Kidlit to the rescue!

Kidlit to the rescue!

 Prolific author for middle-graders knows the territory

Joshua Levy
Joshua Levy

When he was growing up as a middle-grader, author Joshua Levy of New Milford shuttled back and forth between his divorced parents and their very different approaches to Judaism — one devout and the other removed from the religion.

Now, Mr. Levy, who grew up in South Florida, has tapped into some of those experiences as inspiration for his recently released novel, “The Jake Show.” The book centers on Jake, a TV fanatic who views himself as the lead of his own show. When the story begins, Jake is starting at yet another new school — he’s been through quite a few since his parents’ divorce — as he searches for a place where he feels comfortable religiously and socially.

Jake’s choices, however, may not square with either of his parents and their new spouses, especially when he and his friends hatch a plan for him to attend a coed Jewish overnight camp.

“The framework of the story is really personal,” Mr. Levy said. “It’s about a Jewish kid with divorced parents, one more religious and the other at the opposite end of the spectrum. That was my childhood. I never lied my way through camp like Jake does, but the ecosystem came from me.”

“Separating Josh and Jake was a challenge in multiple directions,” he continued, explaining that “once you open certain floodgates, there is an instinct to open it wide. But as a writer, you have to evaluate what you are putting into the book because it is a fictional book.

“Throughout the process, I had to remind myself that while I was borrowing a framework — divorced parents on different parts of the religion — that was all I was trying to borrow. I had to capture that kid, Jake, and resist the urge to put anything on the page that wasn’t right for this book.”

“The Jake Show” was featured on the Kveller website’s list of 12 Jewish books about summer camp and has garnered great reviews, including one from the industry publication Kirkus. It is Mr. Levy’s third published novel for middle-grade readers. His fourth book, “Last Summer in Outer Space,” will be released in August and completes a trilogy that began in 2021 with “Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy”; “Eighth Grade vs. the Machines” followed.

Writing is the latest career for Mr. Levy, who lives with his wife, Tali, and their children: Serena, 8, Henry, 4, and Micah, 11 months. By day, Mr. Levy works as a commercial litigation attorney, which he says is “not as whimsical an ecosystem as writing kidlit, but it’s fun anyway.”

Mr. Levy also has experience working with the demographic of his readership — he was a middle-school teacher before going on to law school.

It was during his teaching career that he was exposed to the diversity in middle-grade fiction today.

“I have wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember,” Mr. Levy said; he experimented with other genres before trying a middle-grade story. “I had an appreciation for that age group, and I was able to channel that into “Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy,” which is the book I got an agent on and which she sold to a publisher. I’ve been swimming in the middle-grade space ever since.”

With four published books, Mr. Levy is just getting started. He will have two more books out in 2024 and has several other projects in the works.

First up is a Passover-themed anthology, “On All Other Nights,” that he has helped develop and edit with fellow Jewish authors Chris Baron and Naomi Milliner. Each story was written by a Jewish kidlit author and inspired by the Passover seder.

“We worked really hard to find and put together a list of Jewish American, middle-grade kidlit authors from all corners of the Jewish community who bring different perspectives and voices,” Mr. Levy said. “I hope the project is reflective of that aspiration.”

Also in early 2024, there will be another stand-alone novel, “Finn and Ezra’s Bar Mitzvah Time Loop,” about two kids having their bar mitzvah party at the same New Jersey hotel, who keep repeating the same day every Sunday. One of the boys is centrist Orthodox, the other more secular, but they team up to break out of the loop and learn about themselves in the process.

The idea of finding your place in the world is a theme that resonates in Mr. Levy’s work and among his core audience, no matter who the reader is.

As he explained: “There is something universal about being in middle school and feeling torn between grown-ups’ expectations of who they want you to become and who you are evolving into being Jewishly or otherwise. And while I wanted “The Jake Show” to be authentic to the communities it represents, I also wanted it to be accessible.

“I think people out there will tell me if I’ve hit the mark or not.”

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