THE BOOK OF LIFE - Honeycake Magazine
12:50AM Oct 19, 2019
COLD OPEN A magazine is a great space to think about inclusivity. You have all these different kinds of segments within the magazine and so you can represent so many different types of Jews, so many different kinds of Jewish practice all over the world and you represent Sephardi Jewish customs as well as Ashkenazi Jewish customs. Those are things that I'm really excited about offering in the context of a magazine.
MUSIC INTRO This is The Book of Life. I'm Heidi Rabinowitz. Honeycake Magazine is a new Jewish magazine for kids ages two to six. I spoke to creator Anna Caplan about her inspiration for Honeycake and her plans for its future. Please excuse my voice. I had a touch of scratchy throat at the time of this interview.
Anna, what is Honeycake?
Honeycake is a Jewish literary magazine for two to six year olds.... Should I say more? I can talk about it all day, but that's my very short elevator speech.
That's the shortest elevator pitch I've ever heard.
I have an even shorter one, actually. My really short elevator pitch, my two words one, is the Jewish Highlights, but that doesn't really cover it.
Okay, so what kind of features will it include?
It's going to have stories, poems, songs, comic strips, activities like hidden pictures, puzzles, and you know, finger mazes that you can trace. Then also ideas for activities to take, you know, out of the pages and into your life. So things that adults and children can do together with art materials, with cooking and conversations that adults and children could have together.
Great, and how often will it come out?
For now, we're just working on one issue. Eventually, once we get the funding, the goal will be to start with quarterly issues. I would love to see it expand to six issues a year. I think if we could do every month, you know, that's my dream. But you know, start with manageable bite sized amounts, start with one and then see where we grow from there.
Okay, great. Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from a feeling that something was missing in our home. So I have a four year old and an almost two year old. We read a lot in my house. We read Jewish books that we got mostly from PJ library, but also we have a bunch of books that have been gifted to us, things that we got in Israel, things like that. So reading those books, and then also reading Ladybug magazine, I kind of started to think well, what if there was something like Ladybug or like High Five, which is the preschool version of Highlights? It's a very different kind of experience reading a magazine than a book. So I started thinking about what would it be like to have this experience of reading a children's magazine, but to have it be Jewish stories, Jewish hidden pictures puzzles, Jewish activities, prompts for conversation? Yeah, I just kind of felt like the Jewish books, like it just wasn't enough. I wanted something more. I wanted something different. I wanted Jewish poetry, you know, contemporary poetry about Jewish things. I wanted to see comic strips. I just could not get the idea out of my head. So I started talking to people about it and making phone calls. I have no experience in the publishing industry before this, but I do love research. So I spent a lot of time doing research, talking to people, including you, you were, I think, early on relatively early on in this process?
Yes, I remember.
But I really wanted to talk with people in the Jewish publishing world. I talked to a lot of writers and artists, a lot of Jewish educators, librarians, parents, grandparents, people who I thought would be interested in something like this, and who might have ideas about what it could look like, and also how it could even be implemented. I got so much positive feedback. And so many people said to me, I cannot believe this doesn't exist already. And the more I heard that, the more kind of encouraged I felt that I was not the only person who saw this need. So I just kind of kept following this idea. Like it almost felt like the idea was sort of leading me. It sort of grew from there.
So you just talked about a kind of gut feeling that this was something that needed to happen, but can you kind of articulate: why does the world need a magazine like this?
Yeah, so a couple of reasons. One of the things I think a magazine can do really well is represent Jewish pluralism. So in a book, you don't have that much space, so you kind of have to choose how you represent the way that Judaism is practiced. You know who is wearing a kippah, how are the characters dressed, and how do the children refer to their parents, do they call them mommy and daddy, do they call them Ima and Abba, or do they call them something else? One nice thing about a magazine is you have so many different pieces to it. So you could have one story where Jewish practice looks one way, and then you have another story in the same magazine where it looks entirely different. And a magazine is a great space to think about inclusivity and trying to represent the racial and cultural diversity of the Jewish community. So again, you know, you have all these different kinds of segments within the magazine and so you can represent so many different types of Jews, so many different kinds of Jewish practice all over the world and you represent Sephardi Jewish customs as well as Ashkenazi Jewish customs. Those are things that I'm really excited about offering in the context of the magazine. Another piece is that educationally, there's just some interesting stuff you can do with having questions on each page and prompts that take you beyond the story or the poem or whatever that piece is, so we plan to have characters... Honeycake the bear is going to be a character who'll guide readers through the magazine. And on some of the pages Honeycake might reference a story and ask a question about the story. And there's sort of opportunities for more discussion beyond the story, or there might be, next to the poem there's also hidden pictures that go with the poem. You can do that with a book, and I've seen it done well in books, but I think that a magazine is just... it's kind of the perfect place to experiment with approaching texts, in all sorts of different ways. And then the final piece for me of why this is something that the Jewish community really needs is that this sort of experience of having different types of literature, it's not just a story, you have poems, comic strips, you can have all these different types of things. And each of them within one single issue can be Jewish in different ways. So one of the things that I've been thinking about is what makes this a Jewish magazine and for each piece, what makes that Jewish? Why do we choose this piece to go in Honeycake and the cool thing is, with so many different pieces, you could have all sorts of definitions of what it means for a piece to be Jewish. There's so many possibilities, it's sort of the sky's the limit.
I'm getting excited just hearing about this, this is great.
What's the biggest challenge to a project like this?
Money. Money is probably the biggest one. Honeycake is a nonprofit startup. So we're really building from an idea into something that is going to be a tangible product that people can hold in their hands. And then we're also thinking about, okay, from there, how do we make this financially sustainable model?Tricky thing is that it costs a lot to make a children's magazine. The good thing is that while print media, you know, is to some degree on the decline, that doesn't seem to be the case with children's literature, people are still buying books and magazines for their children. So that's good news for Honeycake. But on the other hand, people are not used to paying very much for a magazine, which is very reasonable and I don't want to exclude someone because they say, Well, you know, I get High Five or I get Ladybug and that doesn't cost very much, but Honeycake just seems too expensive. So I wanted to seem comparable price wise because I want it to be within reach for families. But at the same time it costs so much... you know, all the content is going to be original illustrations and photography that will be really beautiful, that's really important to me is the aesthetic piece, I don't want to sacrifice that, I don't want to sacrifice, you know, working with top notch authors and being able to pay those authors fairly for their work. And so what that means is we kind of have to think creatively about how to make this work financially. So that was kind of the impetus behind starting with a crowdfunding model. But sort of the long and short of it is that the big challenge of this project going forward and thinking about what it's going to look like and how and when we'll be able to move to quarterly issues is going to be whether or not we're able to get grants, donations and also the excitement from subscribers. And to have all of those pieces come together to allow us to be able to create a really good magazine.
You mentioned the crowdfunding and I, I wanted to ask you, what are the best and worst things about doing a Kickstarter?
Oh, that's a great question. I love that question. The best thing about the Kickstarter campaign was, oh, man, there's so many great things about it. Aside from the obvious piece of it, we now have the money to be able to create the first issue Honeycake, which is huge. But beyond that, doing a Kickstarter campaign makes you very public.It was very, very exciting to me that there were people who I didn't know who were hearing about the project and who were talking about it. And whether or not they backed the campaign or decided that they wanted to get an issue right then, the fact that it's in their minds and they've heard of it before, is really a big deal. It means that we're just one tiny step closer to becoming a household name, which is what I would love to happen eventually. But it also meant that I had some people reach out to me, because they heard about the Kickstarter campaign. And they were really excited about the magazine, and some of them said, you know, hey, I would love to help or like to be involved in some way. So that was very gratifying.
Cool. And then what was the worst thing about doing a Kickstarter?
The worst part about it was the amount of time that it took up. I knew that it was going to be a big time commitment and I had prepared and scheduled my life such that basically, I will be focusing almost entirely on the campaign. So it just meant that I didn't get as much time with my kids during that sort of month of the campaign. And there were a lot of times when I felt like I was really being pulled between my work on Honeycake for the Kickstarter campaign and my commitment to my family. So I would say that was the biggest challenge.
Very interesting answers. Where will the content come from for Honeycake?
The content is coming from writers and artists in the Jewish community. Not everything will necessarily be original to the magazine. So for example, we may reprint a poem that has appeared in some other context. But if we would do that, we would create a new illustration and new prompts around it and kind of do it in her own way. Most of the things that are in the magazine will be original like their first printing will be in Honeycake.
If listeners have suggestions or want to contribute content, how can they reach you?
I would love that. The best way to reach me is through the website, which is Honeycakemagazine.com. It has a link to be able to contact me; there's also information about what we're looking for and how to submit. But if it's more kind of just general ideas rather than a specific manuscript, I'm also really open to that and love to talk with anyone about what you would like to see in Honeycake.
You mentioned Honeycake the bear. I don't think we talked about why the magazine is named Honeycake. Can you explain that?
Absolutely. Honeycake came out of my feeling that we needed to have a name that was in English. I felt really strongly that with my passion for Jewish pluralism, and trying to be inclusive, I didn't want to privilege one Jewish language over another. So the long list of potential titles, there were all sorts of things and some were in Hebrew and some were and Yiddish and it just wasn't feeling right. And I felt, you know, this is a magazine for American Jewish children. For most of them, English is their first language. Not all of them, of course. But I really wanted an English word that sounded Jewish and also sounded fun and sweet and sounded like a kid thing. And so Honeycake was just sort of one of these names that was, you know, when we were brainstorming, and it didn't immediately rise to the top, but eventually just started to feel more and more, right. And from the beginning, when I was speaking with my creative director about the name for the magazine, we were thinking about having a character, an animal character, that would be that name of the magazine. So when we were thinking about Honeycake, we immediately thought well, bears like honey, or at least in literature they do and I don't know if they really like honey, but it just seems like there had to be a bear named Honeycake.
All right, awesome.
Yeah. Oh, I should also mention, by the way that because I grew up with honeycake as a Jewish thing, it seemed obvious to me that oh, honey cake is a food that many Jews eat on Rosh Hashanah. But as I've spoken with more and more people about the name, it's become clear that not everyone has that association and it's more of an Ashkenazi thing. It's not a Sephardi thing. So for all my efforts to be inclusive as possible, I think in the end, I sort of did choose something that reveals my own Ashkenazi centric background. So you know, I've been trying as I've been talking to people about the name to make sure not to necessarily assume that anyone knows or was familiar with honeycake. But yeah, the reason that for me It sounded Jewish was that we grew up eating it on Rosh Hashanah.
That's so interesting that you made that conscious effort and it still circled back around to.. Yeah.
Yeah, you know, I think it's hard because, I mean, this is one of the beautiful things about being Jewish, but it's also a challenge when you're creating something that's Jewish, to think about how many different kinds of Jews there are. There's just no way that you can reflect everyone. But I would like to try to be as open and inclusive to people of all levels of Jewish knowledge and background as possible.
In a Facebook Live video, you talked about Maxine Handelman's books Jewish Every Day and What's Jewish About Butterflies. Tell us about those books and how they influenced you.
So first of all, thank you for watching my Facebook Live video. You really did your due diligence in preparing. I love Maxine Handelman's books. So Jewish Every Day was the first one that I encountered. I came across it in the context of my work as a Jewish music educator. So I've been teaching Jewish Music for about 10 years and my work has for a very, very long time been at the intersection of Jewish education and arts education. And so in thinking about lesson planning, when I started working with very young children, first putting together what I was going to do for holiday programs for babies and toddlers and preschoolers, I was looking for resources. And I came across her book and found it. so helpful. And so Jewish Every Day is a handbook. It's THE handbook for early childhood Jewish educators. And she divides it out into holidays, and it breaks down for each holiday. What is age appropriate at each age level? That was very helpful to me when I was making these lesson plans. Also she has specific activity ideas around music, around movement, all sorts of different ways of approaching concepts around holidays. But kind of the bigger picture for me around Jewish Every Day and also around her book What's Jewish About Butterflies? is the idea that in Jewish education, we shouldn't be separating Jewish things from everyday things and that our Jewish life in the classroom and at home with children, it should all be woven together with our everyday life. The most obvious example, on the bookshelf, you would want to have the Jewish books and the secular books all mixed together. If you have Jewish toys, they don't need to go on a separate shelf. I think sometimes there's this feeling... I know, for me as a parent, I used to separate them. And after I read her book, I started putting them together, because I really liked the idea that the Jewish parts of us are just kind of part of everything and that that kind of adds richness to children's experience of what it means to be Jewish. So this idea of Jewish Every Day has informed my work on Honeycake a great deal. Maxine Handelman, the author of this book, is on our advisory board for a Honeycake. As somebody who grew up in a space where Judaism wasn't a part of my everyday life, and I didn't feel super connected to it, it didn't feel like a sort of integral part of my home, It's so important to me to be able to create an environment for my children, where there's just this joy in Judaism, and also kind of the naturalness about it like, this is just... this is our lives. This is who we are. And so Maxine Handelman's books have really influenced the way that I think about how that plays out in an educational context.
Awesome. You've said that Cricket Magazine, which is a model for you, is like the children's version of The New Yorker and that Honeycake will be a Jewish twist on that idea. Can you expand on what you mean by that?
This is something I picked up, I read in an article about Cricket that it was started as the kids version of The New Yorker and so it was supposed to be very classy, beautiful illustrations, you know, more pictures than The New Yorker, higher picture to words ratio and fewer pages, but sort of the similar feel of literary-ness. They very kindly gave Honeycake a shout out on the Unorthodox podcast and I think he used the word literarily highfalutin, which I loved, that they picked up on that and, you know, just the aesthetic piece is really important that it's not simplified or dumbed down in the way that I think that sometimes content for children can be. Yeah, I mean, I want it to be along the lines of my favorite children's literature that we read, you know, I love Where the Wild Things Are, Frog and Toad and then these books that are just rich that I love reading as an adult in a different way from how I experienced them as a child, but I love them at both times. So yeah, that's kind of the the sort of literary aspect I think is sort of the reason that that sort of New Yorker comparison comes up. Cricket magazine, and Cricket has a whole bunch of magazines in the Cricket family and one of them is Ladybug, who I had dedicated this episode to. Ladybug is the preschool version of Cricket. Also very beautiful illustrations, carefully selected poems and stories. So for me, that's sort of the gold standard. When I think about what a children's literary magazine looks like. I think Ladybug and then Cricket for older children, they just do a beautiful job.
When Honeycake begins publication in December 2019, how will people be able to access it?
There will definitely be enough copies for people who backed the Kickstarter campaign. Now that the campaign is over, we are are also going to make copies of the December issue available on our website. I'm not yet sure exactly how many copies will be able to print, we'll have our first printing in October. I don't know if we'll be able to do another print run after that. So what that means is there's kind of a deadline. And all of that information will be on our website.
Okay, I found a list of creative interview questions on Book Fox, a website for writers. Now, since you're not a novelist, these may or may not apply to you, but we'll try to find one that works. All right, there's 50 questions, and I'd like you to randomly pick a number between one and 50.
All right, How about 49?
49, okay, so we might want to choose another one; 49 says, How long on average does it take you to write a book?
An infinite amount of time.
So let's find another one, because some of them work better than others.
How about 19?
Okay, oh, this one's good. 19. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Oh, wow. What a cool question, huh? Yeah. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the very first book that I remember reading with my dad, that I was actually able to read a lot of it with him, like I was old enough that I was learning to read. And that book was The Secret Garden. And I just remember this sense of like, magic around it and wonder and like, even when I think about it now, I sort of have just, I don't know I feel like I can access this sort of psychological place that I was in when I was... I must have been maybe five years old, maybe six. It's a, it's a really strong memory. And I think for me just the power of being able to read those words on the page by myself with someone that I loved, that made me feel so strong. And also like it unlocked this door, that from there, I knew that I was going to be able to read so many more things and have so many more experiences with literature and being able to imagine all these different worlds. And yeah, I would say that was kind of the earliest experience for me.
Very cool. It's tikkun olam time. What action would you like to invite listeners to take to help repair the world?
Something I think a lot about is how people talk to young girls. And I think about this because I have two children, girls, one who is four, and one who's going to be two. And I've noticed that when people speak to them very often, the first thing that they'll say is something about their appearance. So I would like to invite listeners to be conscious, maybe try to be a little more conscious than you may already be about how you talk to young girls in your life, about their appearance. There's kind of an impulse because little girls can be so cute. And yes, they are cute. They're very sweet and adorable and beautiful. But you have to know that so many people who come up to that little girl, the first thing that they say to them is, Oh, you're so cute. Or Oh what beautiful, what beautiful hair, what a pretty dress you're wearing today. And what that says to the girl when she hears that over and over from different adults in her life, what she hears is that the important parts about her have to do with her appearance. And so it's something I'm sensitive to as a parent, because I've seen it play out many times with my own children. What I wish would happen more is for people to say instead of, Oh, wow, what beautiful blue eyes you have, which you know they do and they should be told that, but if you're meeting my children, if you're meeting other young girls, ask them what books they like, ask them about their favorite movie or TV show, ask them if they have any pets, or what pets they would want if they could get a pet. Ask them what their favorite animal is, or their favorite toy or their favorite stuffed animal or what they like to draw. There's so many questions that you can ask a young girl that don't have to do with her appearance and just by choosing your words thoughtfully, you can help make the world a little bit of a better place for young girls.
I love that answer.
Yeah, I get I get on that soapbox a lot.
It's a good soapbox. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about that I haven't thought to ask you?
Something that I wanted to mention when we were talking about Jewish Every Day, Maxine Handelman' book, one thing that has sort of arisen from that book and also from the school that my older daughter went to this year which is a Jewish Reggio Emilia inspired preschool... For those who aren't familiar, it's kind of this very play focused mode of early childhood education and very much focused on process in art over product and the children are sort of helping co construct the curriculum with the teachers and it's really cool. And I've become really interested in these ideas and thinking about how they apply in Honeycake. So one of the most fun things I got to do this year for Honeycake was go to a conference called the Paradigm Project conference for early childhood Jewish educators. At the conference, you know, there's a lot of talk about trying to question what we're doing and think about how to push ourselves. So they say a lot like, how can we shift the paradigm, thinking about, you know, what are we doing well, but also what can we be doing better? And how can we help each other continue to grow as educators? And so I had many, many conversations at this conference about how could we take these really wonderful things that are happening in early childhood Jewish classrooms around the country and and how can we make them work in the context of the printed page? So as an educator, that's a piece of working on Honeycake that has been very, very exciting for me.
Anna Caplan, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Thank you. It's been a real pleasure.
TEASER This is Alana Newhouse, author of The Hundred Most Jewish Foods, A Highly Debatable List. I'll be joining you soon on The Book of Life podcast. I'd like to dedicate my episode to my grandmother, who taught me how to cook and who taught me not only how to make food, but how to think and feel about it.
MUSIC OUTRO Don't be a stranger. Say hi to Heidi 561-206-2473 or Bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com. Check out our Facebook page or our Facebook discussion group Jewish Kidlit Mavens. We are occasionally on Twitter too. There are lots of ways to support the show through Patreon and through donations to our home library, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida. You can find links for all of that and at BookofLifepodcast.com. Our background music is provided by the Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band. Thanks for listening and happy reading.