Winners of the Sydney Taylor Awards, honoring the best of Jewish children’s literature, were announced last month. The awards are named after the author of the perennial favorite, “All of a Kind Family,” one of the only Jewish books listed on the recent New York Times list of the best 100 children’s book of the last 100 years. The awards are given in three categories, Young Readers, Older Readers, and Teens, and are hotly debated all year by the members of the Association of Jewish Libraries award committee.
This year’s winners are Laurel Snyder and Catia Chien, author and illustrator of “The Longest Night: A Passover Story,” Patricia Polacco, author and illustrator of “The Blessing Cup,” and Neal Bascomb, author of “The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi.”
Award committee chairperson Aimee Lurie describes “The Longest Night,” the winning book for Younger Readers as lovely book “written in verse about the tumultuous days leading up to the Jews flight from Egypt-- described from the perspective of an unnamed slave girl.” Author Laurel Snyder explains her unusual take on the biblical story by relating that as a girl sitting at her family’s Seder, she never got to hear much about the regular people who fled Egypt—it was always centered on the story of Moses and Pharaoh. “I wondered what is was like for a kid back then, living each day as a slave, then suddenly dashing out into the desert. I wanted to know what it was like to be a child of Israel. I couldn’t quite picture it. This book is my answer to the curious girl I was. And I hope that if somewhere out there, other kids are wondering too, this book will help them to imagine.” The powerful acrylic paintings that illustrate the poetic text are suitable for young children, and give children a sort of “you-are-there” quality that enhances the gentle narrative.
The winner for the Older Readers category is well-loved author Patricia Polacco for “The Blessing Cup,” a companion book to Polacco’s famed illustrated story, “The Keeping Quilt,” which previously won the Sydney Taylor Award in 1988. Polacco has drawn upon her family history once again in this richly illustrated prequel to “The Keeping Quilt,” this time telling the story of a special teacup lovingly separated from a colorful china set by Polacco’s ancestors fleeing Tsarist Russia. The “blessing cup” was taken with them as they journeyed to America, and eventually it is passed down to her in 1962, when the author received the cup from her mother on her wedding day. The theme of family and tradition shines through this lovely, heartfelt story. Even though this book presents as a picture book, the award committee considered it more suitable for the “older reader” category because of the sophisticated language and historical accounts of Tzarist pogroms. “I was moved to tears reading this book,” says, Aimee Lurie. “The gorgeous illustrations and heartfelt story remind readers of the importance of sharing from generation to generation our own family histories and the incredible sacrifices made by our ancestors to start new lives in America.”
Neal Bascomb will receive the gold medal in the Teen Readers category for “The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi,” a meticulously researched account of the spy mission to capture Adolf Eichmann by an elite team of Israeli spies. This suspenseful narrative of true events will fascinate teens in grades 8 and above. Later they will probably go searching for the movie, but this book, with extensive source notes and bibliography, proves the author is really telling it like it was. Even teens who don’t usually read non-fiction won’t be able to put this one down.
Six Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2014. For younger readers, two Honor Books were selected: “Stones for Grandpa,” by Renee Londoner with illustrations by Martha Avillés and “Rifka Takes a Bow,” by Betty Rosenberg Perlov with illustrations by Cosei Kawa. “The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler’s List,” by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson, and “Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1948,” by Carol Matas garnered recognition as an Honor Books for Older Readers. For Teen Readers, the honor goes to “Dancing in the Dark,” by Robyn Bavati and “The War Within These Walls,” by Aline Sax with illustrations by Caryl Strzelecki and translated by Laura Watkinson.
The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada this June.
Lisa Silverman is the Library Director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library.