Wednesday, September 12, 2018

American Golem

American Golem: The New Adventures of an Old World Mud Monster by Marc Lumer is a new picture book from Apples & Honey Press. I ran into Vicki Weber of Behrman House (the parent company of Apples & Honey) at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Boston, MA this June, and grabbed a quick interview about American Golem. You'll notice the loud buzz of conference-goers in the background because we spoke in the dining room after lunch. Hopefully, that will give you a "you are there" feeling!



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

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Book of Life Returns! with "Social Justice and Jewish Children's Books"

L-R: Lesléa Newman, Shoshana Flax, Heidi Rabinowitz, Elissa Gershowitz
at the Association of Jewish Libraries, Boston, MA, June 2018
The podcast hiatus is over! I'm thrilled to return to my beloved Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, and to The Book of Life podcast!

On Monday June 18, 2018 at the 53rd annual conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries in Boston, MA, I participated in a panel discussion of "Social Justice and Jewish Children's Books." Other panelists included author Lesléa Newman, and Horn Book editors Shoshana Flax and moderator Elissa Gershowitz.


As mentioned on the podcast, this post offers some titles in the various categories of books that I spoke about during the panel. These lists are by no means comprehensive. They mostly represent titles in the Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida, and the list was compiled by memory without actually visiting the library. My purpose is to offer a few suggestions to get you started on thinking about books in these categories.


We Are All Alike...We Are All Different by The Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergartners
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka
Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Two Eyes, a Nose, and a Mouth by Roberta Grobel Intrater
We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Kates
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
All the Colors We Are/Todos los Colores de Nuestra Piel by Katie Kissinger
The Belly Book, and Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin
We All Sing with the Same Voice by J. Philip Miller
It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
A Rainbow All Around Me by Sandra Pinkney
One Light, One Sun by Raffi
Shades of People by Shelley Rotner
One Family by George Shannon
All Kinds of Children by Norma Simon
Brown Sugar Babies; I Am America by Charles R. Smith
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler


A Kiss Means I Love You by Kathryn Madeline Allen
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett
Busy Toes by CW Bowie
My Aunt Came Back by Pat Cummings
Love; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
Shape Space by Cathryn Falwell
10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox
Everywhere Babies by Marla Frazee
Uh Oh!; Peekaboo Morning By Rachel Isadora
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Daddy, Papa and Me; Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman
Octopus Hug by Laurence Pringle
Jonathan and His Mommy;Kevin and His Dad by Irene Smalls
Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs books (interestingly, the Chanukah one is all white humans)

EXPLICITLY DIVERSE BOOKS (Celebrating specific cultures)

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
Cleversticks by Bernard Ashley
So Much by Trish Cooke
Peek! A Thai Hide and Seek by Minfong Ho
How Sweet the Sound: African American Songs for Chlidren by Cheryl & Wade Hudson
Shades of Black: A Celebraton of Our Children by Sandra Pinkney
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong
Yoko by Rosemary Wells


Please see the bibliography I posted in June 2017 on this topic.

Diverse Jewish Kidlit


Please see the notes and bibliography from my 2002 AJL presentation "Is the Rainbow Fish Jewish?" While in need of updating, this booklist is still valid.

Is the Rainbow Fish Jewish?


The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn
Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
Hannah's Way; On One Foot by Linda Glaser
The Legend of Freedom Hill by Linda Altman Jacobs
Even Higher by Eric Kimmel
In God’s Hands by Laurence Kushner
Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand by Arthur Levine
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz
The Two Brothers: a Legend of Jerusalem by Neil Waldman
Let there Be Light: Poems and Prayers for Repairing the World by Jane Breskin Zalben


Emma’s Poem, The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser
The Spy Who Played Baseball by Carrie Jones
Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner
I Dissent by Debbie Levy
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Factory Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
As Good As Anybody by Rich Michelson
A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Liberty’s Voice by Erica Silverman
Ruth Bader Ginsburgh, TBG vs Inequality by Jonah Winter

(to replace false narratives about Pilgrims and Indians)

Grateful by John Bucchino
Bear Says Thank You by Michael Dahl
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder and Gratitude by Karin Fisher-Golton
Day by Day by Susan Gal
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes
Life Is Good by Bert Jacobs
Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson
Every Little Thing by Bob Marley
Hug Time; Thank You and Good Night; Wag by Patrick McDonnell
Thank You, World by Alice B. McGinty
Sharing the Bread: An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Wait by Antoinette Portis
Thankfulness by Cynthia Roberts
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss
My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith
The Kindness Quilt by Elizabeth Nancy Wallace
Thank You, God by J. Bradley Wigger
The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood


Guidelines from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation

Sponsor: Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band 
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


On April 7, 2018, I attended PodCamp Western Mass, an unconference about social media and online marketing held at Holyoke Community College. You can see me right there in the front center (behind the reclining gals). As an unconference, it was really a series of intense conversations rather than presentations. Sometimes it was even like therapy. There was a session about personal branding, where I decided that my own tagline might be "proudly geeking out." Honestly, there was very little that was directly related to podcasting, but I did get some good technical tips about audio equipment from a guy who happened to be sitting at my lunch table. And I met a lot of nice people.

I am pleased to announce that The Book of Life's hiatus will soon be over! I expect to revive The Book of Life by fall 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Little Women and All-of-a-Kind Family: A Guest Post by Emily Schneider

Guest poster: Emily Schneider
This February, and Adar in the Jewish calendar, marks the 40th yahrtzeit of Sydney Taylor, author of that timeless chronicle of the Jewish immigrant experience, All-of-a-KindFamily, and its sequels. Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie became mirrors for Jewish girls, who grew up recognizing themselves in her nostalgic portrait of Jewish life. Whether you were raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in suburban Long Island, the outskirts of Philadelphia, or any other American shtetl, you knew you could identify with one of the sisters, all richly drawn personalities, and yet so generic and lasting that the family did not have a last name. 

The four sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women have also imprinted themselves on the consciousness of American girls since they first appeared in 1868.  This novel, with its idealized representation of New England family life during the Civil War, became a model for girls beginning to think about appropriate roles for women in a changing America.  Jo has literary ambitions and she can never quite conform to society’s expectations.  Eventually, she marries the highly educated if awkward German immigrant, Professor Bhaer, and establishes a progressive school for boys with her husband.  Little Women  teaches its female readers how to adapt to the challenges of their time: disease, death, the Civil War, an absent father, and genteel poverty.  Almost a century, later Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series became a kind of response to Alcott’s novel. While it is unlikely that Taylor purposively designed her stories as a Jewish alternative to Little Women, Alcott’s novel was standard reading for girls growing up in Taylor’s era and the parallels between the books are obvious. All-of-a-Kind features five girls, not four, but the journeys of both sets of characters have points in common.  Just as the March sisters in Little Women are guided as Christians through identification with Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress, the five sisters of Sydney Taylor’s books also must “march” forward, yet they are outsiders.  Many of their family members speak a mixture of Yiddish and imperfect English, they do not share the experience of Christmas, and they live initially in a highly ghettoized Lower East Side of New York City.  Their food is Jewish, their religious ceremonies and celebrations are Jewish, and their future will clearly be Jewish as well. Yet they are Americans, and each ethnically inflected episode also reflects their family’s commitment to that promising new identity. As a child reading Taylor, I knew that these girls were somehow closer to my own experience than were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, but the ties between the two sets of girls affirmed that I, too, could be both. Do girls today still see themselves reflected in Taylor’s characters, or are Ella and Sarah as remote and distant from them as Jo and Beth March? 

The All-of-a-Kind books were published between 1951 and 1978, a span of years during which American Jewish life changed radically.  The first book corresponded to the postwar years of new prosperity and  limited assimilation. Jews still lived in relatively segregated communities, rarely intermarried, and generally conformed to some standard level of at least minimal religious observance.  By the last book in the series, Ella of All-of-a Kind Family, the civil rights and feminist movements had successfully challenged many barriers in American life. Taylor’s first readers mainly lived in stable circumstances, more affluent and less threatened than the Lower East Side Jews of the pre-World War I era which is the setting for the first books.  If Little Women still held relevance to girls of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, particularly as a book where girls assert their individuality and seek a place in a changing world, Jewish readers could find a complementary reality in Taylor’s work.

We all remember the famous first lines of Alcott’s book: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” What if your family did not celebrate Christmas?  These New England girls somehow seemed privileged to me even as they kvetched about their poverty. Their first collective action in the book is to deprive themselves and pool their money to buy Marmee a modest gift, one stamped with each sister’s individual personality. Meg’s pretty hands lead her to decide on warm gloves, while Jo, determined to reject traditional femininity, chooses army shoes.  Vain Amy envisions “a little bottle of Cologne,” with the emphasis on the bottle’s small size, which will leave her enough money to purchase a gift for herself.  Beth is practical in her choice of a handkerchief.   Sydney Taylor adapts this episode for second-generation Jewish immigrants.  In the first book of the series, the sisters resolve to buy Papa a birthday gift. Unlike Mr. March, away fighting in the Civil War, he is an everyday presence in the girls’ lives. They love him, but fear is also part of their relationship with a parent who will punish them if they cross the line.

The girls enter “Mr. Pincus’s bargain store,” where the owner tries to communicate with them in broken English.  In all likelihood, these girls would have understood Yiddish, but would be strongly encouraged at home and in public school to speak the language of America.  Taylor’s readers may still have heard Yiddish from their grandparents, but were far less likely to understand it.  Having rejected Mr. Pincus’s suggestion of “a nize ledder pocketbook” or a handy knife, in addition to the beautiful shirt that would be far too expensive, they are ready to give up their search, when Mr. Pincus offers them an elaborately decorated china cup and saucer. The cup includes a ledge for Father’s mustache, and is labeled with his most important role, “Father.” When he receives this item he is disturbed that they  have spent money on a gift for him. In fact, this American custom of children presenting their parent with a gift has to be “translated” for him. He accepts it with ambivalence, but expresses joy.  The girls choose one gift together, because their individual traits are less important than pleasing their father. This made perfect sense to me as a child in a Jewish family, where father did certainly still know best.  (My own father won an almost identical cup playing Skee-Ball at the Far Rockaway boardwalk.  He did not have a mustache, because by the 1960s most American Jewish men were clean-shaven).

Like the March girls, especially Jo, the All-of-a-Kind sisters are bookish.  The public library plays an ongoing role in their lives, as the purchase of books would be an almost unthinkable expense. Like most turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants, they attend public school and supplement that education in the public library, an unbelievable gift for upwardly mobile refugees from eastern Europe.  When Sarah is panicked at having misplaced a book, the understanding gentile librarian allows her to pay for it in installments.  Jo March, on the other hand, is granted access to the immense private book collections of friend Laurie, and her wealthy Aunt March.  Both books emphasize literacy as a path to self-improvement, but Taylor’s readers could recognize themselves in Sarah’s dilemma of an overdue library book much more easily.  In one chapter of their saga, Taylor’s characters receive a “rainy day surprise,” when a group of peddlers who collect metal, rags, and paper for Papa’s warehouse come across a pile of used books. The girls inherit a complete set of Dickens, the author who gave a name to the March sisters’ Pickwick Club.  So much of this episode is now absent from Jewish American children’s lives, for whom access to reading material in any form they choose is no longer a privilege. Yet to many American immigrants, the public library is still a resource and a haven.

Then there is religious observance, another sector of Jewish American life which has dramatically changed.  The March sisters are Protestant, as far from the emotive and physical religious life of Taylor’s characters as could be. Their faith is centered around the values of the New Testament; we see very little ritual and few life-cycle events in their story. (Amy is attracted by their Catholic maid’s rosary beads, but reluctantly concedes that they are inappropriate for Protestant prayer.)  In contrast, the girls of All-of-a-Kind-Family constantly incorporate physical objects into their spiritual lives:  menorahs, Sabbath candles, Chanukah dreidels, and booths for the Festival of Sukkot. This celebratory part of Jewish life in America has actually changed less than other elements of Taylor’s books.  Each holiday observance is carefully explained and incorporated into the family saga. An interesting choice is Aunt Lena and Uncle Hyman’s participation in the P’Idyon Ha-Ben ceremony for their first-born son.  This observance had already become less common by the 1950s among non-Orthodox Jews, while brit milah, ritual circumcision, remained the norm.  Taylor must have assumed that describing the latter would have presented difficulties in a children’s book.  Today, when redemption of the first born is not commonly practiced outside of Orthodox communities, the charming description of the ceremony might seem as foreign as the March girls’ devotion to Pilgrim’s Progress.

One dramatic contrast between Alcott’s and Taylor’s stories is the attitude towards disease and mortality.  This largely reflects the development of vaccines and antibiotics, which greatly reduced the incidence of childhood death and the terror it induced in parents.  However, there is also a Jewish element in Taylor’s representation of sickness and disability.  Her characters are survivors, equipped and determined to succeed in the here and now.   Most of us remember Beth’s early death as a traumatic part of reading Little Women. It was foreshadowed by her exposure to a sick infant, but also made to seem inevitable because Beth was somehow too good a Christian for this world. In All-of-Kind Family the children contract scarlet fever without long-term consequences, while in More All-of-a-Kind Family Aunt Lena falls victim to polio.  Lena at first suffers from what today we would recognize as clinical depression as a result of her disability, but Mother jars her into recognition of how “selfish” this response really is. While Beth’s frailty, along with her moral perfection, make her death seem sad but acceptable, the girls’ Aunt Lena is impacted, but not destroyed, by her illness. Mother asserts that Lena’s disability only makes her more suited to be Hyman’s wife: “Don’t you know Hyman would rather have you with a bad leg than anyone else in the whole world?” She becomes a symbol of resilience, an immigrant polio survivor who proudly walks up the aisle to the chuppah with her leg dragging in a brace, and no parents to accompany her. 

Forty years after Taylor’s death, American children, fortunately, have a much wider range of books about the immigrant experience. There are fewer Jewish immigrants and most come from parts of the world other than Eastern Europe. Taylor’s Bronx and Lower East Side of settlement houses and penny candy stores are now scenes from a  sentimentalized past. Yet For American Jews, Taylor’s works preserve an era when we could both fit in and stand out. The apparent security we now enjoy in America should make the All-of-a-Kind books more relevant, not less so.  Just as their original readers benefited from Taylor’s creative engagement with Little Women, Jewish children and educators today can connect with her characters and reinvent her legacy for the future.



Probably today many more people have heard of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women than have ever read it.  Yet when it was published in 1868, it become a phenomenal success, famously gaining Alcott some of the financial independence which she and her family needed.  It remained a best seller well into the twentieth century. This book spoke to generations of readers about what it meant to be an American girl (before there were historical dolls and books to fill that niche!)  Initially, there were historical, social, and religious themes that resonated with readers: the incomprehensible tragedy of the recent Civil War, the devout Protestantism of many Americans of the time. But there was also the utterly fascinating construction of a female-centered universe headed by a strong matriarch, Marmee, and centered on the trials and the distinctive personalities of four very different “little women.”  Jo, in particular, became a kind of symbol of girls who don’t fit the mold, who have ambitions that society might not consider legitimate.  She is dramatic and literary, and she even chooses to marry Professor Bhaer, an older immigrant professor who shares her values.   Then, by the 20th century, things gradually began to change.  Beverly Lyon Clark does a terrific analysis of this change in her book, The Afterlife of Little Women, in which she explains how the book transitioned from being one which everyone read, to one which was much less popular, yet continued to have a long-lasting cultural impact.   There have been movies, plays, illustrated books, an opera, TV series, and dolls based on Little Women. In fact, until only a few years ago the Madame Alexander doll company, founded by Jewish entrepreneur Beatrice Alexander Behrman, produced a different collection of Little Women dolls each year, so someone was continuing to buy them.

The All-of-a-Kind Family series could never have achieved that level of popularity or influence, but to me, and to my sisters, my friends, and later, my daughters, Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie were as relevant as the March sisters, maybe more so.  They were Jewish. They came from an immigrant family. They celebrated Jewish holidays and Jewish life-cycle events. Their home was imbued with Jewish values. Yet they were also sometimes conflicted, mildly rebellious, and briefly disappointing to their parents, even though all problems were ultimately resolved.  They were also, like the March girls, bookish. Reading, visiting the public library, almost earning a history prize in school, were key themes and episodes in the books.  The pictures, interestingly by four different illustrators, were an integral part of the nostalgic world of the books, nostalgic because even the original readers had probably not grown up on the Lower East Side, but often in more assimilated and possibly affluent surroundings.  The girls of All-of-a-Kind Family­ had been their parents or grandparents.  Now, this past is much more remote. I love the reader’s guide to the series produced by the Association of Jewish Libraries. I hope we can continue to think about ways to ensure that these stories continue to have a life, as well as an afterlife.


I actually can’t remember when I started thinking about the parallels between the two books. I’m sure that I noticed them as soon as I read Little Women, which would have been at an older age than when I first read All-of-a-Kind Family. I certainly identified with both the adventures and the inner lives of the characters in both books, particularly those concerning family relationships and a love of reading.  I was also always acutely aware of the differences.  I may have been as obsessed with reading and becoming a writer as Jo, but her New England yichus set her at a remove.  While I had not grown up in the same setting as Taylor’s characters, my parents and grandparents had.  Many experiences in Jewish American life had changed, but the holidays, rituals, and obsession with education had not. Even the addition of a male child to the family in All-of-a-Kind made it more recognizable.  Papa, who had given up on having a boy to continue his name and pray with him, cries at this fulfillment of an undeniable part of Judaism at that time: patriarchy.  There was also still a real sense of difference between Jews and gentiles when I was a child, one which, at least for most American Jews, has now dissipated.  At some point I began to connect and compare specific aspects of the two authors’ work through this lens.  I hope that other readers who love both authors’ work as much as I do might also, not only reread but relive these books, and discuss what parents and professionals can do to continue to keep classics relevant.  These books have value in their own right, but, just as Alcott influenced Taylor, it’s exciting to think about how contemporary books for kids can continue this “conversation” with the past.  Certainly, for Jewish parents and educators, the obligation to make the past come to life is a creative challenge as well as a mitzvah.


I have contributed to several different Jewish publications and I enjoy writing for them.  My blog fills a somewhat different role.  First, on Imaginary Elevators, I don’t write exclusively about Jewish books, but I have the freedom to include them as often as I like.  There is a limited intersection between Jewish and general interest publications which cover kid lit. (Marjorie Ingall’s articles on Tablet are among my favorites.) Understandably, publications devoted exclusively to children’s books, including The Horn Book and School Library Journal have hundreds of great new books to evaluate each year. While they do review many with Jewish themes, and have long form articles about both new and classic works, there is inevitably a complementary role for people who love books to share their perspectives on blogs. My kids, who have supported my obsession with children’s books for a long time, kept nudging me to start a blog and I finally listened to them. While I have a doctorate in literature, my real entry into children’s literature was as a bookish kid, a mother, and now a grandmother.  I try on my blog to feature the kinds of connections between past and present which I have done with Alcott and Taylor. I like to rave about authors and illustrators whose work appeals to me.  I also have the opportunity to bring up issues in children’s literature that are not exclusive to particular books.  When I choose any topic for a blog entry I hope that it gets people thinking and going off on their own tangents. Here I am going to sound like Kathleen Kelly in the late Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, but if you are reading a blog about children’s books, then you understand that they had a formative role in who you have become.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Antonio Iturbe on the 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour is taking place February 4-8, 2018. Today, one of the blog tour stops is here at The Book of Life! We are interviewing Antonio Iturbe, author of Teen Readers Category winner, The Librarian of Auschwitz. English is not Antonio's first language, so it was very kind of him to tackle these questions for me!

How did you learn about the library in Auschwitz and why did you choose to write about it?

The way I found this story was by following threads in books. Reading expert Alberto Manguel wrote a book called The Library at Night, in which he talked about the most famous libraries in history: Alexandria, the Library of Congress… and in one chapter, in just a few lines, he mentioned that in the Children’s Block in the Auschwitz Camp there was a small, clandestine library of just eight books. Then I found more information in the book of the American Holocaust expert Nili Keren: Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. It was the beginning. I wanted to know more and more and in a certain moment I decided to explain the story because it is astonishing to find library in the exact center of hell.

This library had only 8 books. Why was the library so important?

It was small in the number of books, but great as a symbol. In a time of basic survival, some people had the courage and generosity to organize a secret school and even a little library. A school in the middle of the horror of Auschwitz is a strong way of rebelling.

What was it like to meet Dita Kraus, the real librarian of Auschwitz? What does Dita think of your book?

To meet Dita Kraus has been one of the most important things to happen in my life. She is an upright woman with a special energy. She is marvelous. About the book, she scolded me as if I were a kid, because she said I exaggerated her role and courage; and she is very insistent in specifying that she did not do anything different than other inmates. She is a very humble person.

Dita Kraus and Antonio Iturbe

Your book is not entirely nonfiction. Can you talk about the parts you made up, and why you chose to do that?

The book is not a biography. It is fiction. We need the lie of fiction for arriving at a deeper truth. History books are full of numbers, dates, and facts, but they do not explain anything about the pain, the hopes or the dreams of the people. All of the main characters in the book are real (except one, that is my voice in the novel). Big facts and characters are the bricks of reality in the book, and fiction is the cement that unites them.

Auschwitz is a difficult topic to write about. Were there positive things that came out of writing this book?

I think is positive that people can know the story of the Block 31 the Family Camp now. They risked their lives to build a school for kids. I am happy with my little contribution to keep alive the memory of those wonderful people who never gave up hope.

Antonio, thank for this interview and congratulations again on receiving the Sydney Taylor Book Award!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour Schedule

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be showcasing its 2018 gold and silver medalists with a Blog Tour, February 4-8, 2018! Interviews with winning authors and illustrators will appear on a variety of Jewish and kidlit blogs. Interviews will appear on the dates below, and will remain available to read at your own convenience.

Below is the schedule for the 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!



Tammar Stein, author of The Six-Day Hero
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers Category
At Walk the Ridgepole

Kathy Kacer, author of To Look a Nazi in the Eye
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman


Richard Michelson and Karla Gudeon, author and illustrator of The Language of Angels
Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Jewish Books for Kids

Alan Gratz, author of Refugee
Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner in the Older Readers Category
At Out of the Box at The Horn Book


Fawzia Gilani-Williams and Chiara Fedele, author and illustrator of Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
At Ima On (and Off) the Bima

Susan Krawitz, author of Viva, Rose!
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers Category
At The Prosen People at The Jewish Book Council

Antonio Iturbe, author of The Librarian of Auschwitz
Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner in the Teen Readers Category
At The Book of Life

Katherine Locke, author of The Girl with the Red Balloon
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
At Book Q&A's with Deborah Kalb


Jacqueline Jules and Yevgenia Nayberg, author and illustrator of Drop by Drop
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
At Jennifer Tzivia Macleod

Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang, co-authors of This Is Just A Test
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers Category
At The Scroll at Tablet Magazine


Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced

For More Information Contact:
Susan Kusel, Chair Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
Association of Jewish Libraries

January 10, 2018

Winners of the annual Sydney Taylor Book Award were announced by the Association of Jewish Libraries today. Named in memory of Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, the award recognizes books for children and teens that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. 

2018 is the 50th Anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Awards. The first winner was The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig in 1968, published by the Thomas Y. Crowell Company.


The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon, published by Charlesbridge, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers category. This beautiful picture book tells the story of how Hebrew became an everyday language in Israel, after being out of use for two thousand years. The folk art illustrations are an illuminating match. 

Refugee by Alan Gratz, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Older Readers category. The journeys of three different young refugees from Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba and present-day Syria come together to form an emotional and timely narrative about the refugee experience.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites, published by Godwin Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, a division of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Teen Readers category. This powerful story of Dita Kraus and her protection of a handful of books in the Auschwitz concentration camp shows the importance of hope in the darkest of times. 

Harold Grinspoon and PJ Library won the Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award. PJ Library, a project of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, is a family engagement program that sends free books celebrating Jewish values and culture to families with children 6 months through 8 years old. This program has revolutionized the field of Jewish children’s literature by providing dramatically improved access to Jewish books for families. It has also significantly increased the publication of children’s books with Jewish content. The Body of Work Award has been given twelve times in the 50-year history of the Sydney Taylor Awards. The last recipient was author Eric Kimmel in 2004. 


Eight Sydney Taylor Honor Books were also recognized.  For Younger Readers, the Honor Books are: Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam adapted by Fawzia GilaniWilliams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele, published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group and Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group.

For Older Readers, the Honor Books are: Viva, Rose! by Susan Krawitz, published by Holiday House, which was also the recipient of the 2015 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award; This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic; and The Six-Day Hero by Tammar Stein, published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group.

For Teen Readers, the Honor Books are: To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial by Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz, published by Second Story Press; Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin, translated by Rosie Hedger, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic; and The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, published by Albert Whitman & Company.

In addition to the medal winners, the Award Committee designated twelve Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2018. More information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award and a complete listing of the award winners and notables can be found at

Winning authors and illustrators will receive their awards at the Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries, to be held in Boston, MA from June 18-20, 2018. Gold and silver medalists will also participate in a blog tour February 4-8, 2018. For more information about the blog tour please visit

The Language of Angels and Refugee were also named winners of the 67th Annual National Jewish Book Awards, which were announced today as well. A full list of all the winners can be found on the Jewish Book Councils website here

Members of the 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award committee are: Chair Susan Kusel, Temple Rodef Shalom Library, Falls Church, VA; Rena Citrin, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago, IL; Elissa Gershowitz, Horn Book Magazine, Boston, MA; Rebecca Levitan, Baltimore County Public Library, Pikesville Branch, Baltimore, MD; Heather Lenson, Joseph & Florence Mandel Jewish Day School, Beachwood, OH; Marjorie Shuster, Congregation Emanuel of the City of New York, New York, NY; and Rivka Yerushalmi, Silver Spring, MD.


The 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Awards
Association of Jewish Libraries

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers
The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon, published by Charlesbridge

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers
Refugee by Alan Gratz, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites,  published by Godwin Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company,  a division of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

The Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award Winner
Harold Grinspoon and PJ Library


Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Younger Readers
Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam adapted by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group

Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg
published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Older Readers
Viva, Rose! by Susan Krawitz, published by Holiday House 

This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang,  published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic

The Six-Day Hero by Tammar Stein, published by Kar-Ben Publishing,  a division of Lerner Publishing Group

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Teen Readers
To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial by Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz, published by Second Story Press

Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin, translated by Rosie Hedger published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, published by Albert Whitman & Company


Notable Books for Younger Readers
Yom Kippur Shortstop by David A. Adler, illustrated by Andre Ceolin published by Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House 

Under the Sabbath Lamp by Michael Herman, illustrated by Alida Massari published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group

Big Sam: A Rosh Hashanah Tall Tale by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Jim Starr published by Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House 

The Knish War on Rivington Street by Joanne Oppenheim, illustrated by Jon Davis published by Albert Whitman & Company

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, a division of Abrams

 Notable Books for Older Readers
Hedy’s Journey: The True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust by Michelle Bisson, illustrated by El primo Ramón published by Capstone Press, a Capstone imprint

The Children of Willesden Lane: A True Story of Hope and Survival During World War II:  Young Readers Edition by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen and adapted by Emil Sher published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a division of Hachette Book Group

Wordwings by Sydelle Pearl, published by Guernica Editions

The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero published by Delacorte Press, a division of Random House Children’s Books

 Notable Books for Teen Readers
Man’s Search for Meaning: Young Reader Edition by Viktor E. Frankl, published by Beacon Press

Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin published by Katherine Tegen Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers

Stolen Secrets by L.B. Schulman, published by Boyds Mills Press, a division of Highlights


For more information contact:
Susan Kusel, Chair Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Association of Jewish Libraries

2018 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Chosen

For More Information Contact:
Aileen Grossberg, Coordinator Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Committee
Association of Jewish Libraries

January 10, 2018

The Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Competition committee is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2018 award. Judith Pransky, author of The Seventh Handmaiden, will receive the award at the annual conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries to be held in Boston, MA, from June 18-20, 2018. The Award is offered annually to an unpublished manuscript that has broad appeal to readers aged 8-13 and presents Jewish life in a positive light.

Set in the time of King Xerxes of Persia, the novel begins with the kidnapping of a young girl and then flashes forward several years to focus on Darya, a young slave who is uncertain of her origins. The story follows Darya and her free friend Parvaneh from service in the household of a Persian army captain to positions in Xerxes’s palace as handmaidens to Queen Esther. Swirling around the girls’ everyday activities is palace intrigue orchestrated by Haman’s henchmen including Behrooz, who has a mysterious and frightening connection to Parveneh’s mother. 

Filled with historical details, intrigue, mystery, politics and a host of issues that contemporary readers can identify with, the story has a satisfying ending for both Darya and her mistress Esther and fleshes out the story found in the Megillah. The judges were impressed by the unique approach to the story of Esther, the strongly nuanced characters, the touch of mystery and the relevance of the issues to today’s world.

According to Ms Pransky, The Seventh Handmaiden was written with her sixth grade ancient history students in mind, and tries “to bring the history and lifestyle of Persia to life, as well as the characters that populate the Megillah and the Jewish story that permeates it.” Ms Pransky, a middle school language arts/history teacher, has contributed to Philadelphia area magazines and edited the Marmac Guide to Philadelphia. She has also taught writing to adults and worked as an editor for a textbook publishing company before returning to teaching. The Seventh Handmaiden is her first novel for young readers.

In an unusually strong year, the Committee is pleased to name three honorable mention manuscripts: Go To Yourself by Stuart Melnick is the story of an Orthodox boy preparing for his bar mitzvah. Through sports he experiences the outside world for the first time and learns about friendship, decisions and their consequences. Diverse characters and a warm family setting are hallmarks of this story. Raising Canaans by Catherine Orkin Oskow uses humor to tell the story of a dog-crazy preteen who obsesses over the Canaan dogs that her aunt raises and finally comes to accept that she cannot have a dog. Reeni’s Turn by Carol Coven Grannick uses verse to follow ballet dancer Reeni from doubt about herself to self-acceptance. The contemporary story focuses on issues common in today’s families.


The Big Reveal: 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners

Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee Chair Susan Kusel
with 2018 gold medalist titles

Susan Kusel is the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She joined us by Skype from her home in Falls Church, VA. to talk about the 2018 winners of the award. 

Here's the official Sydney Taylor Book Award announcement with the full list of winners, honors, and notable books: click here

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour will take place February 4-8, 2018. For details, click here.

The Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award was mentioned in the interview: click here.  

The National Jewish Book Award winners from the Jewish Book Council have also been announced! To see their winners, click here.



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