Local author earns honors for first children’s book

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The idea came to St. Louis author Jody Feldman more than 14 years ago when she was volunteering at the school library where her daughter Paige was in kindergarten. A boy came into the library waving around the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, saying it was the best book he had ever read and he wanted to read another one. The librarian and another teacher searched for the book’s sequel which was not in the library.

“They found another book for him to read but I knew he wasn’t satisfied with it,” Feldman said. “I thought, I am going to write a book for that kid. Of course the problem is saying that, and then doing the actual writing.”

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Feldman has been a prolific writer over the years, but The Gollywhopper Games, published in March 2008 by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, is her first children’s book.

It was recently named one of 20 middle grade books on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List. It also received a 2008 Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards Honor which is a significant honor for a first time children’s book author. Feldman also recently appeared on the Missouri’s Own panel at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival.

Feldman admits to school groups she never thought she would be a writer. Writing was something she could do well and fast, but was not something she enjoyed, though she has always had a fascination with words and loves to play with words.

Feldman received her degree in journalism with a concentration in advertising from University of Missouri – Columbia. After graduation she worked for the Wohl Shoe Company as part of their in-house advertising team for six years. When her children were born she retired from writing full time and started doing free-lance advertising copy. She was the main copywriter for Blockbuster Video when the company was in its infancy for a short period of time.

In the late 1990s Feldman wrote CitySmart Guide Book: St. Louis. She also wrote and edited the book celebrating Shaare Zedek’s 100th anniversary. She and her husband Richard are members there.

Then there were the Christmas stocking stuffer books she wrote: A Golfer’s Night Before Christmas and A Fisherman’s Night Before Christmas. However, Feldman doesn’t really consider any of those books her first “real books” because they were work for hire.

Feldman finished the first draft of her children’s book in 1990. She admits she was flying by the seat of her pants since she had never been taught how to write a novel. She sent it in to various publishers, received lots of rejection slips and stuck the book in a drawer.

“I was writing as a reader, not a writer,” Feldman said.

She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) about 15 years ago to help her learn the craft of writing and how to navigate the process of getting a children’s book published. She went to her first national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in 2002 and decided to sign up for a manuscript critique.

“I needed something to turn in for the critique,” Feldman said. “I pulled that old story out of the drawer on a whim and sent it in.”

The critique was completed by Bonnie Bader of Grosset & Dunlap who told Feldman she loved the book.

“She said she would love to buy it, but it was not what they publish,” Feldman said. “She said to check back with her if I ever wanted to discuss making it into a series.”

The keynote speaker at the conference was agent Jennie Dunham, owner of Dunham Literary. Feldman had an opportunity to talk with Dunham and felt a connection with her. She sent Dunham the manuscript and eight weeks later, she received a response.

Feldman vividly remembers the day Dunham called and offered to represent her. It was November 13, 2002. She was cleaning her house and making a special dinner for her husband’s birthday that evening. And she was making dinner for 25 people to bring to a friend who had just had a death in the family. She was rushing around trying to pack up that meal and deliver it when the phone rang.

“It was Jeannie and she asked me if I had time to talk,” Feldman said. “I actually had to tell her no. But I did ask her to tell me what it was about because I knew I wouldn’t last until the next day without knowing.”

The book has received great reviews and is already in its third printing.

It is the story of a 12-year-old boy who wants to win the competition of a lifetime, but for a much stronger motive than the advertised prize.

The story is very interactive as the reader can choose to figure out the puzzles along with the characters as they race to complete and win the competition.

Feldman is already hard at work on completing her second book and a third book is also in the works. However, she still has time to attend all the Mizzou games.

“I’ve loved football since I was three years old,” Feldman said.

There have been some unexpected gratifying moments for Feldman since the book was published.

“You hear about kids writing to authors and authors writing them back,” Feldman said. “I didn’t truly appreciate it until I started getting feedback from kids who would write and say they were reading the book for the third time. It’s kind of amazing.”