A Podcast About Jewish Kidlit (Mostly)

Listen with Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or TuneIn, or anywhere else using our RSS Feed.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Through the Window: Lee Wind

In celebration of Pride Month and as part of the Through the Window diversity exchange, our guest today is Lee Wind, author of Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill. Lee blogs at I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? He is also the official blogger for SCBWI. We opened the window wide to interview each other about Jewish kidlit and LGBTQIA2+ kidlit.

Through the Window is a diversity exchange created by the Association of Jewish Libraries to fight antisemitism and other forms of bias through education and allyship. Jewish organizations swap content with other marginalized communities to give both groups a look through the window at our common humanity.

Another Through the Window partnership recently celebrated Pride Month with posts swapped by the Jewish Women's Archive and Yali Books: A Window to South Asia. See their posts here:
In this episode, we introduce a new podcast feature, Boosting Black Voices. I've already got interviews recorded for months to come, and most of my guests are white. I'll be asking those guests to add their suggestions for black-authored works, so that we can use our privilege constructively to boost black voices. Here are today's suggestions.


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

Note: Links to titles on Bookshop.org benefit The Book of Life Podcast and independent booksellers.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Promoting Multicultural Library Services in Virtual Spaces

EMIERT Chair's Program 2020 at ALA Virtual
Friday June 26, 2020, 10AM Central Time

Panelist Heidi Rabinowitz approaches the issue of virtual library services from a Jewish point of view. The panel also includes well-known mover and shaker, school librarian K.C.Boyd, whose approach is from an African American point of view.

Heidi's Remarks:

Closures during the Coronavirus pandemic affect all kinds of libraries, including many that may be unfamiliar to the general public, such as specialized Judaica libraries. Libraries in synagogues, Jewish day schools, museums, universities, archives, Jewish community centers, and research organizations have been shuttered during quarantine. These specialty collections serve Jewish patrons as well as others with an interest in Judaica, who now suffer from lack of access to Jewish books, programs, and services.

Many Judaic libraries are small, without the budget to purchase e-books, and many Jewish books (especially obscure academic titles) are considered too "niche" to be offered as e-books. Public libraries may pick up some of the slack by offering Jewish e-books in their general collections, but a lack of awareness can lead to inauthentic representation of the Jewish community. Without knowledge of pertinent issues, purchasers may inadvertently create collections that over-represent white European Jews, or that exoticize Orthodox Jews, or that place excessive emphasis on the Holocaust and Inquisition.

Lack of awareness can also lead to scheduling that adversely affects Jewish library patrons. Jews who strictly observe the Sabbath (Shabbat) and other Jewish holidays are not available to attend programs and not permitted to use electronics on those days. Recorded programs available on-demand via the Web ameliorate that issue to some degree, but thoughtless scheduling can still preclude these community members from enjoying interactive livestreams.

Awareness is the key to mitigating these challenges in online and physical services: the Jewish calendar is a Google search away (here's one that tells you which holidays preclude activity and which don't), Jewish libraries that can lend expertise or support exist in myriad communities, and there are a plethora of Jewish organizations ready to offer Jewish programming and help in identifying quality Jewish literature.

Libraries in need of Jewish expertise might seek partnerships with:

1. Local Jewish organizations such as synagogues, or the Jewish Federation
* advice, information
* local history
* programming

2. Association of Jewish Libraries, the leading authority on Judaic librarianship (an ALA Affiliate), which encourages public librarians interested in Judaica to become members
* book reviews
* selection standards for Jewish kidlit
* book awards for children and adults
* scholarly journal
* suggested books for non-Jewish readers
* annual conference
* Jewish identity not required for membership

3. Jewish Book Council
* book reviews
* book awards
* book clubs
* author speakers network

4. Jewish Women’s Archive
* research material
* book clubs
* speakers
* podcast
* teaching tools

5. Hadassah-Brandeis Institute (Jews/Gender)
* research
* artistic projects
* speakers

6. PJ Library and PJ Our Way
* free Jewish children’s books by mail
* Jewish children's online radio station PJ Library Radio
* active Facebook event schedule
* local programming for libraries

7. American Jewish University B’Yachad Together
* online classes and speakers

8. Association for Jewish Studies
* scholarly journal
* magazine
* podcast

9. The Book of Life (full disclosure: this is my own project)
* podcast - please note Field Guide to Jewish Kidlit
* blog - please note Diverse Jewish Kidlit
* consulting

In addition, the Association of Jewish Libraries has created a crowdsourced Google document of Jewish Virtual Resources to help you identify Jewish e-book sources, lectures, livestream events, film and music, podcasts, and more at TinyURL.com/JewishVirtualResources. Keeping such resources on the radar will help all libraries be prepared for future shutdown scenarios.

This illustration by Vanessa Brantley-Newton from the We Need Diverse Books webpage shows a multicultural group of children, none of whom is visibly identifiable as Jewish. No child is wearing a kippah or a Jewish star necklace. At the same time, any of these children could be Jewish (even the hijabi girl might have Jewish heritage). This is a good reminder that Jews are part of your community even if you are not aware of it. Despite being a vulnerable minority, Jews have often been invisible within the literary community's diversity conversation. Happily that is changing, and you can be part of that change.

As we all know, diverse books are not just for diverse readers. To build a healthy and inclusive society, all readers need both mirror AND window books and programs. In a quarantine situation, without the browsability of a real life library, patrons are less likely to happen upon materials outside their specific searches. We need to create that feeling of serendipity for them in virtual spaces. Libraries must provide those windows by including Jewish and other diverse representation in all online offerings, including general storytimes, book discussions, bibliographies, speaker series, concerts, watch parties, and so on. This will ensure that marginalized populations are not ignored or siloed, during quarantine or at any time.

A final word: Judaism itself is diverse. Be aware that the Jewish community is highly intersectional and reflects a variety of needs and interests. If you don't know what your Jewish patrons want - just ask!

  • Strive for authentic Jewish representation in your physical and e-book collections
  • Include diverse Jewish content in general programming, IRL or digital
  • Try to avoid scheduling events when observant Jews cannot participate
  • Jewish organizations are here to help you 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Boosting Black Voices

Gianna Floyd, daughter of George Floyd, on the shoulders of friend Stephen Jackson
On the one hand, I want to speak up about systemic racism and to express my support for the Black community. On the other hand, as a White person I don't want to make this about me. So I'm going to take the advice of my friend and fellow podcaster Jaime Legagneur and boost Black voices. And I'm going to start with hers.

Jaime recorded this heartbreakingly honest podcast about her experience as a Black woman in America. Please listen, and follow the links to the many, many resources she has kindly provided.

Above you can see Gianna Floyd, the 6 year old daughter of murder victim George Floyd, whose death sparked the long-overdue demands for racial justice now sweeping the globe. A video clip of Gianna saying "Daddy changed the world!" has gone viral. Let's help make sure she's right.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Trailer: Through the Window with Lee Wind

The Association of Jewish Libraries has invited diversity book bloggers, websites, and podcasts to participate in Through the Window: A Diversity Exchange. This initiative is designed to fight antisemitism and other forms of bias through education and allyship. Participating Jewish and non-Jewish websites are paired to swap guest posts. Text, audio, and video content providers are all welcome to participate.

The Book of Life, representing the Association of Jewish Libraries, has partnered with I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read?, the blog of author LGBT activist Lee Wind.  The episode drops on June 14, 2020. In the meantime, learn more about Through the Window at Jewishlibraries.org/throughthewindow.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Ceiling Made of Eggshells

Gail Carson Levine is the author of more than 20 book for young readers and adult writers, including the Newbery Honor book Ella Enchanted, which was made into a major motion picture. Her new middle grade book A Ceiling Made of Eggshells is a historical novel about a Jewish family during the Spanish Inquisition, based on Gail's own family history.

During our interview, I asked Gail about her house, which she describes on her website. You can learn more about her lovely home here.

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK (Affiliate link, support the podcast and independent booksellers)




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

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Trailer: Gail Carson Levine

The Book of Life will return to our regular in-depth interviews with our next episode, which drops on Sunday May 17, 2020. You'll hear an interview with author Gail Carson Levine about her middle grade novel, A Ceiling Made of Eggshells. To celebrate, I made this trailer on Headliner. Enjoy, and feel free to share the video!

Monday, May 04, 2020

Guest Post: The Smallest Objective

"Books in the Time of Coronavirus" Series

The Book of Life (TBOL): Sharon, please introduce yourself.

Hello, I’m Sharon Kirsch from Toronto, author of The Smallest Objective. My publisher is New Star Books in Vancouver, Canada, but the story itself takes place mostly in Montreal, home to one of Canada’s largest Jewish communities, and where I was born and raised. After delays linked to the pandemic, the e-book of The Smallest Objective has just been made available, and the print edition has been confirmed for a May 28th release. The Toronto and Montreal launches, both originally planned for May, have had to be postponed indefinitely. 

TBOL: What is The Smallest Objective about?

The Smallest Objective is a book of narrative non-fiction for adults—a hybrid of memoir and biography. At the heart of the story is my mother’s loss of memory and inevitable departure from the family home, leading me, her only child, to recover and discover objects and people little or never known to me. The title The Smallest Objective refers to the smallest lens in my grandfather’s microscope—the lens that allows for the highest degree of magnification. It alludes to how the book is a close-up look at forgotten objects and lost family, and can also be understood in a second way—as the humblest goal or aspiration.

My book introduces several personalities representing three generations of the diaspora of Lithuanian Jews. By means of these personal histories, the reader becomes acquainted with Montreal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the great waves of migration from Eastern Europe; through the Roaring Twenties to the Depression Era, a time of burgeoning anti-Semitism; and then in the postwar era, after 1945, when the large numbers of Holocaust survivors moving to Montreal reinvigorated the use of Yiddish, making the city a world center for Yiddish cultural life. By 1951, the Jewish population of Montreal ranked as the largest in the British Commonwealth outside of London, England.

Very briefly, here are the three central personalities:

Simon Kirsch, my paternal grandfather, was born in Vilkomir, Lithuania, in the late 19th century, immigrating with his family to Montreal in 1890 as a child of six. He distinguished himself academically from an early age, becoming one of the first Jewish students to earn a PhD at McGill University and one of its first Jewish faculty members, then joining for a time the U.S. Forest Service in Wisconsin as a tree expert in the same era that the ecologist Aldo Leopold was employed there. Simon also played a key role in the start-up of numerous Jewish welfare services and organizations in Montreal and the Laurentian Mountains. He left behind something more and rather special, which is revealed in the final chapter of the book.

In contrast, my great-uncle Jockey was considered the black sheep of his family. He went by the assumed name Jockey Fleming but in 1898 was born Moses Rutenberg to immigrant parents from The Pale of Settlement. Jockey was frequently described as a Runyonesque character—akin to the Broadway conmen, minor thieves, and marginal eccentrics brought to renown by the New York writer Damon Runyon. My great-uncle’s so-called “office” was the corner of Peel and St. Catherine streets in Downtown Montreal; his business was as a stand-up comic, a ticket tout for sports events, a holder of bets, and a purveyor of information in sealed envelopes. A fixture of mid-century Montreal, he counted among his admirers the hockey legend Henri Richard and the vaudeville performer Eddie Cantor.

Finally, I invite you to meet Carol Rutenberg, a young person of great promise, the child of first-generation Canadian parents. Carol, my maternal aunt, was born in 1938 and came of age in the 1950s, a period of increasing good fortune for the Jewish community in Montreal. A horsewoman and water-skier, she graduated at the top of her class in physiotherapy at McGill University, where at the time Jews were required to have better grades than others to gain admission. Daring and ambitious, Carol took full advantage of the expanding possibilities for women in the lead-up to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Tragically, she was not able to fulfill her promise, and her story serves as a reminder of the fragility of life at a moment when this is top of mind for all of us. 

TBOL: What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired to write this book as my mother was losing her memory, and the creative process became a way of coping with and trying to assimilate that loss. The physical circumstances that directly led to The Smallest Objective were the emptying of my family home to prepare it for sale and, specifically, the search for a rumored buried treasure. After some excavations with a team of archeologists— and that’s where the comedy comes in—I went on to discover by myself all kinds of objects in the house, including my grandfather’s Jug Handle microscope and lantern slides, and the last harvest of my father’s runner bean seeds. Ultimately, then, the impetus for the book was twofold: a sequence of loss and recovery.

The writing of the book also was nourished by my rediscovery of the city where I was born and raised but which I hadn’t inhabited for several decades. In researching and writing The Smallest Objective, I felt I became once again a full-time resident of Montreal, albeit in my imagination. 

TBOL: Tell us about what would have happened at your promotional events if they had not been cancelled?

For my two book launches, I was planning a photo display of the main personalities in The Smallest Objective: my parents, my mother’s sister, Carol, my paternal grandfather, Simon, and my maternal great-uncle Jockey. For the moment, a few of these faces can be seen on my website, and I plan to share more. Of course I was looking forward, also, to offering friends and family a glass of wine as we joined together in celebration. 

TBOL: Where can readers find you?

You can find me online at my website, sharonkirsch.com. I also have a page on The Writers Union of Canada website: https://www.writersunion.ca/member/sharon-kirsch

The print book can be purchased at The Book of Life's affiliate link HERE. The e-book is available from the publisher HERE.

TBOL: Would you like to share a Tikkun Olam suggestion for healing the world?

I’d like to offer the following suggestion for a Tikkun Olam action. For those readers who are fortunate enough during the pandemic to have both health and stability, please consider taking just a few minutes to think about other species, whether the familiar cats and dogs in animal shelters, the vulnerable wild animals born into this pandemic spring, the migratory birds so susceptible to injury. I myself have volunteered for decades with a feral cat group. If you have the time and ability to volunteer safely or the capacity to donate to organizations supporting animals during the pandemic, please consider doing so. This a sector where there are never enough funds or pairs of hands to go around even in the best of times.

In closing, I’d like to wish every single one of you well in navigating this pandemic and beyond. Stay safe, and find strength and inspiration in good books. Many thanks, Heidi, for bringing us all together.