Friday, January 23, 2009

Interview with Deborah Bodin Cohen

I'm happy to be part of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards Blog Tour which celebrates the authors and illustrators whose work has been recognized this past year. I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride. Her other works include: Nachshon, who was Afraid to Swim, Papa Jethro, Lilith's Ark, and The Seventh Day. In addition to being an author, she is a rabbi and Jewish educator.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your journey towards becoming a published author?

I have always enjoyed reading and, as a child, I did a lot of creative writing. As I grew older, I found other creative outlets - drawing, stained glass, etc. I was an English major at University of Michigan but never took a creative writing course. I am not sure why - I suppose that creative writing seemed too daunting and self-revealing as a college student. I was the editor of the Jewish journal on campus and edited other people's writing. After college, I decided to go to Rabbinical school and, there, I began writing stories mainly for sermons. I also started teaching in a lot of religious schools and loved sharing Jewish stories and books with my students. In my last year of Rabbinical school, I took a class in modern midrash - writing legends based on the Biblical text and I loved it. I completed several short manuscripts, two which later became books - Lilith's Ark and The Seventh Day. But, in the years after completing Rabbinical school, life was very busy - I got married, began my rabbinical career and started my family - leaving me little time for writing. Finally, I decided that if I was going to write towards publication, I better start. I started sending my work out and was lucky enough to get published.

What inspired you to write Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride?

My daughter Arianna, who is a 7-years-old, loves everything to do with transportation. A couple years ago, she especially loved trains and train stories. In Rabbinical school, I walked past the Jerusalem train station everyday and was intrigued by it. I decided that a train story for Jewish kids might work. As I did a little research, I discoverd that the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway opened just before Rosh Hashana. And, so, Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride was born.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

I love the process of developing stories, meshing historical facts, the Biblical texts and my own creativity together. I usually get an idea and let it grow in my thoughts, sometimes for many months, before beginning to put it down on the computer. It can be difficult to keep up the momentum when working on a longer project. And, finding the time to write is always difficult. Seeing how the artist interprets a story is always so interesting. I have no or minimal contact with the artists and, so, it is fun to see how they develop their artwork from my words.

Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress? Do you have any upcoming releases?

My newest book - Nachshon who was Afraid to Swim - was just published. It is a Passover story based on the midrash of the first person - Nachshon - to walk into the Red Sea. I have finished Engineer Ari and Sukkah Express and begun a Hanukkah book with Engineer Ari. All three of these books will also be published by Kar-Ben.

How do you find the time--do you find the time--to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

I do not get to read as much as I would like. With two young children and a full-time rabbinic position, I am lucky when I find time to write!

Other stops on the tour being featured today:

Friday, January 23, 2009
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009
Shahar Kober, illustrator of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe

Past stops on the tour:

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children

Monday, January 19, 2009
Richard Michelson
Author of As Good As Anybody, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
Author of A is for Abraham, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Well-Read Child

Monday, January 19, 2009
Ron Mazellan, illustrator of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese Writes

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Boston Bibliophile

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Anna Levine
Author of Freefall, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
Author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Abby (the) Librarian

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Page Flipper

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jacqueline Jules, author of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Chicken Spaghetti

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Write for a Reader

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Tarie 8:16 AM  

Woohoo! I am happy to hear about Engineer Ari and the Sukkah Express and the Hanukkah Engineer Ari book.

Thank you for this very informative and interesting interview, Deborah and Becky!

Sarah M. 9:11 AM  

Becky, I think I first found out about your blog via Semicolon's Saturday Reviews. I tagged you in a meme. Just FYI. :)

Heidi Estrin 10:13 AM  

How great to hear that there will be sequels to Engineer Ari! Deborah Bodin Cohen is putting her midrash training to good use.

Jessica Horwitz 11:24 AM  

What a fascinating interview! We're really looking forward to continuing Engineer Ari's story here at Kar-Ben. Thanks for participating in the Sydney Taylor blog tour, Debbie and Becky!

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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