Studying Picture Book and Nonfiction Craft With Support from PJ Library Scholarship

Nov 8, 2023 | Community Good News, Jewish Voices, Scholarship Stories

Writers Jan Epstein Schwaid and Doreen Klein Robinson have both attended multiple workshops and retreats with the support of the PJ Library Scholarship. Both joined our community after successful non-kidlit writing careers and are now enthusiastic about continuing to improve their craft, and grateful for the opportunities presented by the Highlights Foundation’s partnership with PJ Library!

Jan Epstein Schwaid

About me: “I write across a variety of media, from television and short films to podcasts and video games. I also teach writing at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. Recent projects include PJ Library’s award-winning children’s storytelling podcasts BEYOND THE BOOKCASE and HAVE I GOT A STORY FOR YOU! I also wrote NOSH: BITE-SIZE ADVENTURES, an educational show for young foodies, and the upcoming short film WHERE WE WENT WRONG. I live in sunny Burbank, California with my husband, our 5-year-old daughter Ruby, and our rescue pup.”Workshop or Retreat: Jan has attended our online Picture Book Essentials, the Picture Books Writers & Illustrators Working Retreat, and PJ Summer Camp.

Workshop Experience: “By the end of my time at Highlights, I had a much better understanding of how things work, and I was equipped with excellent tools to navigate this new space. The faculty also inspired me to continue writing Jewish stories for children. Meeting a cohort of 19 other writers, all passionate about writing for children, was also incredibly helpful, as we have formed a strong community of support. Since last year’s retreat, I have written 5 additional manuscripts…and joined a critique group with other Summer Camp attendees.”

Scholarship Experience: “…with this scholarship, I was able to travel to a retreat where I could continue learning about picture books, have tranquil writing and reading time, and meet wonderful new writer and illustrator friends. All of these factors helped deepen my kidlit author/illustrator community and love of writing.  I really cannot thank you enough for this unique, priceless opportunity. The Highlights Foundation is an amazing asset to the writing community – a place to learn, write, read, form a community, rest, and recharge. I just returned, and I feel so inspired and ready to write. It’s a magical feeling…”

On using what was learned to inspire kids: “I hope kids can see themselves in the books I write…I tend to write about underdogs and outcasts; I seek out unique ways to tell the stories of characters who make peace with their outsider status and discover their place in the world.  I’m especially passionate about writing about invisible disabilities. I hope my writing can help children with invisible disabilities feel seen – and inspire empathy in those around them.”

Photo of Jan Epstein Schwaid and Heidi EY Stemple

Jan Epstein Schwaid (left) and Heidi EY Stemple

Doreen Klein Robinson

About me: “I’m a native New Yorker that was transplanted to South Florida with my family when I was four years old. I have a degree in Mass Communications from the University of South Florida. For the last 25 years, I’ve worked as a writer and editor for community newspapers. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here without the love and support of my family – my husband, Eric and my three (adult) children, Samantha, Emily and Joseph, who helped inspire my love of children’s books. “

Workshop or Retreat: Doreen has attended Becoming a Nonfiction Writer, Crafting Novels in Verse, Just Do It! and PJ Summer Camp.

Workshop Experience:  Doreen says of Becoming a Nonfiction Writer: “I enjoyed it and at the time I was very interested in writing nonfiction. I still have passion for it and that workshop helped me write a nonfiction proposal and three chapters which I’ve queried to a few agents, but it’s been rejected (so far).” Of PJ Summer Camp, she says “I learned a lot about the writing process – how to trust myself and how to trust an illustrator and an editor with my words/work. I learned that writers are amazing people. I learned about craft and about creativity and about being curious. I learned how to critique my work and the works of others. I learned how to listen, how to write with emotion, how to trust the process. I learned how to look for the magic.”

“The faculty and staff were amazing. And the other participants – my peers – were an inspiring group. It was great to meet such interesting writers and share our work, learn together and create a community. I’m happy to say that we’ve bonded outside of the program and many of us are sharing our writing and critiquing each other’s work.”

Scholarship Experience: “I don’t know if there are enough words to describe how meaningful the experience was. The newspaper that I worked for closed during COVID, so I felt very fortunate to receive the scholarship. The experience at Highlights was magical. It was a struggle to get there (flight cancellations) but once I arrived I knew I was in a very special place. I’d found my people! I am so grateful for this partnership. There are so many classes I want to take – so much I need to learn. I look forward to returning to Highlights one day and I hope to one day become a PJ Library author.”

On using what was learned to inspire kids: “Perhaps the most important thing I learned and am using to inspire kids is my voice! I am writing more from my personal experience – from my identity as a Jewish person. I think I can inspire children, especially Jewish children, if they see themselves in my stories. I’d like to think that my writing can inspire other children to see things from a Jewish point of view and that my stories can create empathy and understanding in all children. I want kids to know that we’re more alike than different.”

Photo of Doreen Klein Robinson next to the Highlights Foundation sign

Doreen Klein Robinson

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The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.  Learn more about our impact.