Author of Watch Out for Flying Kids! Cynthia Levinson's advice to our circus students
Cynthia Levinson worked for 25 years to make schools and teaching better for children, even as she penned short stories and articles, for and about young people, which have been published in children's magazines.
Cynthia, who is a proud mother and grandmother living in Austin, Texas, with legal scholar husband, Sandy, was already a successful author when she published her first book for young readers, We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. Having written about black civil rights in America, she now wanted to write about another social issue close to her heart: Arabs and Jews in Israel. After an initially unsuccessful search for a suitable project to write about, she was introduced to our Galilee Circus almost as an afterthought, as you will learn from the interview we recently carried out with her.
Watch Out for Flying Kids! was the result, about the cooperation between our Galilee Circus and St. Louis Circus Harmony. Many of the staff and kids were thrilled to be involved in Cynthia's research for the book, and have been equally excited to receive pre-publication copies last month. The book is beautiful and colorful, full of hope and emotion, a worthwhile read for children and adults alike, showing what may be achieved when two youth circuses come together and build trust – within and between them.
Watch Out for Flying Kids! will be published on August 1st 2015. You can pre-order your copy now through Indiebound or Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Cynthia has very kindly agreed that 10% of the profits made on the books be donated to us!
Cynthia also conducts writing workshops with children as well as giving workshops and presentations to adults on writing nonfiction for young readers. She continues to write nonfiction books and articles for and about young people, and still finds the time to read, cook, enjoy culture, garden, swim, do yoga and volunteer.
And she found time to answer our questions, which we hope will persuade you that her book, as well as our Circus, is worth supporting!
Q How did you first get to know about the Galilee Circus?
A In the summer of 2010, my husband and I were visiting Israel (he’s been involved with the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem), and I was looking for a coexistence project to write about involving Arab and Jewish kids. My previous (and first) book for young readers, We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, was about civil rights in Birmingham [Alabama] and focused on four young black marchers. Arabs and Jews seemed like the next natural subject! I hired a woman who works on these projects, and we visited several but I didn’t think they’d work for a children’s book. When I asked her about other possibilities, she said, “Well, there’s a circus.” Perfect! So, she took me to meet Marc [Rosenstein, then Executive Director] and to observe the Galilee Circus. That was the beginning.
Q What is it that makes what we do noteworthy for you and attracts your support?
A Bringing Arab and Jewish kids together through activities that promote trust and friendship are eminently worthy. I especially appreciate the Galilee Circus because the activities are kid-friendly; they focus on something other than the dialogue itself; and the disparities and lack of communication between Arab kids and Jewish kids are especially dramatic in the Western Galilee.
Q How did you get the idea for the book?
A It was the desire to write another book for kids about overcoming divides that took me to the circus. I had never heard of youth circus before and realized immediately that there was a story there—somewhere. It was through Marc that I learned of Jessica Hentoff’s program [Circus Harmony in St Louis, Missouri], which I visited that fall. However, I also visited three other youth circuses and kept in touch with my editor about them, not sure where the story was. She agreed to meet me in St. Louis when the Galilee Circus visited in 2012. On the spot, she offered to publish a book about the relationship between the two circuses, and we discussed which children to focus on.
Q What did you enjoy most about researching the book?
A Watching the kids, of course, both performing and just relaxing together! I also had fun trying out many of the tricks, including trapeze, lyra, juggling, mini-trampoline, globe, and tight wire. I failed at every single one—and have the videos to prove it!
Q What do you like most about Circus?
A I’ve become a huge fan of circus, which stuns my staid friends. So, there are many things I appreciate. The three top ones are (1) the lack of competition, (2) the openness to incorporate all kinds of new tricks, and (3) the world that circus creates. In regard to the first, Marc told me, “There are no losers here.” That’s so different from most youth sports programs. As for the second, one of the kids said, “If you can do it, we can put it in circus.” The standards in circus are very high but the outreach is very broad. And thirdly, Hala [another of the kids who features in the book] said, “Circus is really a different world—but for the people who are inside, not outside.” She meant that she can have Jewish friends inside circus. She said this when we were with her Aunt Salam, and we both got tear-y.
Q How often do you visit Israel?
A Irregularly. My family (my husband and I and our then- 11- and 14-year-old daughters) lived in Jerusalem for five months in 1984. We all went back, separately and together, a number of times over the next decade. Our younger daughter spent her junior year of college there. Then, I didn’t go for many years but went back three times in four years. I was deeply hoping to come last month to give [pre-publication copies of the] books to the people who are in it but the schedule didn’t work out.
Q What do you like most about Israel?
A It resonates.
Q What concerns you most about Israel?
A Truthfully, with extremists of all persuasions—Arab and Jewish—I fear it is a sinkhole. The Shakespearean tragic flaw that Ari Shavit writes about was unfortunately persuasive. And Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers is disturbing.
Q Where do you see hope for a peaceful future for all Israel’s citizens?
A I’m not sure there is hope for peace for ALL of Israel’s citizens because I’m not convinced that everyone wants peace in a consistent, palatable, and sustainable way. However, the Galilee Foundation [for Value Education], Hand in Hand schools, and other programs in which Arab and Jewish young people and adults work hard to succeed together can highlight the way.
Q If you could give one piece of advice to our circus participants, relevant to them whatever their background, what would it be?
A Remember the friendships you’ve made in circus forever, and keep them dear and near to you.
Thank you Cynthia, for your fascinating and insightful thoughts, and for your book, which we treasure, as we know our partners at Circus Harmony do.