Ear­li­er this week, Matthue Roth wrote about why authors like to tor­ture peo­ple they love. He has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

It’s real­ly hard writ­ing a book that does­n’t fall any­where into any main­stream cat­e­gories. Take, for exam­ple, my emo sci­ence fic­tion pic­ture book The Gob­blings, which just came out. It does hap­pen to be a retelling of a Baal Shem Tov sto­ry, but not in any rec­og­niz­able form that you can be like, Here’s the Jew­ish content!” 

This is the Baal Shem Tov. Accord­ing to folk­lore, he per­formed holy som­er­saults as he prayed.

I once sub­mit­ted a book to PJ Library, the amaz­ing pro­gram that sends free pic­ture books to tens of thou­sands of Jew­ish kids. It was reject­ed — the rea­son giv­en was, the fam­i­ly in it went to synagouge; it was too Jew­ish. I sub­mit­ted anoth­er book. It was called The Black­out and it was about a fam­i­ly who nev­er spoke to each oth­er; one night, the lights went out and they had to have din­ner and tell each oth­er sto­ries and sing songs — essen­tial­ly, they had to do Shab­bat. Their reply? It was­n’t Jew­ish enough. Man, I felt like I was back on the Jew­ish dat­ing scene.

This is Her­bie, hero of The Gob­blings. He might be open­ing the gates of heav­en, but you real­ly can’t tell he’s Jewish.

Some­body said to me in an inter­view that they’d heard Gob­blings was based on a Jew­ish sto­ry. But there was noth­ing in the art that said that; no moral; no one had Jew­ish names or were wear­ing yarmulkes. Was that inten­tion­al?” they asked me. I did­n’t have a good answer; I did­n’t want to say that I did­n’t tell Rohan, the artist, that the book had any­thing to do with the Baal Shem Tov (I did­n’t) (and if he’s read­ing this, he’s prob­a­bly just find­ing that out now) (hi, Rohan!). But the truth was, the sto­ry’s roots as a Jew­ish folk­tale” were nev­er part of its Jew­ish iden­ti­ty to me. It was its spir­it, the idea at its heart of doing some­thing impos­si­ble and of a kid’s sim­ple belief chang­ing the world and sav­ing his family. 

One day, I’d love to write a sto­ry that helps my kids under­stand the idea of pray­ing, and chang­ing the world that way, and of the gates of heav­en being forced open by one per­son­’s words. One day I hope to under­stand that much. Hon­est­ly, the only thing I’ve ever writ­ten that might come close is anoth­er pic­ture book, one called We Are in a Pot of Chick­en Soup—it’s about two kids cook­ing soup and adding all the ingre­di­ents out of their imagination. 

That one, I com­plete­ly pla­gia­rized — I stole the sto­ry (and the title) from my kids. If there’s one per­son (actu­al­ly, three peo­ple) who I trust to get my prayers through the gates of heav­en, it’s them. They might not be very good at bed­time rit­u­als, but when it comes to believ­ing in things, they could move mountains.

Matthue Roths first book, Nev­er Mind the Gold­bergs, was a NYPL Best Book for the Teen Age and an ALA Best Books nom­i­nee. His lat­est is The Gob­blings, illus­trat­ed by Rohan Daniel Eason. By day, he’s a video game design­er. He lives in Brook­lyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at matthue​.com

Relat­ed Content:

Matthue Roth’s newest book is My First Kaf­ka: Rodents, Run­aways, and Giant Bugs, a pic­ture book, which will be released in June 2013. His young-adult nov­el Losers was just made a spe­cial selec­tion of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion. He lives in Brookyn with his fam­i­ly and keeps a secret diary at www​.matthue​.com.