Monday, December 05, 2016



Storyteller Joel Ben Izzy branches out from his live stage performances with this semi-autobiographical middle grade novel, Dreidels on the Brain, that takes place over the eight days of Hanukkah. You can read my review of the book in School Library Journal here. You can listen to Joel telling the story about an orange that inspired a key scene in this book on public radio's Snap Judgement here.

Listen carefully to the podcast to hear Joel's explanation of how you can win a copy of his CD Lights & Laughter: Joel Ben Izzy Spins Hanukkah Tales. When you've got the answer to his question, email him at joel@storypage.com.


Joel Ben Izzy, then and now

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST: Mp3




CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel 
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries   
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band   
Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast   
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
 
Support The Book of Life by becoming a patron at Patreon.com/bookoflife!

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com.


Saturday, December 03, 2016

#Readukkah: A Hanukkah with Mazel


I'm a sucker for animal stories so it was a given that Mazel the cat would appeal to me, but it seemed at first like a pretty typical historical fiction picture book. Some of the tropes here are old hat: a lonely person whose life is improved when a new pet wanders in, a poor person whose generosity is unexpectedly rewarded by a stranger, and so on. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing unique either. 

Then I came to the part where, lacking candles, Misha the artist paints a menorah and adds flames to the candles each night. When he runs out of yellow paint he keeps on going with fire of blue, orange, and red. I was inspired by his ongoing resourcefulness and creativity, his willingness to keep trying in the face of deprivation. While his paint supply does not miraculously increase, I did hear echoes of the Maccabees' perseverance and reward in Misha's story. That's the part that stands out for me, and that I'll remember long after I've forgotten about the cute kitty cat on the cover.

As to the art in this art-centric story, I enjoyed the contrast between the slightly cartoony shtetl scenes and Misha's Chagall-like paintings with their intense colors and blocky shapes. The sepia toned flashback to days gone by was a nice touch as well.

#Readukkah #JewLit


Thursday, December 01, 2016

#Readukkah: The Sundown Kid


I like to read while I eat breakfast, and this morning I choked up over my oatmeal while reading The Sundown Kid by my friend Barbara Bietz. This picture book nicely encapsulates the isolating experience of urban Jews who've moved to the wide open spaces of the American desert. Used to the hustle and bustle of the city and the proximity of family, Mama in particular feels lonely out west, where they are the only Jewish family in town. "Too much soup, not enough family," is her poignant refrain. Her son cleverly thinks outside the box by inviting friendly non-Jewish neighbors to Shabbat dinner, and Mama at last begins to feel at home. In these modern times of divisiveness, this is a hopeful story about cross-cultural acceptance that will be enjoyed by Jewish and non-Jewish readers. The illustrations by John Kanzler are also a real treat.

#Readukkah, #JewLit

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#Readukkah 2016


The Association of Jewish Libraries and the Jewish Book Council present the second annual reading challenge for readers of all ages, #Readukkah! To participate, all you have to do is read one #JewLit book and post your review to the event discussion board on Facebook—or post a link to your review anywhere online—and use the hashtag #Readukkah to connect with other readers. #Readukkah takes place December 1-8, 2016.

Any book of Jewish interest is a good choice for #Readukkah. If your chosen book is not obviously Jewish, use your review to explain the connection.

By sharing your #Readukkah reviews, your participation in this reading challenge helps spread the word about worthwhile titles, bringing them to the attention of more readers and supporting the publication of Jewish books!

RSVP to the #Readukkah Facebook Event to say if you'll be participating!

What if you don't use Facebook? Review a #JewLit book on a blog, GoodReads, Amazon, YouTube, etc. and send the link to Heidi at carnival@jewishlibraries.org. She will post your review on Facebook for you. Happy Reading!


Monday, November 21, 2016

Ketzel and Mom

Lesléa Newman

Lesléa Newman is a prolific poet and author of books for kids and adults. In fact, she was on The Book of Life last year in 2015 to talk about her picture book Here is the World. In 2016 she won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers Category for her picture book biography Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed. I met up with her at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Charleston, SC where we talked about Ketzel and also about her recent poetry book I Carry My Mother.

Special thanks to pianist Guy Livingston for permission to use his recording of Ketzel's composition, "Piece for Piano: Four Paws." Check out his music podcast, American Highways!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Mp3

VIDEO: 



CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel 
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries   
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band   
Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast   
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
 
Support The Book of Life by becoming a patron at Patreon.com/bookoflife!
 
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hanukkah Blog Hop 2016

Hanukkah for Kids | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Welcome to our second annual Hanukkah for Kids blog hop, sponsored by Multicultural Kid Blogs! Be sure to visit all the participating blogs for ways to share this special time of year with kids. Plus you can find all these and more on our Hanukkah Pinterest board! (And don't miss last year's series!)

Participating Blogs


"HANUKKAH PAST" AND "HANUKKAH YET TO COME"
ON THE BOOK OF LIFE

December 2005
The Book of Life's very first episode was a Hanukkah Celebration. In December 2005, I interviewed Eric Kimmel about the classic Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and talked to Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi about her new book Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah. I also got a contributor review of Craig Taubman's CD The Hanukkah Lounge.

December 2006
This "Joyous Hanukkah" episode included an interview with author Stephen Krensky and illustrator Greg Harlin, creators of the picture book Hanukkah at Valley Forge, as well as an interview with Deborah Heiligman about her nonfiction picture book Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes and Dreidels. I was also very excited to speak with Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora about the Klezmatics CD Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah.

December 2007
"Hooray for Hanukkah" was the name of this episode. I spoke with artist Ann Koffsky about the snowflake she painted for a cancer charity. Author Sarah Marwil Lamstein and illustrator Neil Waldman talked about their picture book Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale. Musician Kenny Ellis spoke about his jazz album Hanukkah Swings! And Barbara Bietz told us about her chapter book Like a Maccabee.

December 2008
This episode called "Spin the Dreidel" featured Sylvia Rouss talking about her Sammy Spider series of picture books, which began with Sammy Spider's First Hanukkah. Musician Josh Nelson talked about his role in Craig Taubman's Lights Hanukkah concert and his own CD, Lift. And Rabbi Ilene Schneider discussed her mystery novel, Chanukah Guilt.

November 2014
The Association of Jewish Libraries created an excellent recommended Hanukkah reading list, and I was happy to blog about it to lead more readers to it.

December 2015
A Diverse Dozen was a guest post I developed for Multicultural Kid Blogs, in which I highlighted Hanukkah books featuring Jewish characters of color, of disability, Sephardic Jews, and interfaith families.

September 2016
Most episodes of The Book of Life promote books I've enjoyed. This interview with two Jewish kidlit experts is different: it's a highly critical review of a picture book called Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf by Greg Wolfe.

November 2016
Mosaic published an opinion piece, "Why Are Jewish Children's Books So Bad?" and I could not let that stand. I wrote a comprehensive response to it, which included a list of recommended Hanukkah titles for children.

December 2016
Coming Soon! Watch this space for my interview with Joel Ben Izzy, storyteller turned novelist, about his chapter book Dreidels on the Brain. Joel kindly offers that the first five readers who can send him a count of all the ways he spells "Hanukkah" in the book will win a copy of his storytelling CD Lights & Laughter: Joel ben Izzy Spins Hanukkah Tales!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Response to Jewish Kidlit Article in Mosaic

Every few years, someone blogs about the terrible state of Jewish kidlit. It happened in The Forward in 2012, when Deborah Kolben saw the deaths of Simms Taback and Russell Hoban as signaling the end of the genre ("Who Will Light Up Jewish Kids Lit?"). At that time, I wrote this blog post to provide the context that was missing from her article.  Now it's happened again in Mosaic with commentator Michael Weingrad's article "Why Are Jewish Children's Books So Bad?" and again I feel compelled to respond.

If you take a superficial look at the genre of Jewish kidlit you may come away sharing Weingrad's impression: "cartoon animals teaching holiday basics in stilted rhymes, an overrepresentation of sentimental grandparents (to the frequent exclusion of parents), and shtetl-and-steerage depictions of New York’s Lower East Side as the Sinai of American Judaism" and a "Bible that stops with Noah’s ark". It's true that these are well-used tropes, executed with varying levels of success. But take the time to dig a little deeper and you will find the riches he decries as missing. Weingrad says "The global span of Jewish culture, the treasures of the textual tradition, the variety of Jewish sensibilities: these remain largely untouched." Untouched? Untrue. I hope readers will explore the titles listed here that not only touch but embrace these themes. (Note: Books listed range from classic to recent; as a librarian I advocate picking up out-of-print titles from your local library.)

"the global span of Jewish culture"

PICTURE BOOKS
Around the World in One Shabbat by Durga Yael Bernhard (worldwide)
The Secret Shofar of Barcelona by Jacqueline Dembar Greene (Inquisition Spain)
Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde (China)
Never Say a Mean Word Again by Jacqueline Jules (medieval Spain)
Everybody Says Shalom by Leslie Kimmelman (Israel)
Much, Much Better by Chaim Kosofsky (Iraq)
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz (Turkestan, modern-day Kazakhstan)
Yuvi's Candy Tree by Lesley Simpson (Ethiopia)
The Wooden Sword by Ann Redisch Stampler (Afghanistan)
Golemito by Ilan Stavans (Mexico)
Rebecca's Journey Home by Brynn Olenberg Sugarman (Vietnamese adoption)
The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber (Southern United States)

CHAPTER BOOKS
Mira in the Present Tense by Sita Brahmachari (Indian British)
Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle (Cuba)
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (Indian American)
Incantation by Alice Hoffman (Inquisition Spain)
Freefall by Anna Levine (Israel)
Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman (Argentina)
Tucson Jo by Carol Matas (The American West)
Cry of the Giraffe by Judie Oren (Ethiopia)
Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa by Micol Ostow (Puerto Rico)
Prince William, Maximilian Minsky and Me by Holly Jane Rahlens (Germany)
Chloe Leiberman (Sometimes Wong) by Carrie Rosten (Chinese American)
The Bat-Chen Diaries by Bat-Chen Shahak (Israel)
Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin (Soviet Union)

"the treasures of the textual tradition"

PICTURE BOOKS
Oh No, Jonah by Tilda Balsley
Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen
Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis
To Everything There is a Season by Leo & Diane Dillon
Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Golden Gelman
The Bedtime Sh'ma by Sarah Gershman
The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac by Mordicai Gerstein
On One Foot by Linda Glaser
Sarah Laughs by Jacqueline Jules
The Moses Basket by Jenny Koralek
Babel by Marc Lumer
Creation by Gerald McDermott
Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden by Jane Ray
I Say Shehechiyanu by Joanne Rocklin
The Littlest Mountain by Barb Rosenstock
Cain & Abel: Finding the Fruits of Peace by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz
The Longest Night by Laurel Snyder
The Rooster Prince of Breslov by Anne Redisch Stampler
Joseph by Brian Wildsmith

CHAPTER BOOKS
The Garden by Elsie V. Aidinoff
Angels Sweep the Desert Floor by Miriam Chaikin
Tales for the Seventh Day by Nina Jaffe
Be Not Far From Me by Eric Kimmel
Pharoah's Daughter by Julius Lester
When the Beginning Began by Julius Lester
Queen of Secrets by Jenny Meyerhoff
A Time to Love by Walter Dean Myers
Storm by Donna Jo Napoli
In the Days of Sand and Stars by Marlee Pinsker

"the variety of Jewish sensibilities"

PICTURE BOOKS
Love Me Later by Julie Baer
Alef Bet Yoga by Ruth Goldeen
The Flower Girl Wore Celery by Meryl G. Gordon
Speak Up, Tommy! by Jacqueline Dembar Greene
The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner
As Good As Anybody by Richard Michelson
Beautiful Yetta the Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater
The Schmutzy Family by Madelyn Rosenberg
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
In God's Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket
Baxter the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher by Laurel Snyder
Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing

CHAPTER BOOKS
Hereville series by Barry Deutsch
Ethan, Suspended by Pamela Ehrenberg
Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart 
Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass
Like No Other by Una LaMarche
Wide Awake by David Levithan
Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin
Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman
The Bras & Broomsticks series by Sarah Mlynowski
So Punk Rock: And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother by Micol Ostow
Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen
Never Mind the Goldbergs by Matthue Roth
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti

"the possibilities of illustration"

Weingrad also complains "The possibilities of illustration, too, crucial for so many children’s classics, remain barely explored." Lest you come away with the impression that Jewish children's books are ugly, let me mention some beautiful and creative examples within the genre.

PICTURE BOOKS
I Only Like What I Like written and illustrated by Julie Baer
On a Beam of Light written by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Snow in Jerusalem by Deborah da Costa, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu
Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Sarah Goodreau
Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin
I Dissent by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Ketzel the Cat Who Composed by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Here is the World by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Susan Gall 
Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses and Crescents written and illustrated by Mark Podwal
Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden written and illustrated by Jane Ray
Fox Walked Alone written and illustrated by Barbara Reid
Chanukah Lights by Michael Rosen , paper engineering by Robert Sabuda (pop-up book)
Turn! Turn! Turn! by Pete Seeger, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin 
When I First Held You: A Lullaby from Israel by Mirik Snir, illustrated by Eleyor Snir
Before You Were Born by Howard Schwartz, illustrated by Kristina Swarner
Kibbitzers and Fools written and illustrated by Simms Taback
Creation: A Pop-Up Book  written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter, illustrated by André Carrilho
Golem written and illustrated by David Wisniewski
Hanukkah Haiku by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Karla Gudeon

CHAPTER BOOKS
From Foe to Friend by S.Y. Agnon, illustrated by Shay Charka
Hereville series written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch
The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
The Golem by Barbara Rogasky, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Rabbi Harvey series written and illustrated by Steve Sheinkin

"a calendar of never-ending Hanukahs"

Finally, Weingrad holds up Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf by Greg Wolfe as an example of how low things have sunk. I agree with his opinion of that particular title (see my Shmelf podcast episode), but once again Weingrad fails to notice the many excellent Hanukkah alternatives to Shmelf. In addition to a few Hanukkah titles mentioned in the lists above, the books below will delight readers seeking holiday entertainment, and many of them could easily have gone on the Illustration list above for their gorgeous artwork. These are the tip of the iceberg; Weingrad correctly points out "a calendar of never-ending Hanukahs," though he fails to acknowledge that this is due to market forces rather than a lack of imagination on the part of authors.

PICTURE BOOKS
I Have a Little Dreidel written and illustrated by Maxie Baum
Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown
Hanukkah Moon by Deborah da Costa
Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels by Deborah Heiligman
Menorah Under the Sea by Esther Susan Heller
Latkes Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel
Simon and the Bear by Eric Kimmel
How Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric Kimmel
A Letter on the Wind by Sarah Marwil Lamstein
Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Jodie's Hanukkah Dig by Anna Levine
The Miracle Jar by Audrey Penn
Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah by Susan L. Roth
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon

CHAPTER BOOKS
Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy
Like a Maccabee by Barbara Bietz
Alexandra's Scroll by Miriam Chaikin
Hanukkah, Shmanukkah by Esme Raji Codell
Sam I Am by Ilene Cooper
The Golden Dreydl by Ellen Kushner
The Magic Menorah by Jane Breskin Zalben

Conclusion

Just a few years ago, the Skirball Cultural Center of Los Angeles and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA collaborated on an exhibit, Monsters and Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books," featuring over 130 original works of art, texts, and related objects from time-honored classics and popular favorites. Jewish comics, while primarily aimed at older children and adults, have reached the point of having a dedicated Jewish Comic Con. The annual Jewish Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Seminar welcomes new creatives into the fold. Gentle readers, do not be dismayed by the nay-saying of the uninformed. Jewish kidlit is alive and well, and continuing to expand.

Want to see it grow even further? Support the market by borrowing Jewish books from your library, and buying Jewish books for yourself, your family, and your friends. Spread the word about great Jewish books by taking part in #Readukkah, a Jewish Reading Challenge co-sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Jewish Book Council. Maybe even attend the next conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries in New York City to learn more about the genre and how you can support it!

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Reading!
Heidi Rabinowitz


AUTHOR'S NOTE:
Why listen to me? I've been professionally immersed in Jewish kidlit for eighteen years. I've been a children's librarian for a synagogue since 1998. I was a member and chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries, a founding member of the book selection committee for PJ Library, and I've been interviewing authors of Judaica for my podcast, The Book of Life, since 2005. I also review Jewish books for School Library Journal.