Joanne Otto

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Author: Joanne Otto (page 1 of 3)

Another Opportunity to Share!

Once again I’m getting to read “Daughter of Jerusalem” to an enthusiastic group of listeners–this time to an interfaith group at a nearby assisted-living complex. I can’t think of a happier way to spend three Monday mornings. I love seeing their faces as they respond to a first hearing of this story that is now so familiar to me. It makes it new again.

I’ve been told authors generally want little or nothing to do with their books once they’ve been published. But somehow I don’t share that feeling. Perhaps it’s because my books have always felt more like a gift that came to me rather than a creative act of my own. I see the Father’s hand on every page. And that never gets old.

History’s Tracks

9/11–a date that those of us who lived through it will never forget. We recall not only the havoc wreaked by those errant planes, but also precisely what we were doing on that day and how the crisis impacted it.
History has left a number of such tracks on the path of my life. I was a student in Germany at the time the Berlin wall was built. It faced me with the need to decide whether to return home early, as Mom had suggested via long distance telephone, in case we were on the brink of a war. Acute fear was finally faced down through prayer, and I will always be glad that I stayed through that summer.
At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, my beloved Steve was a West Point cadet, and again a war with the Soviet Union seemed a sobering possibility. In fact, there had been talk of graduating his class early so they would be prepared to fight in it. The removal of those missiles was good news to all Americans, but to me it was cause for hallelujahs.
The following year, the principal of the high school where I was teaching announced the somber news of Pres. Kennedy’s assassination. Some of my students were in tears. All I could think of to say to them was how blessed we were to live in a country where this tragedy would be followed by an orderly transfer of power.
On 9/11 I was also in a school, an elementary school this time. As my pupil and I emerged into the library after our lesson, we saw teachers viewing a huge cloud of smoke on the television screen. “It’s the Pentagon,” one of them told me. It took only a moment for the full implication of that to dawn on me. The tennis game scheduled for later that morning ended before it began. All we wanted to do was go home and pray.
When history steps in and leaves these tracks on our lives, it’s still the best response I can think of.

An Opportunity to Share

Last month I was invited to read Daughter of Jerusalem aloud to patients and assisted-living residents at Peace Haven. What a joy to see them experience Mara’s story for the very first time! This child of my imagination has become such an old friend to me that it was refreshing and renewing to catch a glimpse of her through the eyes of others.

The experience also gave me further confirmation that the book’s brevity can actually be an asset rather than a liability. Had it been a full-length novel, it would never have been feasible to present it in the allotted four one-hour evening segments, which included question-and-answer time.

The Great Outdoors

During the summer months, St. Louisans do not normally choose to spend much time outdoors–at least not during the day. Heat and humidity add up to a big “No thanks!” But so far this summer has been the exception. Many nights have brought the temperatures down below 60 degrees, and the mornings that follow those nights are to me sheer heaven.

Not only has this enhanced my early morning walks. It’s also lured me out onto the deck for my quiet time. What makes it worth lugging a table out there? What is it about the great outdoors that brings such inspiration? Towering trees, the caress of a cool breeze, cloud puffs floating across a blue sky–somehow these lead us into the presence of One who is both infinitely powerful and boundlessly good. The great outdoors becomes a gentle reminder that we are dearly loved.

My Latest Hero

Good books have a wonderful way of sparking our interest in people we’ve known of but never really known. I’ve lived in New York near Grant’s Tomb and now live in St. Louis near Grant’s Farm. I knew Grant was the general most responsible for winning the Civil War and later President–though for me he was always obscured by the shadow of Lincoln.

Then along came Jean Edward Smith’s remarkable biography. After reading it, I am now–in spite of his habit of smoking cigars–an enthusiastic fan of Ulysses S. Grant. I actually enjoyed reading the war accounts, in which Grant’s brilliance and resourcefulness eclipsed even the appalling casualties. And I was delighted to learn that he shared my abhorrence of war, telling Bismarck, “I never went into the army without regret and never retired without pleasure.” During his presidency, he did everything in his power to keep the peace and held to his principles under intense political pressure. Yes, thanks to Smith, Grant is now among my heroes.

Taking the Plunge

You may not have heard of Kirkus. Until several months ago, neither had I. But among publishers and booksellers they have been well respected since the 1930s for their intelligent, unbiased book reviews. A fee is charged for these reviews, but there is no guarantee that they will be favorable. Kirkus’s reputation rests on their being honest.

I had been undecided as to whether to submit my books to them for a review. It seemed expensive and a bit daunting. But this afternoon I took the plunge, encouraged perhaps by a discount they were offering this week. After a seven-to-nine-week waiting period, I should be hearing from them. If nothing else, the results will provide a learning experience. But, of course, I can’t help hoping for more.

Bible Adventure – Part 2

Well, I have spent about 6 weeks working with Professor Horner’s Bible-reading system, and the results have been mixed. I very much like his idea of reading from different books of the Bible on the same day. It enables me to see how amazingly their ideas coincide in spite of the many intervening years and also how they developed over the centuries.

However, ten chapters a day has been difficult to keep up, and the skipping around between the Old and New Testaments has proved rather confusing. in addition, his plan requires reading some books much more frequently than others.

So I have come up with a simpler plan which I think will work better for me: a chapter each from Genesis-Deuteronomy, Joshua-Esther, Job-Solomon’s Song, Isaiah-Malachi, Matthew-Acts, and Romans-Revelation, in that order. I’ve already started making the transition, but I am still grateful to Professor Horner for launching me on this inspiring journey.

Something to Celebrate!

Writing a book, for me at least, seems far less difficult and much more fun than promoting one. Nevertheless, a dutiful, concerted effort to promote my books began in January. Then, after several months of researching children’s book websites and making vain attempts to contact bloggers who write reviews of books for early and middle grade readers, I was asked to resume some work at church which left me little time for such a quest. All I could do was entrust my books to Him who inspired them.

Imagine my joy when about two months later, without any prompting from me, a website I had not thought of contacting (biblewise.com) published a glowing review of “Daughter of Jerusalem.” The founder of the website later wrote to me: “Isn’t it wonderful to be in the blessing business!” All I can say is “Amen!”

BibleWise Review of Daughter of Jerusalem

Storytelling is at the heart of the Scriptures. Prophecies and parables were passed along orally – their messages of faith and salvation, struggles and sacrifices, preserved by those who told them and heard them. With each retelling, stories would come alive once again.

 

Joanne Otto continues this tradition with the “Daughter of Jerusalem.” Otto first shared the story of 14-year-old Mara with her own daughter Meghan. With Meghan’s encouragement, Otto then turned from storyteller to scribe, writing down Mara’s tale for middle-grade readers. But the simple sweetness of this fictional story – inspired by the Bible – will resonate with readers of all ages.

 

It is the time of the holy festival of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacles in Jerusalem, which commemorates the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. During an evening meal, Mara and her family learn of the arrival of a young Galilean rabbi named Yeshua – better known as Jesus. Mara, who would rather study the Torah than carry out domestic duties, is immediately captivated by the news of Yeshua and his healing work.

 

As a girl, Mara’s interest in the holy books is neither encouraged nor respected. But she makes a deal with her father, who wanted nothing more than to have a son. Mara’s father, Eleazar, tells her, “I will permit you to be a daughter to [your mother] so long as she permits you to be a ‘son’ to me” (page 4). Even though Eleazar is supportive of Mara’s studies, he is not as open to her interest in Yeshua. Concerned by the strong opposition by the Pharisees and Sadducees of Yeshua’s arrival, he tells Mara to stay away when Yeshua is teaching. But Mara is determined to meet the rabbi.

 

As Mara’s tale unfolds, Otto weaves in biblical details – the books, chapters, and verses are noted in the appendix for reference and further study. Select terms are clearly defined in the glossary. This biblical foundation, according to Otto, is “the story behind the story” (preface). And with the biblical backdrop, and the author’s superb storytelling, the world in which Jesus lived – and where Mara grows up – is brought into focus, allowing young readers to really relate to Mara and understand what it would have been like as a teenager to live in Jerusalem around 30 AD. Otto has a gentleness and purity in her writing that truly makes reading “Daughter of Jerusalem” feel inviting and comforting. Readers of all ages will cherish the young heroine’s determination and innocence.

Children at Play

Is there anything more joy-inspiring than being with children at play? We’re talking about children in a state of sheer, uninhibited delight in the hi-jinks of the present moment. Well, after a fairly long hiatus, I got to experience it yesterday.

A dear cousin now living abroad arrived at our door with the young family he’d attained since our last visit. Other family members gathered, and our playroom soon came alive! Our grandson, home from college, allowed his inner child free rein, and the next thing we knew the two munchkins were climbing onto his back, performing somersaults with him, and retreating in squealing mock terror from the monster his dramatic talents brought to life.

Did this disrupt our visit with their parents? Far from it. It brought the whole purpose of the visit into lively focus, and when the visit ended (sooner than we’d have liked it to) it left me feeling buoyantly aglow.

Lost in Translation?

In setting out on my Bible adventure, I had to be certain I was choosing a translation that would encourage me to stay with it. I grew up with the King James, and its beautifully wrought language speaks to me as no other translation does. But it includes words that are either obsolete or now have a meaning quite different from what they did in 1611. How could I continue to enjoy the beauty of the KJV, yet not miss the meaning? My solution was The 21st Century King James Version. Unlike the New King James Version, it keeps “ye” and “thou” and “thee” (which I like because I can tell if the second person is singular or plural) and other words that have dropped out of use but which we still understand. In fact, it reads just like my old familiar friend except when a word like “conversation” (which then referred to one’s conduct or way of life) or “prevent” (which then meant “precede”) comes up. And it helps me out with words like “gins” (traps) or “reins” (literally “kidneys,” which were once considered the seat of the emotions as the heart is today.) It’s also helpful to have the poetry printed in verse form and the prose in paragraphs. So with The 21st Century King James, I am off to a successful start on my adventure, happily balanced between linguistic beauty and clear meaning.

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