One of my favorite holidays, Purim, is just around the corner. I love the story of Queen Esther, the kids dressing up in costume and giving out Shalach Manos (or Mishloach Manot depending on how you say it.)
This year I’m also pleased to introduce you to a newish writer, Leah Sokol. Leah is the author of several books for the mainstream YA market, but is branching out and has her first Jewish children’s book, The King’s Horse, out now just in time for Purim.
What is your book about?
“The King’s Horse” is the story of Purim told from the point of view of Achashverosh’s horse. It’s an early reader, which can be either read as a picture book to very young children or read independently by early elementary school children.
Why did your write a Purim story?
I have always wanted to write a Purim story. First of all, the megillah is so fascinating, you would think you could get a hundred stories from it! Every Purim, during the second reading, I would come up with ideas — telling it from the point of view of a stableboy, of one of Queen’s Esther’s ladies, a book about a modern-day girl solving a mystery whose clues were in the megillah, etc. I had a couple of false tries, and then, when my children were very little, I got the idea of writing it as a children’s book about Achashevrosh’s horse. I had never tried to write any picture books or early readers before, so I had to do a ton of research about writing for that age group. It took over a decade for “The King’s Horse” to be both finished and published.
What is your favorite Purim memory?
Who has ONE favorite Purim memory? As a child, all I remember as a kid is fun memories from Purim. (As an adult, I wonder how I blocked out all the time spent driving around in traffic. But I seem to have!) I do particularly remember one year when I dressed up as a pirate — I think that was my favorite costume ever.
You have a biography coming out this spring from Menucha Publishers, can you tell us about it?
Yes! “No Day Without Torah: The Story of Rav Meir Shapiro” stemmed from my own personal curiosity about how the Daf Yomi program started. It’s the story of Rav Meir Shapiro, the incredible person who started the Daf Yomi, and how the program came about and took off. (Well, to be honest, I still don’t know exactly how; there was clearly siyata dishmaya involved, when you think about the fact that by the end of the second cycle of Daf Yomi, World War II was breaking out. But my book ends before that. Like “The King’s Horse,” it’s an early reader.
What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
My main piece of advice is to focus on the writing. I find that a lot of aspiring writers spend a lot of energy thinking about publishing — which is normal and natural; that’s the end game, after all! But you always have to remember that the writing comes first. If you can’t find joy in the writing, the whole enterprise is not really worth it. I also publish books for the secular audience, and I’ve collected a page of advice for writers there: https://www.leahcypess.com/advice-for-writers/