Sacha Lamb is a part-time librar­i­an, part-time stu­dent, and part-time YA writer and read­er. She is blog­ging here as part of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

A few weeks ago, I accept­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to return for one day to the ances­tral Jew­ish home­land — New York City — for the Jew­ish Book Council’s annu­al Children’s Lit­er­a­ture Sem­i­nar. I was invit­ed on the basis that as a debut author through an inde­pen­dent, online pub­lish­er, I could offer a unique per­spec­tive for the author pan­el, which was oth­er­wise com­posed of tra­di­tion­al­ly-pub­lished writ­ers. I was excit­ed to attend my first event as an author, and excit­ed to hear from authors, edi­tors, pub­li­cists and librar­i­ans, all of them offer­ing Jew­ish per­spec­tives on publishing.

The con­fer­ence was an excel­lent wel­come to the world of Jew­ish books, affirm­ing not only of my sta­tus as a real Jew­ish author,” but also of feel­ings, both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, that I have had toward the world of Jew­ish children’s lit­er­a­ture, YA in par­tic­u­lar. A major take­away for me was that the need for uni­ver­sal mar­ket­ing cre­ates a gap between Jew­ish authors and Jew­ish read­ers when it comes to themes in children’s fic­tion — but authors and read­ers are, so to speak, on the same page, and we shouldn’t let our frus­tra­tion keep us from telling the sto­ries we need to tell.

Major pub­lish­ers are reluc­tant to bring out books that would be termed Jew­ish inter­est” if they don’t have a mes­sage that can be mar­ket­ed out­side of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, because we rep­re­sent such a small seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the eas­i­est Jew­ish issue” to mar­ket out­side of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is the Holo­caust — it’s on school cur­ric­u­la, a major sell­ing point. Both Jew­ish authors and Jew­ish read­ers express frus­tra­tion over the lack of Jew­ish-themed books that aren’t about the Holo­caust, and these frus­tra­tions sur­faced at the con­fer­ence, both from authors and from librar­i­ans and the rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Jew­ish book award pan­els. What we heard from our edi­tors’ pan­el was that books need to sell, and even if Jews don’t want to read about the Holo­caust, it does sell — to the much larg­er mar­ket of non-Jew­ish readers.

Even from the per­spec­tive of the edi­tors, though, this wasn’t an entire­ly uncom­pli­cat­ed issue. While one edi­tor empha­sized the need for uni­ver­sal” appeal in Jew­ish books, which often does trans­late to lessons about oppres­sion, anoth­er added that her house is like­ly not to pick up new Holo­caust-themed fic­tion, because their back­list is already stuffed with best­selling authors on the top­ic. What edi­tors real­ly want are orig­i­nal, fresh sto­ries that have a les­son in them which can appeal to any audi­ence — sto­ries about fam­i­ly, sto­ries about tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment, sto­ries about learn­ing to get along with oth­ers. These are all sto­ries that can be writ­ten from a Jew­ish per­spec­tive and still con­nect with non-Jew­ish read­ers. The Holo­caust is not the only Jew­ish expe­ri­ence that holds uni­ver­sal lessons, and we should not stop fight­ing to prove it.

As authors, we are frus­trat­ed by the idea that our hap­py Jew­ish sto­ries don’t appeal to a non-Jew­ish audi­ence; as read­ers, we are frus­trat­ed by the lack of hap­py Jew­ish sto­ries. Our joy is as valu­able as our geno­cide. And I am hap­py to say that there are signs that the mar­ket is begin­ning to under­stand this: for instance, a few of this year’s new Young Adult releas­es, such as The Upside of Unre­quit­ed by Becky Alber­tal­li and The Girl with the Red Bal­loon by Kather­ine Locke, fea­ture lov­ing Jew­ish fam­i­lies, the for­mer in the con­text of a roman­tic com­e­dy (with a fat teen girl pro­tag­o­nist and a love inter­est whose spelling of God as G‑d” is one of the things that makes him cute!) and the lat­ter in the con­text of col­lec­tive mem­o­ries — touch­ing on the Holo­caust with­out exclu­sive­ly rely­ing on it. And next year sees the anthol­o­gy It’s a Whole Spiel with Lau­ra Sil­ver­man and Kather­ine Locke as edi­tors, entire­ly com­posed of Jew­ish con­tem­po­rary sto­ries by Jew­ish authors. The work isn’t fin­ished — but it has begun. I am excit­ed to be part of it, and grate­ful to the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil for assur­ing me that I am.

Sacha Lamb is a part-time librar­i­an, part-time goat-herder, and part-time writer of queer Jew­ish mag­ic real­ism for teens. As a teenag­er, Sacha loved YA fan­ta­sy, but nev­er felt rep­re­sent­ed in it as a gay, trans­gen­der read­er. Now a grad­u­ate stu­dent in library sci­ence, Sacha is ded­i­cat­ed to cre­at­ing sto­ries for oth­er kids who need to know that they are mag­ic. Sacha can be found online @mosslamb on Twitter.

Sacha Lamb is a part-time librar­i­an, part-time writer and part-time goat-herder. Sacha has pub­lished a num­ber of short sto­ries fea­tur­ing gay and trans­gen­der Jew­ish teenagers, and will be a Lamb­da Lit­er­ary Writ­ers’ Retreat fel­low in 2018.