Interested in having the smartest Jewish kid on the block? If so, look into Honeycake for the new reader in your life this Chanukah.
Founded by Harvard University graduate and longtime Jewish educator Anna Caplan, Honeycake is being billed as “the Jewish literary magazine for creative kids.” If it sounds like a version of The New Yorker for toddlers (and their slightly older brothers and sisters), that’s the idea, said Caplan, whose inspiration comes from the children’s magazines she loved growing up, like Cricket and Ladybug.
The plan, initially, is for Honeycake to be a quarterly geared toward children aged 2 to 6, though both how frequently the magazine is published and the age ranges it targets may change over time.
“This issue is (for ages) 2 to 6, but in the future I have this idea where we would have one magazine that would have two parts to it. So, you would have the front cover which would be for one age group, maybe the 2- to 6-year-olds, but then you’d flip it over and there would be another cover, and that would be for older children.”
Having two children under 5 and launching a magazine has been “really exciting,” Caplan said. “I’m a little busy.”
But Caplan, who lives in Wynnewood, felt compelled to create Honeycake.
“This is my project; this is my baby. It’s required a lot, but I’ve found that it’s been perfect for me. I used to direct plays, and this has been a lot like that.”
That works out in Caplan’s favor, because her theatrical and musical backgrounds are rich — she was in the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players and has directed musicals at several different synagogues on the East Coast. She’s spent years as a Jewish music educator and was looking to create a magazine that reflected the diversity of her interests, as well as her interest in diversity — qualities she hopes to pass down, at least partly through the magazine, to her own children, 4 and 2.
“I’ve always been interested in a pluralistic approach to Jewish education,” Caplan said.
And while books and other mediums are great, they don’t quite have the flexibility that magazines offer.
“In a magazine, you can have pieces that show the cultural diversity of the Jewish community, you can show the religious diversity, the racial diversity. … I thought somebody should do this; then I thought: I should do this.”
And do it, she has. But Caplan’s not looking to be just another player in an already crowded kid-lit marketplace.
“Of the Jewish children’s books we own, some of them we really treasure and love, but there were really only a few that measured up to my favorite secular children’s books. From the conversations I’ve had with other parents and with grandparents, I’m not alone in this: People are looking to see more diversity and a more inclusive Jewish literary culture for children.”
But the need for Honeycake from Caplan’s perspective wasn’t just about reflecting the racial and cultural diversity of the Jewish community or subverting traditional gender stereotypes, though those things are certainly a part of it. The other part is simply better writing and better storytelling.
Caplan, a comparative literature major at Harvard, knows good writing when she sees it; she also knows bad writing when she sees it.
“Jewish children’s literature sometimes tends to lapse into these kind of didactic picture books that are sort of simplistic, where the Jewish elements feel gimmicky. I wanted to do something where the Jewish aspects of the stories and poems felt like they came naturally as a part of the story and felt like something that was more complex and nuanced.”
Caplan is quick to point out that while traditional print media is struggling, children’s print media is not struggling in the same way.
That’s why Honeycake will not be available online, though it can be purchased online.
“That’s something that I wasn’t willing to compromise on,” Caplan said.
“(Being online) might have made the project more financially simple, but that was never an option for me.”