Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel #ReadYourWorld

Today, January 27, 2016, is Multicultural Children's Book Day, a celebration of diversity in kidlit. Check out to find diversity booklists for kids and a Linky where you can suggest resources yourself (perhaps Jewish resources). And be sure to Google #ReadYourWorld to find links to multicultural children's book reviews and reading suggestions.

In the spirit of the Day's hashtag, #ReadYourWorld, I'm posting my interview with Laura Gehl about the picture book Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, a story that showcases the diversity of Israel's geography and people (including anthropomorphic animals among humans), and imagines a world in which friendliness prevails.

I met Laura at the 2015 Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Silver Spring, MD.


Or click Mp3 File (15:46)


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   
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
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Monday, January 25, 2016

The 2016 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be celebrating and showcasing its 2016 gold and silver medalists with a Blog Tour, February 8-12, 2016! Interviews with winning authors and illustrators will appear on a wide variety of Jewish and kidlit blogs. For those of you who have not yet experienced a Blog Tour, it’s basically a virtual book tour. Instead of going to a library or bookstore to see an author or illustrator speak, you go to a website on or after the advertised date to read an author’s or illustrator’s interview.

Below is the schedule for the 2016 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!


Ketzel the Cat by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Ann Koffsky's Blog

Serendipity's Footsteps by Suzanne Nelson
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At Bildungsroman


Adam & Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld, translated by Jeffrey M. Green, illustrated by Philippe Dumas
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Jewish Books for Kids with Barbara Bietz

Hereville by Barry Deutsch
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
At Jewish Comics


The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At The Prosen People

Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Kristi's Book Nook


Everybody Says Shalom by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Talitha Shipman
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
At Book Q&A's with Deborah Kalb

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
At Randomly Reading


Blog Tour Wrap-Up with all authors and illustrators
At The Whole Megillah

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The 2016 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Are Announced!

Lesléa Newman and Amy June Bates, author and illustrator of Ketzel, the Cat who Composed, Aharon Appelfeld, Philippe Dumas and Jeffrey M. Green, author, illustrator and translator of Adam and Thomas, and Laura Amy Schlitz, author of The Hired Girl, are the 2016 winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.  The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series.  The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries Conference in Charleston, South Carolina this June.

Newman and Bates will receive the 2016 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Younger Reader category for Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed, published by Candlewick Press.  This delightful picture book tells the true story of musician Morris Moshe Cotel, whose cat helped him compose a one-minute composition that received an honorable mention in the Paris New Music Review competition.  The illustrations are heartwarming and add much charm to the story.  Appelfeld, Dumas and Green will receive the 2016 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Older Readers category for Adam and Thomas, published by Seven Stories Press.  This sweet story tells of two nine-year-old Jewish boys who survive the last winter of World War II, helping each other so that one grows physically stronger and braver and the other grows spiritually.  Laura Amy Schlitz will receive the 2016 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Teen category for The Hired Girl, published by Candlewick Press. This sensitive story tells how fourteen-year-old Catholic Joan Skraggs becomes a hired girl to a Jewish family where she learns and grows in unexpected ways.

Five Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2016.  For Younger Readers, the Honor Books are Everybody Says Shalom written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Talitha Shipman, published by Random House, and Shanghai Sukkah written by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong, published by Kar-Ben Publishing.  Hereville:  How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch, published by Amulet Books, is the Honor book in the Older Reader category.  For Teen Readers, the Honor books are Serendipity’s Footsteps by Suzanne Nelson, published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, and Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer, published by Orca Book Publishers.

Winners and Honor recipients will be participating in a Blog Tour from February 7-12, 2016. For more information about the blog please visit

In addition to the medal winners, the Award Committee designated twelve Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2016.  More information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award can be found at

Click here for a pdf of 2016 winners, honor books, and notable books.
For more information, contact:
Diane Rauchwerger, Chair
Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
Association of Jewish Libraries
(408) 245-7641


The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers:

Ketzel, the Cat who Composed by Lesléa Newman with illustrations by Amy June Bates
(Candlewick Press)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers:

Adam & Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld, translated by Jeffrey M. Green
with illustrations by Philippe Dumas
(Seven Stories Press)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers:

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
(Candlewick Press)

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Younger Readers:

Everybody Says Shalom by Leslie Kimmelman with illustrations by Talitha Shipman
(Random House)

Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Jing Jing Tsong
(Kar-Ben Publishing)

Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Older Readers:

Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch
(Amulet Books)

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Teen Readers:

Serendipity’s Footsteps by Suzanne Nelson
(Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House)

Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer
(Orca Book Publishers)

Notable Books for Younger Readers:

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
(Apples & Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House & Gefen Publishing House)

The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer illustrated by Suzanne Raphael Berkson
(Farrar Straus Giroux)

Sadie and Ori and the Blue Blanket by Jamie Korngold illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
(Kar-Ben Publishers)

Notable Books for Older Readers:

The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow
(Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)

Mr. Doctor: Janusz Korczak and the Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto
by Irene Cohen-Janca and illustrated by Maurizio A. C. Quarello
(Annick Press)

The Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito
(Holiday House)

Watch Out for Flying Kids!: How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community by Cynthia Levinson

The Wren and the Sparrow, by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg
(Kar-Ben Publishers)

Notable Books for Teens:

Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson
(Scholastic Press)

Deep Sea by Annika Thor
(Delacorte Press)

Imagining Katherine by Carol Solomon
(Tova Press)

Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin
(Carolrhoda Lab)

Monday, January 04, 2016

My Grandfather's Coat

Barbara McClintock & Jim Aylesworth

My Grandfather's Coat won the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Award gold medal in the Younger Readers' Category, and I was thrilled to meet author Jim Aylesworth and illustrator Barbara McClintock, along with their editor, my old friend Dianne Hess, at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Silver Spring, MD.

The conversation was like a meeting of the Mutual Appreciation Society, because these are three of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. I'm sure you will enjoy hearing their stories on the creation of this book, which is a new version of the folktale represented by Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Sydney Taylor silver medal, 1999) and Something From Nothing (Sydney Taylor gold medal, 1992).

Bonus Track: You'll also hear Jim Aylesworth's delightful conference session, in which he "walked the walk" by getting librarians to stand in for students in an interactive presentation.

The 2016 Sydney Taylor Book Awards will be announced this month - watch this space for details!


Or click Mp3 File (41:21)

Barbara, Dianne, and Jim


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   
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
Support The Book of Life by becoming a patron at!
Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to

Monday, December 21, 2015

10 Years of The Book of Life Podcast

Ten years ago on December 21, 2005, I posted the very first episode of The Book of Life. Fourteen and a quarter minutes long, the episode is a mix of home-grown Hanukkah celebrations at Congregation B'nai Israel, the Boca Raton synagogue where I am librarian, and interviews with authors. I had summoned up the courage to approach Eric Kimmel (aka "Mr. Hanukkah"), who I'd met at the 2005 Association of Jewish Libraries conference when he won the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award, and I interviewed him over the phone (with an in-ear recorder!) about his classic Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. I also called Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, who had been my colleague when I worked for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and had since authored Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah. Because it's been ten years and the downloads have had so long to accumulate, that episode has been downloaded 11,306 times and counting. You can still hear that very first episode here.

My original idea for the podcast was that it would showcase library materials to my own community and encourage folks to come in and borrow things they'd heard about on the show. I tried to interview CBI members and staff to create a sense of community. However, I soon found that most people clam up when you put a microphone in front of them! They get shy, they don't know what to say, and they find the whole experience scary. Authors, on the other hand, are thrilled to talk about their books! It's what they love, plus it's free publicity! So the podcast soon evolved to its current Fresh Air format where I interview authors, illustrators, filmmakers, musicians, and webmasters about their Jewish creations. Hey, if my friends don't wanna talk to me, that's fine, I'll go chat with the famous people!

The Book of Life has produced 152 podcast episodes out of the 272 Jewish news posts on the blog. A particularly memorable episode for me is my 2006 interview with Simms Taback, in which he sang in Yiddish for me. Simms was kind of rambly and he knew it, so when I edited him down to brevity he said "You saved my tuchus!" I answered, "Great! Will you draw me a picture?" And that's how I got this wonderful piece of original artwork! (Note that Simms didn't have an iPod himself, so he didn't realize the wires diverge at midpoint.)

Every now and then I try a new format, like the time I copied A Prairie Home Companion and read greetings from listeners (inviting people to "say chai" for the 18th episode), or when I did a live call-in show to discuss what makes a book Jewish. Another time I recorded a talk by Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) at Books & Books indie bookstore in Miami and he gave me permission to podcast the recording. A recent episode that created a lot of buzz was a virtual panel discussion (accomplished by conference call), discussing the theme  "Enough with the Holocaust Books for Children."

These days, it's easy to find interviewees: many creators email me to introduce their work in hopes of an interview. That's how I found forthcoming podcast subjects: The Last Shepherd (a crowdsourced Israeli sci-fi film) and The Yiddish Fish (a very weird picture book based on a true story). And of course the podcasts about Sydney Taylor Book Award winners just fall into my lap, because I meet those authors and illustrators each year at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference.

If you've been enjoying The Book of Life, please do let me know. It can be lonely, podcasting, because I'm doing all the talking and listeners don't often get in touch. Drop me a line at or leave a comment here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter to tell me your favorite episodes, make suggestions, or share my delight at reaching the ten year mark! Happy reading and happy podcast listening!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Mitten String

This post is a double dip! It’s my contribution to the Multicultural Kid Blogs Hanukkah series (see the whole series here) AND it’s my entry in #Readukkah, the 2015 Jewish Reading Challenge, which encourages everyone to spread the word about great Jewish titles in order to increase readership and support Jewish publishing.

Last year I wrote a review of The Mitten String for School Library Journal, which you can see below. I continue to adore this book, and when I thought about what I could use for my #Readukkah selection, this title jumped to mind as an ongoing favorite. 

I love the sense of community that shines forth from the very first line: “It was said that Ruthie Tober’s family warmed the hands of the entire village, because everyone who lived there, big and small, wore mittens knitted from Tober wool.”

I love the spare writing that makes relationships clear so simply: the ease between Mother and Ruthie shows in the wink Mother gives when she reminds Ruthie about her lost mittens.

I love the respectful description of deafness, the fact that Bayla has knowledge to offer as well as a need for help, and the sign language diagrams at the back along with the notation that “Users of sign language actually prefer gloves to mittens, as they employ their fingers to spell words and to sign.” That seems obvious once you read it, but a hearing person may not think about this in a mitten-focused story.

I love, as always, the illustrations by Kristina Swarner. Although Kristina is not Jewish, I consider her a landsman. Her gorgeous work has graced incredible Jewish picture books, from the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner The Bedtime Shema by Sarah Gershman to the heartbreaking Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin, a Sydney Taylor Silver.  Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz won a Sydney Taylor Silver and his Before You Were Born was named a Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries, because Schwartz and Swarner are such a winning combination. Her work is universal and sweeping, while feeling tender and personal at the same time.

If you haven’t read The Mitten String, do yourself a favor and seek it out. Here’s my original review from SLJ. Happy #Readukkah!

K-Gr 3—The Tobers raise sheep, and young Ruthie loves to knit mittens from their wool for the villagers. When her family befriends a deaf woman whose wagon has broken down and her baby, the child observes how the mother, Bayla, sleeps with a string tied between her own wrist and Aaron's, to alert her if her son wakes up in the night. Inspired, Ruthie knits the pair a set of baby- and mother-sized mittens connected by a string and goes on to make more for the local children to keep them from losing their mittens. "You are both clever and kind," her mother praises. "You make our world a bit better with every stitch." The character of Bayla is based on the author's great-great-aunt; Rosner also has two deaf daughters. It is not surprising, therefore, that her portrayal of deafness is extremely respectful and sensitive. When Bayla uses sign language with Aaron, "To Ruthie, it looked as if Bayla were standing before an invisible spinning wheel, her words flowing from her fingers like delicate strands of yarn." Swarner's rounded and gentle watercolor prints add to the safe, warm feeling of this story of resourcefulness and mutual admiration. The "old country" Jewish setting is subtle, giving the story flavor without dominating it. Knitting and sign-language glossaries round out this attractive title. This beautiful story of kindness, acceptance, and resourcefulness will have wide appeal.—Heidi Estrin, Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Hanukkah Books: A Diverse Dozen

I was very pleased when Multicultural Kid Blogs invited me to write a guest post about Hanukkah. MKB is a collective of blogs from around the world "for families and educators raising world citizens, through arts, activities, crafts, food, language, and love." 

Because the post was for a general audience, I started with a roundup of facts about Hanukkah. Because of the diversity emphasis of MKB, I focused my reading list on books that show the diversity of the Jewish experience by posting about Hanukkah books with Sephardic characters, Jews of color, Jews with disabilities, and interfaith families.