A Podcast About Jewish Kidlit (Mostly)

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Friday, January 31, 2020

#ReadYourWorld Jewish Diversity

Today I'm celebrating Multicultural Children's Book Day by reminding you that JEWISH BOOKS ARE DIVERSE BOOKS in more than one sense. On the one hand, the Jewish community must be fully welcomed under the Diversity umbrella within the kidlit world, and we've made strides towards that in recent days. On the other hand, diversity within the Jewish community needs to be celebrated in the literature, and progress is being achieved in this area also.

While much Jewish children's literature is still "Ashkenormative," representing the white, European Jewish experience, publishing is beginning to recognize and represent other ways of being Jewish. The photo above represents Jews of color, differently abled Jews, adopted Jews, and Jewish-Gentile cooperation, and this is just the handful of books I was able to grab quickly from my shelf rather than a curated selection. Finding a variety of Jewish representation is getting easier all the time!

Back in June 2017, I blogged about Diverse Jewish Books and compiled a long list of examples. To make it easier to continue updating the list, I've converted the blog post into a permanent  page at The Book of Life. You can find it by navigating to the "Bibliographies from The Book of Life Blog" link under BOOKS on the right hand side of my website, or find it at DIVERSE JEWISH BOOKS. Titles available through IndieBound include affiliate links; your purchases help The Book of Life Podcast.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. For the next month, you can visit the MCBD website to add relevant links to their Big Giant Linky. Please go share your diverse Jewish books! #ReadYourWorld

Monday, January 27, 2020

The 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, Revealed!

Rebecca Levitan with the 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award gold medalists
Rebecca Levitan is the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She joined us to discuss the 2020 winners of the award, which annually recognizes the best Jewish literature for children and teens.

This is the second year that the Sydney Taylor Book Awards will be announced at the ALA Youth Media Awards press conference, being held this year in Philadelphia, PA during the ALA Midwinter Meeting on January 27, 2020 at 8am ET. For the first time, the Sydney Taylor Honor Books are also included in the announcement. The Association of Jewish Libraries is an ALA Affiliate. Watch a live webcast of the press conference.

Here's the official 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award press release and the full list of winners, honors, and notable books.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour will take place February 9-13, 2020. Details will appear soon at JewishLibraries.org.

AJL's Love Your Neighbor booklist series was mentioned during the interview.

The Book of Life's new STAND UP resource for fighting antisemitism was also mentioned.

Read Sydney Taylor Book Award committee member Sylvie Shaffer's poem, "How to Read for the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee... A Self Care Poem?"

For a longer discussion of the issue touched upon in this episode, that of the balance between the Holocaust and other topics within Jewish children's literature, see this article from Tablet Magazine.

The National Jewish Book Award winners from the Jewish Book Council have also been announced! Their winners included Sydney Taylor Honor Book Gittel's Journey and Sydney Taylor Book Award winner Someday We Will Fly.




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

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

How to Fight Antisemitism

In November 2018 I posted about the Love Your Neighbor series of book lists that I helped create for the Association of Jewish Libraries, in response to the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in October of that year. You can read about the project in Tablet Magazine, here.

With the upsurge of antisemitic hate crimes that took place during Hanukkah 2019, we decided it was time to add to the Love Your Neighbor series. The series now includes five lists. The newest addition focuses on Orthodox Jews, because they were a target for so much of the recent hate.

I am also very happy to share The Book of Life's new resource page, Stand Up. This is a growing collection of suggestions for Jews and allies, for standing up to antisemitism. One of the suggestions is sharing the Love Your Neighbor series with readers of ALL backgrounds.

The Love Your Neighbor series includes:
Each title on the lists is linked to an online bookseller. You can also find them in public and synagogue libraries, and at Judaica shops and bookstores.

Use these titles for library and bookstore storytimes and displays, for classroom reading, for book club selections, for diversity projects, and for blog post topics. Use them anywhere and everywhere, to hold up mirrors and open windows to the Jewish experience!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Bisl Yiddish: Bikher fur Kinder

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 Click on the images to buy these books from independent bookstores.
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Yiddish is really popular right now. From the annual Yidstock festival each summer to the off-Broadway Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof, the mameloshn seems to be everywhere. That's even true in children's publishing. Today I have a joint interview with three authors who've created kidlit related to Yiddish language or culture. Sue Macy is the author of the picture book biography, The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come, about Aaron Lansky who founded the Yiddish Book Center. Debby Levy, who appeared on The Book of Life in November 2016 to talk about her RBG biography I Dissent, is back with her picture book Yiddish Saves the Day. And Valerie Estelle Frankel has written a humorous chapter book called Chelm for the Holidays. These three shayne meydelekh joined me to talk about the resurgence of Yiddish, after an introductory clip of "We're Gonna Learn Some Yiddish" written and performed by Rebecca Schoffer, and inspired by the picture book Goodnight Bubbala by Sheryl Haft.



Related books, crowdsourced on the Jewish Kidlit Mavens Facebook group:

The Sages of Chelm and the Moon by Shlomo Abas
Chanukah in Chelm by David Adler
Malke's Secret Recipe by David Adler
Shmutzy Girl, Noshy Boy, Shluffy Girl, Kvetchy Boy and Klutzy Boy by Anne-Marie Asner 
The Brothers Schlemiel by Mark Binder
A Hanukkah Present by Mark Binder
The Tale of Meshka the Kvetch by Carol Chapman 
Just Stay Put by Gary Clement
The Yiddish Fish by Santiago Cohen
Kishke for Koppel by Aubrey Davis
A Hat for Mrs Goldman by Michelle J Edwards
Oy Feh So by Cary Fagan
Stone Soup with Matzoh Balls by Linda Glaser
Way Too Many Latkes by Linda Glaser
The Silly World of Chelm by Zalman Goldstein
Oy Vey! Life in a Shoe by Bonnie Meltzer Grubman
Goodnight Bubbala by Sheryl Haft
Five Little Gefiltes by Dave Horowitz
Once Upon a Shabbos by Jacqueline Jules
The Jar of Fools by Eric Kimmel
Right Side Up: Adventures in Chelm by Eric Kimmel
The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman
Estie the Mensch by Jane Kohuth
A Confused Hanukkah by Jon Koons
Shlomo Travels to Warsaw by David Kudler
The Tushy Book by Fran Manushkin
Good Night Wind by Linda Marshall
Too Young for Yiddish by Richard Michelson
A Kiss on the Keppie by Lesléa Newman
Shlemiel Crooks by Anna Olswanger
Beautiful Yetta: the Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater
Beautiful Yetta's Hanukkah Kitten by Daniel Pinkwater
The Angel's Mistake by Francine Prose
The Demons' Mistake by Francine Prose
The Schmutzy Family by Madelyn Rosenberg
The Wise Folk of Chelm by Seymour Rossel
Strudel Strudel Strudel by Steve Sanfield
The Wise Men of Helm and Their Merry Tales by Solomon Simon
The Fools of Chelm and Their History by Isaac Bashevis Singer
The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Zlateh the Goat by Isaac Bashevis Singer
My Yiddish Vacation by Ione Skye
Nosh Schlep Schluff: BabYiddish by Laurel Snyder
Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost by Ann Stampler
In the Land of Happy Tears: Yiddish Tales for Modern Times edited by David Stromberg
Can Hens Give Milk? by Joan Betty Stuchner
The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band by Joan Betty Stuchner
My First Yiddish Word Book by Joni Sussman
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
Kibitzers and Fools by Simms Taback
Raisins and Almonds by Susan Tarcov
Rachel Captures the Moon by Richard Ungar
Rachel's Gift by Richard Ungar
Rachel's Library by Richard Ungar

NOTE: The Book of Life is an IndieBound Affiliate. Many of these links lead to IndieBound, where you can purchase the books from independent bookstores.


Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473. We'd also appreciate it if you'd leave us a rating or review on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice.

Monday, January 06, 2020

How to read for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee...a Self Care poem?

A guest post by Sylvie Shaffer

Just before Chanukah, I wrote this poem as response to the Nessah Synagogue desecration. At the time, I was finishing my second year of reading for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, which I have been so incredibly honored to do. The award has been given annually since 1968 by the Association of Jewish Libraries to the best books featuring Jewish content published for children and young adults.

While I have enjoyed reading and critically considering some wonderful books with joyful expressions of Jewish life, most of my committee reading has centered the Holocaust, and to be completely honest, it's been brutal reading these stories of Jewish victimhood. Especially since over the course of the last 24 or so months of reading every eligible book published, antisemitism and violence against Jews has risen dramatically.

Setting aside the hard numbers - for example, "at least 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets were shared or re-shared on Twitter over a 12-month period" in 2018 - consider that during the same period in which I read a stack of Holocaust books taller than I am (granted, I am only five feet tall, but still) the following things happened:
  • Months of bomb threats to Jewish schools, Jewish Community Centers, and Synagogues
  • Deadly Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway
  • Swastikas spray-painted in big cities and small towns and on college campuses including my dear alma matter Smith College
  • A Kosher supermarket shooting
And just in the last week alone, each day of Chanukah saw horrible acts of violence against Jews. Never again is now. This has to stop. Please, whether you're Jewish or not, a Kidlit pal or not, please raise your voice, raise awareness, acknowledge that this - acts of violence against Jews - is happening...again.

~ Sylvie Shaffer, December 30, 2019

How to read for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee...a Self Care poem?

As books arrive, sort them into Picturebooks, MG, and YA. Diligently update your spreadsheets noting “books received”...try to stagger your reading so you read non-Holocaust books in between the Holocaust books. At some point, late in the year, accept that you will run out of non-Holocaust books to read as spacers. Es faran nisht genug bikher. There are not enough books. And yet there are too many.

When all you’ve got left is a stack of Nazi-lit, it’s time to beef up the self care. Make deals with yourself about pages read before you can take the dog for her walk. Drink hot chocolate while you read. Bake something, so the house smells warm and sweet.

Take the covers off the books so you don’t have to see the swastikas, barbed wire, yellow stars that adorn the dust jackets. Read in the bathtub with soft music playing.

Take a break, take a walk. Put on your coat. Think about how it doesn’t have coins or jewels sewn into the lining. Wonder if it should. Say hi to your neighbors when you pass them. Would they take you in, if it came to that? Kiss the mezuzah on the way back into the house.

Check Twitter. Look at photos of the Nessah Synogogue vandalism with disbelief. Feel gratitude your Zeydie who was forced into the Bialystok ghetto, a firsthand witness to the desecration of the famous Great Synagogue in 1941, who survived multiple concentration camps, is not alive to see this. The images of broken glass and vandalized Torahs are dizzying, nauseating.

Read on the sofa with one hand scritching your dog’s soft head. She understands you’re reading horrifying stories you already know, were born knowing. Remember your Oma screaming in German in her sleep, every Shabbat sleepover of your youth. Remember, when you read descriptions of concentration camp bunks, how your Bubbie commented at your sister’s school production of Oliver- “that’s how we slept in the camps.” Remember. Never forget. As if you could.

Update your committee spreadsheets.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Top Posts of 2019

I was on vacation as 2019 came to a close, so I'm a little late with this year-in-review post, but I hope you will still find it interesting. If you missed any of these posts, you might want to go back and check them out. Your fellow fans would recommend them!

The most popular Book of Life posts of 2019 were (in increasing order of popularity):

  1. Sister Religion/Sister Kidlit, August 
  2. Blog Tour 10th Anniversary, February
  3. A Field Guide to Jewish Kidlit, December
  4. Diversity Needs Jewish Books, October
  5. Takeaways from "Beyond the Holocaust & Holidays," March
  6. The 2019 Sydney Taylor Book & Manuscript Award Winners, January
  7. Beyond the Holocaust & Holidays: A Writing Symposium, January

The Book of Life has a huge back catalog - after all, I've been podcasting since 2005! Please enjoy these 2019 highlights (the other posts from 2019 were pretty good too!). Happy reading and happy listening!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Statement from the Association of Jewish Libraries Regarding Recent Antisemitic Acts

Reprinted from the Association of Jewish Libraries website, posted 12/31/19:

The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) is horrified by the recent spate of antisemitic attacks, especially those that took place during the holiday of Hanukkah. The shooting at a kosher market in New Jersey and the stabbing at a Hanukkah party in New York made national news; at the same time, there has been a tidal wave of verbal abuse, physical violence, and widespread vandalism of Jewish spaces. We mourn the tragic loss of life, offer prayers of recovery for victims, and urge all to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community in the face of intimidation.

As an international organization of librarians, archivists, researchers, writers, teachers, and lovers of literature, AJL seeks to educate the public and provide resources to fight this scourge of ignorance and hate. After the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, AJL published the Love Your Neighbor series of youth booklists. These recommended titles demystify the Jewish experience for readers, with the aim of helping them grow in understanding and empathy. We will continue to update and add to this series in the new year. We call upon educators and librarians of all backgrounds to share this resource with their communities, and to reach out to AJL for more ways to learn about and support Jewish neighbors. Please contact info@jewishlibraries.org to see how you can help.

We will not allow our communities to accept antisemitic terrorism or any other form of hate crime as "the new normal." We will spread knowledge to fight hate. Please join us.

The Association of Jewish Libraries - The Leading Authority on Judaic Librarianship