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.

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 JPSblog.org! 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: http://jewishbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-be-social-whole-megillah.html.

LINKS mentioned in Part 1:

Association of Jewish Libraries: http://www.jewishlibraries.org

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: