You know Sydney Taylor. Author of the All-of-a-Kind Family books, goddess, namesake of the Association of Jewish Libraries’ awards for books for kids and teenagers that “exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.” I am way more excited about these awards than about the farshtunkiner Golden Globes. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the awards, for bonus excitement. (Fun fact: The first award went to The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig in 1968, which is still in print and which I loved as a kid. Funner fact: My daughter went to Jewish nursery school with Hautzig’s granddaughter; both enjoyed the slide.)
Let’s check out the librarians’ picks, and just for fun, see how they dovetail with Tablet’s Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2017.
GOLD MEDALISTS (aka “Sydney Taylor Award winners”)
The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers category. (We liked this book a lot, with some artistic and factual reservations.)
Refugee by Alan Gratz, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Older Readers (what other folks call “middle grade”) category. (We admired this one too, and it made our list, but we fretted that it was a little glib and potboiler-ish.)
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Teen Readers category.
(Yet another fun fact: The Language of Angels and Refugee were also winners at the 67th Annual National Jewish Book Awards, also announced today.)
SILVER MEDALISTS (aka “Sydney Taylor Honor Books”)
For Younger Readers: Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam adapted by Fawzia Gilani- Williams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele; and Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg. (Fab choices! Tablet loved both books.)
For Older Readers: Viva, Rose! by Susan Krawitz; This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang (we adored this hilarious ‘80s-fest, featuring dueling Chinese and Jewish grandmothers); and The Six-Day Hero by Tammar Stein.
For Teen Readers: To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial by Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz; Almost Autumn by Marianne Kaurin, translated by Rosie Hedger; and The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke (a tale of Cold War magic and mystery, also on Tablet’s list).
As if all this were not enough, the committee named 12 “Notable” books:
For Younger Readers: Yom Kippur Shortstop by David A. Adler, illustrated by Andre Ceolin; Under the Sabbath Lamp by Michael Herman, illustrated by Alida Massari; Big Sam: A Rosh Hashanah Tall Tale by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Jim Starr; The Knish War on Rivington Street by Joanne Oppenheim, illustrated by Jon Davis; Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst. (FYI, the last three books made Tablet’s Best-of-the-Year list: Big Sam is great fun for American folktale fans; The Knish War hits all your Lower East Side nostalgia buttons without drooping into sentimentality, and the art in the RBG book is utterly spectacular.) For Older Readers: Hedy’s Journey: The True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust by Michelle Bisson, illustrated by el primo Ramón; The Children of Willesden Lane: A True Story of Hope and Survival During World War II: Young Readers Edition by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, adapted by Emil Sher; Wordwings by Sydelle Pearl; The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. (Not-so-fun fact: All four books in this category deal with the Holocaust.) For Teen Readers: Man’s Search for Meaning: Young Reader Edition by Viktor E. Frankl. (This book has no author credit! Who turned it into a “young reader edition”? Odd, no?) Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin; Stolen Secrets by L.B. Schulman.
Harold Grinspoon and PJ Library got a special prize: The Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award. As you no doubt know, PJ Library, a project of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends free Jewish books (and a few non-Jewish books with “Jewish values”) to families with kids all over the world. Thanks to PJ Library’s huge reach, publishers are more likely to take a risk on publishing a “niche” Jewish book, so yay. This is only the 12th time in 50 years this award has been given: It last went to Eric Kimmel (author of THE BEST HANUKKAH BOOK THAT WILL EVER BE WRITTEN, FIGHT ME) in 2004.
Want more info? Go to The Sydney Taylor Book Awards 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.