Behind the Book: The Witch of Woodland by Laurel Snyder
Laurel Snyder specializes in telling deep, rich, emotional stories about contemporary characters, giving them a sprinkling of magic and asking provocative questions about growing up, identity, and how to be a person in the world. In The Witch of Woodland, she combines all of this with an exploration of Judaism and Jewish mysticism—something close to Laurel's heart and part of her identity.
When I was growing up, there weren’t books about kids like me. There were a few books about
Jewish kids, and I loved them, but even so, I couldn’t find myself in those stories.
My own Jewish family wasn’t like the ones in the books. My parents were intermarried
and divorced. We didn’t go to synagogue much, and only celebrated major holidays. As a result,
the Jewish books I managed to get my hands on often made me feel like something of an
outsider. “If that’s what it means to be Jewish, I guess I’m not,” was the refrain in my head.
What did make me feel represented was magic. I believed deeply in magic, and the
library was full of incredible stories about kids who met fairies or walked through wardrobes to
find themselves transported to other worlds. Like the kids in those books, I believed in magic,
and through those books, I felt connected to other kids all over the world who longed for portals
and magical friends. In magic, I wasn’t alone.
The book in your hands is a combination of those two Laurels, those two versions of my
own childhood. Like me, Zippy feels like an outsider. Like me, she’s curious and interested in
what it means to be Jewish. She isn’t sure that she believes in God, exactly, but she knows deep
in herself that she believes in magic, and she’s wrestling with how to resolve the two.
It's worth noting that though this is my eighth middle grade novel, it’s the first one in
which I’ve engaged so fully with questions of Jewish identity. The ongoing rise in antisemitic
violence made me realize how necessary it is for me to include this aspect of my life in my
writing. I’m proud of my Jewish identity.
And there are an infinite number of ways to be Jewish! Like Zippy, I make a lot of
mistakes, and learn from them. Like Zippy, I'm endlessly questioning and wrestling with the
world around me. Like Zippy, I'm still finding my community (of which you are a welcome
part). And for me, that’s a big part of what it means to be Jewish.
About the Author
Laurel Snyder is the beloved author of many picture books and novels for children, including National Book Award nominee Orphan Island and the Geisel Award winner Charlie & Mouse. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program. She lives in Atlanta with her family and can be found online at laurelsnyder.com.