Woo-hoo!  The fab #JewishBoardBooks group is here to brainstorm some small but mighty ideas on Day 12 of Tara Lazar’s Storystorm Challenge!

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE by Vivian Kirkfield

Small but mighty—that’s a great way to describe board books. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a board book is a book for young children with pages made of heavy laminated paper or cardboard. But honestly, a board book is so much more than that. Studies show that the greatest amount of human learning takes place between ages 0-3 and that exposing children to books well before they are ready to read could have a huge impact on literacy.

Are you thinking of writing a board book? Most board books have very low word-counts and only a few images on each page—sometimes, just one.

Why then does PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE work as a board book even though it has over 300 words, plus multiple characters and many images on each page?

  • The rollicking rhyme and repeating refrain create a fun read-aloud.
  • The animals, like cat, mouse, fish and owl are familiar to very young children.
  • The illustrations created by Jill Weber are joyful and vibrant.
  • Each page provides opportunities to seek and find Pippa and her friends.

Most board books can be divided into three main categories:

  1. Concept Book: introduce ideas such as counting or ABCs.
  2. Picture Book: usually about one subject such as animals or trucks.
  3. Story Book: has a plot and several characters and often teaches a lesson.

PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE falls into the “story book” category, with a simple plot and a holiday layer woven throughout.

So, here’s your challenge, dear friends: Make a list of the holidays or other occasions you celebrated when you were a kid – and then create a board book manuscript! And if you keep it to 50 words or less, you can enter it my #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest in March. Who knows…it might become a real board book one day.



Why did I write a board book? Because I wanted to thank and encourage little ones everywhere to realize the joy they bring with the simple gift of their presence.

COUNTING ON SHABBAT is inspired by seeing joy in my mother, a retired teacher, when little ones visit with kisses and chaos. Board books benefit from a simple structure. I built 10 spreads around counting from one to ten as we get ready for Shabbat, a weekly celebration where we light candles and prepare a feast to welcome a day of rest. My hope is that children who start by counting objects will sense that we are also counting on kindness as the arrival of a diverse family brings joy to an elderly man who might otherwise be alone.

In board books, it’s important to keep things simple. COUNTING ON SHABBAT clocks in at 48 words and features a gentle rhyme that helps kids anticipate what the ending word on each page might be. I included more illustration notes in this manuscript than I ever had because I knew that the book must be visually driven. Even so, it was a delight to see illustrator Petronela Dostalova take the concept and run with it in her own unique way.

I hope this book will give Jewish children pride in our weekly celebration of love and light, open a window to this happy holiday for non-Jewish children, and spark fresh ideas of how we can all build bridges of love among all ages, faiths, and communities.


SHEEP SAYS SHALOM  by Ann D. Koffsky 

Board Books are deceptively simple. As an author, they appear oh-so-achievable. 50 words? I can write 50 words, no problem!

But be wary, oh ye aspiring board book authors. Board books are, as I said, DECEPTIVELY simple. Every word has to be just so, and the concept has to be made of such sturdy stuff, that you can tell it with the fewest of words, and it will still connect to readers. For my book, Sheep Says Shalom, that concept was based on the three meanings of the word SHALOM: Hello, goodbye, and peace. So, I actually got extra meaning out of that one, singular word. ( It almost felt like cheating!)

For me, coming up with that idea, that concept, is the most challenging part of writing any book, but especially for board books.  And it’s at this part of the writing process that I most often can feel stuck.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Jewish legendary storyteller, Peninah Schram, along with my friend Chana Stiefel, and Chana asked Peninah: “How do you get past those moments, when you are stuck?” Peninah’s answer was also deceptively simple. She described how she has a practice of finding the time to daydream each day. She lies down in a comfortable space, puts on relaxing music, and lets her mind wander freely.

And you know what? I tried it and it works! So this is my challenge to Storystormers out there: try out Peninah’s Practice. Take 10 minutes and let you mind wander. And see what comes your way.


MAZAL BUENO by Sarah Aroeste

Board books have immense value besides simply being a baby’s first entry into the world of books. For many children—and their adults—board books can also serve as the first entry into unfamiliar cultures. It can be their very first glance into new worlds, customs, and languages.

As an activist promoting a minority culture, Sephardic Judaism, I believe board books are critical to creating understanding and empathy in families. I purposely chose this medium to convey simple, universal themes for wider audiences to learn about my culture.

MAZAL BUENO! celebrates the milestones in a child’s life—from first giggles, to first foods, first words and more. Every family can relate to these awe-filled moments! While it looks like Spanish, the refrain of mazal bueno (congratulations) is a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, also known as Ladino, which is the language of Sephardic Jews. Cheering with a mazal bueno to acknowledge wonderful occasions is a part of everyday life for Sephardic Jews, which is the point of the book. Mazal Bueno is about normalizing the Sephardic experience and exposing more families to the many ways Jews look, speak, and live!

I knew that I was writing a niche book, but I didn’t let it stop me. Providing windows into new cultures—at the earliest possible age—is vital to fostering caring kids and families. So my advice to all of you: don’t let fear get in your way. Write what you feel families need to read, keeping in mind the possibilities that a board book format offers. Even the most basic of concepts (a mazal bueno!) can open up minds and worlds.


CHALLAH! by Varda Livney

For me, writing a board book is trying to get a smile from (or get a simple idea across to) a little human who has no interest in complicated plot twists, wordy descriptions, or character development. Then it’s trying to relax as it dawns on me that that little human is probably at this moment chewing on the masterpiece that I sweated so much to create.

My board book, Challah! is coming out in October. I decided to make a book introducing Shabbat (Sabbath). I started by doodling wine, candles, a festive dinner table, challah, and a family of bunnies (of course).  I drew a word bubble coming out of the baby bunny’s mouth, saying “Challah!” Turns out it was his first word, and, in the tradition of baby bunnies everywhere, this bunny did not stop saying “Challah!” all week long. Would he ever learn a second word? (Spoiler alert: yes.) Eventually all that doodling morphed into a book!

There are many ways to come up with ideas, but here’s what worked for me with CHALLAH!:

Big cup of coffee, quiet room, butt in chair, doodle, daydream, free-associate, write, trashcan, repeat.

BTW, this little blurb is longer than my book.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words, but she’s already checked off skydiving, walking along the ocean floor, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing stories in the picturesque village of Bedford, NH. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author of many picture books that have garnered accolades such as Junior Library Guild Selection, Eureka Honor Award, Best Science STEM Book, and Social Studies Notable Trade Book. You can connect with her on her website VivianKirkfield.com, social media, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

Nancy Churnin is an award-winning children’s book author who writes about people that inspire children to be kind and make the world a better place. Her Dear Mr. Dickens won the 2021 National Jewish Book Award and 2022 Sydney Taylor Honor and is a Junior Library Guild Selection, a National Federation of Press Women 1stPlace winner and on the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books list. Nancy is that author of 10 picture book biographies and will welcome six more books, including her board book debut, Counting on Shabbat, in 2023. Additional honors include: Two Sydney Taylor Notables, Social Studies Notable Trade Books for Young People; the South Asia Book Award, Children and Teen’s Choice Book Awards finalists; starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly; and multiple state book lists. Nancy lives in North Texas. Her books come with free teacher guides, resources and projects on her website, NancyChurnin.com. Follow her on Twitter @nchurnin.

Determined to help preserve Sephardic culture, Sarah Aroeste draws upon her ancestral roots from N. Macedonia and Greece to present traditional and original Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) songs with her unique blend of Balkan sounds, pop, and jazz. Since 2001, Aroeste has performed and given musical talks across the globe and has recorded eight albums. She also pens Sephardic-themed books for children, including Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom (Kar-Ben 2020), the first PAL board book with Ladino words, and the upcoming Mazal Bueno (Kar-Ben 2023). Bringing Ladino books and music to young and old, Aroeste has garnered wide critical acclaim for her efforts to introduce Sephardic culture to new audiences. Visit her at SarahAroeste.com or on social media as @saraharoeste.

Ann D. Koffsky is the author and illustrator of more than forty books, including Under the Sea Seder, Visual Thinking (for Young Adults) with Temple Grandin, What’s In Tuli’s Box, and the Kayla & Kugel series. Several of her books have been PJ Library selections, and her book Noah’s Swimathon received a Sydney Taylor notable mention from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Sheep Says Shalom  will be out  August 1, 2023 from Green Bean Books. Find free coloring pages and see more about her work on her website Annkoffsky.com. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @JewishArtbyAnn.

Varda Livney lives (and doodles) on a kibbutz with her family and 1,000 other assorted people, dogs, cats, cows, and olive trees. Visit her at VardaArt.com and follow her on Instagram @vardaart.

**Most of these board books won’t be out until the fall, but if winners are patient, they will be sent as soon as they become available.***

  • Vivian Kirkfield: PB Critique OR Copy of PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE
  • Nancy Churnin: copy of COUNTING ON SHABBAT
  • Sarah Aroeste: copy of MAZAL BUENO!
  • Ann Koffsky: 15-minute Zoom Critique
  • Varda Livney: Copy of CHALLAH!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.