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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee!

I am proud to formally announce my affiliation with the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. The Sydney Taylor book awards are given to those books deemed to be the best in Jewish Children’s Literature. I feel honored to be a part of this important process. As a child, I was an avid reader of Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family Books. The sisters in the books, Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie, were my friends. I have no doubt that their stories shaped my childhood and continue to inspire me as a reader, writer, and reviewer. In a sense, being on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee feels like coming home. If you would like to know more about the award, please visit


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jillian's New York Adventure

It's a little bit off topic, but I wanted to share my daughter Jillian's experience at Teen Vogue Fashion University in New York last fall. You can read all about it in the Acorn, our local newspaper.

Here's the link:

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

SCBWI Retreat

I have just returned from the most glorious SCBWI retreat held at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, organized by Alexis O’Neill, our tireless leader, whose dedication to children’s writers has fostered a community of storytellers. The weekend offered opportunities to work on manuscripts, meet new people, and visit with old friends in a relaxed and serene environment. I was one of forty writers who shared our work with each other as well as three (yes, three!) editors, including Stacy Cantor from Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Alexandra Cooper from Walker Books for Young Readers, and Kristin Daly from HarperCollins Children’s Books. These lovely young women read and critiqued manuscripts until their eyes were bleary.

Throughout the weekend, participants supported and encouraged each other, with the unspoken knowledge of how precious each manuscript is to its writer. This generosity of spirit and sense of kinship have given me the inspiration I need to do my best work, and I am deeply grateful. I’m looking forward to the months ahead as I continue to post interviews, write book reviews, revise manuscripts, and begin my work as a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Linda Silver - Jewish Values Finder

I am delighted to welcome Linda Silver to my blog. Linda is a specialist in Jewish children's literature. A retired librarian, Linda has worked in school and public libraries as well as in synagogue and Jewish educational libraries.

Her professional activities include leadership positions in the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC/ALA) and in the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). She has been a member of the Newbery-Caldecott Committee, an ALSC board member, president of the School, Synagogue, and Center Division of AJL, president of the Cleveland AJL chapter, and chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. In 2004, Linda received the AJL's Fanny Goldstein Merit Award in recognition of her contributions to the Association and to the profession of Judaic librarianship. She teaches workshops and gives talks on Jewish children's literature and writes about it extensively as a reviewer and co-editor of children's book reviews for the AJL Newsletter and as editor of the online Jewish Valuesfinder,

Linda's most recent publication is a book published in 2008 by Neal-Schuman entitled The Jewish Values Finder: A Guide to Values in Jewish Children's Literature. Past publications include Jewish Classics for Kids (AJL, 2006), Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature: A Guide for Book Selectors, Reviewers and Award Judges (AJL, 2003), and Developing a Judaic Children’s Collection (AJL, 2001) as well as many magazine, journal, and newspaper articles. Her current writing project is a guide to Jewish children's literature for the Jewish Publication Society. Linda lives with her husband in Cleveland, Ohio.

Linda’s contribution to children’s literature is inspiring. I’m honored that she was able to spend some time to share her knowledge and experience.

Tell me a little bit about the history of Jewish Values Finder and how parents, educators and librarians can access the information.

The predecessor of the Jewish Valuesfinder was Marcia Posner's Juvenile Judaica, a print publication that listed books of Jewish content, briefly described them, and gave their subjects and themes. After the first edition, which was published in 1985 and sold by AJL, several supplements were issued. Publication was suspended around 1995. In 2002, Marcia asked me to create a new publication that would continue her work in some form. She contributed the funds needed to develop the online guide, which was launched in 2003 and is accessible to anyone with a computer at The publishing director at Neal-Schuman read an article about the Jewish Valuesfinder and contacted me, asking if I would write a book.

What drew you to create such a database?

Although more and more books of Jewish content for kids were being published, there was very little written about them. Individual reviews and short bibliographies existed but nothing that compiled all of that burgeoning literature on a continuous basis or evaluated it or identified it by the Jewish values embodied in it. As a Judaic librarian in synagogues and a bureau of Jewish education, I was very aware of how often parents and teachers looked for literature that was rich in Jewish values and how there were no guides to help find it.

This month the Jewish Values Finder was published in book form. How does the book differ from the web site? Will there be updated versions available every year?

The book contains information that the online does not, including a history of Jewish children's literature in America, selection criteria for books of Jewish content, collection development guidelines, and a list of Jewish publishers. While the online guide identifies books by more than 100 separate values, The Jewish Values Finder book organizes books by eighteen different values - each one conceptualized rather broadly. The chapter on mitzvot, for example, includes books that would be identified by many different mitzvot in the online guide. The book is portable; the online guide is not. The book is finite in the number of titles it contains whereas new titles are always being added to the online guide, which already contains books published in 2008. As for updates, I don't know what the publisher's plans are and suppose they depend on how well this book does.

If an author or publisher wants a book considered for inclusion in the Jewish Values Finder is there a submission process?

Anyone who wants a book for children or teens considered for the Valuesfinder can send me a copy for review. First, they should read about the criteria for selecting titles for inclusion in the Valuesfinder by going to They can also email me at

Do you see any significant trends in Jewish literature for children?

There's more Jewish "chicklit" being written and more novels for teens in general. Overall, they make me cringe: “chicklit" celebrates the very traits which sexist adult novels have always associated with women, traits that brand women as petty, materialistic, narcisistic, concerned mainly with their looks and how much money they can spend. The focus in most books for teens is on the self - on the main character and her or his personal, often narrow, concerns. There is very little sense of peoplehood or of being a part of the nation of Israel. In this sense, they are anti-Jewish.

Are there any books “missing” from the genre that you would like to see published?

The art of the picture book is one of the highest achievements in modern children's literature but there's little evidence of that among picture books of Jewish content, whose illustrations are usually banal or at best, pretty. I'm also struck by how conservative, how safe most books of Jewish content are. By this, I don't mean I yearn for the vulgarity that is so commercially successful in secular books for kids but I do wish there was more off-beat or experimental writing, more mischief, more fantasy. For this to happen, reviewers are going to have to be more welcoming of the off-beat and publishers less risk-averse.

Linda, thank you for your commitment to children’s literature!

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Meredith Resnick's Writer Blog

My friend Meredith has a new writer blog. If you are looking for inspiration or some kidred soul connection, it's the place for you!

I stopped by to share my thoughts about "voice" with Meredith. Check it out:

Happy Writing!


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Phyllis Mattson - War Orphan in San Francisco

Phyllis Helene Mattson the author of WAR ORPHAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, a memoir based on her life as an orphan during World War II. Her father was forced to leave Austria, and her mother was unable to obtain the required paperwork to leave, but was able to find Kindertransport to take her daughter to safety. Phyllis was ten years old when she left her parents. She chronicled this period with letters she wrote describing her life, including her experiences in numerous Foster homes and an orphanage. Phyllis hopes that sharing her story will help a younger generation “learn about the struggles that some children have as the result of war.” Phyllis is a mother and grandmother, has been a member of the Peace Corps, and is currently a college teacher in Northern California.

You came to the United States when you were 10 without your parents. How did that happen? Why didn’t they come with you?

Father forced to leave Austria in 1939, mother didn’t have an affidavit, so she found a Kindertransport for me.

Tell us about the journey. Were you scared?
Mother had prepared me for it, and she promised she would soon be there.

You lived with an aunt, but only for a brief time. What happened?
I left my aunt’s because she had only planned to have me a short time, and she was very busy. I added a burden to the already small space and her husband was ill. So it was more for her reasons than anything I wanted or did. We remained in touch after I left.

What happened to your parents?
Father became a British POW (an error) and sent to Australia. Mother was sent to Germany twice to labor, then shipped to Minsk where she died.

How did your separation from your parents affect your life?
It made me very independent. I learned to plan for the things I really wanted, such as an education. I’ve had an extraordinary life, with many rewarding experiences such as teaching, traveling, service, and of course, many, many, friends to replace the family that I lost.

What are you working on now?
My China adventures.

What are a few fun facts about you?
I've traveled the world and just got back from 6th trip to China

What is your favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving and 4th of July

You can learn more about Phyllis and her inspirational story at

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sarah Lamstein - LETTER ON THE WIND

I am happy to welcome Sarah Lamstein to my blog! Sarah crafts heart- filled stories that are loved by children, parents, teachers, and librarians. Her newest picture book, LETTER ON THE WIND (Boyds Mills Press) just received a Sydney Taylor Honor Award for picture books.

Congratulations on the Sydney Taylor Book Award! How did you hear the news?

I received a very tantalizing email from Rachel Kamin, the chair of the Sydney Taylor Award committee asking me to call her. I did and was thrilled to hear that Letter on the Wind was selected as an Honor book. I was glad I could directly hear her enthusiasm for the work of her committee and that I could convey my excitement to her. It was great!!

Tell me a little about the book.

Letter on the Wind, a Chanukah tale, is a story of faith and generosity, skepticism and innocence. When a Middle Eastern village suffers a drought and the olives hang withered on the trees, the villagers cannot make olive oil to light their menorahs. They are resigned to a year without Chanukah, but one man, the poorest in the village, won’t accept that possibility. He writes a letter to the Almighty, asking for help with the dilemma. Help arrives, but with it come complications.

This tale reminds readers of the first Chanukah and of Mattathias’ bravery in protecting his faith.

Why were you drawn to a Jewish theme?

My first Jewish-themed book, Annie’s Shabbat, was a paean to the Shabos of my childhood. My editor asked if I could write a story like Annie’s Shabbat, but about Chanukah. Chanukah wasn’t as rich for me as our weekly observance of the Sabbath, with is preparation, its feast, its shul, its Havdalah, its time of peace and family. I could have written a Chanukah story about going to Joel Feldman’s each year, where his mother served a delicious meal, his grandfather being a butcher and always supplying his family with the fattest and juiciest hotdogs to go with our latkes.

My editor suggested that instead I research Jewish folktales to find one for Chanukah. Dov Noy’s Folktales of Israel proved a valuable source. One of the stories, a Passover tale entitled “Letter to the Almighty” captivated me with its image of a poor, innocent man sending a letter to the Almighty on the wind. It was the poetry of that image that set me to writing Letter on the Wind.

How much research was required to write the book?

I wanted to set the tale in the Middle East – a place of olive groves – in, say, the sixteenth century. I researched Jewish communal living in that time and place, found little, and broadened my scope to just plain communal living. I also looked a bit into the horticulture of olive trees and the process of making olive oil. I believe the illustrator, Neil Waldman, researched, among other things, menorahs. But rather than from research, the setting of the tale came more from my intuition and imagination.

How did you become a children’s writer?

After my first child was born, I began to explore writing for children but spent most of my early mothering years writing poetry. When our family spent two summers in Nepal for my husband’s work, I was drawn to the folk literature of the country and worked with a Nepali writer to produce a collection of tales for American readers. That project, From the Mango Tree and Other Folktales from Nepal, set me on the path to writing for children.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on old manuscript – something I’ve been clinging to for twenty years – a work of nonfiction for older readers. And in the back of my mind is a middle grade novel with a Jewish theme.

What are some fun facts about you?

I’m a puppeteer.
I love Motown.
I can play the Third Man Theme on my nose.

What is your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Pesach because it involves a full table – filled with food and people gathered around it. I love the opportunity for discussion. I love the singing. But most of all, I love the long preparation – the quiet time in my kitchen preparing the ancient symbols – the roasted egg, the roasted shank bone, the horseradish, the charoseth. I feel like my mother, performing the same tasks as she. I feel like a part of a rich continuum.

To learn more about Sarah, please visit her web site at

Sarah, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about writing books for children. Congratulations on your well deserved Sydney Taylor Honor Award!

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced!

Hi Friends,

I thought you might be interested to know that the Sydney Taylor Book Awards have been announced. You can check it out on YouTube:

To see a full list of the awards, click here:

Mazel Tov to all the winners!


Friday, January 4, 2008

Michelle Edwards - Chicken Man

Happy New Year friends and fellow book lovers! I know you will enjoy my first interview of the year with the talented author/illustrator, Michelle Edwards. Michelle has written and/or illustrated several picture books. Her most recent book is a new release of an old favorite, CHICKEN MAN. I’m delighted to welcome Michelle to my blog!

Tell me a little bit about your latest book. Why you were drawn to write about a Jewish theme or character?

My newest book, Chicken Man (January 2008) is actually one of the first books I wrote and illustrated. It will have a new cover and author’s note.

I wrote Chicken Man after living and working on Kibbutz Mizra. I had a friend who worked in the lul, the chicken coop. His charming stories of the chickens and the fun he had in the lul convinced me to work there, too. It was a horrible place and I hated the chickens. That’s when I learned about the power of stories.

What type of research was involved?

I guess you could say that my research was my short, but very memorable tenure in the Kibbutz Mizra chicken coop.

How did you become a children’s writer?

During my first stay in Israel (1974) I filled sketch books with stories and pictures. I knew I wanted to be an artist. One day, I realized that children’s books told stories this way. So I started to teach myself about writing and illustrating for children. It has been a very long course. I am still learning.

What are you working on now?


What are a few fun acts about you?

My childhood nickname, Mush. Still in use.
I knit socks!
I love comic books.
I save stamps. And sometimes their envelopes.

What is your favorite holiday?

Rosh Hashanah! I love beginnings. And apples and the first signs of autumn.

Here's to a fabulous new beginning for Chicken Man! Michelle, thanks for stopping by!

To learn more about Michelle and her other wonderful books, please visit her web site at

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