Once upon a time, Joel ben Izzy worked as a mime -- until he injured his hip in a car crash.
Then he became a storyteller who lost his voice.
"If I could market irony, I'd be rich," said the wry, rueful performer.
Ben Izzy -- who eventually regained his speech -- recounts the journey in a moving new book, "The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness" (Algonquin, $22.95). Woven into the memoir are 15 multicultural folk tales, including the Talmudic legend of how King Solomon achieved wisdom after temporarily losing his empire.
Scratch away at any Jew and you'll find a storyteller. The people of the book dream of spinning out personal memories and Old Country stories to a rapt circle of children. That's why the first-ever Jewish Children's Literature Conference, held in the fall at Sinai Temple through the auspices of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries and the Association of Jewish Libraries, attracted 125 eager attendees. Many were there specifically to grapple with the question: So you want to be a writer of children's books?