STUCHNER, Joan Betty




Author Tags: Jewish, Kidlit & Young Adult

“I know that many writers tell you to imagine you are writing for a specific child, but I always want to write for both myself and everyone else, regardless of age.” -- Joan Betty Stuchner

Born on February 5, 1947 in Leeds, England, Joan Betty Stuchner arrived in Canada in 1965 and received her B.A. in English and teaching from UBC in 1977. Also a Hebrew school teacher, library assistant and an occasional stage performer, Stuchner wrote the book and lyrics for a musical production called Hanukkah in Chelm that was produced twice in Vancouver. Much of writing was derived from her Jewish faith.

In The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band (Scholastic), Shira wants nothing more than to play fiddle with Benny and Yossi in their klezmer band at weddings and bar mitzvahs. But ten-year-old girls can’t play, says her father. Especially one who’s never had a music lesson. “This is Canada,” Shira says. “Anything is possible.” And at the next Hanukkah party, there she is, skirts-a-flying, a borrowed fiddle tucked firmly under her chin. Illustrator Richard Row helped re-create the close-knit life of a Jewish village on the prairies.

Stuchner continued her "anything is possible" theme with Sadie the Ballerina (Scholastic 2007), the story of a clumsy girl who wants to be a ballerina. Similarly her Josephine’s Dream is a picture-book biography about the life of black singer and dancer Josephine Baker who left America to become famous in Paris.

Set in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen in 1943, Stuchner's fourth book, Honey Cake (Tradewind 2007), is about a young Jewish boy, David Nathan, and his family trying to keep their bakery open. David Nathan lives above the bakery, right next door to his best friend Elsa and her family’s toy store. David’s Papa still does the best baking in the city and Mama is making her special honey cake for Rosh Hashanah to welcome the Jewish New Year but very little is sweet in Denmark after three years of Nazi occupation. Now the grownups are always anxious and secretive, and even David’s older sister Rachel is evasive about her mysterious comings and goings. When David is asked to make a delivery of chocolate éclairs—a rare treat with cream and butter so scarce—he learns his sister is in the Resistance, blowing up buildings and railway tracks. Rumours are circulating. Bad things are happening all over occupied Europe. People are disappearing. Especially Jews. Every day King Christian X defiantly rides his horse through Copenhagen’s streets but as Rachel says, “Things happen that even kings can’t stop.” Mama still bakes the honey cake and the morning before Rosh Hashanah David sits with Papa in the synagogue. Soon, though, Rabbi Melchior makes a terrifying announcement. “The Nazis plan to round up Denmark’s Jews tonight. We must go home and prepare for our escape.” David is bundled in layers of clothing and Mama snatches up her cake—she’s not about to leave it behind for the Nazis—and the Nathan family hurries to the train station. If they head to the coast, if they escape detection on a fishing boat, if they make it to Sweden, they might just be safe. Stuchner provided a recipe for the spicy, coffee-flavoured honey cake and an afterword about the history of the Danish Jews.

Set in the mythical Jewish town of Chelm, populated by fools, Stuchner's Can Hens Give Milk? (Orca, 2011) is about a rural family with five children, twelve scrawny chickens, one rooster and not much money. The father Shlomo dreams he can possibly get milk from their chickens. "If we feed grass to our hens," he tells his six-year-old daughter Tova, "they will still lay eggs, but they will also give us milk." Eventually Tova must help the wise Rabbi of Chelm (pronounced Kelm) dissuade her parents from their expectations. The rabbi advises, "These hens have no udders. They are just regular hens. They are not milk hens." After the rabbi supplies Shlomo with a goat in order for Tova's family to have milk, Tova's father dreams his new goat, if fed on grain, might one day be convinced to lay an enormous egg. Illustrations are by Joe Weissman.

Later Stuchner published two stories about an energetic puppy named Bagels, rescued from the pound, that was inspired by her late mother-in-law’s sheltie. She described the real life model as "not only an escape artist, but totally uncontrollable, disobedient and ended up being expelled from puppy preschool.” The dog emerged in print as a mixture of Sheltie, Whippet and Jack Russell terrier.

Joan Betty Stuchner died of pancreatic cancer on June 7, 2014, prior to the release of Bagels the Brave! (Orca 2015), a sequel to Bagels Come Home! (Orca 2014), and coincidental with the re-publication of Honey Cake as A Time To Be Brave from Random House. She also completed a third Bagels manscript called Bagels On Board that would appear posthumously in 2015, by which time plans had been made for the Joan Betty Stuchner Oy Vey! Funniest Children's Book Award in her honour.

"Joan was a delight to work with,” recalls her editor, Amy Collins, of Orca Books, “Her joyfulness and enthusiasm for stories, and for life in general, was impossible to miss."

“She was my unflagging cheerleader,” says fellow author Cynthia Heinrichs, “always available, always brightening my day. If there can be a silver lining in the untimely loss of such a lovely person, it is that readers will receive at least two more of her books. From her hospital bed Joan finished final edits of the next two installments of her Bagels series, both due out with Orca in 2015.

“It gave her a great deal of pleasure to write these books, and a great deal of satisfaction to know that they would find their way out into the world. Those who knew Joan, and miss the distinctive sound and rhythm of her voice, will be able to hear it again in these hilarious stories. Nothing she wrote was more ‘Joan.’

Bagels the Brave and Bagels On Board are a joyful legacy and will undoubtedly earn her a whole new group of friends—something that would have delighted her very much indeed."

BOOKS:

A Peanut Butter Waltz (Annick 1990)
The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band (Scholastic Crocodile 2001) $17.99). Paperback title: Shira's Hanukkah Gift.
Sadie the Ballerina (Scholastic 2006)
Honey Cake (Tradewind 2007) Illustrated by Cynthia Nugent. 978-1-896580-37-1 $16.95 Republished as A Time To Brave (Random House 2014).
Josephine’s Dream (Silverleaf Press 2008). 9781934393048 Illustrated by Chantelle Walther
Harold the Hero (Silverleaf Press) 9781933317984
Can Hens Give Milk? (Orca, 2011) Illustrated by Joe Weissmann 9781554693191 $19.95
Bagels Come Home! Illustrated by Dave Whamond (Orca 2014) $6.95 9781459803466
Bagels the Brave (Orca 2015) Illustrated by Dave Whamond $6.95 9781459804937
Bagels On Board (Orca 2015). Illustrated by Dave Whamond $7.95 9781459806955

[Alan Twigg BCBW 2015] "Kidlit" "Jewish"

Bagels Come Home



EXCERPTS OF AN ARTICLE THAT APPEARED IN THE JERUSALEM POST IN MAY OF 2014, CONTAINING CONSIDERABLE INFORMATION TAKEN FROM THIS SITE.

“I always told myself stories; there’s a story in everything,” she said. “Stories pop into my head seemingly out of nowhere or because of a word, or a person or perhaps an article or headline.”

Growing up in Leeds, Stuchner wanted to act, which she believes is “another side of the storytelling process.” She began writing poetry at 11.

“Naturally, when I told my parents that I thought I might become a poet, they didn’t think there was much of a living to be made at that.”

“I started writing stories for my students at the synagogue school where I teach,” Stuchner explained. “At that time I wanted to teach [Jewish] festivals and values but use humour to do so. I also wrote skits for the kids all the time – and still do.”

“I think a little of my Jewish family’s home life might have influenced some stories. We did a lot of things together as a family and celebrated [Jewish] festivals with my aunt, uncle and cousin and our Jewish friends. But I think all experiences writers have will creep into their stories in some way.

“A story is to entertain,” she said. “I don’t like the word ‘message,’ but at the same time values just seem to automatically get woven into stories.”

“When I read one of my own books I always feel good when I can laugh out loud, but at the same time I can also be touched by a line I’ve written, so I hope others feel that way, too.”

Bagels The Brave! (Orca $6.95) Bagels On Board (Orca $7.95) by Joan Betty Stuchner
Review (2015)



Prior to the imminent release of her Bagels The Brave! and Bagels On Board, both sequels to Bagels Come Home! (Orca, 2014) and coincidental with the re-publication of Honey Cake as A Time To Be Brave from Random House, Joan Betty Stuchner died of pancreatic cancer on June 7, 2014. She finished the final edits for the new books from her hospital bed.

“Joan was a delight to work with,” says Orca editor Amy Collins. “Her joyfulness and enthusiasm for stories, and for life in general, was impossible to miss.”

Stuchner’s stories about an energetic puppy named Bagels, rescued from the pound, were inspired by her late mother-in-law’s sheltie. She described the real life model as “not only an escape artist, but totally uncontrollable, disobedient and ended up being expelled from puppy preschool.”
The dog emerged in print as a mixture of Sheltie, Whippet and Jack Russell terrier.
“Joan was my unflagging cheerleader,” says fellow author Cynthia Heinrichs, “and Bagels the Brave! and Bagels On Board are a joyful legacy. They will undoubtedly earn her a whole new group of readers.”

Born on February 5, 1947 in Leeds, England, Joan Betty Stuchner arrived in Canada in 1965 and received her B.A. in English and teaching from UBC in 1977. Also a Hebrew school teacher, library assistant and an occasional stage performer, Stuchner wrote the book and lyrics for a musical production called Hanukkah in Chelm that was produced twice in Vancouver. Much of the writing was derived from her Jewish faith.

Set in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen in 1943, Stuchner’s Honey Cake (Tradewind, 2007), is about a young Jewish boy, David Nathan, and his family trying to keep their bakery open. David’s papa still does the best baking in the city and mama is making her special honey cake for Rosh Hashanah to welcome the Jewish New Year but very little is sweet in Denmark after three years of Nazi occupation. When David is asked to make a delivery of chocolate éclairs—a rare treat with cream and butter so scarce—he learns his sister is in the Resistance, blowing up buildings and railway tracks.
Stuchner included a recipe for the spicy, coffee-flavoured honey cake and an afterword about the history of the Danish Jews.

Joan Betty Stuchner’s eleven books are suffused with optimism and delight. “I know that many writers tell you to imagine you are writing for a specific child,” she once said, “but I always want to write for both myself and everyone else, regardless of age.”

In The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band (Scholastic, 1998), Shira wants nothing more than to play fiddle with Benny and Yossi in their klezmer band at weddings and bar mitzvahs. But ten-year-old girls can’t play, says her father. Especially one who’s never had a music lesson. “This is Canada,” Shira says. “Anything is possible.”
Stuchner continued her “anything is possible” theme with Sadie the Ballerina (Scholastic, 2007), the story of a clumsy girl who wants to be a ballerina. Similarly her Josephine’s Dream (Silverleaf Press, 2008) is a picture-book biography about the life of black singer and dancer Josephine Baker who left America to become famous in Paris.

Set in the mythical Jewish town of Chelm, populated by fools, Stuchner’s Can Hens Give Milk? (Orca, 2011) is about a rural family with five children, twelve scrawny chickens, one rooster and not much money. The father Shlomo dreams he can get milk from their chickens. Anything is possible.

Bagels the Brave: 9781459804937
Bagels on Board: 9781459806955