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Author Guest Post: Yona Diamond Dansky

Which values stand out to you in your own writing that will preserve your legacy? 

 Every year at our Passover Seders, we tell the story of our people, over and over each year, with the intention to pass along our values to the next generations. I do wonder, though, how many authors and illustrators who create today's children's stories realize this is not only creating good books to share with children, but also as a way to share our legacies.

My own stories, with some manuscripts still searching for a publisher, do fit the intention of an ethical will, preserving family legacy. One is about people bringing meals, lovingly prepared, to a family needing care due to illness. Another is about a family journey as immigrants from Yemen, and another about a young immigrant from Afghanistan starting kindergarten in the US, and how he not only learns to help himself, but learns to help others. The two books I have published are primarily about caring (Mooshu Worries, Wishes and Knishes).

I want to see caring for others, kindness, taking responsibility, learning and honoring history, ours and the history of others, as most important values. In retrospect, I realize that the stories I've told in my children's picture books are my way of conveying the importance of these values. What we have in common with each other and other cultures is another value that comes through in my work.

In my book, WISHES AND KNISHES, learning to cook a special recipe with a grandparent provides obvious opportunities for intergenerational bonding. There are lots of ideas for extending discussions in classrooms or in home to other topics, such as blindness and aging, priorities and decision-making. You can even make math part of a follow-up activity by doubling or halving the recipe.

But the most important take-away is something we share with people around the world. Every culture seems to have its own version of knishes. It's about family history, memories, carrying on memories and traditions of loved ones. I remember my own Bubby's cookies, made from leftover dough from hamantaschen, cut in circles with an overturned glass and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Just the thought of them makes me happy, as I recall the love I felt from my Bubby—she would always cook things that made us kids happy and the trip to visit worthwhile. Knishes bring up those same feelings for members of my family—everyone now expects that even though my mother is gone, her beloved pastries will appear at the next big shared event.

I'm sure there are so many versions of filled pastries in most cultures that bring out family love and bonding, whether or not anyone cooks at home or buys them store-made. We remember better when we can associate our memories with something we can taste and smell…even if it's a funny food story about a person we loved who just happened to be the worst cook! Doesn't almost everyone have a family member who is famous for making ketchup sandwiches? Telling those stories through picture books is a great way for the love to live on.

In the past few weeks, I had a surprise connection with someone that demonstrated how this love weaves in and out of families, and can continue to connect in more ways than we may ever know. I noticed a post in a Face Book group that I participate in, mostly as a lurker…it was a random request for a recommendation for a contractor of some kind. The name of the poster seemed familiar, so I read it again. I recognized the last name. RAEVSKY! Celia Raevsky was the person who taught my mother to cook, and to make those amazing knishes my mother was famous for, and that carried so much love in our family.

When they first married in 1941 in Philadelphia, my parents boarded on the second floor apartment ofa house owned by the Raevskys. My mother's mother was NOT a good cook, so in order to learn how to cook, my mother would come downstairs every evening and watch Mrs. Raevsky cook. That's how she learned all of her wonderful recipes and techniques.

I reached the Face Book poster with a private message, and sure enough, this was Mrs. Raevsky's grandson! He was just as excited as I was to connect and talk "knishes."He recalled all the wonderful food his grandmother made and confirmed that she was indeed a wonderful cook. We included my sister on a follow-up phone conversation, and we plan to meet in person soon. I will bring my homemade knishes to celebrate old memories and make new ones.

Which values stand out to you in your own writing that will preserve your legacy? You likely have already composed your ethical will. The form you create, or have created, can make it part of the inheritance of wisdom, values and love for the generations to come, whether or not they are your direct descendants. In fact, because as authors you have stories that are read by children everywhere, you are spreading those values, love and wisdom widely, especially as your stories are read and reread by children and families everywhere. You may never know how and where those values will show themselves, but you can be confident that you are passing them on to a world that surely needs them.

BIO: Yona is a former teacher of Deaf students, Supervisor of Special Education and consultant in school districts in and around Philadelphia. She currently volunteers with HIAS Pennsylvania, helping a family from Afghanistan successfully relocate here. After a career as an award-winning educator and as a forever part-time artist, she has become passionate about learning how to tell and illustrate meaningful stories for children. In her spare time, she enjoys making art quilts and learning new Israeli folk dances. To follow Yona visit here. 

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Tuesday, 23 April 2024

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