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Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced: Read the Best Children’s and Young Adult Literature of 2016

The Association of Jewish Libraries announces its picks for the year’s best children’s books

Marjorie Ingall
January 12, 2017

Whoo, this morning we learned which morsels of Jewy kid lit have received this prestigious honor, a fixture on the library circuit since 1968! The award, of course, is named after Sydney Taylor, author of the much-adored All-of-a-Kind Family series. There are three Sydney Taylor Award categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. The awards recognize books “that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.”

This year’s Gold Medalist (the highest honor) in the Younger Readers category is I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley. Yahoo! The awards committee said, “This delightful biography of the Supreme Court Justice teaches children that dissent does not make a person disagreeable, and can even help change the world. The grab-your-attention illustrations help explain the text.” Obviously, I agree, because the book was on my list of Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2016. The committee also honored two Silver Medalists, or Honor Books, in the Younger Readers Category: Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson, with illustrations by Edel Rodriguez (which I also adored and which was probably my #1 picture-book fave this year); and the delightful A Hat For Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, with illustrations by G. Brian Karas. Also on my list. Go me and the Sydney Taylor Committee, vibing our faces off in perfect trippindicular harmony.

In the Older Readers Category (which is commonly called middle-grade, meaning chapter books for kids aged 6-12 or thereabouts), the committee awarded a Gold Medal to The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly. “Part fantasy and part adventure, this is the tale of strangers who become friends while on a quest to save thousands of volumes of Talmud,” the committee said. “The beautiful illuminations reflect the medieval flavor of the book.” I included the book in a roundup of excellent books about refugees. This year’s silver medals went to A Poem For Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (also one of my top choices this year), and Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy, which my friend Heidi Rabinowitz called “an entertaining, slightly over-the-top slice of Jewish suburban life in the 1970s, with the bonus of magic tricks and jokes,” in her review for School Library Journal.

This year’s Gold Medal for Teen Readers went to Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit. The committee’s description: “Anna is left alone in 1939 Krakow when the Nazis take her father away. She meets the mysterious Swallow Man who is able to speak ‘bird,’ and travels with him in the forests of Poland, where they spend four years hiding and eluding capture. This is a haunting story that may be allegory or folktale or perhaps both.” My take: The book is full of gorgeous language and delicate allusiveness and ambiguity, with an oblique story that will tease and tickle those who sniff that plot is for lowly genre literature. It would be a good gift for deep, poetry-writing emo teens (and adults).

There was no Silver Medal—or even a single honorable mention—for Teen Readers. BURN. But why? Ellen Tillman, the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, told me, “Unfortunately, very few titles were submitted in our teen category. We had widely divided opinions on the other few titles [aside from Anna and the Swallow Man, which the entire committee voted for]. Based upon this, we decided not to designate any Honor or Notable books for teen readers in 2017.” (Hey, I found three to love, but what do I know.)

The committee’s Notable Books for Younger Readers were Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer with illustrations by Deborah Melmon; Gabriel’s Horn by Eric Kimmel, with illustrations by Maria Surducan; Not This Turkey by Jessica Steinberg, with illustrations by Amanda Pike; On One Foot by Linda Glaser, with illustrations by Nuria Balaguer; The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat by Barbara Bietz, with illustrations by John Kanzler; and The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld, with illustrations by Peter McCarty.

The Notable Books for Older Readers were The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough (which was on my own “best” list); Irena’s Children: Young Readers Edition: A True Story of Courage by Tilar J. Mazzeo, adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell; The Ship to Nowhere by Rona Arato; and Skating with the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer.

The winners will receive their awards at the Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries, held in New York City in June. The top winners will also do a blog tour; for more info, check out the Association of Jewish Libraries site.

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.