Writing children’s books seemed like a natural pursuit for someone who spent a lifetime teaching, parenting, grandparenting and harboring the sensibilities of an artist. But as Yona Diamond Dansky found out, even after decades of teaching, she actually had to learn how to write children’s stories.
“Everybody thinks oh, I can write a children’s book, really easy. It’s really not easy,” she says. “You know, you’re limited to 32 pages. It needs to be a limited number of words and also appeal to children. I had to learn the field. So, I joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I went to conferences. I mean, I learned everything.”
And after nursing an idea for almost a decade, she published her first book in 2019 at age 71, Mooshu Worries, inspired by the need for her young grandchild to cope with her daughter’s cancer diagnosis.
“She had lymphoma and she had a three-year-old at the time. She went through chemo and radiation. We were looking for books to read to the three-year-old to help him because he was upset, you know. How do you explain this to a three-year-old? So I had in my head, I said well it’s not going to happen now, but someday I’m going to write the story and it’s going to help another child get through this because there are no books for this particular situation. There are books that explain what cancer is. He doesn’t need to know what cancer is. He’s three.”
And with that, Mooshu Worries was created to tell the story of illness in a family through a dog’s eyes, a device to make it easier for a child to grasp. Fortunately, her daughter survived cancer and Yona had her first children’s book on Amazon. Now she has many other ideas ready to go. Her latest is Wishes and Knishes, the story of a Jewish grandmother—a Bubby—her world-class knishes and her granddaughter’s wish to learn the recipe. Yona’s story and beautiful illustrations convey the importance of family tradition and other concepts a teacher or parent might extract while reading to a young child.
As both author and artist, does she write the story first or draw the illustrations first? Find out in our fascinating conversation in this episode of the Type. Tune. Tint podcast: