Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sydney Taylor Book Award: A Prize for Jewish Children's and Teen Literature

Each year, I find it so helpful to see the books honored by the Sydney Taylor Book Award, an annual award given by the Association of Jewish Libraries.  In my mind, these books are of outstanding quality, are heart-felt and moving, and authentically portray the Jewish experience.  I have just started to dig into the books that have received the award in 2010, but I wanted to share these titles with you.  I will share with you my impressions on the books I have read.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers:
New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story
by April Halprin Wayland
illustrations by Stephane Jorish
NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009
ages 5 - 9
This story is full of love and warmth as it follows young Izzy as he says, "I'm sorry" to people he cares about.  Izzy and his family are getting ready for the Jewish New Year ceremony of Tashlich, when people apologize for the mistakes they made the previous year and start the new year with a clean slate.  But saying, "I'm sorry" is a hard thing to do.  This story presents a child's view on how to make atonement by saying sorry from the heart and forgiving others for their wrong doings.

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Younger Readers:
Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story
by Deborah Bodin Cohen
illustrations by Jago
MN: Kar-Ben, 2009
ages 6 - 10

Benjamin and the Silver Goblet
by Jacqueline Jules
illustrations by Natascia Ugliano
MN: Kar-Ben, 2009
ages 4 - 8

Yankee at the Seder
by Elka Weber
illustrations by Adam Gustavson
CA: Tricycle Press, 2009
ages 6 - 10
Young Jacob wants more than anything to show that the South is not ready to concede defeat to the North.  But then, Myer Levy, a Jewish Yankee soldier, joins Jacob's family Passover meal.  Gathered around the seder table, the group discusses what it means to be free.  This touching, heart-felt story shows how cultural and religious connections can stretch across many boundaries. (Note: I am excited to interview artist Adam Gustavson next week - stay tuned!)

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?
by Jonah Winter
illustrations by Andre Carrilho
NY: Schwartz and Wade Books, 2009
ages 5 - 9
With striking illustrations, this book shows what was so amazing about pitching great Sandy Koufax.  Starting with his early years, Winter shows how Koufax learned to control his pitching, and developed to become one of the all-time greatest pitchers. 

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers:
The Importance of Wings
by Robin Friedman
MA: Charlesbridge, 2009
ages 10 - 14

Although I haven't had a chance to read The Importance of Wings yet, it is a book I am very drawn to.  I am fascinated by its cross-cultural explorations, as it follows a two young girls from different families who have both immigrated from Israel to the US in the 1980s. To be completely honest, I can remember my own futile attempts to have "wings" - and that memory captures my adolescent feelings of wanting to be "cool" and fit in with everyone else. For a wonderful review, head over to Becky's Book Reviews.

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Older Readers:
Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures from the Archives of the Anne Frank House
by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol
translated by Arnold J. Pomerans
NY: Roaring Brook Press, 2009
ages 10 and up

A Faraway Island 
by Annika Thor
translated by Linda Schenck
NY: Delacorte Press, 2009
ages 9 - 14
This is a book I have ordered for my own 11 year old daughter.  She is interested in the Jewish experience in World War II, and this seems like a sensitive but gripping introduction, similar to Number the Stars. From the publisher: "In 1939 Sweden, two Jewish sisters wait for their parents to join them in fleeing the Nazis in Austria, but while eight-year-old Nellie settles in quickly, twelve-year-old Stephie feels stranded at the end of the world, with a foster mother who is as cold and unforgiving as the island on which they live."

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers:
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba
by Margarita Engle
NY: Henry Holt Book, 2009
ages 11 - 14
Young Daniel escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but his dream that he might one day be reunited with his parents.  But New York has turned away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba.  What enfolds is a touching story of friendship between Daniel, David, an older Jew who has lived in Cuba for many years, and Paloma, a young Cuban girl who is struggling with her relationship to her father.  This novel in verse drew me into David and Paloma's world, although it wasn't as satisfying as some historical fiction.  For a full review, see Betsy Bird's Fuse #8.

Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Teen Readers:
by Jacqueline Davies
NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2009
ages 12 - 15

Naomi’s Song
by Selma Kritzer Silverberg
Jewish Publication Society
ages 12 - 15

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) since 1968, the Award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.


  1. Mary Ann,

    Thank you for this lovely post about the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. I'm looking forward to your interview for the blog tour!

    Barbara Bietz
    Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee

  2. Dear Mary Ann,

    Thank you for your thoughtful review of New Year at the Pier--and of all the others--wow, what a great blog!

    My son is a sophomore at CAL, so maybe I'll meet you some day!

    April ~ six children's authors who also teach writing ~ writing prompts, poetry, interviews and more ~

  3. Thanks so much for the kind words about Yankee at the Seder. Lucky you, to be interviewing the very talented Adam Gustavson!