Author Interview: Anna Yaphe Levine

Monday, January 4, 2010
Let's travel (virtually) to Western Asia, shall we? I have asked Anna Yaphe Levine to give us a peek into the children's and young adult book scene in Israel. Thank you, Anna! Anna is the author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig (illustrated by Ksenia Topaz and published by Kar-Ben Publishing, 2008), which was named a Notable Book for Younger Readers by the Sydney Taylor Award, and Freefall (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, 2008), a Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Teen Readers. She is also the regional advisor of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Israel.

Anna, how would you define Israeli children's literature and Israeli young adult literature?

I asked our school librarian to help me with this question. Fantasy has become really popular of late with the usual titles like the Harry Potter series, the Pullman trilogy and Twilight trilogy. Many of the novels in the fantasy genre that are read here are books in translation. Although, some new Israeli writers are beginning to experiment with the genre. I guess we're all getting..uhuh.."bitten" by it.

Historical fiction and non-fiction goes in waves. As we near Holocaust Remembrance Day in April/May (the exact date is determined according to the Hebrew calendar) there is a request for books on the topic, same with the Yom Kippur War (October), and the Six Day War (June) or other topical events.

What are the current trends in children's and young adult publishing in Israel?

We read a lot of books in translation. Fantasy, adventure, suspense and coming of age books are high on the list of good reads. Popular authors read in translation are Christopher Paolini, Stephenie Meyer, and Rick Riordan to name a few.

What are the challenges and rewards of being a writer or illustrator for children and young adults in Israel?

I write in English and publish in the States. My most recent young adult novel is Freefall (Greenwillow/HarperCollins). In Israel, it is hard to find my books in local book stores which sell mostly Hebrew books. However, through my writing I am able to bring a part of the land, and the culture to others who are unfamiliar with our lives, outside of what’s seen on TV, and that gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

As the SCBWI representative I know that illustrators and writers have a hard time making a living from their art because the market is quite small. However, they are a very supportive community. The Israeli Illustrator’s Association is very active in promoting their members’ work.

What children's and young adult books, authors, and illustrators from Israel would you recommend? What is your favorite Israeli children's or YA book and why is it your favorite?

I conferred once again with our local librarian and my junior high students. Galila Ran Fedder, who has been writing and publishing for the last 20 years, is still a popular choice. Hagar Yanai, Dorit Orgad, Ora Morag and Noga Moran are a few names that were mentioned.

Both my children were born in Israel and so I found myself reading a lot of Hebrew children’s books to them. My favorite was a book by Miriam Ruth called The Story of Five Balloons. I loved the rhythm, rhyme and simplicity of it. Another author I love is Leah Goldberg, especially her story Room to Rent which is about the importance of having good neighbors, and in a country this size, it is an issue!

What is it like to be the regional advisor of SCBWI Israel? What kind of work do you do for this role? Can you tell us about some of SCBWI Israel's activities in 2009? What are some plans for 2010?

Being the regional advisor has its challenges. Our members are spread across the country and our one free day of the week, Saturday, is a day of religious observance for some, so holding a meeting on the Sabbath is not possible. I try and arrange our meetings to coincide with the beginning or ending of Jewish holidays like Succoth (the Feast of the Tabernacles) or Hanukkah.

{An SCBWI Israel meeting in 2009}

This Hanukkah we lit candles with Carolivia Herron the author of Nappy Hair. She was in Israel doing research for a new book project and generously agreed to spend an evening with us. She was such a wonderful story teller. We had a marvelous time.

{Anna with Carolivia Herron}

Our next big project will be a video conference for illustrators. Miri Leshem is Israel’s new illustrators' coordinator and we are planning on holding a video conference in Tel Aviv with an art director and agent from New York. We’re very excited about this project which will help Israeli artists get their work into the international market.

Thank you, Anna, for introducing Israeli children's and young adult literature to us! I wish you and all the members of SCBWI Israel all the best for 2010!