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.

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