GTA – a picture book about an inspiring Holocaust survivor and two works of fiction featuring dypoxes and Jewish demons won awards this year in Jewish children’s literature.
The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are awarded annually for outstanding works in Jewish literature for children, as part of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards and in association with the Jewish Library Association.
This year, the first winner in the picture book category was The Tower of Life: How Jaffa Eliash Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Pictures by Shanna Stifel, illustrated by Suzanne Gall. “Aviva vs. the Dybbuk” by Marie Lowe won at Intermediate grade level. Sasha Lamb’s first novel, When the Angels Left the Old Country, won the Young Adult Award.
Named in memory of Sidney Taylor, author of the “All-of-a-Kind-Family” series being made into a TV show, the prestigious award “recognizes books that exemplify high literary standards while authentically depicting the Jewish experience,” the award committee announced. .
As chair of the Sydney Taylor Prize Committee for the past three years, Martha Simpson sees increasing diversity in Jewish children’s books. This year, she wrote in an email, they’ve considered a handful of new titles that depict cosmopolitan Jewish life, and others that feature neurologically diverse characters, LGBTQ kids, and more in Orthodox communities.
“There are many different ways to live a Jewish life,” Simpson said. “It’s great that these stories are finally being written and published so that readers can see for themselves and also learn about other experiences.”
Best Picture Book tells the story of Yaffa Eliash, a Holocaust survivor in hiding with her family after being expelled from their hometown of Ishichok, a Polish Stele (now in Lithuania) where she helped out in her grandmother’s bustling photography studio with her portraits taken. Jewish villagers.
After immigrating to the United States and becoming a historian, Eliash embarked on a global journey into the thousands of photographs and memories of Ichishok’s Jewish families. Her ambitious project is now a key part of the core exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. She passed away in 2016.
A former Sidney Taylor Prize winner and former National Jewish Book Award winner, Gal brings Eliak’s story to life with her colorful illustrations peppered with ILIAC images.
Lowe’s “Aviva v. Dybbuk” is a coming-of-age suspense novel about an 11-year-old girl who opens a window into everyday life in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in New York. After the traumatic accidental death of her father, Aviva and her increasingly reclusive mother move into a small apartment above the old mikveh, a ritual bathing house where Aviva’s mother becomes his caretaker. He becomes a supernatural and trouble-making dyybuk, who is seen only by Aviva, Aviva’s confidant. A tale of resilience deals with grief, memory, the ups and downs of teenage friendship, antisemitic violence, and the healing power of love and community.
A demon named Little Ash and an angel named Uriel are two masked otherworldly characters at center stage in When the Angels Left the Old Country, the historical fantasy that Lamb wrote lyrically. As page-turning drama unfolds, a pair of unlikely, centuries-old Talmud study partners who take on a humanoid form break out from the young Pale of Settlement shtetl and head to New York City on a quest to find the village’s missing Baker daughter.
On their journey, they encounter the perils faced by Jewish immigrants–a devious rabbi, investigating Ellis Island officials, exploitative bosses, and the push and pull of Jewish assimilation. Lamb, recipient of the 2018 Lambda Literary Fellowship in Young Adult Literature, paints a story rich in pathos and wit, peppered with Jewish culture that explores gender identity and the bonds of friendship.
The Angels won two other ALA Awards, including the Stonewall Book Award for LGBTQ Work for Young Readers.
In addition to the first winners, the Sydney Taylor Committee has named nine books as silver medalists and nine titles for outstanding Jewish content. The winners will be honored in June at the AJL Digital Conference.
Other books with Jewish characters and themes have also won multiple ALA Awards including The Life and Crimes of Howdy Rosen by Isaac Bloom, which won the William C. Morris Award for the first time. and “Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II” by Lia Levi, illustrated by Jeff Mason, Batchelder Prize winner, adapted for young readers, and subtitled from the original in Italian.
Jewish children’s books recently recognized by the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Awards were “Best Sekka: A Story from Uganda” by Shoshanna Nambi by Moran Yogev, and the middle-grade novel “The Prince of Steel Pier” by Stacy Nokowitz.
Last week, the Jewish Library Association announced separately that Omer Friedlander won the organization’s award for fiction for “The Man Who Sold Air in the Holy Land,” a collection of short stories set in Israel.