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:

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

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 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 A special video announcement of the awards can also be accessed at


    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?