By Andrea Jacobs
Years ago, long before I had really thought about having children of my own, I began collecting children’s books. Not just the ones that had been my own favorites—Where the Wild Things Are, Corduroy and the All-of-a-Kind Family series—but also the new ones that cleverly and entertainingly subverted the dominant heterosexist paradigm.
The initial focus of my collecting was alternative fairy tale stories with strong female characters who didn’t need saving by Prince Charming. As a feminist, I knew that I wanted the children in my life to have fun and funny alternatives to the onslaught of princesses and evil stepmothers. As my collection grew, I began to look for books that would reflect the families of the people around me—single moms by choice, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parents and want-to-be parents, multi-racial and interfaith families.
Among the books in my collection are The Paperbag Princess, King and King, 10,000 Dresses, And Tango Makes Three, and a few other great books with lovable characters that challenge the idea that everyone is straight and gender conforming. If a princess can fight a dragon, then why can’t a boy wear dresses or marry another boy? I want my books to reflect all of the infinite possibilities of what human life can be.
But I noticed a huge gap between the progressive, feminist, and GLBT inclusive secular books and the contemporary Jewish books on my shelves. Yes Sammy Spider is rainbow colored but his family structure is still quite straight. And as my friends, gay and straight, began having children, Jewish children, we talked about the lack of Jewish books that reflected our progressive, GLBT inclusive values. We fantasized about writing our own books or getting some great author we knew to write something but it was just that—a fantasy. We didn’t think there would be a Jewish children’s book publisher who would touch it and honestly none of us were experienced writers of children’s books.
This year my fantasy—and the fantasy of my GLBT friends—just might come true. Keshet, the Jewish GLBT organization I work for, is holding a Jewish children’s book writing contest.
After years of hearing stories from parents in the Jewish GLBT community of feeling disappointed or even hurt by the lack of Jewish books representing their families, Keshet has found a number of generous donors and a well-respected publisher of Jewish children’s books to help us run this contest.
Keshet is seeking manuscripts of 800 – 1,000 words for a fictional Jewish children’s picture book with a GLBT family or characters. We’d like the story to be of interest not just to GLBT families but to the larger Jewish community, so the storyline needs to be engaging, funny or surprising in some way, not didactic. The story should have a clear, clever and interesting narrative plot with universal themes and Jewish content. We’re not looking for a story about what it’s like to live in a gay Jewish family, but rather a book with one or more members of a GLBT Jewish family as the central character(s) in a great story. We welcome stories that show ethnic diversity as well as diversity of family structure.
The manuscripts will be evaluated by a committee of parents, educators, children’s librarians and a children’s book publisher. The author of the winning manuscript will receive a prize of $250 and the possibility of having their book published.
Please submit an electronic copy of the manuscript as a Word document to [email protected] by April 15, 2011. Illustrations for manuscripts are not necessary or desired.
The contest winner will be announced in early May. The winner will be notified separately by the publisher if his/her/hir manuscript is chosen for publication.
I’m thrilled to be directing the Jewish GLBT book project and to be a part of making this dream a reality. I hope you’ll help by spreading the word about the contest. Please contact me with any questions at [email protected] or 617-524-9227.
Andrea Jacobs is the Director of Education for Keshet, a national organization dedicated to ensuring that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community.