Monday, April 4, 2022

The Sorrow and the Wish - Bridget Hodder, Author of The Button Box

 


The Middle Grade time-travel adventure, THE BUTTON BOX, began in my heart as both a sorrow, and a wish.

 

The sorrow encompassed a lifetime of being Sephardic in a world that has no idea who Sephardic Jews are. Even other Jews are usually unaware we exist, or unclear on why we don't speak Yiddish or eat bagels and lox.

 

The wish was to finally be open with the world about who I am --the daughter of a naturalized U.S. citizen, a Sephardic refugee-- and share the truths of our customs and heritage. I wished to share the beauty of the language and traditions and magic of my foremothers, and perhaps help keep them alive for a new generation.

 

But something kept happening as I tried to write about Sephardic Jews. I kept running into Muslim characters and Muslim history. That's because our histories are inextricably intertwined. Sephardic culture has been shaped by several centuries of close interactions with Muslim cultures-- in Spain, Portugal, other parts of Europe like Salonica and the Isle of Rhodes, and in parts of the African continent such as Morocco and Zimbabwe.

 

Bridget Hodder

I realized slowly that I needed to work with a Muslim author to capture the true spirit of the book. It would become not just a Jewish story, but a Muslim one as well, like the story of my ancestry.

 

And that's how my collaboration with peace ambassador, librarian and prolific Muslim kidlit author Fawzia Gilani Williams was born.

 

We were brought together by an editor at a Highlights Jewish Kidlit workshop, who later acquired THE BUTTON BOX when it was finished. I knew of Fawzia already, through her Jewish/Muslim interfaith classic, YAFFA AND FATIMA: SHALOM, SALAAM. But I had no idea what a sweetwater soul she is, a constant refreshment of the parched human spirit. I was about to find out. She began as a sensitivity reader for the early (and I can admit it now: terrible) first draft of the book. Very quickly, it became clear that Fawzia needed to be a co-author instead.

 

Co-authoring isn't a popular practice in the publishing world for many reasons.

 

Fawzia Gilani-Williams


First of all, there's the money. When you decide to split the writing of a book, your advance and your royalties are split as well. If the authors have different literary agents, their percentage is affected the same way, with an increase of time and effort on their parts--which means some agents might not want to represent a multiple-author project. And that's completely understandable. Fawzia and I decided that these obstacles would not stop us from writing and selling this book of our hearts, together. But for these reasons, it took us a long time to sell it.

 

The second thing about co-authoring is that it's simply not easy to collaborate on a creative project of any kind. And when you're separated by more than six thousand miles and eight time zones, the challenge looms even larger! With Fawzia in the United Arab Emirates and me in Boston, you can imagine that even the smallest interactions between us had significant lag time unless we planned very carefully.

 

Yet in spite of these challenges, we discovered that--as with most things in life--if you can make your individual needs secondary to the work, you can do almost anything together.

 

The process of co-authoring is a process of developing mutual trust. In the beginning, Fawzia and I hesitated to give input to each other that might in any way be interpreted as criticism. But little by little, we set aside the shyness as we fell into a rhythm of writing/ sharing/ rewriting/ sharing/ status assessment. The status assessment piece consisted simply of doing a check in on all that we'd done so far. Every single part of the book had to pass that check-in: "Where is the we in this part of the book?" If the we had been taken over by someone's individual voice, we went back to the table until we got it right.

 

And yes, it took years.

 

But the result, for us, was so worth it.

 

Since the very beginning of our collaboration, Fawzia and I knew that the representation of Sephardic Jewish and Muslim characters we provide in the book is important. Muslim and Jewish kids need to see themselves reflected in books, and we need to fill the gaps in knowledge about our cultures and belief practices that lead to prejudice in non-Jews and non-Muslims.

 

So, now that the book is hitting the shelves (April 1st!), it saddens us to realize our book's message of celebrating difference and fighting hate is more urgent than ever.

 

I'll leave you with something I like to tell students when I do class visits:

 

What we share, unites us.

Our differences excite us!

 

In the spirit of exciting differences...

 

Shalom, Salaam!

~

About the author: Bridget Hodder has decades of experience as a reading and communication specialist, working primarily with young people with learning disabilities. Like Ava in "The Button Box," Bridget is Sephardic. She is also the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Her first Middle Grade book, “The Rat Prince,” was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “The Rat Prince” was an ILA -CBC Children's Choice List starred selection, an Amazon Hot List pick, and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society award in Children's Fantasy Literature. After the release of "The Button Box," Bridget and Fawzia's next co-written multicultural children's tale for Kar-Ben / Lerner Books will be published in 2023. To learn more about Bridget’s life and work, visit her website: http://bridgethodder.com/ 

 

 

 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this book. I'm neither Arabic nor Sephardic but, as a child, often wondered about the Sephardic culture. I look forward to reading this book and, especially, satisfying my decads-old curiosity.

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  2. Thank you, Jody! Check back in and let me know how you like it!

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