Author Archive

Double Life

(This article appeared in  Jewish Action Magazine over here.)

About a year ago, my life changed. Shockingly, my kids weren’t babies anymore, and I went back to work.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. I worked when I was home too—but it was freelance. I was an author/illustrator combined with stay-at-home mom. So my life was something like this: carpool, write, paint, make dinner, write, paint, grocery shop. Repeat.

Needless to say, my sink was often full of dirty dishes.

Now I work full-time. This new reality comes with many adjustments, from changing my wardrobe (no more sneakers and smocks) to grocery shopping only on Sundays. My lifestyle has definitely shifted.

But more than the wardrobe and the shopping is the mental shift: a line has been drawn. In my first life, I raised little kids, and painted on the side. Now, in my second life, I am an editor, and if I am very fortunate, my teenagers generously speak with me and tell me what’s going on in school.

There is still plenty of carpooling. But it feels like two very distinct chapters. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I’ve been blessed with a second life.

Just 150 years ago, people generally lived until age forty-five, with many women dying even younger in childbirth. So that meant one would get married, have kids. . . and that was that. That was life.

Today, lifespans typically reach well beyond forty-five. Men and women both now commonly have true arichat yamim and can reasonably expect to have twenty to thirty years of healthy living past retirement age. That means, in another twenty to thirty years, I (hopefully!) will have another transition to absorb, and will have to decide what to do with a third life.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I’ve been blessed with a second life.

In the Torah, Miriam also had multiple chapters in her life. She spent the first phase of her life in Egypt, the second as a freed woman who had witnessed redemption. Rabbi Eliyahu Yedid, author of Sheva Haneviot, points out a fascinating detail about her. Miriam is presented with nearly the exact same challenge in both chapters of her life: she has a close relative who separates from his wife. In the first instance, it’s her father, and Rashi tells us that Miriam’s response was to speak up and strongly advise her father to remarry her mother. Result: Moshe is born, and the Jewish people are ultimately freed.

In life two, Miriam is presented with a nearly identical situation. This time, it’s her baby brother who is separating from his wife. Her response? She speak ups. The result? Tzara’at.

What happened? Why did Miriam’s response work the first time and not the second?

Perhaps I can extend Rabbi Yedid’s insight, and suggest that Miriam made the mistake of thinking that both her lives were the same, and both situations were identical. But by definition they were not. One’s tafkid is different in each life, and even though we are the same person and situations can appear to be the same, they are in fact unique, and require different responses and actions.

It was right for me personally to be home in my first life. It is right for me to be working in my second life. For someone else, it might be an entirely different choice. That’s the whole point: we are all different, we all have unique roles and those roles shift over time. The trick, of course, is to be the best “you” in all the lives Hashem gives you.

Ann D. Koffsky is the author/illustrator of more than thirty books for kids, and an editor at Behrman House publishers. Her newest book, Kayla & Kugel, is about a girl and her dog preparing for Shabbat. It’s due out this fall.

And the winner is…

I am very pleased to announce that the winner of a copy of Shabbat Shalom Hey! is…(drumroll please)–Marnie!


Thanks so much to everyone else for entering, it is so nice to know that folks are out there actually reading my blog and enjoying my work. Running this kind of raffle is really grew because I get to hear from you–even if it’s just a short comment, it’s nice to know you are there!


And, if you didn’t win…stay tuned! I hope to do this again this Fall, for my next book Kayla &Kugel!

(Here’s a sneak peak:)

HEY! Win A Shabbat Shalom Hey!

Hey, I have a new book, Shabbat Shalom Hey! 

Hey, wanna win one? To enter, just leave any short comment below that starts with the word Hey! (Ex:  “Hey-I love Shabbat too!” or “Hey, chulent is the best”)
shabbat shalom hey











Hey, Want to enter twice? Visit my Facebook page and like and share the post of the same subject over there. Thanks for helping me spread the word!


Purim Coloring Page

Purim is on its way! Start getting ready with this happy clown reading the Purim megillah.

Also: I am raffling off a copy of my new book, “Shabbat Shalom, Hey!” Want to enter to win? Click here.

(if you need the page as a pdf, just click here: purim clown)

purim clown copy

Sydney Taylor Blog Tour: The Illustrator

Yael Bernhard is the marvelous illustrator of Never Say  A Mean Word Again by Jaqueline Jules, and she has graciously agreed to answer some of my curious questions.


Ann: Yael there are lots of things I love about your artwork. One of them is the softness of your line, and color. It feels very smooth, and it has a sense of permanence, like you might find it on an ancient mural in an archeological dig somewhere.What is your technique, how do you  achieve that quality?


Yael: Never Say A Mean Word Again is the first book I’ve illustrated exclusively with acrylics.  The permanence and quick drying time of this paint enabled me to begin with an under-layer.  This under-layer was painted in brown, like a tonal brush drawing.  It established lights and darks, so that the colors on top could be treated as a transparent tint.  The effect of the under-layer is subtle – in some places it’s no longer visible at all – but it made a difference in my creative process. 
yaelAnn: You also seem to have some fantastic details, which really place the story in it’s environment. Wardrobe, architecture…What kind of research did you do to get a feeling for all those details?
Visual research is the most important part of my multicultural books.  From shoe buckles to chess pieces, everything in the story is researched.  (Did you know marbles in medieval times were made of clay?)  I begin by ordering a stack of books through the interlibrary loan system.  Books impart a more vivid and authentic sense of history than the internet, in my opinion.  In this case, I borrowed books on Spanish history, on Medieval illuminated manuscripts, on Moorish architecture, and on Sephardic Jews.  I keep these books open as I begin to work, and scan the most important images into my computer.  Then I peruse the internet, taking screenshots and sorting them into folders.  I combine the scanned images and the screenshots into themed collections – such as “Spanish architecture” – then open them on my computer screen and take another screenshot of the whole thing.  These special photo collages enable me to see multiple images simultaneously while I work. 
I also steeped myself in the world of Shmuel Hanagid – upon whom the story’s protagonist Samuel and his father are based – by reading about his life and listening to online lectures.  I read The Last Jew by Noah Gordon, about the Jews of 15th-century Spain – a superb historical novel.  The more I learned, the more I was amazed by the unique life led by Hanagid, and his singular accomplishments as military leader, poet, Hebrew scholar, rabbi, and royal vizier to the Muslim caliph of 11th-century Granada.  I was so inspired, I even wrote a dvar Torah about the life of Shmuel Hanagid, and how it related to the Torah portion Shlach Lecha.  I hope Never Say A Mean Word Again will rescue this great man from the sands of time.  He should be as well-known as Maimonides for what he accomplished.
Ann: I notice that you also seem to use lots of symbolism in your image—it’s not always just the story going on, there is other imagery included as well. Can you talk about that a little? Why did you add certain details, that went beyond the literal words of the story?

Yael: Pictures communicate just like words. I wanted this story to evoke the feeling of medieval Spain, and of the royal Muslim court in which the two main characters literally bump into each other.  How does one emulate the felt sense of an environment?  With imagery and symbols.  I allow the setting and architecture to determine the design of each spread, and to set the mood.  The details throughout the book are all the elements of the protagonists’ world “speaking” to the reader across the ages.  I draw a lot more of these details than I actually use.  Little pencil sketches get moved around on the layout until they look right – or discarded.  Those “certain details” almost beg to be included.  Sometimes I feel like an unseen hand is guiding my choices.  
Ann: Looking at your portfolio, you seem to have illustrated a number of books that take place in ancient times. What draws you to working on period pieces?
Yael: I’ve always been drawn to ancient and faraway cultures. As a child I was especially fascinated by Walt Disney’s album “It’s a Small World”.  As a young adult, I fell in love with African art, music, and dance (which I have studied for over thirty years).  I also explored Hindu art and mythology (thus picking up my pen name, Durga, along the way), and found a lot of inspiration in tribal art from Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.  The first children’s books I illustrated were Lakota, Inuit, and Huichol folktales, followed by my first multicultural book, A Ride On Mother’s Back, showing babies being carried through their daily life all over the world.  I try to show my readers how people live in other parts of the world – and under different economic circumstances.  I want to bring alive a piece of life in a faraway place that is both different and the same – for every culture is unique, yet we all have universally human traits.  “We’re all the same, in all different ways” was the theme of a residency I taught in one school about making multicultural books.  
 Ann: Is there anything else you would like to share about  your artwork, that you think folks would like to know more about?
Yael: Medieval times were an amazing paradox.  It was a time of widespread drought and disease, religious oppression and military conflict. Yet all of Europe was exploding with creativity, as if structure itself was rediscovered and exploited in new ways.  I could have filled several books with all the architectural motifs and decorative designs I found.  Yet all these magnificently ornate arches and spirals did not serve to liberate individual creativity.  Artists worked for the church, and people seemed imprisoned by what they created.  I tried to convey this paradox in the art by “locking” in designs that trapped the characters.  Yet I made these forms slightly clumsy, to convey a sense of play. One more thing I would share…  For me it placed a charm on this book that I was literally standing on Rehov Shmuel Hanagid (Samuel Hanagid Street) in Jerusalem the day I was offered the contract.  I was renting an apartment on the corner of Narkiss and Shmuel Hanagid.  I had rented this apartment before and walked on the street many times, but I never knew who Hanagid was until then.  I snapped a photo of the street sign and sent it to my new editor at Wisdom Tales Press, along with my official acceptance.  I get a kick out of this kind of synchronicity.  The book felt like it was destined to be born.
Ann: That’s so cool! It’s amazing when things like that happen, when the universe is almost winking at you.
Yael thanks again for answering my questions. You have made a beautiful book!
Multicultural books illustrated and/or written by Durga Yael Bernhard include A Ride On Mother’s Back: A Day of Baby-Carrying Around the World; Happy New Year!; While You Are Sleeping: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Time Around the World; Around the World in One Shabbat, and forthcoming in April from Wisdom Tales Press: Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree: Exploring the Wonders of Trees Around the World.  To learn more about her children’s books, visit Yael’s website and picture book blog at

Sydney Taylor Blog Tour: The Author





Hi, Jaqueline! I am so pleased to have the opportunity to chat with you about your new picture book, Never Say A Mean Word Again. 
It’s feels like such a contemporary lesson, about how to treat others, but in the <ahem> starred review of the book in Publisher’s Weekly, it says that you were inspired by a traditional story/ legend about a Jewish vizier who advised the Muslim ruler of medieval Spain.
What story was that? And, what kinds of details did you alter as you created your retelling?

JACQUELINE: The story is a legend about Samuel Ha-Nagid that appears in the footnotes on page 502 of Pentateuch & Haftorahs edited by Dr. J.H. Hertz. In my synagogue, we affectionately called it the Hertz Chumash. I came across the legend when I was reading about the Torah portion in shul one morning and was immediately drawn to this story of a man who turned an enemy into a friend. Even more intriguing, was the scenario itself. A man in a Spanish medieval court was given permission, in fact, ordered to punish another man. When the Caliph hears that his vizier has been insulted, he tells his vizier, his highest advisor: “Cut out that man’s tongue!” Samuel Ha-Nagid was disobeying a direct order when he chose to befriend his enemy. One generally does not ignore a monarch, not if you want to keep your own head. And Samuel Ha-Nagid was a Jewish advisor in a Muslim court, making his position all that more precarious. I was struck by Ha-Nagid’s dilemma—which soon became my dilemma as well. How could I make this real for young readers?


I tried many different approaches, but finally decided to write the story as if it was taking place between the son of the vizier, whom I named Samuel, and a Muslim boy at court I named Hamza. The vizier in Never Say a Mean Word Again witnesses Hamza call his son, “Donkey Brain! Stupid!” The vizier could have reprimanded the offender himself. However, the vizier sees that Hamza cried out in anger after Samuel accidentally soiled his white tunic. The vizier sees that there is an opportunity make peace.


In my mind, the vizier was hoping his son would be wise enough to make friends rather than punish Hamza. However, I did not let my young character know this. When Samuel is told by his father to make sure Hamza “never says a mean word to you again,” he takes it quite literally. Young Samuel is worried (just like the real Ha-Nagid must have been) that he will be punished for not obeying a direct order.


What is a fair punishment for name-calling? What is the best way to stop someone from calling you names? These are the questions I wanted to explore when I wrote Never Say a Mean Word Again. I hope the book gives young readers and the adults in their lives much to think about and discuss.


ANN: This story is based on a legend, and your very popular Ziz series is based on a legend…you seem to have a knack for finding wonderful stories, and bringing them to modern audiences. How do you find that original story? Where do you look, what source materials? What about it draws you to it, and makes it something you want to work with?


JACQUELINE: First, let me say that I have a Masters in Library Science and I have worked as a synagogue librarian and an elementary school media specialist. As a librarian, I had the pleasure of reading folktales to my students. From the earliest days of my career, I noticed how even squirmy kids would sit up and listen to a folktale. They loved the familiar structure (things happen in threes), the repetition, and satisfying (often predictable) resolution. Like all teachers, I was hungry to find and share books I knew my students would enjoy. So I scoured my folklore sections, reading everything I could. This led me to do a little storytelling of my own.


Storytellers usually research several versions of a tale and combine various elements for an original telling. In my search for stories to tell, I stumbled upon the giant, clumsy Ziz who became the star of The Hardest Word, Noah and the Ziz, The Ziz and the Hanukkah Miracle, and The Princess of the Ziz. 


One of my jobs as a synagogue librarian was particularly helpful in this regard. When I worked at Adas Israel Congregation, congregants would bring in used books for a sale held every spring to raise funds for the library. It was my job to sort through these books to prepare them for the sale. If I came across a folktale collection, I would purchase it myself and devour the contents. I have been reading traditional literature for years. Folktales are like songs. They speak universal truths that make sense of the world. Since the beginning of time, people have used traditional stories to impart values and wisdom.


ANN: Have you ever found a story that you just love, but knew that there was just no-way a modern audience would be able to connect to it?  If so…what was it?


JACQUELINE: I have a couple of stories in my electronic files that I have picked up and put down over the years. When I fall in love with a story, it is because I believe it has universal meaning and contemporary relevance. If I am not able to translate it for modern audiences, I see it as temporary, something I might be able to accomplish somewhere down the line. Sometimes traditional tales need to be streamlined or updated. But the bones of a good story are timeless. It took me over a decade to figure out how to tell the legend inspired Samuel Ha-Nagid in Never Say a Mean Word Again. I have countless drafts. The story nagged me. Every year or so, I would pick it up and revise it yet again. I always believed that one day, I would find the right words to make this story as meaningful to others as it was to me.


ANN: When you’ve shared the book with others, has it prompted any interesting reactions?


JACQUELINE: I wrote a friendship song called YOU AND I to use in my school presentations for  Never Say a Mean Word Again. You can hear it performed by students at my synagogue at this link


It has been heartwarming to sing this song with students and talk about some of the questions posed in my teacher’s guide for Never Say a Mean Word Again.


Never Say a Mean Word Again explores the challenges of friendship across cultures and social status.  All students have been touched by name-calling, either as a victim or as a bystander. They are anxious to talk about it and how it can be resolved.


ANN: Is there anything else you would like to share about the book that you think folks would like to know about?


JACQUELINE: I am deeply honored by the recognition Never Say a Mean Word Again has received. In addition to a Sydney Taylor Honor, the book was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, and an American Folklore Society Aesop Prize Accolade.


I am very grateful to my publishers at Wisdom Tales who brilliantly chose Durga Yael Bernhard to illustrate Never Say a Mean Word Again. Her illustrations and design take my breath away. My editors at Wisdom Tales helped me to strengthen and clarify the story for publication. They chose a title for me when I couldn’t come up with something that captured the essence of the story. Just about every time I revised the book, I came up with a new title. None of them really worked. The manuscript was sold under the title, The Vizier’s Son, although my editor let me know early on that it needed a new title. We talked one afternoon for an hour, trying to brainstorm something that young readers could connect with AND reflected Medieval Spain. Unable to come to a decision, we decided to hang up and sleep on it. Fifteen minutes later, she e-mailed me with the perfect title: Never Say a Mean Word Again. I loved it immediately, and so did the rest of the team at Wisdom Tales.


Wisdom Tales was also the brains behind the full-page author’s note. Every reviewer has expressed an appreciation for the expanded background provided. It would not have been included without expert editorial guidance.


Please visit me at my website and take a look at the Never Say a Mean Word Again book trailer and some of the other activities I have posted there. And write me! I love to hear from readers about how they have read my book in their classrooms or with their children at home. While I am not always close enough geographically to come for a school or synagogue visit, I am happy to SKYPE with students who have read my book.


Thanks so very much for this interview, Ann, and your thoughtful questions!

ANN: And thank you, Jaqueline, for your wonderful book!


Look who did a great job coloring this page from, “Shabbat Shalom Hey!”

avi coloringIf you’d like to color it too, just click on the image below and print!




shabbat shalom hey



Tu B’shvat with Groot!

Ok, I recognize that this might be a little off the beaten path…But Groot, from the Guardian’s of the Galaxy, is a tree based life-form, so I just thought it worked! Hope you like. Just click and print. (And if you would like a more classic Tu B’shvat page, you can go and grab this apple tree image over here:




Happy Chanukah! (coloring page)

menorahcandlesmenorahsmilesmenorahcandles Here’s a happy menorah for your kids to color. Just click on the image, and print. (And if that doesn’t work for you, here it is as a pdf: menorah candles).

Chag Smeach!



Shabbat Shalom Hey! page

Ari ShabbatAri Shabbat

Ari ShabbatNew book? New coloring page! Just click and print to enjoy this new coloring page, lifted in part from my new picture book, “Shabbat Shalom Hey!”.

Now available for pre-order on amazon.

Ari Shabbat








(And here it is as a pdf: Ari Shabbat)

Ari Shabbat