At the book launch party for “Horatio’s One Wish,” held at Seattle’s Mockingbird Books, newly minted children’s author Joshua Kriesberg related that he’d written voraciously as a child. In writing “Horatio’s One Wish,” a book for middle-grade readers (ages 8 to 12) he tried to capture the free and unhampered writing of those years.
Growing up in Bethesda, Md., Josh remembers “math and creative writing were the subjects I was most interested in,” finding that “one helps the other. Doing math sometimes brings out the creative side.”
After working for Microsoft for 16 years, he left last year to focus on promoting the book, most of which he wrote in 2007 and 2008.
“I was at a crossroads,” then, he says, “not doing what I really wanted to do,” and decided to return to his dream of writing. During that year he came home from work and wrote for two to three hours a day with the support of his wife, Jane Lichty, and their twins, Max and Ben, who were 11 at the time.
Once complete, Josh sent the book to some publishers, but found the adventure, with its heroic hedgehog named Horatio, didn’t fit with current publishing interests. He put the manuscript away for four years, but once he left Microsoft he decided to publish it on his own, a popular route for authors these days. He found an illustrator, James Bernardin, hired a book designer and used CreateSpace (Amazon) for production.
Now he is gearing up for what many authors find most daunting — marketing his book. In addition to Mockingbird, he’s made one school appearance and hopes to appear at other schools, libraries and bookstores. He is doing some consulting for tech startups, “but a lot of my attention is on the book,” he says.
He has a website, www.joshuakriesberg.com, and an Amazon page where all but one reviewer has given the book five stars, but finds that in the “virtual world you’re reaching out to a lot of people, but they’re not hearing you,” he says. “The physical world goes a long way.”
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Betsy Dischel uses song, American Sign Language and both Hebrew and Spanish in her PJ Library programs. Here she is signing and guitar playing at a Musikal Magik class at the Phinney Neighborhood Center in Seattle. (Photo by Diana Brement)
I went to Mockingbird Books another time last month to see Betsy Dischel in her monthly PJ Library appearance there.
PJ Library is an outreach program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that sends interested families a Jewish-themed children’s book or CD each month, in partnership with philanthropists and local Jewish organizations. In the Seattle area it is administered by our Jewish Federation, which hosts storytelling events around Seattle.
Trained in special education, Betsy brings an additional dimension to the two to five PJ Library events she leads each month.
As “a special-ed teacher in California,” she explains, “I was working with students with disabilities, who spoke Spanish and also American Sign Language, all passions of mine.”
After moving to Seattle she was inspired by a preschool music class her son Diego attended. She started Musikal Magic, creating classes for preschoolers that she brings to schools and organizations around the Seattle area.
“It’s become popular,” says the New York City native, and there is a waiting list. “People want Spanish, they want American Sign Language, they want live music,” which Betsy provides on her guitar.
She also took Diego to a “tot Shabbat” at Temple Beth Am and was further inspired by the synagogue’s song leader Shoshana Stombaugh, a kindergarten teacher at Seattle Jewish Community School.
“I wanted Diego to go to school where she worked,” says Betsy.
A school administrator “suggested I become a storyteller,” Betsy told me, and connected her with Amy Paquette at the Jewish Federation, who invited her to be a PJ Library teacher.
In her classes and PJ Library events, kids are getting “a professional level of instruction, [including] brain development…language development,” says Betsy, and visual development as well as fun. The day I saw her at Mockingbird, there was a deaf toddler and mother in the audience. Betsy is quick to point out that she welcomes kids of all capabilities to her programs with “a joy and a heart for sharing language and stories with people of all abilities.”