Friday, February 1, 2008

Children's stories anyone?

During the early-mid 1970s, terrorism in Israel took on an ugly face and nowhere appeared safe. I was doing my M.Sc. thesis, and each month had my turn standing at the entrance to the life science building on campus, checking all those entering the building. The head of the botany department, Prof. Yoav Weisel, decided that this was not enough. So every week two volunteers headed up to Kiryat Shemona, near the Lebanese border (then unaffectionately called "Fatahland") to spend the weekend guarding with locals. Eventually it was my turn, and with my friend Sven Beer, headed up north to guard. Trouble was, neither of us had yet done any army duty, so here we were, toting Belgian rifles, roaming the streets of town at 2 in the morning, on the lookout for terrorists, but not knowing which side of the rifle was up.
We were billeted by local families. I remember staying with a family with many kids. I befriended the five year old (my emotional age, I guess), who asked me what I do. "I grow bacteria at the university I told him". He asked me what bacteria are, and I promised to write him a book on what they are".
Indeed upon our return to Tel Aviv (the terrorists did not show up that weekend, to our relief), I sat down and wrote (and even illustrated!) a book called "What is a bacterium?". I still have it somewhere on file (and we are talking about 1975 here). By the time I finished it, I couldn't remember the name of the kid, his family, or where they lived. So the book sat in a file for twenty years.
In the interim, I continued to write my stories in English and Hebrew, including an allegory to the Tower of Babel story, and a story on what pianos are for. I tried to get them published, but they ended up gathering dust as well.

When my son Adar was four, I found the bacteria book and read it to his nursery class. The teacher told me that if I put it into rhyme, it might be publishable. I did, and indeed it was published by the
Univeristy press (Ramot) in 1996 (and subsequently in English and Arabic, as well). The Hebrew version has gone through three printings.

Two years ago, an amazing lady, Evi W. donated money for publication of my second children's book (with two stories, "The Witch and the Toothbrush" and "What to do with a Used Toothbrush"). We have already donated 6,000 books to schools, kindergartens and needy children. "The Witch and the Toothbrush" is also available in Hebrew and Arabic as children's films on The films were supported by the Arison Foundation and two kind people from LA (the Bravermans) and my
friend, the late, great actor Dudu Dotan starred (again for love, not money; it was to be his last film) as the ugly-toothed witch.

During the spring of 2006, I finally got the message: I love when kids read my stories so much, why should I waste precious time waiting for commercial publishers to decide whether I my stories can make them money. So I decided, to provide them over the internet for free. So anyone, from anywhere in the world can visit Mel Tells and find six of my stories, brilliantly illustrated by Tali Niv Dolinsky and Rotem Omri, patiently waiting for kids and parents to read and (hopefully) enjoy them. So far the results are very encouraging. I hope to eventually have a dozen illustrated books on the site, in different languages, and with the option of narration. I am footing the bill myself in the meantime, but Blistex Ltd. has offered to help with the site's promotion. I am excited!!

Of course, there is always the hopeful possibility that a publisher will come along and manufacture hard copies of the books. That would be wonderful. Even then, I will insist that the books remain available for free reading over the internet. So make my day, and visit, and let me know what you think.

"Why do I write children's stories?" you might ask. I think the main reason is that I enjoy it. There is a five-year old inside me that dictates the stories, and I write them. When other kids like them as
well, I'm tickled pink!

I hope that the five-year old inside me continues to tell me more stories that I can share and that kids continue to enjoy them too.

"I have so many books to write,
I'll NEVER get to sleep tonight."

No comments: