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In 2010 I decided to attempt creating Children’s books that represented some essential ideas in Judaism that I did not often see in already published works. My original focus was on building a character that embodied the childlike worldview I was experiencing in my conversion to Judaism. I walked in the Jewish world naive and in wonder and I learned along the way without the benefit of a family that already knew the bumps and hurdles I would face.
I sat down with cardstock and a sharpie and began drawing out a storyline, roughly, with jagged lines and quick thoughtless direction. It was meant to be a rough draft that I would turn into a more polished work. I ended up just liking the way it looked. I literally scanned them one by one at the library and emailed them to myself. I then opened them in Microsoft Paint and began simply filling in the lines. Once colored in I organized it together, did my best to line it up perfectly and I uploaded it to Amazon’s CreateSpace. It was my very first publication.
The book followed Jacob as he went through a typical day at school dealing with his friends wanting to know about his kippah. In my regular life I routinely find myself explaining to well-meaning people what exactly the little hat on my head is and what it means. I figured young Jewish boys everywhere experienced the same thing.
The story was about understanding being different, but also embracing that difference and sharing it with others.
Jacob made a return in 2012, this time teaching kids about the mysteries of how that little hat stayed on his head all day. One of the questions I get on a regular basis is how my kippah manages to stay on my head. It has always amused me why this is so fascinating to people.
The artwork improved by this point in terms of the actual coloring. I used better tools and was a lot more efficient. The original took hours as I tried to paint around every object perfectly. Now I could just point and fill and the work went by much faster. The colors were brighter too.
In this book Jacob again walks through a day of curious friends and real-life situations. A windy day once blew my yarmulke 20 feet into the air and it landed in the center of a busy street. The humor of the book is that such a simply and daily experience of wearing this funny little hat can sometimes be remarkably complicated.
The moral, however, is one of faith. A joke a friend of mine used to tell me was he knew the Jews were the only ones right about G-d because there was no other reasonable explanation for how we managed to keep yarmulkes on our heads all day.
I represented that fun idea with Jacob walking home and G-d holding his kippah one with one finger as he goes.
In 2012 my dear friend Ronni turned 60 and for her birthday I wrote and illustrated a book in her honor. Ronni has always been a passionate supporter of Israel and I wanted to celebrate that. It was originally intended to be a single-print hardcover for her as a gift but she insisted I create a version on Amazon and add it to my list of works.
The art style I chose was one of quilting. I wanted to represent a very simple story in a visually beautiful way by using color and pattern to form the shape of the world the story takes place in. It is still one of my very favorite styles of artwork. It is very difficult however and I never quite got it right. But the end result was one of love and it tells an important story of family, community and support for Israel.
The book evolved into two editions as one originally had very vibrant and colorful lettering. I wanted to enjoy the feel of the style more so I created a ‘storybook’ version with a textured background and a more traditional typeface and style to tell the story.
This was one of my favorite projects even though it nearly drove me crazy in my attempt to get everything just right. It is far from perfect but in the end I fell in love with it anyway. Ronni loved it so very much and that made all of work worth it.
The book is very pro-Israel and shares a strong message of community spirit and the idea that one little girl can change the whole world with kindness, action and education.
Freddie is, like Jacob, based a lot on me and my inner Jewish child. My grandfather’s name was Freddie and so is my cat’s. I Developed Freddie’s story on the idea of encouraging respect for and enthusiasm around basic mitzvot kids could perform every day. Judaism is structured around doing and then believing and so the important step is always doing something. The 8 ways were meant to explore the commandments in everyday life.
This book was designed to reach out to kids who may not be observant and hopefully encourage a sense of belonging and interest towards Jewish religious concepts. It is simple and straight forward and hopefully approachable and easy to understand. I always feel there is a place for religious observance that can enrich a child’s life and in Judaism that can be expressed in everyday actions.
Larry O’Conner | The Larry O’Conner Show | October 30th, 2017
Jason Rantz | The Jason Rantz Show | December 14th, 2017
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