JCC BookFest turns pages in-person and online
Photo: Courtesy Nancy Churnin
“To my parents, books and education were everything,” said Nancy Churnin, shown with her mother Flora. Churnin is the guest, at 10 a.m. on Sunday, July 17, 2022, sharing her “Dear Mr. Dickens” in the first junior edition of the JCC’s Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest. “Writing books that teach young children, about people who have made a difference in the world, is an honor.”

By Deb Silverthorn

The Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest, presented by the Aaron Family JCC and Central Market, returns in-person with children’s author Nancy Churnin at 10 a.m. Sunday, July 17, and return guest Daniel Silva at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 25. Both events are at the J.

“We’re thrilled to be back in person for so many of our events, to talk face-to-face and to see and hear from the authors of some fantastic work,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, Aaron Family JCC director of Israel Engagement and Jewish Living and BookFest producer. Weiss Crane has been working with chair Marcy Helfand and a committee to narrow the field of books, most in partnership with Jewish Book Council.

The 2022-2023 year opens with the introduction of the J’s BookFest junior edition, with titles and authors chosen with families of elementary school-aged children in mind. Churnin, who has published 10 books, with five more coming in 2023 and 2024, is the program’s debut author.

Starting with “The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game” in 2016, Churnin has written books about Katharine Lee Bates; Irving Berlin; Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr.; Charlie Sifford; Henrietta Szold; and others. Her books bring history makers, and mitzvah makers, to light. Among the five books published in the next two years will be her first children’s board book, “Counting on Shabbat.”

At the July 17 program, Churnin will share her “Dear Mr. Dickens,” which teaches of Eliza Davis, who wrote to Charles Dickens about his unfair treatment of Jews in his work. After Davis wrote to him, the two ultimately met and he changed his tone.

“This book is straight from my heart as it was inspired by conversations with my mother about the antisemitism in ‘Oliver Twist.’ Dickens was able to change — we all can,” said Churnin. “I hope in my work I inspire kids to be upstanders, to do something when they see unkindness.”

“Dear Mr. Dickens” has received numerous awards including National Jewish Book Award Winner, Children’s Picture Book; Tablet Magazine’s The Best Jewish Children’s Books; the Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor for Picture Books; and first place in Children’s Book Nonfiction by National Federation of Press Women. Churnin has released teacher guides and call-to-action opportunities for all her books.

“I love that there’s a BookFest Junior edition. The little ones attending will be back as adults in the years to come,” said Churnin, a New York native and graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. She is the daughter of Flora and the late Douglas, and sister of Sharon, Jon and Marc. She is married to Michael Granberry, the Dallas Morning News arts and feature writer who will interview Silva. The two are parents of Ted, Sam (Cydnee Cox), David and Josh (Anna Sergiovanni).

Daniel Silva returns to BookFest for a fourth visit, including a virtual conversation in 2021. The author of “The Unlikely Spy,” “The Mark of the Assassin,” “The Marching Season” and now 22 novels following art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon, brings that character back in “Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” a fast-paced heist story and thriller crime mystery that combines art and high finance.

“We have to care for our neighbors so I’m staying masked up and careful. I hope our audiences are too but I’m on the road and so happy to be so,” said Silva, a New York Times bestselling novelist. The Michigan-born and California raised alumnus of California State University, Fresno is married to CNN journalist, Jamie Gangel, with whom he shares children Lily and Nicholas.

In this, Silva’s 25th book in as many years, Allon embarks on a dangerous hunt across Europe for the secret behind the forgery of a 17th-century masterpiece that has fooled experts and exchanged hands for millions.

“The last three years, like for many, have weighed on me and it’s really been tough not to travel to the places I’m writing about,” said the former CNN executive producer and journalist turned novelist whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. “I believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I think that comes through in this book. I’m already at work on the next, to be released next year, because I want to know — as much as my readers do — what happens next.”

At 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, BookFest returns to a Zoom virtual event. Dallas’ Andrea Peskind Katz, host of the GreatThoughts.com and Great Thoughts Great Readers Facebook page, and author Pam Jenoff, a previous guest of BookFest who has written 12 books, will interview authors Lynda Cohen Loigman and Jean Meltzer.

Cohen Loigman’s “The Matchmaker’s Gift” is the story of the granddaughter of an early-century matchmaker who believes she too has the gift. When Abby’s beloved Grandma Sara dies, Abby inherits her collection of handwritten journals recording the details of matches she’d made. Among the faded volumes, Abby, a divorce attorney, finds more questions than answers.

“My daughter and her roommate both came home from college, early in the pandemic, and we had six unexpected, but precious, months together. In time, over conversations I learned of her roommate’s grandmother, who had been a matchmaker. This book isn’t of her, but the idea came from there,” said Cohen Loigman, who has also written “The Wartime House” and “The Two-Family House.” “It’s historical fiction with plenty of charm and whimsy and a dash of magical realism. The book, dedicated to my daughter and her friend, is filled with conversations of a woman’s place — who we can be.”

Meltzer’s “Mr. Perfect on Paper,” which follows her debut title “The Matzah Ball,” is the story of a Jewish dating app creator and third-generation Jewish matchmaker who unwittingly finds her own search for love thrust into the spotlight.

Meltzer’s life changed when she, with an award-winning television career, heard a sermon on the topic of “living for goals, not values.” She decided to reconnect to her Judaism and spent five years in rabbinical school before being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome; the illness forced her to withdraw.

“I needed to learn if I were disabled, how I was going to hold joy and make peace with the experience. Ten years homebound I began writing and Jewish romances began flowing, bringing all the parts of my life together,” said Meltzer. “I love the Jewish world to my kishkas,” said Meltzer, who is now working on a three-book deal. She explained that her parents and grandparents modeled her value system.

It is those values that will be a highlight throughout this season’s BookFest.

“We’ve got history and cookbooks, wellness and parenting advice — something for every age and every taste,” said Weiss Crane. “It’s going to be wonderful.”

The JCC’s Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest continues Oct. 24, with Michael Oren and his “Swann’s War”; in December with Michael Granberry’s own first publication, “Hole in the Roof: The Dallas Cowboys, Clint Murchison Jr., and the Stadium that Changed American Sports Forever,” co-written by Burk Murchison; and more. For more details, and registration information, visit jccdallas.org/special-events/bookfest.

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