The ProsenPeople

Righteous Reads: Time-tested Picks for Young Adults

Friday, November 06, 2009 | Permalink

Micol Ostow, author of So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), is guest-blogging all week with MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council.

It occurs to me that after the somewhat irreverent tone of my last post, I may have given the impression that I’ve taken a very “out with the old, in with the new” attitude toward Jewish children’s literature. And while I do (clearly) appreciate authors who are incorporating religious and spiritual themes into fresh, modern narratives, obviously I didn’t become a young adult author myself within a vacuum. Every aspect of both my writing, and my vision of the kid-lit landscape is shaped by the books that influenced me when I was young.

As a child, I was a voracious reader. Truly, the printed word was practically a compulsion for me, almost a vice of sorts. In my darkest hours, it built to the point where my parents would literally beg me, in the summertime, to go outside, for the love of Hashem, and expose my sad, pallid skin to some fresh air and a little bit of Vitamin D. (I ignored them, of course.)

When left to my own devices, I gravitated, like so many girls, to the Little House series of books, or to Noel Streatfield’s “shoes” stories. It’s hard to get between a middle grade reader and her ballet, or her bonnets, after all. Later came what was almost a foregone conclusion: Judy Blume, and later still, Francine Pascal, whose Sweet Valley series set the tone for my own summer-camp romance fantasies.

For the record, my love life was never as juicy as the Wakefield twins’. Still, I was, after all, a Solomon Schechter student, and no matter how all-American my extracurricular reading aspired to be, Jewish literature permeated. I gained perspective on the Lower East Side tenement lifestyle (history, religion, and culture, all wrapped up in one!) from the five mischievous sisters of Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family. I reconsidered my grandmother’s gefilte fish, a time-worn recipe passed down through many generations, after reading The Carp in the Bathtub (Barbara Cohen and Joan Halpern). (Don’t worry; my squeamishness was short-lived. The fact that we’ve resorted to store-bought now that my grandmother is no longer with us is one of the great disappointments of my adult life.) Judy Blume‘s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was my first realization that the Holocaust was indeed a tragedy that reached beyond the academic, antiseptic environs of a school assembly.

The fantastic thing about being someone who reads a lot is that it often goes hand-in-hand with reading widely. And while of course I have my own proclivities and preferences, I’ve learned that you can’t take the Shalom Aleichem out of the girl.

Not completely, anyway. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m getting married soon, to a man who was raised with very similar religious values as my own. We recently sat down with our rabbi to discuss our vision for the Jewish household we plan to build together.

I immediately thought back to book fairs, library visits, and nights listening to my mother or father read to my brother and me. Certain practices, habits, and decisions are easy; you can bet that my contribution to our home will include a healthy dose of K’ton Ton. And then some.

Mical Ostow is a young adult writer living and working in New York City. If she were any more kosher, she’d be totally traif. Or so they say. Visit Micol at

David Ostow: Punk Rock Visits the Holy Temple

Tuesday, November 03, 2009 | Permalink

David Ostow, the comic artist behind So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), and his sister, Micol Ostow, are guest-blogging all week with MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council.

These are the first two pages of a strip I’m currently drawing with the working title “In Defense of The Irrational: A Brief and Not Terribly Accurate History of Faith versus Reason.” Beyond my goal of making people laugh (the tone of the comic is very tongue-in-cheek), I hope that readers will find the comic strip -when complete- thought provoking.

Can a good case be made for maintaining religious ritual in our secular age? Sure, scientific research and technological innovation have brought us far from our primitive ancestors (with whom my comic begins). However,I think that just as ritual was a reflection of our ancestors’ bewilderment and wonder in a world full of mysteries, it can play the same role in our lives. Knowing that the universe started with a ‘big bang’ doesn’t make the concept of the universe any less ineffable. Quite to the contrary, it only adds to the mystery.

Click on each panel to read the full page!

David Ostow works at a design firm in New York City, illustrates on a freelance basis, and is the co-creator of So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother). Come back all week to see his and his sister Micol’s blogs.

The Good Books: Writing Religion for Young Adults

Monday, November 02, 2009 | Permalink

Micol Ostow, author of So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa, and 30 Guys in 30 Days , is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

If you had told me when I first began my career as a writer of teen fiction that I would in time gravitate from the pop-sugar of early projects like 30 Guys in 30 Days  over toward books with a decidedly…Semitic bent, I would have laughed.

Thirteen years of Jewish day school, I thought, could really sap the Jew right out of a girl.

Having graduated from Solomon Schechter only to then willingly submerge myself in the equally homogeneous environment of a small, New England liberal arts college, it seemed to me that Judaism was a facet of myself that didn’t need exploration or understanding—unlike my experiences as a Latina, or a feminist, or even a journalist, being Jewish was nothing new. It simply was.

But a curious thing happened after I’d churned out a few installments of lighthearted chick lit: when it came time to write a more personal story that was rooted in my own reality, out came Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa. “Emily” followed a Jewish Puerto Rican teen as she reconnected with her Latina roots over one summer of bonding with her borriqua family.

Though I was getting closer to events of my own life, the story still took the stance that Emily’s Judaism and religious beliefs were fully intrinsic to her, fully integrated. Again, it was the experience of other that my character sought more proactively.

Several years later, my brother David approached me with the idea of co-creating an “illustrated novel” that featured yeshiva boys turned wanna-be rock stars. After hearing his pitch, I was hooked. And this past July, So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) released to a lovely response, in particular from the Jewish reviewer set.

Punk Rock deals more directly with questions of religious and cultural identity, and my protagonist, Ari, comes to many of the same conclusions that I have about my own faith. I had no idea, sitting down at the computer, that I had so much to say about my own spirituality, but Punk Rock is by far my favorite of my own creations.

The best reviews I’ve read have talked about the book taking Judaism and relating it to teens in a contemporary way, as opposed to the canon of didacticism that permeates classic Jewish kid-lit. Sure, I was raised on the All of a Kind Family, but it’s nice for today’s readers to have modern options. And I’m proud of myself and my brother for having provided that to teens.

Of course, we’re far from the only ones writing accessible, realistic fiction. Here are a few of my own favorites from the past few years. These are the writers who influenced me as an author, editor, teacher, and student—I’m thrilled to recommend them and excited to be joining their ranks on the bookshelves.

Never Mind The Goldbergs, Matthue Roth

This one’s a no-brainer. Matthue’s book was the first one I read when beginning to shape my narrative for So Punk Rock. And it’s proof-positive that authors can share a sensibility and still create very vivid and unique stories. Matthue’s story follows an Orthodox teen as she cuts a fantastic path to show biz. What I love about it most is that Hava’s religious observance is a done deal, and handled very matter-of-factly, but that certainty doesn’t shield her from the moral conundrums that evolve as her celebrity dreams take form.

You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah!, Fiona Rosenbloom

Technically “tween,” this is a story that makes no bones about its ethnic groundings, and trusts its readership to be savvy enough to be able to relate to the central event regardless of cultural background or religion. Bat MitzvahStacy’s d’var Torah takes on the concept of Tikkun Olam, perhaps the most accessible of the principles of Judaism. The book is also hilariously funny and rife with of-the-minute pop-culture references. Mazel tov, Stacy!

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, Simone Elkeles

Simone’s books are also put out by my most punk rock publisher, Flux, and if they aren’t the only full-on Jewish “chick lit” books out they’re, they’re for sure some of the very best. Poor Amy is sent to stay on a moshav in Israel with her estranged father over the course of one ill-fated summer, despite the fact that she doesn’t even consider herself to be Jewish. It’s rare to read a story set in modern-day Israel that takes such a lighthearted, teen-friendly approach to the setting without whitewashing the scenery and the reality of life there at all.

Goy Crazy, Melissa Schorr

This one also falls squarely into the “commercial” camp, but I really enjoy that it tackles a serious topic — inter-dating — with a light touch. When David and I have had the opportunity to present Punk Rock to teens, dating outside of the religion is one topic that seems to spark a lot of interest. Rachel does question the consequences of dating a non-Jew, and realizes that there may, in fact, be ripple effects beyond her bubbe’s personal reaction.

Head Case, Sarah Aronson

A cautionary tale that lends real-life relevance to the notion of t’shuva. I’m a sucker for dark fiction, and though released in ’07, this one meshes nicely with the latest trend toward big-time gravity in young adult fiction. Sarah is a former Vermont College classmate of mine, and I do want to also give props to an institution that concerns itself with the intersection of readability and “importance.” Punk Rockmight never have come to be if it weren’t for the encouragement and enthusiasm of my advisors.

Micol Ostow is a young adult writer living and working in New York City. If she were any more kosher, she’d be totally traif. Or so they say. Visit Micol at, and come back all week to see her and her brother David’s blogs.