Barbara Bietz, SCBWI Central California’s Assistant Regional Advisor, is here today to talk about her journey writing kid’s books. Her latest picture book, Apples, Apples, All Year Round: A Celebration of Jewish Holidays, is co-authored with June Sobel, and illustrated by Ruth Waters(2022, Apples & Honey).
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome to Kite Tales! Your five books have Jewish themes or characters. Why is this important to your work? Can you please speak to Jewish representation in children’s books today?
BARBARA BIETZ: Thank you so much for having me on Kite Tales. In terms of the books I write, I gravitate toward characters and topics that feel familiar to me. I feel very connected to the Jewish community and I love creating stories that might offer a unique insight for readers of all backgrounds.
With Apples, Apples, All Year Round, June and I set out to create a fun and engaging book for very young readers that would celebrate Jewish holidays in an accessible way. With my other picture books, The Sundown Kid and Sweet Tamales for Purim, I share stories about the Jewish community in the Southwest. This is especially meaningful to me. I was born and raised in California and lived in Arizona for many years. There are unique histories that are not commonly known that I love to explore in fiction and nonfiction.
The Jewish community is very diverse and I am excited about books being published that represent Jews of all backgrounds. There have been some fantastic graphic novels, fantasy books, biographies, and more. I think it is important that we hear from many Jewish voices and encourage writers of all genres. There are also some wonderful online resources, too, such as The Book of Life blog, The Association of Jewish Libraries, The Jewish Book Council, PJ Library, as well as my own blog, Jewish Books for Kids . . . and More.
CVZ: Your books have been published in various categories, in fiction, and nonfiction. How do you make these decisions? Do you have different critique groups?
I am very fortunate to have a supportive critique group. We share both fiction and nonfiction.
BB: In terms of PB/MG it’s often an intuitive sense about the intended audience. With fiction/nonfiction, sometimes a draft will start out as nonfiction but the research isn’t enough to carry a story so I might shift to fiction. Other choices are more intentional. For example, with my nonfiction middle-grade book, DIJ – Use Your Jewish Creativity, I interviewed creators from a variety of artistic fields with the goal of inspiring middle-grade readers.
CVZ: What role has SCBWI played in your writing?
BB: Community is everything to me and SCBWI has been life changing. Alexis O’Neill welcomed me into SCBWI many years ago. It has been a source of education, professional development, friendship, connection, and so much more.
CVZ: What advice do you have for kid’s book writers who aren’t published yet?
BB: Join SCBWI, keep reading, keep writing, and hone your craft. But also, think about what kind of life you want to lead. For me, there is intrinsic value in living a creative life and being surrounded by others who are passionate about their work. Community and friendship are not simply by-products of being a writer—they are the ultimate reward. While you are working on your manuscripts, remember to connect with others and find joy in the process.
CVZ: Thank you for sharing your insights with our readers!
BB: Thank you!
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Author photo courtesy of Barbara Bietz. Cover photos courtesy of the publishers.