Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December's Jewish Book Carnival

The December Jewish Book Carnival is hosted by Erika Dreifus at her blog, My Machberet. It's a round-up of links from a wide variety of Jewish book blogs. You'll hear from authors and librarians, find essays and book reviews, and you'll even see a submission from The Book of Life! Please check it out, and don't forget to leave comments at the blogs you visit!

Monday, December 06, 2010

3,548 Library Lovers Celebrate Jewish Library Snapshot Day

Library Snapshot Day 2010

The People of the Book really do love libraries! In November 2010, during Jewish Book Month, 30 Jewish libraries participated in Library Snapshot Day. The event, sponsored by the Association of Jewish Libraries, was created to let all types of Judaic libraries record what happens in a day in the life of a library. Across North America, libraries in synagogues, day schools, community centers and universities picked one day during the first two weeks of November to hold the event. Collectively, participating libraries served 3,548 patrons on Library Snapshot Day.

The Activities

From Jewish hubs like Chicago, IL to smaller Jewish communities like Tulsa, OK, from sunny Miami, FL to chilly Montreal, Quebec, Jewish libraries held author visits, study groups, literary and computer quizzes, artist receptions, book discussions, book sales, scavenger hunts, craft projects, parenting programs, charity drives, and children’s story times. Eleven of the participating libraries shared their circulation statistics, revealing that at least 745 books were checked out during Library Snapshot Day.

The Feedback

Every participating library reported overwhelmingly positive feedback from its community. Common themes included praise for the library as a quiet, peaceful environment in which to read and work, kudos for the hard work of librarians (many of whom, apparently, “rock”), and appreciation for the many print and digital resources provided. A patron at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck, NY said “The library is a great place to study and clear your head. I always feel relaxed and very welcomed when I come to the library, and I love the librarian.” A sixth-grader at the Sheila Sporn Library at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, CA said “Libraries are important because they let people who don’t have enough money get books to read.” A patron of the Brenner Library at Temple Emanuel in Denver, CO drives 150 miles from the mountains to make use of the facilities. Perhaps the general sentiments of library users are best summed up by a patron at the Feldman Library at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL, who said “The library helps us to continue to be the People of the Book!”

What It All Means

Library Snapshot Day captured the diversity of services offered by Jewish libraries and underscored the importance of libraries in Jewish life. “Libraries and librarians often fly under the radar in their communities,” said Association of Jewish Libraries Vice-President, Heidi Estrin. “We are thrilled that, on Library Snapshot Day, over three thousand people expressed their love of Jewish libraries. We hope that the event will encourage even more people to use these amazing resources year-round.” A slide show of selected photographs submitted by participants may be viewed above and on AJL’s blog “People of the Books” at

The concept of Library Snapshot Day originated with the American Library Association, of which AJL is an affiliate. Click here for more information on ALA’s Library Snapshot Day.

Please feel free to share this article and/or video on your site or via social networking. You can find AJL online at, at, and on Twitter @jewishlibraries.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Shalom Sesame

Shalom Sesame is a program that combines elements of the American TV show Sesame Street with its Israeli counterpart Rehov Sumsum. The program was originally produced in the 1980's, and has just been revamped and reissued on DVD. The Chanukah episode, "The Missing Menorah," will be airing on many PBS stations during December, 2010, so check your local listings. This interview with Veronica Wulff, Director of Global Production at Sesame Workshop, gives us some insight into the creation of the series. For more Shalom Sesame fun, visit





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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Twitter: @bookoflifepod

"Shalom Sesame Theme" used in this episode courtesy of Sesame Workshop (New York, NY).

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

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The 2010 Canadian Jewish Book Awards

The Book of Life's Canadian Correspondent Anne Dublin interviews winners of the 2010 Helen & Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards at the gala ceremony in Toronto. For the full list of 2010 winners, click here.

Anne spoke with:




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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Shooting My Mouth Off with Laurel Snyder

So my friend Laurel Snyder (who was on The Book of Life in August, 2008, and whose book Baxter, The Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher was mentioned in the BEA09 episode) made the mistake of giving me a soapbox upon which to climb. She's one of the bloggers at From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, and she wanted to do a piece on Jewish middle-grade books so she emailed me a bunch of questions. Took me all day, but I wrote up some ideas and suggestions, which you can read here at the interview, (Sometimes-Not-So) All-of-a-Kind Families. There's an interesting discussion going in the comments section, too -- feel welcome to join in!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Papernick the Book Peddler

Jonathan Papernick is the author of Who by Fire, Who by Blood and The Ascent of Eli Israel. His new book of short stories is entitled There Is No Other: Stories of Faith, Love and Heartache. Jon kindly agreed to answer some questions for us about his new book. Please enjoy this interview and video, and be sure to check out his website at

Jon, please give us a brief overview of your book of short stories, There Is No Other.

The stories in my new collection are set in Brooklyn, Israel, and Massachusetts and deal with issues of love, faith, relationships and God.

Most of the stories deal explicitly with Jewish themes while others deal with the complications of modern relationships. The characters in each of the stories are searching for that other in their life, whether spiritual or physical -- sometimes finding that other, sometimes failing to. The younger characters in my collection tend to struggle with tradition and faith and grapple with Judaism and how to fit it in his traditions of their lives, while the older characters tend to struggle with the idea of tikkun olam, fixing the world and making it a better place.

What compels you “write Jewish”? Is it a conscious choice? Would you call There Is No Other a Jewish book?

I don't think it is a conscious choice for me to "write Jewish" but I find that much of my religious education comes to the writing of my stories, and I work out my own questions through the writing of my stories. I would call There Is No Other a Jewish book, but also a universal book that deals with how we all struggle with faith and relationships, which of course is not strictly Jewish. I write through the lens that compels me, so I couldn't write a Catholic book, or an African-American book, but I think all good books are universal and shed light on the mystery of what it means to be human.

You live in Boston but you’re originally from Toronto. Does location influence your work? Would you say your stories have any kind of Canadian sensibility?

Location very much influences my work. I'm a strong believer in the power of the spirit of place. My entire first book The Ascent of Eli Israel was set in Jerusalem, and in many ways Jerusalem itself is a character in my collection. The history, the smells, sounds, the streets all add up to something powerful that influences the way each of my characters act and react within each story. My first novel Who by Fire, Who by Blood was set entirely in Brooklyn, and again, I believe that Brooklyn itself becomes a character and my flesh and blood characters are influenced profoundly by the setting. There Is No Other is set in various locales, and for the first time, I've actually written a story is not explicitly set in any recognizable place other than a suburban basement somewhere in the Northeast. As far as I can tell my stories do not have any sort of Canadian sensibility. Most of the Canadian books that were forced upon me in school were precious and overwritten and quite dull, and I think I strive for the exact opposite. As somebody who has lived in Israel and New York, I don't think I have a lot of the reticence and politeness that many Canadian writers bring to their work.

I have to admit that I found these stories difficult to process because there was a lot of harsh behavior from the characters. What would you tell readers like me (fans of happy endings) to help us better appreciate this sort of literature?

I think there are at least three of the nine stories in my collection that certainly do have happy endings. I love the idea of happy endings, but as a writer it is my job to figure out how human beings tick, and as I write my characters, I listen to them as they make their poor decisions and follow where they lead me. I try to write about the human experience and it is not always happy. My characters often face fierce internal struggles that threaten to overwhelm them. I believe the job of literature is to make the reader understand what it is like to be somebody else, to live in another's mind for a while in a moment of crisis, a time when change is eminently possible. I want my characters to win, but sometimes a happy ending would be entirely artificial and unearned. That said, I believe there's a lot of humor in my stories, which leavens some of the pain that we all feel every day of our lives.

Please tell us about your unique marketing style, in your guise of Papernick the Book Peddler.

After my first collection of stories came out in 2002 receiving a lot of critical acclaim, I was surprised to learn that new books for the most part disappeared from bookshelves after 3 to 6 months and new books are brought in to replace them. Within a few months, most of my books were gone from the stores only to be found online. I was frustrated to learn of such a short shelf life. When my new book came out I decided that I would take matters into my own hands, and bring my books directly to the people by selling my books via makeshift pushcart at farmers markets in New England and New York.

It was really amazing how people reacted to me, very positive, excited to meet and support a local artist. One week I sold 25 copies of my three titles at my local farmers market in just 3 1/2 hours. I received an e-mail from a woman who missed me at a farmers market who ended up buying six copies of my books. I felt that taking an active approach to selling my books would be much more effective than simply obsessing over my ratings or hoping that people would discover my book among tens of thousands of books in bookstores. In just a few weeks, I sold over 100 books, met some interesting people and really enjoyed the late summer weather. This past weekend [October 2, 2010] I walked from Brooklyn Heights in Brooklyn 10 miles to the Upper West Side in Manhattan with my pushcart and a team of my former students selling books and T-shirts. We had a lot of fun, had a reading at the end with Melvin Jules Bukiet, Aryeh Lev Stollman and Janice Eidus. I'll never become a bestseller from the back of my pushcart, but I will sell more books I would've sold if it didn't do anything. It was a good season, and I plan on reprising my role as Papernick the Book Peddler next spring.

Jon Papernick, thanks for speaking with us and best of luck to you!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Book Expo 2010: Jewish Presses

Machers in Jewish Kidlit
L-R: Ann Stampler, Joni Sussman, Heidi Estrin, Lisa Silverman, Etta Gold, Susan Dubin
(Please ignore the 2008 datestamp, the camera was set wrong; the picture is from BEA 2010)

Forthcoming books of from Judaic publishers discovered at Book Expo America 2010 in NYC!




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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Jewish Book Carnival

The Jewish Book Carnival is a monthly blogging event which rounds up links of Jewishlit interest and builds community among Jewishlit bloggers. I came up with the idea along with Marie Cloutier, AJL consultant and host of The Boston Bibliophile, and we started seeking out other bloggers who share our passion for Judaic literature. The sponsoring organization for the Jewish Book Carnival is the Association of Jewish Libraries. If YOU would like to participate in a future carnival, email Marie at mcloutier at jewishlibraries dot org!

The September 2010 Jewish Book Carnival is being hosted by the Jewish Publication Society Blog at There are terrific links from seventeen different blogs, offering book reviews, philosophical essays, interviews, and more. This month's carnival includes a link from The Book of Life, to our recent episode on Jewish kidlit at Book Expo America!

Upcoming carnivals will be held at:

October 15, 2010: Jewish Book Council
(Email naomi @ by October 13, 2010 to participate)

November 15, 2010: Jewish Boston

December 15, 2010:

January 15, 2011: Ima On and Off the Bima

February 15, 2011: JewWishes

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Book Expo 2010: Kids & Teens

Recent and forthcoming children's and teen books of Jewish interest discovered at Book Expo America 2010 in NYC!




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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Book Expo 2010: Adults

Forthcoming adult books of Jewish interest discovered at Book Expo America 2010 in NYC!




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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Other Press

Two new books of interest from Other Press:

THE DEBBA (Other Press; July 13, 2010; $14.95) by award winning author Avner Mandelman

THE DEBBA is the page-turning story of an Israeli ex-assassin's quest to uncover his dead father's secret - and the truth about the birth of Israel. Mandelman was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Air Force during the Six-Day War. His story collection Talking to the Enemy was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the twenty-five best books of 2005, and by the American Library Association as the first recipient of the Sophie Brody Medal for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. This is his first novel. A recent **starred** review in Kirkus proclaimed that "The author deftly blends a murder mystery with a nuanced examination of the intransigent Israeli-Arab conflict" and a **starred** Booklist declared that he "has written a first rate debut novel that tackles current issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict while revealing the paradoxes of Israeli life for those who embrace the arts yet must deal with violence on a daily basis."

THE WITNESS HOUSE (October 12, 2010; Other Press; $14.95) by Christiane Kohl

THE WITNESS HOUSE is the remarkable account of a villa on the outskirts of Nuremberg during the infamous war crime trials - and the people who passed through there. Autumn 1945 saw the start of the Nuremberg trials, in which high ranking representatives of the Nazi government were called to account for their war crimes. In a curious yet fascinating twist, witnesses for the prosecution and the defense were housed under the same roof. In this so-called Witness House, perpetrators and victims confronted each other in a microcosm that reflected the events of the high court. Presiding over the affair was the beautiful Countess Ingeborg Kálnoky who took great pride in her ability to keep the household civil and the communal dinners pleasant. In THE WITNESS HOUSE, the complexities of post-war Germany have never been conveyed so palpably. People with vastly disparate experiences lived side by side. As the most famous and significant trial of the 20th century unfolded, they lived together, broke bread, argued, fell in love, and found a way to understand one another. Kohl's journalistic vigor and personal connection to the project-culminating years of research-combine with her remarkably engaging prose style that sets the reader instantly at that tense little dinner table.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Beautiful Blogger Award

The Book of Life just received a Beautiful Blogger Award from the lovely folks at the Jewish Publication Society Blog over at! Thanks, JPS!

To claim the award, I have to share seven little-known facts about The Book of Life and pass the award on to seven other blogs.

Seven Little-Known Facts. (Actually, if you've been paying dorkily close attention you might already know some of these.)

1. The Book of Life was once used as a vehicle for two 3rd grade girls to get credit for a book report on Marc Chagall! Rather than present to the class, they presented their book report on the podcast.

2. Coolest audio project I've participated in: being one of the five voices in the librarian episode of the QN Podcast.

3. Favorite gig I got as a result of being a podcaster: getting to introduce Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, when he spoke at our local indie, Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida. (You can hear his talk in the episode Meet Markus.)

4. Episode that was the most tsuris to put together: Funny, That Book Doesn't Look Jewish. I used TalkShoe to do a live call-in show in which we discussed Pamela Ehrenberg's Ethan, Suspended and whether it could be called a Jewish book. I spent weeks recruiting people and making them promise to call in, and I was so nervous the whole time that I couldn't properly participate in the conversation.

5. The device with which I record live interviews is an Olympus LS10 digital voice recorder, which I absolutely love for its portability, expandable memory, and sound quality, and for its cute little Mickey Mouse ears.

6. Episode that had most real-world impact (well, in the world of publishing, anyway): 2 Jews, 3 Opinions. The 2 I interviewed were Kathy Bloomfield (ForWords) and author Laurel Snyder. Laurel later told me "you were the person who asked me why I *wasn't* writing Jewish books. I changed the name of the Any Which Wall kids to Levy after that." And then she went on to publish Baxter, The Pig Who Wanted To Be Kosher.

7. When I started The Book of Life, I used the tagline "a show about Jewish people and the books we read" because I thought I'd be interviewing people at Congregation B'nai Israel (where I am the librarian) about their reading lives. However, it quickly became clear that most people would rather be set upon by bears than be interviewed. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it forced me to start interviewing famous authors, musicians, and other movers&shakers instead.

Seven Blogs that Deserve the Beautiful Blogger Award. (Disclaimer: many of these bloggers are friends of mine, but I'm not nominating them to be nice or flatter them. I'm nominating them because I think their blogs are truly worthwhile, and I hope you'll follow the links to see why!)

1. Chasing Ray
Colleen Mondor named her blog after of Ray Bradbury. It's a good fit because, like Bradbury, Colleen is an outside-the-box thinker. She's a fiction writer and reviews books for a number of magazines, so she has a wide variety of bookish thoughts to share. I first noticed her blog because of her series, "What a Girl Wants," in which she invites lots of interesting people to her blog to discuss topics like girl detectives in fiction, female role models, and the "bad girl" label.

2. I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read?
Lee Wind blogs about GLBTQ books for youth, which I think provides an important public service. I like his cheerful, positive attitude and his snappy book summaries. I'm intrigued by the description of his own work-in-progress, which has some Jewish content; he says "Over God: A week before his Bar Mitzvah and the celebration of his 13th birthday, Adam comes out as an Atheist. Now he has to figure out what he's going to do...." Lee also has a helpful site for other bloggers called The Zen of Blogging.

3. Books on the Nightstand
Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness (what a great surname, eh?) co-host this blog and podcast for general-interest book lovers. Their enthusiasm is infectious, which is probably the reason they get such great reader/listener response. Fans call in to leave book suggestions, to respond to questions like "Have you ever encountered an author 'in the wild?'" and to sign up for the Books on the Nightstand Weekend Retreat (April 8-10, 2011 in Vermont, if you're wondering). My favorite feature of the show is "Two Books We Can't Wait for You to Read."

4. The Boston Bibliophile
Marie Cloutier blogs about literary fiction, graphic novels, Jewish lit, book-related events, authors, "and whatever else I feel like!" What draws me to her blog is how she shares her own reading life, discussing things like the weeding/restocking of her home library, a book-making class she's taking, and how her own and her husband's reading tastes affect their relationship. I also get a kick out of the many meme's in which she participates, and I respect her diligence in posting multiple times per week.

5. Mark Blevis
Mark and his wife Andrea used to have this amazing blog/podcast called Just One More Book that was a true celebration of children's literature. I would have liked to nominate JOMB for a Beautiful Blogger Award, but it's on an extended hiatus these days. However, Mark's personal blog is also worthy of an award, so I'll nominate that instead. He's a digital public affairs strategist and a podcasting pioneer, so his musings on digital communication and social media are always fascinating.

6. forwordsbooks: kids books that matter
Kathy Bloomfield is well known in the Jewish kidlit world as a former book fair operator and member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. In her blog she shares her passion for secular children's books that reinforce Jewish values. Her posts are always thoughtful and thorough and she pulls no punches!

7. I have to split this nomination between two Barbara's who, between them, are doing a really comprehensive job of blogging the Jewish kidlit scene:

7a. Jewish Books for Children with Author Barbara Bietz
Barbara Bietz blogs interviews with authors of Jewish kidlit, and even with an occasional foray into other genres, this is the only blog I know of with this specific, tight focus. She's a Jewish kidlit author herself, and the current chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. She really enjoys doing these interviews, and it shows!

7b. The Whole Megillah
The tagline on Barbara Krasner's blog is "The Writer's Resource for Jewish-themed Children's Books." She should know, as she's a writer herself, and one of the organizers behind the annual Jewish children's writer/illustrator conference (formerly held at 92Y). She blogs about literary events, she interviews all sorts of bookpeople from authors to editors, librarians, and agents, and (my favorite) she writes these great, clearly laid-out reviews in which she lists "the good things" and "the not-so-good things."

Sunday, July 04, 2010

2010 AJL Convention Session: Everyone's A Critic

At the Association of Jewish Libraries 2010 Convention, I organized a panel presentation on book reviewing with Ellen Cole, Kathe Pinchuck, Lisa Silverman, and Rita Soltan.

This post is our online handout, and a record of our presentation. Rita was not able to join us in person, but sent in a Powerpoint to share her thoughts on the difference between writing a review versus an article.


The Top 20 Most Annoying Book Reviewer Phrases and How to Use Them All in One Meaningless Review

Book Review BINGO


Suggested Resources for Jewish Children's Book Reviewers, a bibliography/webliography by Kathe Pinchuck

Excellence in Jewish Children's Literature: A Guide for Book Selectors, Reviewers, and Award Judges (AJL Publication)

From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books by K.T. Horning (HarperCollins, 2010 revised edition)

Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America
by Gail Pool (University of Missouri Press, 2007)

Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, posted "Reviewing 101" by John Updike in 2006:

Thirty-one years ago, in the introduction to "Picked Up Pieces," his second collection of assorted prose, John Updike laid down his own six rules for reviewing. They are still the single best guide to fairness today:

"My rules," he writes, "shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

2010 AJL Convention Session: AJL & Social Media

At the Association of Jewish Libraries 2010 Convention, I co-presented a session on AJL & Social Media with Diane Romm. This post is our online handout, and a record of our presentation.

Also relevant is the four-part series "Why Be Social?" that appeared on The Book of Life podcast in 2009. You can listen to all four parts here:

LINKS mentioned in Part 1:

Association of Jewish Libraries:

AJL Wiki:

Past AJL Conventions:

Sydney Taylor Book Award:

Convention Stipends:

AJL Newsletter:

Bibliography Bank:

Jewish Values Finder:

LINKS mentioned in Part 2:

The AJL Blog:

The AJL Podcast:

AJL on Facebook:

Jewish Values Finder on Facebook:

Book of Life Podcast on Facebook:

AJL on Twitter:

Forwords Books:

Jewish Books for Children with Author Barbara Bietz:

Tablet & Vox Tablet:

The Jewish Book Council Blog:

The Whole Megillah:

The Jewish Publication Society Blog:

Mitali's Fire Escape (post about Ethnic Book Awards):


Amazon Book Reviews (a how-to):

AJL on Wikipedia:

Bonus Link: Kathe Pinchuck's new blog, Life is Like a Library:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kathy Kacer

The Book of Life's Canadian Correspondant, Anne Dublin, interviews author Kathy Kacer. Kathy has written many, many Holocaust novels for young people, including The Diary of Laura's Twin, which won a National Jewish Book Award and a Canadian Jewish Book Award.

For the impressive list of Kathy's works, click here.




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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod

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

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Queen of Secrets: An Interview with Jenny Meyerhoff

Back in February I interviewed Debra Spark, author of Good for the Jews, an adult novel based on the story of Purim. The Megillah inspires a lot of modern writing, apparently! Today I've got an interview for you with Jenny Meyerhoff, author of a young adult novel based on the Megillah, called Queen of Secrets. When I met Jenny last summer at the Planet Esme Reading Room, she told me this book was in the works. I am pleased to say that this very interesting novel will be released this summer!

Jenny, where did the idea come from to write a modern novel based on the story of Queen Esther?
Growing up, always loved the story of Esther, probably because it was one of the few stories I remember learning in Sunday school that featured a female as the main character. One spring a few years ago, I was thinking about the story again, and it occurred to me that Esther most likely would have been a teenager. I began to wonder what her story would be like if it were occurring today. How would it be the same and how would it be different?

What about Queen Esther's story in the megillah is particularly compelling to you?As I already mentioned, I’ve always loved biblical stories about strong women. As a young girl I had a comic book bible and I read several stories over and over, particular the story of Rachel and Leah. Beyond the fact that Esther was a strong heroine, the other Sunday school lesson that always stuck with me about The Book of Esther is that there is no mention of G-d in the story. I found that fascinating. If it’s in the bible, but it’s not about G-d, then what is it about?

Later, when I started thinking about writing QUEEN OF SECRETS, I reread The Book of Esther. What struck me upon that first rereading, was that there is almost no characterization at all. Everything I remembered about the story, about why each character did what they did and what kind of people they were like all came from commentaries. In the actual text, what we get is mainly a cataloging of events. This freed me to come up with my own motivations and back stories for these characters.

The original story and your retelling both include issues of hiding your identity and trying to fit in. How do you think those issues are different now than in Queen Esther's time (if you do think so)?

Well certainly in Queen Esther’s time (and story) we are dealing with the threat of actual death, possibly, when Esther’s identity is finally revealed—both death for the Jewish people, through the edict sanctioning their slaughter, and for Esther, if she approaches the king to intercede and he is angry that she lied or that she is a Jew. In QUEEN OF SECRETS, the death I’m dealing with is metaphorical, Social Death, which is clearly not as big a threat. But as adults, I think sometimes we tend to minimize something like Social Death because, well, at least you still have your health. But to a teenager, very few things are as painful as being ostracized and then having to face those who’ve made you an outcast on a daily basis. I think most of us would go to great lengths to avoid facing that situation. Jewish teens today, especially those attending high schools with very small Jewish populations, can still feel very much “other.”

I see this as a coming of age story, in which Essie learns to stand up for herself, stand by her friends, and do what's right. She's brave, as was Queen Esther. But would you say the original is a "coming of age" story too?That’s a really interesting question and a hard one to answer because of the issue that I mentioned before about very little being revealed about the inner workings of the characters in the actual text of the story. We don’t know how Esther felt being drafted into the king’s harem. We don’t know what she thought of Mordecai’s advice to keep her religion a secret. However, she certainly goes from a girl who does whatever she’s told to a girl who must speak her truth.Before I wrote QUEEN OF SECRETS I did a lot of thinking about what kind of story The Book of Esther is. Is it a coming of age story, is it a love story, is it a family story? Ultimately, the part of the story that spoke most strongly to me, the way I decided to read the story for this retelling is that it is a story about living in the Diaspora. So while QUEEN OF SECRETS absolutely is a coming of age story, for me it’s also an exploration about what it is to be a Jewish teen in America right now, in a time when (in many places) Jewish people aren’t really considered a minority any more, in a time when, while overt anti-Semitism does exist, most Jews are much more likely to encounter something far more subtle.

In my life, I’ve been in many situations where I haven’t felt quite comfortable admitting that I was Jewish. Usually that’s following someone else’s assumption that I’m not, and this vague sense that I get that our whole relationship dynamic would change if that truth about me were revealed. This is compounded by the fact, that most people would tell me that I was paranoid if I expressed this hesitancy. A lot of people believe that anti-Semitism isn’t something that exists in America anymore. It’s not relevant. I definitely got this response when I was agent shopping this story. But now that the book is out there, I’ve heard from many more people who tell me this is real. This is still happening.

Please talk a little about the issue of Jewish identity in your book. Micah's family is observant and Essie's is not, so she struggles with "how Jewish" to be. Was this an issue for Queen Esther or is this a totally modern addition to the story?

Hmmm. Again, this is a hard question to answer because we don’t get many clues into Queen Esther’s mind in the megillah, but yes, I suppose this was an issue I added to the story because it’s one I think about in my own life and have thought about since I was a teen. I really think there are two parts to this question, an internal and an external. One the one hand Essie is looking to discover a connection to her religion and a level of religious practice that feels real and meaningful to her, and that I think is wonderful. But sometimes it’s hard to avoid outside influences in that decision, for example, Essie finds comforts in rituals like lighting Sabbath candles but it takes a long time for her to incorporate them into her life because of what others, including her grandparents, would think. In an ideal world, all of us would base our religious and spiritual practices from a place of inner truth.

As in most modern fiction, Queen of Secrets presents us with the villain's personal history and challenges so that we understand the source of his "evil" and feel some sympathy. I notice that we never do learn the fate of Harrison (Haman) after he toilet-papered the house of Micah (Mordicai). Is it too hard to punish a villain that you feel sorry for?No, I don’t think it’s hard to punish the villain. I think of punishments as the natural consequences of one’s actions, especially in fiction, and while I understand why Harrison was such an angry young man, I think he made really poor choices and deserves whatever consequences he gets. As to why those consequences aren’t in the book, I think that’s more to do with a storytelling choice. This is Essie’s story. Her journey, the one we are following in the book, comes to fruition whether or not we know precisely how Harrison was punished. She’s coming forward and pointing the finger at Harrison. She has convinced Austin to do the same. I feel pretty certain that Aunt Shelli and Uncle Steve will press charges, but it all feels like part of some other story.

How was writing this book different from writing a story that is NOT based on some other source story?Well, at first I think it was a lot easier because I didn’t have to fabricate an entire plot out of thin air. The story was all set out for me. But when it came to revising, it was a lot more challenging because I wanted to stay as close to the original story as I could, but ultimately, the book had to work on its own, as its own story. Normally when I’m revising, if a plot element doesn’t work, I can easily eliminate it. Here, more often than not, I had to try to figure out a way to make it work. But that actually became kind of satisfying, like a really intricate logic problem.

Jenny, thanks for speaking with us and good luck with your new novel!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

When the Hurricane Came to New Orleans

I'm just back from the 2010 Book Expo America trade show in NYC, where I recorded lots of interesting interviews. It will take me a while to edit them, but lucky for you guys I still have several recordings from last summer to post in the meantime.

This interview turns out to be unfortunately timely, with Louisiana so much in the spotlight right now due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Last summer, when we all thought Hurricane Katrina was the worst thing that could happen to New Orleans, I interviewed Nachama Liss-Levinson, author of the 2009 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award winning title When the Hurricane Came to New Orleans. Being unpublished (thus a "Manuscript Award" winner), you can't read it yet. But I'm sure after hearing from awards chair Aileen Grossberg and from Nechama herself, you will want to! (Sorry for any angst caused by this situation!)




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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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A New Blog: The Whole Megillah

I've just added a new site to my list of Links (see the right-hand sidebar on The Book of Life blog) and I wanted to make sure you noticed it. The site is The Whole Megillah: The Writer's Resource for Jewish-themed Children's Books at There are few blogs that focus on Jewish kidlit, and as far as I know, this is the first that emphasizes the perspective of authors rather than readers.

Blogger Barbara Krasner is well-known in the Jewish kidlit world as the force behind the annual Jewish Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Conference, held until recently at New York's 92nd Street Y, so she's definitely in the know. I'm excited about The Whole Megillah (and I love the name)! Welcome to the blogosphere, Barbara!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Live from Israel, It's Anna Levine!


I met up with author Anna Levine last year at the 2009 Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Chicago, IL, where she was a guest presenter and an award-winner! During a late night gathering of book lovers, I pulled her aside to discuss her YA novel Freefall and her picture book Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, both set in Israel. Both books received recognition from the Association of Jewish Libraries in 2009, Freefall as a Sydney Taylor Honor Book, and Jodie's Hanukkah Dig as a Notable Book.





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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod

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

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

So Punk Rock


An interview with Micol Ostow, author of So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), a 2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Book in the Teen Readers category. This very cool novel with graphic elements was illustrated by Micol's brother David Ostow. The interview was recorded in a busy Manhattan bar, so please consider the loud background noise to be atmosphere for this story of a teen garage band!





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 fan page:
Twitter: @bookoflifepod
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Finds: Queen of Secrets & The Pillow Book

The "Friday Finds" meme is hosted by MizB at the Should Be Reading blog. She asks "What great books did you hear about / discover this past week? Share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!"

This week I received two review copies of new Jewish-interest YA novels from the publicists at Blue Slip Media, and they look like they'll be a lot of fun t
o read:Lotus Lowenstein's life is merde. She dreams of moving to Paris and becoming an existentialist. Yet here she is trapped in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a New-Agey mom, an out-of-work dad, and a chess champion brother who dreams of being a rock star. Merci à Dieu for Lotus’s best friend, Joni, who loves French culture enough to cofound their high school’s first French Club with Lotus. At the first meeting, the cutest boy in the world walks in. His name is Sean, and he too loves French culture and worships Jean-Paul Sartre.

Queen of Secrets by Jenny Meyerhoff (FSG, 2010). I interviewed this author briefly at a party at the Planet Esme Reading Room last summer; you can hear the interview in the episode Planet Esme! The key thing I recall from this interview is that the story is loosely based on The Book of Esther, as was recent adult novel Good for the Jews. A new trend, perhaps?

Here's how the publisher describes Queen of Secrets:

This year, Essie Green’s life is going to be different. She’s made the cheerleading squad and caught the eye of the captain of the football team. However, she didn't expect her estranged cousin to join the football team. Micah is instantly branded a freak for praying during games, and Essie doesn’t want anything to do with him. As the football team’s teasing of Micah shifts into hazing, Essie is forced to make a choice between the boy she might love and the cousin she barely knows.

The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2010). Here's how the publisher describes the book:

At first, Lotus thinks Sean is the best thing to happen to her in years. He’s smart, cultured, and adorable. Unfortunately, though, Joni feels the same way. And having an existentialist view of love, Sean sees nothing wrong with enjoying both girls’ affections. Things come to a head when all three depart for Montreal with their teacher, Ms. G, on the French Club’s first official field trip. Will Sean choose Joni over Lotus? And will Lotus and Joni’s friendship ever recover?

And for your viewing pleasure, a book trailer for Pillow Book:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah

I thought it would be seasonally appropriate to share with you the starred review I wrote about The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah for School Library Journal. This is a delightful new Passover story, that I used successfully with several Kindergarten and first grade classes in our religious school recently. For more info about author Leslie Kimmelman and her books, see

KIMMELMAN, Leslie. The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah. illus. by Paul Meisel. unpaged. glossary. CIP. Holiday House. Mar. 2010. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1952-4. LC 2008048488.
PreS-Gr 3—This Yiddish-inflected retelling of "The Little Ren Hen" features a balabusta (good homemaker) who kvetches about her lazy no-goodnik friends who will not help her make matzah from wheat. When they show up at the Passover Seder, the hen scolds, "What chutzpah!" Ultimately, however, they repent and the hen forgives them because she is a mensch. All ends happily as they make up for their earlier bad behavior by doing the dishes. The droll ink, watercolor, and pastel cartoon illustrations have a friendly charm that makes a nice contrast with the story's wry humor. The Yiddish vocabulary and speech patterns will have Jewish adults rolling in the aisles, and children will enjoy the merging of familiar Passover and folktale elements. It's entertaining to those in the know, but readers unfamiliar with the holiday may be mystified by the humor, and they will gain little understanding of the traditions of Passover. An endnote on the holiday's history, a matzah recipe, and a glossary round out the package, but the book should be used in combination with more traditional tales or with audiences who already observe Passover. It's a must for Judaica collections and a solid choice for large general collections.—Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Finds: First Rain

The "Friday Finds" meme is hosted by MizB at the Should Be Reading blog. She asks "What great books did you hear about / discover this past week? Share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!"

I just had to participate because this very Friday morning I found a wonderful new book awaiting me in a package on my desk in the library: First Rain by Charlotte Herman, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter (Albert Whitman).

It's a simple, straightforward story about a little girl whose family makes aliyah (moves to Israel). Through the exchange of letters with the Grandma she left behind, we learn a little bit about Israel, a little Hebrew vocabulary, and a little about dealing with moving. It's not preachy, it's a good match with its intended audience of 1st through 4th graders in terms of emotion and writing style, and the illustrations are clean, detailed, and give a good sense of place. As is appropriate for the audience, politics are NOT included.

There are few picture books on the subject of making aliyah, and those of which I'm aware have to do with the airlift operations that rescued Ethiopian Jews. This is the first book I've seen that features a middle-class, non-Orthodox, North American Jewish child making aliyah. As a librarian in a Reform synagogue in South Florida, I know that this book will make sense to the readers I serve. My thanks to Charlotte Herman for filling a niche that so badly needed it!