate: Celebrating Jewish Creativity. It’s got all sorts of beautiful and original ideas for Shavuot– napkin flowers, recipes, Torah puppets, tablescapes… and the paper dolls! JCreate- don’t miss out!! (Like their FB page too while you’re at it!)

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FREE Passover Picture Bingo!

I love the holiday of Passover: the great feeling of knowing your house is truly clean, unpacking the Pesach dishes, setting Seder table, eating all that matza! But I have to say it is a lot of work, both getting there and getting through it!  The seder poses it’s own challenge of keeping everyone (kids and adults!) awake and involved. If you ask around, you’ll hear many great ways that families keep things fun and interactive. One friend of mine likes to play holiday-themed games at her family dinners, such as word searches, word scrambles, crossword puzzles and, the most popular one: bingo.

The problem is, she has a large crowd over, around 30 people, and she couldn’t find any Passover bingo games that would work for so many people! So she asked me to whip up some bingo cards so the family won’t have to go without their favorite game this Passover!

What we end up with here are 30 different Bingo cards with a mix of 60 different pictures, including the ten plagues, items from the Seder table, characters from the Hagadah and the Exodus story. They’re cute and colorful and will help bring the Hagadah to life!

If you have a color printer, you can print them yourself, or take them to the nearest print shop to to have them printed and laminated for future use. To get the FREE Bingo Card file, please contact me here and it will be my pleasure to send it to you.

Thank you, and Happy Passover! Chag Kasher V’same’ach!

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Purim Coloring Pages!

Consider this my Purim gift to you! Print, color, display, admire!

Achashverosh: Let’s get this party started!

Esther: Not just another pretty face.

Haman: That’s a noose, idiot, not a lasso!

Vashti: What are you staring at?!

(Why does Vashti have a tail? What if I don’t want Vashti with a tail? Read my comments at the bottom of this post!)

Mordechai: Why can’t we all just get along?

Please share with your friends! Happy Purim!!

VASHTI UPDATE: I have been receiving comments from people that they’d like to have Vashti without a tail.  If you want Vashti pre-tail, you can contact me and I will send it to you. However, I think it is important for kids (and adults!) to know that Haman was not the only villain in the Purim story. There is a popular misconception that Vashti she was an early feminist, a woman who valued her dignity too much to parade naked before her husband’s drunken guests. While Vashti does present us with a mysterious, beautiful, fascinating character, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Who was Vashti? Where did she come from? Why did she refuse to parade naked before the King’s guests? What was her sin? Why was she punished specifically with a tail and leprosy? And… c’mon, do you really expect me to believe that she grew a tail?! Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller gives some deeper insight into the character and history of Vashti here on Aish.com. It’s worth reading! Happy Purim :)

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FREE SHIPPING on Art Prints until Feb 10!

If you want to add a little something Jewish and a little something pretty to your home, please visit my web-store to see what’s available! There are great prices on all my art prints, PLUS if you use this link you will get FREE SHIPPING until February 10. Thanks for shopping!

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