Joanne Otto

Author

Tag: Daughter of Jerusalem

Cornucopia DoJ Review

Cornucopia Books shared a lovely review of Daughter of Jerusalem. You can read the review on their site and I’ve also shared it below:

This new novel, aimed at the young adult market but readily enjoyable by adults, plunges the reader into the bustling word of first century Jerusalem. It’s also the world of Mara, a teen-age Jewess, who in her struggle to find and realize her full identity and completeness, has an experience millions might envy. She meets and talks with Yeshua, known to us as Jesus the Christ. Continue reading

Kirkus Reviews

You may remember I blogged recently about Taking the Plunge when I submitted my books to Kirkus Reviews. It was a big step for a first-time independent author to take. In fact, Kirkus has only recently begun reviewing indie books at all. So picture rookie author Joanne discovering the links to her reviews on her iPhone and being unable to access them because she has no idea what her Kirkus user name and password might be!

Nearly a half hour and a helpful email later, the suspense was relieved and she got to read her reviews. They are posted below in case you’d like to read them, too. In case you’re wondering, her initial response was a rather out-of-control cheer, which probably sounded rather startling coming from a grandmother.

Daughter of Jerusalem Kirkus Review

In this YA debut, a plucky Bible-era heroine finds contentment by following her heart.

 

Mara lives in ancient Jerusalem with her demanding mother and compassionate father. Even though she’s a girl, the Jewish Mara studies the Torah and yearns for a different life than the one expected of her: marriage, children and housework. One day, her friend Nathan tells her of a new teacher named Yeshua who claims to be the son of God and preaches a new sort of religion that involves finding God within one’s own heart. When she discovers that Yeshua’s life may be at risk, she embarks on a mission to protect the mysterious, wonderful man from harm, and finds enlightenment and danger along the way. In luminous, rich prose, Mara’s tale delves into the daily life of a Jewish woman in biblical times. Mara is a relatable teenager, chafing at the rules of the adult world; she’s unable to identify the source of her discontent until she realizes that it comes from her own search for identity. Although Yeshua (also known as Jesus) makes only scattered appearances throughout the book, his presence and teachings profoundly affect those around him, and readers witness this in Mara’s response to him. Several characters refer to him with the lovely phrase, “His pure shining.” The middle of this smoothly plotted novel hinges on an intimate conversation between Yeshua and Mara, a satisfying encounter for characters and readers alike. Mara understands that he sees her “as a ray of unselfish love,” which “made her feel worthy and blessed.” The ending presents a rather sophisticated message for modern young adults, as Mara finds acceptance and builds a new relationship with her parents by using the peace of her newfound faith. She reaches a conclusion that many people never do: Finding one’s place in the world brings enough joy and satisfaction to fill a lifetime.

 

A moving, exquisitely written tale of a young woman’s search for meaning.

The You-Song Kirkus Review

A simple, encouraging picture book with a religious message.

 

Otto’s (Daughter of Jerusalem, 2013) latest book is best suited to pre-readers or early readers. It emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself, and encourages children to sing their own “You-Song.” Each person, the story says, has a You-Song, provided by God, which can be heard whispering or booming in an individual’s actions. When the song doesn’t sound pretty, “[i]t’s just the world’s jangle trying to muffle it.” When this happens, the book urges children to find a happy place or event to tune back in to their You-Songs. The narrator then notes that although no one can have the song of another person, multiple You-Songs can join together to become a We-Song; that is, children may befriend others and work together with them as a team. By singing You-Songs and We-Songs, the narrator says, children are doing the work of God and sharing his blessing. Otto includes vibrant, full-color photographs of a variety of children engaged in different activities, such as painting or playing outside. The book’s simple, repetitious text may make it useful for parents or teachers as a read-aloud, or for beginning readers. Each page has two short sentences or fewer, and the most complicated passage (“Jangle-free, / the You-Song can blend / with lots of songs around you— / one-of-a-kind songs / that God sings in others”) is still relatively simple, with many repeated words. The large, easy-to-read, bold type helps emphasize this easy style, while the bright, clean photos will draw listeners and readers in. Educators may use the photos as a way to expand upon the book’s message by asking listeners about the different actions depicted. The religious message is nondenominational, mentioning God but no specific religious faiths or texts.

 

Attractive photos and easy-to-understand prose make a winning combination in this positive picture book.

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.

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.

The Search for Mara

We may have been warned against judging a book by its cover, but, let’s face it, most of us do. . .at least to some degree. So the visual dimension of “Daughter of Jerusalem” loomed large when it came time to select images for the cover that would introduce it to potential readers. The images of first-century Jerusalem, especially of the Temple, were not difficult to locate. But finding the face that would represent our heroine, Mara, was another matter. At first I thought all I’d need to do was a Google search for “young woman with head scarf.” Surely a few intelligent-looking, reasonably attractive young women would turn up. But I found myself on stock-photo websites scrolling through cartoon figures, flirtatious hussies with come-hither looks, and sun-weathered candidates for National Geographic. Hundreds passed before my dazed eyes before one -just one – potential Mara finally turned up. And thanks to Meghan’s artistry, she now graces the cover of my book. Sometimes I wonder who she is and where she lives and whether she’ll ever know where her photo ended up. But to me, I guess she’ll always be Mara, the intelligent, spirited young daughter of Jerusalem.

Bringing the Past into the Present

A friend recently asked me why I chose to write my book, “Daughter of Jerusalem,” in the present tense even though its story takes place nearly two thousand years ago. My short answer is: to make it come alive.

Can’t you almost hear a friend telling a story about something that happened yesterday or last week and using exactly the same technique? (“So I run up to him and ask him what the heck he thinks he’s doing.”) That friend knows instinctively that the present tense invests a now concluded incident with the aliveness of this very moment.

I first tried using it for story-writing when it was suggested at a writer’s workshop I attended about 20 years ago. I could see that it made my story sing, and I’ve used it on occasion ever since. That’s not to say it’s appropriate in all situations, but if you like writing stories, it’s definitely worth a try. Let me know if you have success with it.

Writing a Story About Jesus

Picking up on last week’s observations re biblical fiction, I can think of no more challenging or more thrilling subject for an author to build a story on than the life of Jesus. The challenge, of course, is in doing him justice–catching even a glimpse of what made him who he was and presenting it in a way that rings true for today’s readers. In attempting this, I had to see Jesus through the eyes of my fictional characters, especially Mara. I found myself asking: What sort of scriptural teaching has she heard up to this point, and how would Jesus’ teaching have been different? What would draw her to him? How would her one-on-one encounter with him be initiated in an age when women’s interactions with men were so restricted? The answer that came to that third question was straight from the Jesus I knew from Scripture: he’d have known she wanted to speak with him. And the moment of this realization was nothing short of soul-stirring. It was insights like this one that made “Daughter of Jerusalem” the most thrilling writing project I’ve ever undertaken.

How does it feel?

How does it feel to get your books published? To me it feels a lot like motherhood. No kidding. My books are my babies. And they have a life of their own.

Like most mothers, I delighted in the early stages of their development. They often surprised me, as children do their parents, in the amazing process of becoming what they were meant to become. But they were still safe at home, still not fully formed, still able to be molded as further intuitions came.

Then the day arrived when it was time to let them go. It’s remarkable how difficult that can be. I began to realize how much I’d enjoyed having them around as “young” unfinished projects, how much my sense of life-purpose had come to evolve around them. But the only way they could fulfill their purpose was for me to release them. So, of course, I did.

And like every mother, I wish them well on their journey into the world and hope that they will meet up with some good friends along the way. I hope you will be one of them.

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