Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We're in the Chabad News

The Chabad Lubavitch Global Network website has a great article in their news section about the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin.

The piece is entitled "Award Winning Novel for Teens Based on Chabad Representatives." They've delved into Levitin's experiences as she created the novel, revealing that her own relationships with Chabad representatives in Bel Air, CA and Honolulu, HI greatly influenced her writing. Levitin herself became more Jewishly observant over time, and is in a good position to write about the Chabad lifestyle from both the insider and outsider points of view, bringing new understanding to readers. As the lubavitch.com article says:

Written for a wide-ranging audience, some passages that describe Marne’s relationship with teenage boys may be deemed be too risqué for reading in homes where value is placed on reserving intimacy for marriage. Levitin said she wrote the book for teens unfamiliar or wary of people dressed in Chasidic

“The next time they see someone in a hat and coat, and girls bundled up in the heat, instead of being disdainful they should look beyond the external, and feel that they can connect,” Levitin said.

Levitin also describes the main character, Marne, as "me in a different incarnation. I know what it is like to be confused and look for my identity and search for G-d."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pen Pals

I just read the most incredible exchange of ideas between authors Markus Zusak and Susan Campbell Bartoletti at the PEN American Center website! Markus is the 2007 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner for The Book Thief, and Susan's book Hitler Youth was a 2006 AJL Notable Book.

The PEN American Center is an organization for writers, and it fosters "international literary fellowship." A new method for doing so is the PENPals program, in which they get children's and young adult authors to exchange e-mails. Markus and Susan were their first guinea pigs, and they've done a marvelous job.

The Book Thief is a powerful novel about ordinary Germans trying to live meaningful lives within the confines of the Third Reich. Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow is a sensitive nonfiction book that examines how young people's minds were trained to accept the Nazis' terrible ideas. Markus and Susan's common interest in WWII Germany led to a fascinating discussion of their research, their emotional reactions to the content they were dealing with, their writerly doubts, and more. They basically interview eachother, and seem to bond in the process.

Kudos to the PEN American Center for coming up with such an excellent program, and thanks to Markus and Susan for sharing their innermost thoughts with eachother and with the world!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kristina Swarner and Sarah Gershman

Here we see the lovely Kristina Swarner and Sarah Gershman, illustrator and author of The Bedtime Sh'ma, the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category. These charming ladies were at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Cleveland recently to receive their awards. They gave a wonderful presentation to a packed room, talking about the genesis of the book - Kristina even showed original artwork to the awed crowd!

The 2008 winners in the Older Readers and Teen categories were at the convention too. During the special celebration for the award's 40th anniversary, Sid Fleischman, whose Entertainer and the Dybbuk won for Older Readers, gave the luncheon keynote address and Sonia Levitin, whose Strange Relations won for teens, participated in a panel on teen fiction.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Announced

The Sydney Taylor Book Award has a sister award, the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award, which recognizes the best manuscript by an unpublished author for Judaic children's literature. The Manuscript Award was established by Sydney's husband, Ralph Taylor, because Sydney's own All-of-a-Kind Family series first came to light as the winner of a manuscript contest. Ralph knew how important it was to encourage writers, and that is what the Manuscript Award does. Several past winners of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award have gone on to be published, and some have even received further awards; think of Julia's Kitchen by Brenda Ferber, Night of the Burning by Linda Press Wulf, or A Pickpocket's Tale by Karen Schwabach.

Here is the press release announcing the most recent winner of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award!

2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award Announced

An Unpublished Gem
Margaret Chaiken has won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries for her unpublished novel Stealing the Show. The award is presented annually for the best unpublished manuscript of Jewish content written for children 8-11 years old. The winner receives a cash award of $1000.

This year's winner, Stealing the Show, is a historical novel. Ten-year-old Ana, upset that she cannot attend a soccer award dinner that falls on the evening of the first Passover seder, is transported back to 16th century Antwerp and a family of conversos. Through her experience of literally walking in someone else's shoes, Ana learns to appreciate Judaism and understand the importance of one's convictions. A meeting with historical figure of Dona Gracia Nasi and the perils of the Inquisition bring excitement to the story.

Chaikin was inspired to write her novel while teaching fourth grade at Park East Day School in New York. She wanted to convey the story of Dona Gracia Nasi's exciting life to her students, but found nothing suitable.

She decided to write her own book, using historical fiction as her vehicle. Aileen Grossberg, chair of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Committee, says "The time travel that forms the framework of the novel will immediately draw the reader into the story, and the tense situations that the characters face will make the reader want to find out what happens. The Committee was overjoyed to find such a wonderful historical story brought to light for modern readers!"

More Info Available
The Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award will be presented at the annual convention of the Association of Jewish Libraries this June in Cleveland, Ohio. Submissions for next year's Manuscript Award are being accepted through December 15, 2008; more information is available at www.jewishlibraries.org/ajlweb/awards/st_ms.htm.

AJL Convention Article Mentions Sydney Taylor Book Award

The Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention starts this Sunday, June 22, 2008! It's taking place in Cleveland, OH, and today's Cleveland Jewish News ran a great article about the gathering. The article mentions the Sydney Taylor Book Award by name:

“The convention allows me to meet and brainstorm with my colleagues from around the world,” says librarian Wendy Wasman, convention co-chair. “We are also able to promote Jewish authors and advance Jewish literature through our two internationally recognized awards n the Sydney Taylor Book Award (best in Jewish children’s literature) and our reference award for scholarly materials.”

The article also mentions the post-conference being held in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Book Award:

New this year is a post-convention day limited to 100 participants called “A Celebration of Jewish Children’s Literature.” The day will include study sessions and book signings by noted authors of Jewish children’s literature.
If you'd like to follow the convention as it unfolds, check out the convention blog at ajlcleveland2008.blogspot.com. Please be sure to post comments, and to use the tag "ajlcleveland2008" if you participate in any social media stuff related to the convention!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Always Prayer Shawl on the Slush Pile

I just came across this very interesting tidbit: did you know that the amazing 1994 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner The Always Prayer Shawl was an unsolicited submission? I happened to find a Brodart newsletter that explains this history:

For Boyds Mills Press's The Always Prayer Shawl, by the late Sheldon Oberman, the story's rich cultural and religious focus told in powerful prose landed the book in the hands of esteemed reviewers. The children's picture book won the Sydney Taylor Award (1994) and National Jewish Book Award (1994), among others, and made the ALA Booklist's "Best Books Of The Year" list (1994).

Boyds Mills Press, tucked away in Honesdale, PA, publishes about 50 children's books each year, including picture books, fiction, nonfiction, activity books, poetry and paperback reprints. Citing a goal of publishing "good stories with lasting value," Editorial Director Larry Rosler described the unsolicited manuscript of The Always Prayer Shawl as powerful and simply outstanding. Once the book was ready for release, promotions were targeted to a specific market-religious and cultural communities-using mailers, and the book was included in the company's catalog. "The awards, of course, brought a lot more attention to the picture book once it was released," said Rosler.

"Regardless of our size, we do what all good publishers do-cultivate relationships with our authors," explained Rosler. Following The Always Prayer Shawl, Boyds Mills Press published two more titles by Sheldon Oberman: By The Hanukkah Light and The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba, which also received a Sydney Taylor Award (2000). A collection of Jewish folktales retold by Sheldon Oberman is forthcoming.

Making sure the story comes first, Boyds Mills Press, like many other small publishers, is able to select works that fit their genre rather than fill a market need or succumb to publishing trends. In the end it's the story's value and quality, or simply its hilarity and appeal that propels it to stardom.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Shiny Gold Buttons

Whew, what a weekend! I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Book Expo America in LA, trekking up and down the aisles to hand out Sydney Taylor Book Award media kits to publishers and to investigate the newest in Jewish lit.

I also gave out shiny gold Sydney Taylor Book Award lapel pins. You can see one on my name badge in this picture - I'm on the right. With me are (left) uberlibrarian Etta Gold, and (middle) uberblogger/author/STBA-committee-member Barbara Bietz. The pins were a new addition this year to our Sydney Taylor marketing efforts and people seemed to like them - they are awfully gold and shiny!

Thanks goodness Barbara took one picture because I left my camera at the hotel and just concentrated on getting as many audio interviews as I could. After introducing myself and inquiring about a publisher's forthcoming Jewish titles, I handed them a media kit and then stuck a microphone in their face. I made a lot of people nervous, so I want to thank everyone for being such good sports about being recorded. The audio will be posted on my podcast, The Book of Life, within the next few weeks. Stay tuned to find out about the newest of the new in Jewish lit for kids and for adults! Maybe one of the books I found will even turn out to be the next winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

See You at Book Expo!

I will be attending Book Expo America 2008 in Los Angeles, to promote the Sydney Taylor Book Award and to record material for my podcast, The Book of Life.

I will be wandering the exhibit hall, giving Sydney Taylor Book Award media kits to publishers and inquiring about potentially eligible new books. If you are a publisher, librarian, bookseller, blogger, author, or anyone with an interest in Judaic literature for kids and teens, I would be glad to meet up with you to share info about the award, and to give you a shiny gold Sydney Taylor Book Award lapel pin!

If YOU will be at Book Expo, drop me a line at bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com!

Click the play button to hear about Heidi's plans for Book Expo:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

40th Anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Book Award

A press release from the Association of Jewish Libraries:

Association of Jewish Libraries Post-Conference Brings Speakers, Authors

A Jewish Literary Milestone

Cleveland, OH - May 2008 - The Sydney Taylor Book Award, established in 1968 by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), commemorates its fortieth anniversary this year. Authors, publishers, and librarians will gather to celebrate Taylor's legacy during the Association's annual convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Named in memory of Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, the Sydney Taylor Book Award recognizes the best in Judaic literature for children and teens. Medals are awarded annually for outstanding books that authentically portray the Jewish experience.

Celebration Planned

The celebration will kick off on the evening of Tuesday, June 24 with the presentation of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Awards during the convention's annual banquet. Winners Sonia Levitin (Strange Relations), Sid Fleischman (The Entertainer and the Dybbuk), and Sarah Gershman and Kristina Swarner (The Bedtime Sh'ma) will be honored at the banquet. Honor Award winners will also be recognized. A full-day program on Wednesday, June 25 includes panels on the history of Jewish children's literature, teen fiction, picture books, illustrated non-fiction, trends in publishing, and a keynote address by Sid Fleischman. A book signing and dessert reception will conclude the festivities.

More Info Available

Organizer Rachel Kamin says "Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family books changed the way American readers viewed Jewish literature. Readers of all backgrounds embraced these characters, and continue to connect with the Jewish characters in our award-winning books. It's so exciting to have reached the forty year milestone, and we look forward to another forty years of top quality Jewish literature!"

Click here for a full-color PDF listing of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners. Additional information about the award and the celebration may be found at www.jewishlibraries.org, or contact Rachel Kamin at rachel@sydneytaylorbookaward.org.

Authors who will be at the celebration include:

Deborah DaCosta
Sid Fleischman
Evelyn Freeman
Sarah Gershman
Deborah Heiligman
Sarah Lamstein
Sonia Levitin
Carol Matas
Christos Nicola
Hara Person
Margo Rabb
Dina Rosenfeld
William Rubin
Linda Silver
Rita Soltan
Kristina Swarner
Jane Breskin Zalben

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Those Shiny Gold and Silver Stickers

At the synagogue preschool where I serve as librarian, we have a special springtime tradition. Each year, we give all graduating Pre-K children the gift of a hardcover Jewish book. The idea is to jump-start or add to their own personal Jewish home libraries with high-quality titles. We also hope the gift will encourage them to continue their Jewish involvement beyond preschool.

This year we'll be giving the children their own copies of The Bedtime Sh'ma by Sarah Gershman, the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner. We don't always choose the Sydney Taylor winner as our gift book - some years the winner isn't the right reading level for Pre-K kids. For instance, last year's Sydney Taylor winner in the Younger Readers Category was Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, too long and complex for Pre-K. Instead, we gave our kids Much, Much Better by Chaim Kosofsky, which had been a 2007 AJL Notable Book.

I ordered plenty of copies of The Bedtime Sh'ma, and when I opened the boxes I was so very, very pleased to see that the Sydney Taylor Book Award gold seals were already on the covers! Thanks, EKS Publishing! This may not sound like a big deal, but you would be surprised at how few publishers add book award seals to their books. It's a task that must be done by hand, and publishers sometimes have to pay a service to add the seals for them. I've even heard of publishers creating policies that restrict their use of seals to the best-known ALA awards (Caldecott, Newbery, etc.), just to simplify their lives and keep expenses down!

Of course, the publishing house is not the only place where books can receive the seals that are their due. The Association of Jewish Libraries sells Sydney Taylor Book Award seals so that librarians, booksellers, or other individuals can add them to the books at any time.

AJL also offers digital images of the gold and silver Sydney Taylor medals, so that publishers can simply add an image of the seal to the cover of a winner that is being reprinted. For example, here's the paperback edition of Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass, the 2005 winner in the Older Readers Category, with the seal imprinted right on it. This is an easy and cheap way to give winning books the credit they deserve!

If you need images of the gold or silver seals, here they are! Publishers, please use them on your books or your publicity materials. Anyone is welcome to use them on websites or blogs, booklists, posters, flyers... anything that helps spread the word about these terrific books! These are JPG's, but there are TIFF's available too at the AJL website.

Thanks again to EKS for taking the initiative to put medals onto their books! I can't wait to give them to the kids!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kar-Ben Featured on Cynsations

What would we do without Kar-Ben Publishing? This specialty publisher creates Jewish early childhood books without which the shelves in my preschool library would be almost empty. Since the 1970's, Kar-Ben has been an important force in the creation of Jewish books for young children.

Founders Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler created the company from scratch and wrote many of the early titles themselves. They filled a need, and the company flourished. In 2001 they sold the company to Lerner, having published over 150 Jewish children's books. Under Lerner, Kar-Ben continues as imprint that specializes in Judaica, and has expanded to include books for older children as well as early childhood.

The Association of Jewish Libraries awarded Judye and Madeline a Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award for their contributions to the genre of Jewish children's literature. This award usually goes to a prolific author, but Kar-Ben has played a unique role in helping to expand the body of literature available. As they transitioned to Lerner, AJL felt it was appropriate to mark the occasion with special recognition.

You can read an extensive interview with Judye Groner, which includes descriptions of many recent Kar-Ben titles, on the Cynsations blog. Children's and YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith has been blogging since 2004 with a variety of kidlit reviews, literary news, and interviews. It's a great blog for keeping up with happenings in the kidlit world. Thanks to Cynthia for helping to promote Jewish kids' publishing too!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Look Inside Bagels From Benny

Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Dusan Petricic won the 2003 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers Category. Now you can read the entire book online, thanks to Lookybook.com. They are adding free online picture books all the time, and Bagels from Benny is one of the new entries in their Judaica category.

As Lookybook says:

Benny loves to help out at his grandpa’s bakery in the morning, and the customers love the crusty bagels with their soft insides. When Grandpa explains to Benny that God, not him, should be thanked for the wonderful bagels, Benny sets out to do just that. He decides to leave God a bagful of bagels in the synagogue at the end of each week. And each week God eats the bagels — or so Benny thinks … Lovingly told, Bagels from Benny explores the values of caring and sharing, building a strong sense of community and finding joy in giving thanks.

A reading guide for Bagels from Benny is available from the PJ Library.

The story is based on the old Jewish legend about the loaves in the ark. A more traditional retelling, which was also an AJL Notable Book, is In God's Hands by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt, illustrated by Matthew J. Baek. Click here for the publisher's description and for a link to sample pages.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hana's Suitcase

Having just reviewed Rutka's Notebook for School Library Journal, my mind turns to other Holocaust narratives I have read. One of the best was Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine, the 2002 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category.

"Hana's Suitcase" was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio documentary before it was a book. Originally broadcast on January 21, 2001 on The Sunday Edition,
it was produced by Karen Levine, who later became the book's author. It was recognized right away as remarkable storytelling, winning a gold medal at the 2001 New York Festival. The audio can still be heard at the CBC web site.

It's a multilayered story. One the one hand, we have an old suitcase in a Japanese Holocaust museum, with the name "Hana Brady" painted on it. On the other hand, we have the story of what happened to Hana and why her suitcase was left behind. Tying these two threads together is the story of museum director Fumiko Ishioka's globe-trotting detective work to learn about the suitcase's owner. The search led her to Europe and ultimately to Canada, where she found Hana's surviving brother, George.

Intriguing, touching, and ultimately hopeful, the story has attracted attention in all its formats. In 2002, the book version was published by Second Story Press. It won fourteen awards: Jewish awards, Canadian awards, reader-selected awards... and the list goes on.

The story has been produced as a play across Canada and the United States, and the complete script is available in the book Hana's Suitcase on Stage.

A beautiful web site has been produced by the Brady family, which includes additional background information about Hana and her life with brother George. You can even see a silent home movie of the family from 1938!

In a fascinating twist, it was later discovered that the suitcase in the Tokyo museum was actually a replica. Wikipedia explains:
In February 2004, Lara Brady, Hana's niece, discovered inconsistencies between the suitcase on display and the suitcase pictured with Hana's friend after the war in the 1960's. Not only did the physical suitcase appear newer than in the photographs, but the location of the handle was also reversed. In March, Fumiko and George Brady inquired about the suitcase with the director of the Auschwitz museum, who explained that a replica had been created based on the pictures after the original suitcase was destroyed in a fire in 1984. This fire was likely caused by arson (according to the director and police at the time) while on loan to an English exhibit in Birmingham. As the museum personnel omitted this fact when they loaned it to the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center, the fact that the suitcase was a replica had gone unnoticed for several years. The family and the Center assert that even as such, the replica's contribution to the cause of human rights and peace education is not lessened by its lack of authenticity.
So many Holocaust books are published each year that the subject can start to feel overdone. This book is one of the standouts: fresh, well-researched, emotionally engaging, and inspiring.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Two Gold Medalists Speak!

Barbara Bietz, a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, has interviewed2007 STBA medalist Brenda Ferber (Julia's Kitchen) and 2008 STBA medalist Sid Fleischman (The Entertainer and the Dybbuk) for her blog! Both authors took the gold in the Older Readers Category. A highlight from each interview:


Barbara: Tell me a little bit about your latest book. Why you were drawn to write about a Jewish theme or character?

Brenda: JULIA’S KITCHEN is about an 11-year-old Jewish girl finding hope and resiliency after her mom and sister die in a house fire. My initial inspiration was to write about grief, about coping in life when the worst possible thing happens. I was interested in the relationship people have with God when tragedy strikes. So often, people thank God for all their blessings in life, but does that then mean God is to blame when something awful happens? That was the question I explored in JULIA’S KITCHEN. Because I’m Jewish, it was natural for me to write about a Jewish character and to have a Jewish perspective on God’s role in our lives.

Click here to read the entire interview with Brenda!


Barbara: The concept of a dybbuk might be unfamiliar to kids. How have readers responded to this aspect of the story?

Sid: Yes, even among Jews, I have found only spotty familiarity. But they respond immediately and with fascination when the dybbuk is explained. Kids, especially, to discover there is a well-defined Jewish ghost lurking about. From mail I have received so far, kids especially are enchanted with Avrom, the dybbuk in the novel, and particularly the ending when he tricks the villain into confessing.

Click here to read the entire interview with Sid!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

STBA Winner Lauded in New Zealand

Creating Readers, a blog run by staff at the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, exists to help create motivated and engaged young readers. They cover children's and YA literature (especially from New Zealand), literacy research, and ways to get, and keep, kids reading.

They recently reviewed Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass, the 2004 Sydney Taylor Book Award gold medalist in the Older Readers Category. Here's what reviewer Janice Rodrigues said:

You probably hear about the complexities of the Israel-Palestinian situation almost every week on the news. Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass is a frighteningly real minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day depiction of how quickly lives can change by acts of terrorism.

The story is set in contemporary Israel. The book is strung together through narrations by Thomas, a German boy on a mission to find out more about his grandfather, Vera, a Jewish girl trying to escape her distressing past, Baruch, a Holocaust survivor working on a kibbutz, Sameh, a Palestinian boy on an assignment and his friend Omar, Dr Ibrahim Stitti, a Palestinian doctor working in a hospital in Israel and Clive Burleigh, a Middle East news correspondent.

The format of the book is brilliant as it sets the pace for the events that unfold. The author Pnina Moed Kass says in her interview that writing this book seemed to be her only act of release from feelings of overwhelming sadness, bitterness and incomprehension.

This book was the winner of the 2004 Sydney Taylor Award. Read this book and get a feel for the effects of terrorism from different points of view.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Amazon Listmania

If you're a regular browser or shopper at Amazon.com, you may have noticed many Listmania lists of Sydney Taylor Book Award winners. The chair of the awards committee usually puts up a list soon after the winners are announced... but some eager readers can't wait that long! "Unofficial" Sydney Taylor Listmania's include:

Sydney Taylor Lives On--In Book Awards, 1993-2004, a list by Sherry York, librarian, reviewer and author from Ruidoso, NM

Lists of Award Winners and Notables from 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jennifer Wardrip, owner and operator of the site TeensReadToo.com

Sydney Taylor Book Awards 2008 a list by Anatidae Ling, a reader, parent and librarian in Pittsburgh, PA

There's also an All-of-a-Kind Family list by J. Nichols of Arvada, CO

Beyond Sydney Taylor-related items, there are a number of Listmania's for Jewish children's literature and even for music:

Jewish Children's CDs with (at least some) songs in English, a list by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom in Minnesota

My Favorite Jewish Children's Books, a list by Rabbi Fred Greene in Atlanta, GA

Great Jewish Children's Books, a list by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer in Highwood, IL

Jewish Children's Books, Grades 5-10, a list by parent Steven R. Eisen

Children's Books and My Jewish Heritage, a list by Mr. Dave K., a librarian in Boston, MA

Time to go shopping!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reading Guide for "Confessions"

Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman was the Sydney Taylor Book Award gold medalist for Older Readers in 2006. Despite the funky title, it is totally a Jewish book, featuring a girl who explores her spirituality in a way not often seen in kidlit.
I found a great reading guide for Confessions online. It's by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, author of Reaching for the Sun (a Schneider Family Book Award winner), and writer of over 200 reading guides for other books.

The reading guide includes:
  • author interview ("The book is hilarious! How did you develop your comedic writing?")

  • comprehension questions ("Who is Bubbe? What happens over the course of the novel to Bubbe?")

  • discussion questions (" “I decided if my family was going to make fun of me for trying to be Jewish, I might try something else.” (p. 6) What spurs this decision? Would you be tempted to do the same thing? Why or why not?")

  • projects related to different curricular areas ("Music: Listen to at least one piece of music from the religion that you’re assigned. What does it celebrate? What types of instruments are used?")
This reading guide is great for teachers, book clubs, or for helping librarians come up with booktalking materials!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The View from Down Under

Bookawardsonline.com is project born out of Kevin Parker's passion for fine literature. It is his personal goal to publicize books that receive recognition from literary peers and that deserve to be widely read. Kevin lives in Australia, and his web site is international in scope, covering news, longlists, shortlists, winners, and reviews from around the English-speaking world.

Kevin wrote a beautiful article about the Sydney Taylor Book Awards in general and about the 2008 winners at www.bookawardsonline.com/sydneytaylor.html. He also included an extremely cool Amazon widget that displays all the books and allows you to click-and-buy.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is included amidst such wonderful awards as the Kate Greenaway, the Golden Kite, the Cybils, the Americas, and of course those familiar ALA awards. Thanks so much to Kevin for including us!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Multimedia and the Dybbuk

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, this year's Sydney Taylor gold medalist in the Older Readers' Category, is getting a lot of techno-attention. Have you noticed the widget at the bottom of our right-hand menu bar? HarperCollins offers a "browse inside" widget for this title!

I also found a very funky audio review of this title at Revish, the book review site. Along with the text of a very nice review by RJ McGill (blogger at 3Rs Reading Den), there's a flash player that reads the review aloud. The thing is, I think it's a robot doing the reading. The words have that unconnected, pre-recorded sound to them, and "dybbuk" is incorrectly pronounced as "DIE-bock." (For the correct pronunciation, click here and then click "Hear it.") Even funkier, the robot has an accent that sounds sort of Scottish to me. And when I clicked on the player, which is provided by ReadSpeaker, it took me to a foreign-language page of the service that, in my ignorance, I'm guessing is a Scandinavian language.

I took a look at ReadSpeaker, and found that it is an online service for speech-enabling website content. What an interesting idea!
The Mission of ReadSpeaker is to make the "miracle of the Internet" accessible for dyslexics, people with learning disabilities, low literacy level, people with English as a second language, elderly with impaired vision and others that like to listen as well as read.
I thought that was pretty cool. Almost as cool as possession by a spirit of the dead!

Monday, January 28, 2008

All-of-a-Kind Audiobook

Listen & Live produces a wide variety of audiobooks, including several titles in the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. The unabridged cassette or CD recordings are narrated by Suzanne Toren (pictured on the right), who has appeared on Broadway, on TV (including "Law & Order"), and was named Narrator of the Year for the talking books she created for the visually impaired. You can also get All-of-a-Kind Family as an audio download from Top Audiobook Downloads.

You can even play an audio sample to try it out!

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Message from Ann Koffsky

My Cousin Tamar Lives in Israel by Michelle Shapiro Abraham and illustrated by Ann Koffsky was named a 2008 Notable Children's Book of Jewish Content by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. Illustrator Ann Koffsky (who I interviewed in December 2007 for my podcast, The Book of Life) emailed me to tell me she just got a little bit more famous!

Hi, Heidi!

I've been enjoying following your blog. I feel very connected and clued in on the Jewish book world!

I noticed you've been keeping track of some of the Sydney Taylor articles, so I thought I would add this one to your list.

My local tiny paper did a piece on me that you can see here: www.thejewishstar.com.

All the best!


Ann D. Koffsky Illustration

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Blog Carnival of Children's Book Awards

We're on Wizards Wireless! This blog hosted a Carnival of Children's Books this month on the theme of children's book awards, and our post "Chocolate Babies" was included.

What is a blog carnival, you ask? Here's a good definition from the blog Chicken Spaghetti:
A "carnival" takes place at one blog; it is a conglomeration of links (from many different blogs) to posts on a certain theme. Children's books and reading are the focus of the Carnival of Children's Literature. Carnivals generally include one post from each blog who wants to join in.
The carnival at Wizards Wireless had posts about the Cybils (an award whose winners are chosen by kidlit bloggers) and ALA's awards (ye olde Newbery, Caldecott, etc.). Our post was included in the category "Other Awards," which also linked to awards focusing on African-American literature, ethnic diversity, Librarian's Choice lists, the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award (selected by kids in Illinois), the Gryphon Award for transitional books, state/regional awards, and a post from the author of To Fly, The Story of the Wright Brothers, about the experience of winning a Boston Globe/Horn Book honor. The Carnival also has links for "Books Worthy of Awards," "Thoughts About Awards" and "Blogger Awards."

Thanks for including us, Wizards Wireless!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chocolate Babies

Remember the chapter in All-of-a-Kind Family when Charlotte and Gertie buy penny candy and sneak it into bed to nibble at night?
When they reached the candy store, the two little girls stood before the glass cases so full of chewy and sucking delights and could not make up their minds. It was most important that they get something exactly right for tonight's fun in bed. It was hard to choose when everything looked so tempting.
That's how I felt when I joined the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries, which just happens to be named in memory of the author of All-of-a-Kind Family. I was like a kid in a candy store, faced with overloaded shelves of literary delights.

Like Charlotte and Gertie, who finally settle upon chocolate babies as their top choice, I enjoyed the process of discussion and selection. For most of the year, we read and review 100+ Judaic kids' and YA books on our own. Around December, the real fun begins! That's when we begin a vigorous e-mail discussion about the merits and flaws of our contenders, about kid-appeal, about age appropriateness, and about the very definition of Jewish literature. A certain title may be both loved and hated by committee members, while others inspire complete accord. We play a balancing game between championing our favorite books, being sensitive to each other's opinions, and trying to choose titles that we will all feel proud to promote to readers as authentically representing the Jewish experience.

Some of the roadblocks that we've faced time and again on this committee are:
  • the preponderance of Holocaust-related middle-grade literature and the dearth of contemporary Judaic themes for young readers
  • a tendency among writers to project backwards, giving their modern child characters grandparents like those we remember, instead of like the grandparents of today (i.e. too many immigrant or Yiddish-speaking grandparents)
  • too few Judaic books for really young children, and especially too few non-holiday picture books
Despite these patterns, we do find that Jewish publishing has been growing and expanding in exciting ways! With multiculturalism an established value, mainstream publishers are now happy to put their considerable editorial and design skills behind Judaic titles, creating top quality books in this genre. Jewish presses are emboldened to be adventurous in theme and format.

In fact, this year's Sydney Taylor Book Award winners represent a mix of these trends. The winner in the Younger Readers' Category, The Bedtime Sh'ma, was published by EKS Publishing Co., a small press that specializes in books and materials for mastering Classical Hebrew, and this lovely, meditative title is accompanied by a companion CD. The winner in the Older Readers' Category, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk published by HarperCollins, is more traditional for our award: a Holocaust-related novel by a large publisher. Yet author Sid Fleischman's creativity raises the story above the ordinary by using ghosts, possession, and revenge and mixing these themes with humor! The winner in the Teen Readers' Category, Strange Relations published by Knopf, bucks the historical fiction trend by presenting us with a contemporary story that dares to address the relations between observant and non-observant Jews. The uniqueness of each of these books shows us that, despite some stumbling blocks, Judaic youth literature is continuing to push the boundaries.

So, here's to our chocolate babies, the winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards! May you get more delicious every year!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Notes from Nyssaneala

Over at Nyssaneala's blog Book Haven, there's a post listing all the Sydney Taylor winners, followed by some interesting comments. Thought you might like to see how folks are responding to the award, and perhaps check out their blogs as well!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...
Holy heck, I've never heard of these awards! I'd better get busy making notes of titles and authors and figuring out how much money I can spend on yet more books...At least if I run out of room here at home, I can donate them to the Temple and visit them there.

Nyssaneala said...
susan - I'm glad I could enlighten you! I only learned about the award a month ago when I read a picture book that won the award. I will be getting a book each week from the library off of this list to read to my daughter. I hope to review many of those books here.

Since Judaism is still new to me (my hubby is Jewish, and we are raising our daughter Jewish), Jewish children's lit is a whole undiscovered literary delight!

gautami tripathy said...
You are going to make me bankrupt! As a school teacher, I do not earn much either!BTW, I added you to my blogroll.

Kathe said...
This years marks the 40th anniversary of the book award presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries. I've just written an article about how many of these books have also been recognized with Newbery and Caldecott Honors. I am spending the year reading previous winners. You can see the lists of them at www.sydneytaylorbookaward.org.

Kathe Pinchuck, Chair
Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
Association of Jewish Libraries

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Kudos for Chicken Soup by Heart

The 2003 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner for Younger Readers was Chicken Soup by Heart by Esther Hershenhorn, and it has stood the test of time. It was just featured as a favorite book on the blog of Scholastic.com in their Parents section. The blogger, Els Kushner (aka "Librarian Mom"), describes cuddling with her sick daughter and reading to her, then goes on to list books having to do with feeling sick.

...a couple of my favorite picture books about illness:

Chicken Soup by Heart, by Esther Hershenhorn, ill. by Roseanne Litzinger. Rudie Dinkins’s sitter, Mrs. Gittel, always knows just how to take care of him when he has a “Rudie Dinkins chest cold.” But now Mrs. Gittel has the flu herself. With his mom’s help. Rudie fixes up a batch of special chicken soup, mixed in with stories and memories.

This is one of those rare and special books that you have to read aloud to truly appreciate. When I skimmed through this book silently, I liked the illustrations but the text didn’t jump out at me. But when I read it to a class, the words sang, and I understood why it won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 2003. A warm and sweet treat.

For the full post, listing various other titles about illness, click here.

Honoree Sarah Lamstein Interviewed

Sarah Lamstein, author of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Honor Book Letter on the Wind, has been interviewed on the blog of Barbara Bietz, author, blogger, and incoming member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. Barbara asked Sarah what it was like to receive the award:

Congratulations on the Sydney Taylor Book Award! How did you hear the news?

I received a very tantalizing email from Rachel Kamin, the chair of the Sydney Taylor Award committee asking me to call her. I did and was thrilled to hear that Letter on the Wind was selected as an Honor book. I was glad I could directly hear her enthusiasm for the work of her committee and that I could convey my excitement to her. It was great!!

For the full interview, click here!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Blog Coverage

We've been getting some good coverage on the blogs for the news about the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners. Here's a sampling:

Little Willow

Book Buds

Becky's Book Reviews

Blog from the Windowsill

Barbara Bietz's Book Blog

Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Fortress of Solitude


Bookshelves of Doom

Jewish Literary Review

The Jewish Literature Challenge (well, ok, that was me)

The Book of Life (that was me too)

School Library Journal's Extra Helping - not a blog, but an e-newsletter... still, how cool is that, getting an immediate write-up from SLJ?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award Video

This YouTube video gives you a brief overview of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award gold medalists, with some terrific background music from Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi. Feel free to embed at will!

Full List of 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners

Winners, Honors & Notable Books

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers:
The Bedtime Sh'ma: A Good Night Book by Sarah Gershman with illustrations by Kristina Swarner (EKS Publishing)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers:
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers:
Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin (Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)

Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winners for Younger Readers:

  • The Castle on Hester Street by Linda Heller with illustrations by Boris Kulikov (Simon & Schuster)
  • Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale by Sarah Marwil Lamstein with illustrations by Neil Waldman (Boyds Mills Press)
  • Light by Jane Breskin Zalben (Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)

    Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winners for Older Readers:
  • The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story by Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola (Kar-Ben)
  • Holocaust: The Events and Their Impact on Real People by Angela Gluck Wood
    with consulting by Dan Stone (DK Publishing in association with USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education)

    Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Teen Readers:
    Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Mirjam Pressler, translated by Erik J. Macki (Front Street/ Boyds Mills Press)

    Notable Books for Younger Readers:
  • My Cousin Tamar Lives in Israel by Michelle Shapiro Abraham with illustrations by Ann Koffsky (URJ Press)
  • A Nickel, a Trolley, a Treasure House by Sharon Reiss Baker with illustrations by Beth Peck (Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Shuli and Me: From Slavery to Freedom by Joan Benjamin-Farren (Black Jasmine)
  • Papa Jethro by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Jane Dippold (Kar-Ben)
  • Hanukkah Moon by Deborah da Costa with illustrations by Gosia Mosz (Kar-Ben)
  • Celebrate Passover with Matzah, Maror and Memories by Deborah Heiligman (National Geographic)
  • Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with Honey, Prayers and the Shofar by Deborah Heiligman (National Geographic)
  • Five Little Gefiltes by Dave Horowitz (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Mendel’s Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Johanna Van Der Sterre (Kar-Ben)
  • Abraham’s Search for God by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano (Kar-Ben)
  • A Mezuzah on the Door by Amy Meltzer with illustrations by Janice Fried (Kar-Ben)
  • Ten Good Rules: A Counting Book by Susan Remick Topek with photographs by Tod Cohen (Kar-Ben)

    Notable Books for Older Readers:
  • Out of Line: Growing Up Soviet by Tina Grimberg (Tundra)
  • A Picture for Marc by Eric Kimmel with illustrations by Matthew Trueman (Random House Children’s Books)
  • Anne Frank: The Young Writer Who Told the World Her Story by Ann Kramer (National Geographic)
  • The Silver Cup by Constance Leeds (Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Passover Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig with illustrations by Elizabeth Wolf (Kar-Ben)
  • The Whirlwind by Carol Matas (Orca)
  • Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg by Rebecca O'Connell with illustrations by Majella Lue Sue (Roaring Brook Press)
  • All Star Season by Tovah Yavin (Kar-Ben)

    Notable Books for Teens:
  • How to Ruin My Teenage Life by Simone Elkeles (Flux)
  • Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
  • Hidden on the Mountain: Stories of Children Sheltered from the Nazis in Le Chambon by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix (Holiday House)
  • Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel by Marv Wolfman, Mario Ruiz and William J. Rubin (Nachshon Press)

  • The 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Awards! - Press Release


    (Chicago—January 7, 2008) Sarah Gershman and Kristina Swarner, author and illustrator of The Bedtime Sh’ma: A Good Night Book, Sid Fleischman, author of The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, and Sonia Levitin, author of Strange Relations, are the 2008 winners of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award.

    The Sydney Taylor Book Award of the Association of Jewish Libraries honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Cleveland, Ohio this June at a special ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the award.

    Gershman and Swarner will receive the 2008 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Younger Readers Category for The Bedtime Sh’ma: A Good Night Book, published by EKS Publishing. With accessible language, this book helps young children understand the meaning and concepts of the Sh’ma prayers. The stunning artwork matches the mood of the text, and the words of the prayer (in Hebrew, English, and transliteration) are beautifully integrated into double spread illustrations. “The soothing and soulful voice of Rabbi Julia Adelman on the included CD will lull the listener to sleep with sweet dreams,” adds Kathy Bloomfield, a member of the Award Committee. The book is recommended for children up to grade 2.

    Fleischman will receive the 2008 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Older Readers Category for The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books. When the spirit of a 12-year old Jewish boy, murdered by the Nazis, possesses the body of an American GI traveling through Europe as a second-rate ventriloquist, the pair is able to unmask the Nazi responsible. “Fleischman’s knowledge of ventriloquism and senses of humor and humanity craft an imaginative and haunting story, and although all the action takes place after the war, the sense of loss and tragedy echo through the book,” comments Kathe Pinchuck, incoming Chair of the Award Committee. “Wry humor adds dimension to the characters and suspense accelerates the pace.” The book is recommended for grades 6-8.

    Levitin will receive the 2008 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Teen Readers Category for Strange Relations, published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Fifteen-year-old Marne decides to spend the summer with her Aunt Carole in Hawaii. But, Aunt Carole is now Aunt Chaya, married to a Chabad Rabbi with seven children. What Marne anticipates will be a relaxing summer of jogging on the beach, surfing, sun tanning, and shopping turns out to be a summer of exploration, spirituality, and growth. “Levitin skillfully writes from the perspective of a contemporary teenager and realistically deals with issues such as drinking, drugs, sexuality, and peer pressure,” notes Rachel Kamin, Chair of the Award Committee. Levitin also won the 1987 Sydney Taylor Book Award for The Return and two honor awards for The Singing Mountain (1998) and Silver Days (1989).

    Six Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2008. For Younger Readers, Honor Books are: The Castle on Hester Street by Linda Heller with illustrations by Boris Kulikov (Simon & Schuster), Letter on the Wind by Sarah Lamstein with illustrations by Neil Waldman (Boyds Mills Press), and Light written and illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben (Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group). For Older Readers, the Honor Books are: Holocaust: The Events and Their Impact on Real People by Angela Gluck Wood with consulting by Dan Stone (DK Publishing in association with USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education) and The Secret of Preist’s Grotto by Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola (Kar-Ben). For Teen Readers, the
    Honor Book is Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Mirjam Pressler, translated from the German by Erik J. Macki (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press). It should be noted that The Castle on Hester Street won the Sydney Taylor Book Award when it was first published in 1982 by the Jewish Publication Society, and its Honor Award this year is due to Boris Kulikov’s new illustrations.

    In addition to the medal-winners, the Award Committee designated twenty-three Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2008: eleven in the Younger Readers Category, eight in the Older Readers Category, and four for Teens. Notable titles, and more information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, may be found online at www.SydneyTaylorBookAward.org. A special video announcement of the awards can also be accessed at www.youtube.com/SydneyTaylorAward.


    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Jen Robinson Reviews Julia's Kitchen

    The acclaimed Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page (and recent interviewee on Just One More Book) has posted a glowing review of Julia's Kitchen by Brenda Ferber, which was the 2007 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category. Jen, in fact, mentions the award and discusses the Jewish content of the story:

    Julia's Kitchen
    won the 2007 Sydney Taylor Book Award, which recognizes the best in Jewish children's literature. Cara's Jewishness is an essential part of the story. The community from their local Synagogue supports Cara and her father in their tragedy. They follow the Jewish customs of mourning. Cara analyzes her feelings about God, in light of the events. She misses the food-related rituals that her mother celebrated, and eventually learns from her grandmother how to make challah. The details about Cara's family's Jewish customs are organic to the story, never over-explained or feeling "educational". The funeral details, in particular, give Cara, and the reader, something to focus on besides sadness. Here's an example:

    "We weren't allowed to get any food for ourselves or help with the dishes or anything. Friends and relatives did it all. We didn't have to greet anyone or say thank you either. I liked those customs." (Page 24)

    For the full review, click here. And thanks to Jen for this lovely review!

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Markus Zusak Video

    Last year, the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in our new Teen Readers Category was Markus Zusak for The Book Thief. School Library Journal's Under Cover video series recently featured an interesting interview with Markus. Unfortunately, the video is not embeddable, but you can view it by clicking here.


    Last Year's Winner

    While you are waiting for the 2008 winners to be announced, here is a lovely post from the Young Readers blog about the 2007 Sydney Taylor Book Award winner (Older Readers Category), Julia's Kitchen by Brenda Ferber. Blogger Becky says:

    There are not enough words to describe how much I loved Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber. I enjoy much of what I read. I love many. But there are a few that touch my heart and I know that I'll always alwayslove. Julia's Kitchen is now one of them. It is the story of a young girl, Cara Segal, as she goes through a heartbreaking journey of grief and sorrow when her mother and sister die in a fire. When we first meet Cara she is happy and carefree. Having stayed overnight at a friend's house she is unaware that her life is forever changed. One phone call changes everything. Suddenly a happy family of four is a confused and grief-stricken family of two. Having been her mother's pet, the two liked to bake together, she is struggling trying to connect with her father emotionally. Her mother, Julia, owned her own catering business "Julia's Kitchen" and Cara loved helping her mother. Now she's vowed never to eat another dessert. Cara's journey of how she learns to live again, love again, believe in God again, and yes, even bake chocolate chip cookies again is unforgettably touching. And there is even a recipe for those cookies in the book!

    Award Announcements are Coming!

    On Monday, January 7, 2008, the newest batch of Sydney Taylor Book Award winners will be announced! How can you make sure you get the news?