Category Archives: Female

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.

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.

Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

Bloomsbury, 2009     ISBN: 1599903334

Shawna’s mother, Penny, left the family ten years ago to move in with Fran, and neither Shawna, nor her father, has been able to accept her lesbianism. Needless to say, visits to her mother never went well, and finally Shawna tells her mother that she doesn’t want to see her anymore.

When Shawna gets a call from Fran that her mother has had a stroke and isn’t going to make it, Shawna knows she needs to go see her. She is as resentful as ever of Fran, and her two sons, who know and love her mother in a way that she has been unable and unwilling to do.

What follows is the nightmare of any lgbt person estranged from his or her family: Shawna’s father moves in swiftly, wielding a medical power of attorney that her mother created when she was pregnant with her seventeen years before, and never revoked, and has her removed from life support. Ignoring the fact that she was in the process of converting to Judaism, he arranges a Catholic burial. And because Shawna’s mother has never redone her will, everything goes to her father, leaving Fran with so little that she is forced to sell her share of the home they shared and move from New York to Cleveland to live with an aunt.

Shawna’s father is not satisfied to stop there, but gets a court order to have Fran’s youngest son’s DNA checked, and finds out that he is not Fran’s, but his and Penny’s. When he goes to court and gets custody of the boy, with no visitation for Fran, Schmule, or Samuel, as her father insists on calling him, begins to show signs of suicidal intent. Shawna recognizes the seriousness of the situation, finally takes action against her domineering father, and begins to seriously deal with her own homophobia.

If at times it seems as if one more added action of her father’s will move this novel into the realm of melodrama, the writing carries it through, leaving Shawna’s father’s final capitulation as the only flawed note.

How Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart

Bowen Press / Harper Teen, 2009      ISBN: 9780061154980

Editor Michael Cart has collected twelve stories about LGBT youth identity in the form of short stories, graphic fiction, and verse, by well-known young-adult, and adult authors including Francesca Lia Block, Gregory Maguire, Jacqueline Woodson, Ariel Schrag, Emma Donoghue, and others.

There is something for everyone in this collection: stories of ghosts and girls trapped in walls serving as metaphors for transgendered teens trapped in the wrong body; handsome highway men and soldiers for a stable boy to lust after; stories of first love; and of first making love. One graphic short story is about two teens who make conflicting wishes when they meet a genie, leaving all three of them tortured; the other is about the San Francisco Dyke March.

While there is some sex, most of it is left to the imagination, good as in Julie Anne Peter’s “First Time,” and unsettling, as in William Sleator’s “Fingernail,” a disturbing story about the sex trade between older western men, and young boys in Thailand. In this particular story, the Thai “boy” is already a young man of twenty and thus technically legal, unlike much of the sex trade that actually takes place there between men and underage boys. But the abusive relationship that he finds himself in is almost equally disturbing.

Some of the stories may actually be of more interest to older readers than to teens: in particular, David Levithan’s “A Word from the Nearly Distant Past,” in which Levithan recounts the experiences of generations past as they dealt with being in the closet, dealing with the AIDS crisis, etc., and exhorts the younger generation to make sure that they live for future generations, as much as for themselves. Emma Donoghue’s “Dear Lang,” is a letter from a lesbian mother who has been denied access to her now sixteen-year-old son by his biological mother, in which she tells the story of how she came to be barred from his life, and how she is just now taking the chance of having another child with a new partner.

One of the best stories is Jacqueline Woodson’s insightful “Trev,” about a transgendered child, and the struggles he has with his family and at school to be who he really is. Trev’s mother both reassures him that he isn’t the reason his father left, and yet whispers her wish to him every night at bedtime, that Trev will wake up “my sugar and spice, and everything nice.”

Recommended for all teens.