Ione Skye recently celebrated the launch of her first children’s book “My Yiddish Vacation.” Ione’s generous support of First Book has helped to bring hundreds of books to kids in need. We sat down to talk with her about how her love of books as a child inspired the writing of her new book, celebrating culture and heritage and why First Book’s mission is important to her.
Did you write as a child?
I loved drawing and writing, whether I was in class at school or in my room at home. I would rewrite my own version of a book I loved or write what I hoped would happen in that book. Sometimes I would just write what poured out of me.
How did being a book lover as a child affect you as an adult?
I believe reading and loving books as a child inspired me to try writing at an early age. As a kid I was shy, very observant and sensitive. Like most children, or maybe like all kids, I had a big fantasy life and a big imagination.
Being a book lover as a kid expanded my view of the external world by taking my mind to faraway places. I felt that one day I could possibly reach these places. My internal world grew with every dynamic the characters in the story experienced.
What inspired you to write your new book, “My Yiddish Vacation”?
I tried a few children’s books over the years without trying to get them published. My husband encouraged me to get an agent and publish My Yiddish Vacation. When thinking of book ideas this idea of capturing my close and layered relationship with my brother in the back drop of a visit to our kooky Grandparents seemed to work well. This story also gave me the opportunity to explain the meaning of Yiddish words that I grew up with.
For me, expressing the feelings of this side of my culture and my feelings towards it was a way of reliving it. It also allowed me to show massive gratitude for that side of my family. My father’s side is Scottish-Celtic and I have that in me as well. But, the particular style of an Eastern European, Jewish, first generation, poor, New Yorker making their way in “the new world” has its own flavor and strong character. Writing this story allowed me to share my experience with a language I loved as well as memories I cherish.
Did you have the chance to read and write on your visits with your Grandparents?
I read while on trips to my Grandparents. I even wrote on my visits. I wrote on a typewriter we bought at a swap meet they had. Travel often inspires us to write.
Your book allows children to see what it is like to grow up in a specific culture. Is it important for kids to have these windows into diverse experiences?
Although we all have different cultures and social experiences, it’s nice to know we can all connect. Through a story, we see that beyond our differences we all have many of the same experiences: feelings, yearnings, worries and happiness.
Why does First Book’s mission resonate with you?
Language and storytelling through books is unique and beautiful. Stories illustrate our inner experience and the battles we face in life. They often do so using classic heroes, or witches, or even external battles. These capture our imaginations as kids because a part of us part of us relates to the struggles and victories kids go through every day.
As a child, reading activated something profound in me and in my brother. It activated a new way of seeing the world. For example, I felt I understood the atmosphere of the English countryside before I went to England when I read certain great authors like Emily Bronte. I experienced the inner struggle and joys of a child’s life without realizing it through various classic stories like the Chronicles of Narnia or fairy tales, Greek Myths.
First Book is important as it aims to make that experience available to all children. They are working hard to keep reading alive for everyone.