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Ohio State professor, alum bring magic to children’s books

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Joshua Jay as a boy with a magic trick (left) and Michelle Herman with her daughter Grace (right) Credit: Courtesy of Joshua Jay and Michelle Herman

Joshua Jay as a boy with a magic trick (left) and Michelle Herman with her daughter Grace (right)
Credit: Courtesy of Joshua Jay and Michelle Herman

When Ohio State English professor Michelle Herman’s daughter, Grace, was 8 years old, they read “Little Women” together.

When magician Joshua Jay, an OSU alumnus, was 8 years old, his father showed him his first magic trick — but left it up to him to discover how it was done.

The influence of both, separate events led each of them to write a children’s book.

Herman and Jay will be reading their respective books, “A Girl’s Guide to Life” and “Big Magic for Little Hands,” at the Wexner Center for the Arts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, free to the public. Jay will also perform a magic show.

“My book was not a book I actually meant to write,” Herman said. While reading “Little Women” together, Herman said Grace was “outraged” that she didn’t give her a copy of “guide to life” like the mother in the book gave all her children.

“(Grace) said, ‘(The mother) couldn’t write her own. But you could!’” Herman said. “Since I never said ‘no’ to anything my daughter asked of me, I wrote her a very specific guide to life that addressed her problems.”

Some of the problems Herman addressed included how to share one’s favorite toys and how to deal with a best friend that’s a little too clingy.

Ten years later, when her daughter went off to college, Herman rediscovered the book.

“I saw this hand-stitched, beautifully put together, one-of-a-kind book, which I truly forgot I had written,” Herman said. “I read it over in amazement.”

Herman had previously published two novels, two essay collections, and a novella collection. She submitted the “guide to life” to her publisher, who suggested that Herman’s husband, painter Glen Holland, do the illustrations and Grace write an introduction.

“We’ve never done a family project before so it’s very sweet,” Herman said. “I’ve never had such a deep, emotional connection to a book of mine.”

Herman also formed connections with some of her students as well.

“Michelle was my favorite teacher when I was there,” Jay said. “We really connected.”

Jay, who graduated in 2005, was an English major at OSU and took several undergraduate English classes with Herman. She also allowed him to take graduate level courses she taught in literary fiction and publishing.

“It was great because that was the first time anyone encouraged me to take my writing to the next level,” Jay said.

During his time at OSU, Jay spent a lot of time traveling the world for magic shows.

“He was always traveling to Europe for a show, or New York, or L.A.,” Herman said. “But he never got less than an ‘A.’”

Jay also performed his magic for OSU’s then-President William English Kirwan and other dignitaries.

After graduation, Jay continued traveling the world and gaining popularity. The Society of American Magicians named him the 2012 Magician of the Year. He now runs a magic convention, Magi-Fest, which Jay said brings more than 900 magicians from around the world to Columbus.

Jay has written 13 books about magic, but the how-to “Big Magic for Little Hands” is his first book for children.

“It’s been a huge surprise,” Jay said. “I didn’t know if I could do it.”

After writing the first draft of “Big Magic,” Jay decided he wanted to revise it to target a younger audience and create a more visually driven book.

“Now it’s come full circle,” Jay said. “I’m writing a book for the next 8-year-old who wants to get started in magic.”

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