An interview with the author appears below.
Chaya Rosen is a young woman living in Israel. She recently published Backstage with CBC: The Chaverim Boys Choir Live (Targum Press), a book for religious preteens.
Each chapter of Chaverim describes a member of the fictional choir, the boy’s family situation and a personal challenge he encounters: One is under pressure to help his mother with his younger siblings, one loses his grandfather, and another recognizes an unpleasant truth about himself.
Rosen describes the feelings of the children as each one learns his lesson, and I think children will identify with them. The central character, choirmaster Daniel, holds the book together. But he is idealized too much for my taste.
When a sister is jealous of her brother’s participation in the choir no reason is stated, as it’s meant to be understood that Orthodox girls won’t sing publicly. Chaverim is published by Targum Press and has a specific audience in mind.
Each chapter begins with the names and ages of the children in the family, even those that don’t appear in the story. Since the author went to the trouble of choosing the names, I’ll comment on them. The oldest children in two of the families have secular names, while the rest have traditional Hebrew or Yiddish names. Are these families supposed to be baalei teshuva (religious returnees)?
A third family has two daughters named Orit and Basya. Now I’ve never heard of an Orit being called Oris, and it’s hard to imagine a family with a Basya even considering the Israeli name Orit. Orit is older, so maybe the family became ashkenazis, or ashkenazis American, in the interim? (The t in Orit and the s in Basya are the same letter in Hebrew; the pronunciation depends on the community.)
It’s clear that much effort went into writing and editing Chaverim. Sometimes you can see where Rosen tried too hard, like substituting for “said” too often. But Rosen’s talent and enthusiasm for her characters and stories shine through.
Chaya Rosen kindly answered my questions by email:
- When did you get the idea to write a book of stories? I’ve wanted to be an author since I was little. I have been writing stories in notebooks for years now!
- What kind of books do you like to read? Is there one in particular that inspired you? I really like to read pretty much everything! I have a nice collection of books, and I get library books every two weeks. There is no book that I can think of that especially inspired me, but I think that every book I’ve read (or article, or the back of a cereal box!) has inspired me in one way at least – in my writing, and in my day-to-day life.
- What other interests do you have? I have lots of hobbies. I love acting, reading, and writing most of all, but I also enjoy drawing and singing. I like observing people, too!
- When did you make aliyah? Can you tell us about your experience? We made Aliyah when I was nine years old. I remember it pretty clearly. I was very excited and looking forward to living in Eretz Yisrael. We’ve actually moved around many times. For the most part, I remember moving as something fun, exciting, like an adventure.
- What made you decide to write about a boys’ choir? I was sitting in my bedroom about two years ago, reading. I had just received my first music CD of my own, ever – Miami Boys Choir’s “One By One”. Suddenly, at a particularly good solo, I looked up from my book and thought, “Hold on for a second, that’s a kid singing this. In order to sing it, he had to practice. But he also, obviously, has a family, and friends, and a life – and his own problems, too. In short, he’s a kid just like me. But on the other hand…he has to practice, perform, record…” The mixture between a “regular” kid and a “choir” kid intrigued me. I thought about it a lot. He was “famous” yet “normal”. He had concert tours, yet he had to do homework, too.
- What is your next project? I’ve written a few sequels to the book, but I don’t know if any of them will ever get published. In the meantime, I am working on a couple of new books with different characters and themes that I am enjoying writing.
- I don’t think I would have had the guts to publish a book at your age. Has there been criticism of the book, and how have you handled that?
For the most part, Baruch Hashem, the comments have been positive. After the book was published, a couple of technical mistakes were found. Well, that’s how we learn!
- How long did it take from the time you seriously began to write until the book was published? I started the first story that I told you about before (the forty page one) about two years ago. I began the actual book that was published about a year and a half ago.
- Any tips for aspiring authors, teenagers and others? Firstly, you have to trust in Hashem! I daven to him when I need ideas, and miraculously, an idea always appears – from the strangest places! And you have to read a lot. I love reading. You absolutely have to have a love for books, and words, and stories – and, I’ve discovered, of people and all of Hashem’s creation. I love creating my characters, thinking about them, wondering about them, talking to them. Sometimes I even dream about them. I enjoy describing the places that my characters go to, or live in. I like picturing my characters out of the book’s settings – I find that helps me get to know them. If I’m bored, or stuck in a doctor’s waiting room or something, I talk to them, wonder what they’d do if they were there. I’m always interested about everything going on. You have to keep your eyes and ears open – Hashem will always send you a good idea!
- What kind of feedback have you gotten? Baruch Hashem, people have really been enjoying the book! My favorite feedback has been when people tell me they enjoy the realism of the characters – probably, because they feel so real to me!
Finally I sat down and started to write. I wrote a forty-page story about a choir kid, but then it ended, and I got pretty upset it was over. I told my best friend that I enjoyed writing about choir kids so much – I wanted to continue. She answered calmly, “So write a book about choir kids!” The rest, as they say, is history.
Chaya, thank you for answering the questions and we wish you a lot of success.
Another talented young Jewish woman: The editor of Yaldah Magazine.