Is it Night or Day? by Fern Shuman Chapman

Farrar, Straus, Giroux     ISBN: 9780374177447

This novel is based on the experiences of the author’s mother who, in 1938, at the age of twelve was sent from Germany to Chicago to live with an aunt, uncle, and cousin. Her older sister had been sent separately a year before. Edith travels with a group of other Jewish children, escorted by a young woman who was part of an American rescue effort that placed 1000 children in foster homes in the United States.

Arriving in Chicago, Edith discovers that her presence is only tolerated because her aunt wants someone to do the chores, and because the family receives a small stipend for taking her in. Kept constantly busy with housework, it is weeks before Edith can see her sister, Betty, who has emotionally replaced her with the daughter of her foster family. Meanwhile, Edith is doing everything she can to raise money to rescue her parents.

Chapman makes effective use of a first person, chronological narrative to develop the story. She chooses her scenes well to reveal Edith’s loneliness and isolation as she tries to adjust to her circumstances, and the reader is quickly engaged, and cares what happens to her. Edith comes across as a complex and realistic young person who has much to struggle with. Dialogue is effective and realistic, sometimes painfully so. The ending leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next, and is perhaps the only part of the book where Edith seems older than she really is in the story.

Resistance, Book I by Carla Jablonski, illustrated by Leland Purvis, color by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, 2010     ISBN: 9781596432918

This graphic novel for middle school readers revolves around two young French children, Paul, and his little sister, Marie, who get involved with the Resistance after hiding their best friend Henri Levy in their family’s wine cellars when the Germans take over his family’s hotel and his parents disappear. When Paul and Marie uncover a decoded message that Henri’s parent’s are alive and in hiding in Paris. The two children convince their mother and the Resistance leaders to let them take Henri to his parents, a trip that turns out to be hair-raising.

Before setting off, Marie decides that since Henri won’t be there for his thirteenth birthday, she and Paul should give him a Bar Mitzvah. None of them quite knows what to do, but they cobble together a very touching ceremony in which Marie calls upon the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Gods, “and any other ones I forgot,” as a blessing over the wine, and Paul takes the role of the father and tells Henri that he must now be responsible and go out and do his part to heal the world.

The use of the very popular graphic novel format provides an appealing and accessible entry into the story, even for reluctant readers. The pace of the action, and the development and maintaining of tension throughout the story keeps the reader involved right until the very end. The minimal text manages to provide a surprising amount of character development, and with the evocative drawings, manages to convey the horrors of the time, but also the daring of many people who found large and small ways to resist the Germans, and the strength and courage that comes of true friendship.

A page at the beginning briefly discusses the Nazi invasion of France, the occupied and unoccupied zones, French anti-Semitism, and the existence of thousands of Resistance fighters, both organized and individual. An author’s note at the end talks more about the Resistance, about collaborators, and the Vichy government. The author challenges the reader to think about what he or she might do in similar circumstances, and points out that history is a living, dynamic thing, with few black and white areas.

An Interview with Annika Thor, 2010 Sydney Taylor Honor Book ” A Faraway Island”

Swedish author Annika Thor. Photo by Cato Lein.

Annika Thor grew up in a Jewish family in Gothenburg, Sweden in the 1950s and 60s. She started work as a librarian, and then went on to work as a film and television critic, and finally dedicated herself to writing books, plays and screenplays for young people. She is one of Sweden’s best known authors for young people. Her books have been translated into many languages, and have won many prizes.

“A Faraway Island,” about Austrian refugee sisters, Stephie and Nellie, is the first in a series of four, and so far the only one to be translated into English. It has won awards in Europe, and has been made into a television series in Sweden. It received two United States honors this year; not only was it chosen as one of two Sydney Taylor Honor Books for Older Readers, but it won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for best book in translation.

It is my honor to talk with Annika Thor.

Hello Annika,

Since many young people may not know much about the role of Sweden during World War II, I have a some questions about that, as well as questions about your book, and Jewish life in Sweden during the war, and immediate post-war period, as well as now.

Sweden acted in many contradictory ways as a supposedly neutral country during the war. Nazi soldiers were allowed to travel through Sweden during the war years, and Sweden exported ore to the German government, which was presumably used for the building of tanks, airplanes, and weapons. On the other hand, Sweden rescued thousands of Jews through the work of Raoul Wallenberg and others, and saved almost all of the Jews of Denmark. Why do you think Sweden helped both the Nazis and the Jews during the war?

The principle that guided more or less all decisions taken by the Swedish government during the war was that of neutrality: of keeping out of the war at any cost. During the first years of the war, until the German defeat at Stalingrad in early 1943, this meant making concessions to various demands from the Germans, who were seen as the stronger party, such as permitting soldiers and materials (though in principle not weapons) to be transported through Sweden, and continuing exportation of iron ore and other goods (which, of course, was also in the interest of Swedish industry). After [the Battle of] Stalingrad [in which the Germans were soundly defeated], fear of the Germans became less dominant and the transportation of soldiers ceased in the summer of 1943. As it became increasingly clear that the Allies would eventually win the war, the Swedish government gradually changed its orientation.

However, this is not the full explanation for the efforts that were made in order to rescue Jews. As for the Danish Jews (and also those of the Norwegian Jews who were not already deported in the fall of 1942), the feeling of Nordic solidarity was an important factor, and when the “White Buses” started rolling towards the end of the war, the primary goal was to rescue Norwegian and Danish citizens – Jewish and non-Jewish – from the concentration camps; although in the end many other nationalities were also brought to Sweden on the buses. Finally, a few individuals played an important part. Without Raul Wallenberg himself, the Jewish businessman Gilel Storch, the Swedish count Lennart Bernadotte and many others, most of the rescue actions would probably not have taken place at all.

Can you explain what the “White Buses” were? What comes to my mind are the vans the Germans used to gas small groups of Jews before they began to use the gas chambers.

No, on the contrary! In the spring of 1945, the Swedish Red Cross, led by the Swedish count Lennart Bernadotte, drove buses (painted white with a red cross) to the concentration camps in Germany to bring prisoners back to Scandinavia. Permission to do this was negotiated with German authorities. Originally, the aim was to rescue Danish and Norwegian citizens only, but in the end at least 15,000 people (many of them women) of different nationalities were rescued. You can read more on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Buses.

I find it interesting that you say that Nordic solidarity led to the concern for the Jewish populations of those countries, which was very much in contrast to the attitudes of other European countries who were only too glad to see the Jews as other, and to strip them of the protections of citizenship.

Yes, I think there was a difference in the way that Norwegian and Danish Jews could be regarded as “Norwegians” and “Danes” and therefore worthy of more concern than for example German or Polish Jews. Still, there was a lot of xenophobia and racism in Sweden as well, and some newspapers described the Danish Jews in a way that drew strongly on antisemitic stereotypes (for instance describing them as expensively dressed, in fur coats and with expensive jewelry …) A very interesting doctoral thesis which was published a few years ago (“A brother, guest, and parasite”) deals with the interplay between antisemitism and “the Nordic idea” during and immediately after the war (unfortunately, it is written in Swedish with only a brief English summary). On the whole, there is has been a strong interest in this period among younger historians for the past fifteen years or so!

Of the many stories you could have written about the Swedish rescue of Jews during the war, what inspired you to write this particular story?

Quite a few of the Jews who were rescued from the concentration camps have written down their own memories, in the form of autobiographies or fictional stories. I feel that these stories should be told by the people who experienced them, because they are beyond the imagination of us who did not. In contrast, very little had been written by or about the children who came with the Kindertransport before the war until I started to work on this theme (a doctoral theses on the subject was published in the same year as my first book, 1996), and I felt that the experiences that they went through are in a sense more universal and more suitable to interpret for someone with a different background.

Also, in the early 1990’s, there was an increase in the number of children and teenagers coming alone as refugees from countries like Iran and Somalia, and I felt that writing about the child refugees of WWII could also have some bearing on the current situation. Finally, the theme gave me the chance of contrasting Central European Jewish culture with Swedish ways of life, something which I myself experienced a generation later.

What was it like for you to grow up as a Jew in the immediate post-war years?

I was born in 1950, so by the time I became aware that I was Jewish and started to have some sense of what that meant, it was already the early 1960’s and fifteen years had passed since the war. Unlike many in my generation, I was not the child of survivors – my paternal grandparents had come to Sweden from Belarus at the turn of the century, and my mother came to Sweden in 1933, at the age of six, with her parents and younger brother. But the experience of the Holocaust was still very present in the minds of my parents, their friends and our relatives, so there was a kind of fear that was transmitted to me and other children. At one point in the early 60’s there was a brief outbreak of anti-Semitism in the form of graffiti on the doors of the synagogue and so on, and I remember being frightened that worse things would follow.

I was never explicitly told [about the Holocaust], but I knew anyway (and I did read a children’s book by a Dutch author called “Star Children” which made such a strong impression on me that I never allowed my own children to read it …) But I remember nightmares about Nazis coming to get me.

Also, in those days Sweden was not yet an immigrant country. I was the only one (or at least that is how it felt) in my class with brown eyes and black hair, and I felt different, which is a feeling that children usually do not like. I wanted to be like everybody else, and I hated it when strangers would ask me: “Where do you come from?” (I used to answer with the part of the city of Gothenburg where I grew up). But I think that this feeling of being different, of being an outsider, is very useful for someone who is to become a writer!

What is it like for Jewish children to grow up in Sweden today?

I am not really the right person to answer that question. My two daughters are now 33 and 28 years old, and their father is not Jewish, so they have not had the kind of Jewish upbringing that I myself had. But one negative thing that they did not have to experience is the feeling of being different that I just described. Today, there are many children and young people with brown eyes and dark hair in Sweden: some of them are Jewish, some are Kurdish or Turkish or Palestinian, or from Bosnia, Iran or Iraq – and my daughters have friends from most of these places. It is for this multicultural society that I write!

Were you surprised that your books about Stephie and Nellie are so popular in Sweden, and now in the rest of the world?

I was not so surprised that they became popular in Sweden – though neither I, nor my publisher could have foreseen the extent of their popularity, with still new editions being published after almost fifteen years and an even more popular TV-series which has now been broadcast for the third time. The books tell a story that has not been told before and that was not at all well known in Sweden when they were first published. At the same time, they depict events and emotions that are easy to identify with, even if you were born in Sweden and lived here all your life. And for many immigrant children in Sweden, they have become a way of processing their own situation “at a distance”, which is sometimes easier than through a story that is closer to their own lives.

What really surprised me was that the books also became so popular abroad, not only in Germany (which is, after all, not so surprising), or in the Nordic and other European countries, but also in countries like Japan and South Korea, where there is no Jewish population at all. This spring, I am going first to Japan, then to Russia, in connection with the appearance of the fourth and final book in the series, and I am really looking forward to discussing the books with readers in those countries.

The scene where Stephie and Nellie are taken to the revival meeting is very disturbing. Was it common for host families to take their Jewish children to Church, and did they often try to convert them?

According to Ingrid Lomfors, the Swedish historian who wrote her thesis on the children of the Kindertransport, only a minority of the children could be taken in by Jewish families (there were not that many Jews in Sweden at the time). Most came to ordinary Swedish families, which meant that it was very difficult for them to maintain Jewish traditions (but of course, quite a few of the children, like Stephie and Nellie, came from more or less secular Jewish homes). The majority of the Swedish families were probably only conventionally Christian, and did not try to convert the children, though they probably took them to church on Christmas and other special occasions. However, a minority of the host families belonged to different evangelistic movements, and for them saving the children from the Nazis and “saving” them by converting them were more or less the same thing. The chapter about the revival meeting is based on a true story.

Actually, this scene is so shocking that I don’t think I would have dared to include it had it not been based on facts! I have had several interesting discussions with people belonging to evangelistic movements about conversions of the children; of course, nowadays even they agree that this was wrong.

I understand that you are the author of a great number of books besides the books about Stephie and Nellie. Do you often write about Jewish themes for children?

No, I do not consider myself a “Jewish writer” in that sense, though I believe that growing up in a Jewish family has affected my choice of themes and my manner of treating them profoundly. My father, a secular Jew who still identified strongly with the Jewish people, taught me that the essence of Judaism was to always support the weak against the strong. This is at the heart of my writing, along with moral questions and choices, and the feeling of being an outsider, but the books about Stephie and Nellie are the only ones so far where I have treated these themes in a Jewish context.

Annika, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions!



Edgar Nominees for the Best Mysteries for Young Adults – Awards to be Announced April 29, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City

Reality Check (HarperCollins, 2009) by Peter Abrahams. Cody’s girlfriend, Clea, is sent off to a Vermont boarding school and then goes missing. Cody sets out to find out what happened and unearths the town’s secrets.

If the Witness Lied (Random, 2009) by Caroline B. Cooney. Three orphaned teenage siblings, separated by the tragic supposed patricide of their father by their two-year-old brother, reunite a year later to save this same brother from the clutches of their evil aunt, who wants to sell them out on a tell-all television show.

The Morgue and Me (Penguin, 2009) by John C. Ford. This debut novel about a boy fresh out of high school with a college scholarship decides that an unusual summer job in the morgue will get him through the next few months.

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone (Houghton, 2009) by Dene Low. Petronella Arbuthnot’s coming-out birthday party in Edwardian London goes awry when her guardian, Uncle Augustus, accidentally swallows a beetle and two important guests are kidnapped.

Shadowed Summer (Random, 2009) by Saundra Mitchell. Fourteen-year-old Iris doesn’t have to make up spooky stories for excitement, because a real one falls right in her lap. A ghost begins to haunt her and she’s convinced it’s the ghost of a teenage boy named Elijah, who disappeared.

Information from School Library Journal’s “Extra Helping” online, January 27, 2010.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd Wins 1st Stonewall Book Award for Youth

To his relief, Dade is heading off to college in the fall, and only has this last summer to get through – though it’s turning out to be a tough one. His father has a girlfriend, his mother is self-medicating with alcohol and prescription drugs, and they are clearly on the road to divorce. And Dade is doing a fair amount of drinking himself.

Dade has a boyfriend, Pablo, but Pablo is in the closet, has a girlfriend, and is likelier to hit Dade than kiss him. When Dade meets Alex, and realizes what it can be like to have a real boyfriend who is interested in connecting emotionally as well as physically, and who isn’t ashamed of being gay, Dade calls it quits with Pablo, and comes out to his parents.

A missing autistic girl appears sporadically as a theme in the novel. While most people think she must be dead, there are rumors that she’s been seen in the movie theater and elsewhere, and one night while Dade is very drunk, he is sure he sees her in his back yard. He is kind of obsessed about her, and symbolically, her status of being lost, and possibly seen from time to time is reflective of what is going on for Dade emotionally as he goes through his journey of coming out.

What starts off as a difficult summer turns into a summer of self-discovery and growth. Not to be missed.

2010 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced

New York – January, 2010
April Halprin Wayland and Stephane Jorisch, author and illustrator of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings, and Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, are the 2010 winners of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Seattle this July.

For Younger Readers


Wayland and Jorisch will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Younger Readers Category for New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.  The Jewish New Year is a special time of year, with a change in seasons, symbolic foods and other traditions. It is also the time for introspection and the ritual of Tashlich, when sins are symbolically cast into a body of flowing water. Izzy thinks about things for which he is sorry. He “compares Tashlich to cleaning out his toy closet, an example of the wonderful way this story conveys to children, at their own level, a contemporary version of the healthy Jewish way we start fresh at the beginning of each new year,” commented Susan Berson, a member of the Award Committee. Incoming Committee Chair Barbara Bietz noted that the “whimsical watercolor illustrations are a perfect pairing for the delightful prose.”

For Older Readers


Friedman will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Older Readers Category for The Importance of Wings, published by Charlesbridge. Ah, the drama of being in eighth grade! There’s the boy you have a crush on who likes someone else. There’s getting dressed in gym class and being picked last for teams. There’s your parents, who are so unlike Mike and Carol Brady and not even like Ma and Pa Ingalls. And there’s your hair, that won’t go in the popular feathered back style that everyone else is wearing. When an Israeli girl moves next door, Liat “not only shows Roxanne how to give her hair ‘wings,’ but she helps her ‘wing’ her way toward maturity and self-esteem,” asserted Debbie Colodny, a member of the Award Committee. Another Award Committee member, Kathy Bloomfield, affirmed this praise: “With appealing and affecting writing, Ms. Friedman grabs the reader immediately and takes her on a journey of self-discovery, confidence building and empowerment that will leave her hoping for a sequel.” Friedman’s book about male bulimia, Nothing, was named an AJL Notable Book for Teen Readers last year.

For Teen Readers


Engle will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Teen Readers Category for Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, published by Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.  After Kristallnacht, many Jews tried to leave Germany, but other countries refused the refugees. Cuba agreed to take in some of these people, but at a price. The tension of this era is seen through the eyes of several of the people affected: Daniel, a thirteen-year-old German boy whose parents put him on a boat to “the Americas,” hoping to save his life; Paloma, the daughter of a Cuban official who prefers a dovecote to her home; David, who escaped the pogroms of Russia, sells ice creams, and helps the new refugees; and Gordo, Paloma’s father, who is profiting by charging exorbitant fees for visas to stay in Cuba. “The verse and the different perspectives make the history of Cuba during the Nazi era accessible while illustrating the complicated situations and the twists and turns of political interactions,” noted Kathe Pinchuck, Committee Chair. Ms. Engle is known to readers for her Newbery-Honor book The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, for which she also won the Pura Belpre Award.

Honor Books & Notable Books
Eight Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2010.  For Younger Readers, Honor Books are: Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Jago (Kar-Ben), Benjamin and the Silver Goblet by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano (Kar-Ben), Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber with illustrations by Adam Gustavson (Tricycle Press) and You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter with illustrations and an amazing lenticular cover by Andre Carrilho (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House).   Two works in translation were named Honor Books for Older Readers: Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol (translated by Arnold J. Pomerans) (Roaring Brook Press/Flash Point, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group) and A Faraway Island by Annika Thor (translated by Linda Schenck) (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House). Lost, a historical novel by Jacqueline Davies (Marshall Cavendish) and Naomi’s Song, a biblical fiction by Selma Kritzer Silverberg (JPS) were named Honor Books in the Teen Reader Category.

The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible by Ellen Frankel with illustrations by Avi Katz (JPS) was named a Notable Book for All Ages. The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee was very impressed with Ms. Frankel’s retelling of biblical stories. “She succeeds in creating an age-appropriate interpretation of the most intriguing and familiar stories that allow families to glean the essence of Jewish teachings, ethics, and history,” commented Rita Soltan, Award Committee member. “Readability, faithfulness to ‘idiomatic nuances of biblical Hebrew,’ and softly rendered color illustrations are the main features of this compilation,” noted Susan Berson, Award Committee member.

In addition to the medal-winners, the Award Committee designated twenty-two Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2010: eight in the Younger Readers Category, eight in the Older Readers Category, and six for Teens.  A complete list of Award, Honor, and Notable titles may be found at jewishlibraries.org/blog, and more information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, may be found online at sydneytaylorbookaward.org. Information about the awards can also be found on the AJL Facebook page at facebook.com/jewishlibraries.

Blog Tour

A blog tour featuring winning authors and illustrators will take place February 1-5, 2010. The schedule will be posted on the Association of Jewish Libraries’ blog People of the Books at jewishlibraries.org/blog.

For more information, contact:
Kathe Pinchuck, Chair, Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
chair@sydneytaylorbookaward.org
(973) 777-4504

Association of Jewish Libraries | c/o NFJC | 330 Seventh Avenue, 21st Floor | New York | NY | 10001

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword of Avalon by Diana L. Paxson

Roc, 2009     ISBN: 9780451462923

Paxson envisions here the circumstances of the creation of the sword, Excalibur, which will later come into play in the King Arthur legends. Based on archaeological evidence of technology, she sets the time period in the latter part of the Bronze Age / into the beginning of the Iron Age when iron-smithing was a technological possibility.

The tribes of the British Isles are descending into war with each other as the climate is increasingly hostile and food becomes scarce. What is needed, believes Anderle, the current Lady of Avalon, is a King to lead the tribes back into unity. She believes this to be the destiny of the infant Mikantor, who she rescues from the fiery destruction of his tribe by that of a marauding band of renegades.

She does what she can to keep his existence hidden, but ultimately, the boy’s enemies realize that he is living. When he is finally captured, his life is spared when his captors sell him into slavery instead of killing them as they have been ordered to do.

Mikantor then spends some years in the Mediterranean, as the slave, and then companion and friend of Velantos, the smith of the soon to fall City-State of Tiryns. Mikantor learns the art of weaponry, and together with Velantos, who has had a vision that he is to forge a sword to be wielded by a mighty king, returns to the British Isles to take up his destiny.

Paxson’s character development does not live up to that of Zimmer Bradley’s, and the episodic, plot-driven story ultimately falls short of expectations, providing a quick read that doesn’t have a lasting impact, although teens may be satisfied with the action of the story.