Just 40 days until the Association of Jewish Libraries Convention in Seattle. I’m looking forward to it for many reasons. I’ve never been to Seattle, so I’m anxious to see the city and its beautiful library. I’ll be drinking lots of coffee to compensate for the time difference, and, of course, I will get to spend time with my wonderful colleagues.
This year’s program has a lot to offer, including some of my favorite authors: Jacqueline Jules, Jacqueline Dembar Greene, and Margarita Engle. Jacqueline Jules wrote Once Upon a Shabbos, Unite or Die, The Hardest Word (my favorites from her), as well as many other children’s books. She will be talking about “Biblical Characters” at the AJL Convention. This popular series, published by Kar-Ben and illustrated by Natascia Ungliano, has made the patriarch Abraham (Abraham’s Search for God) and his wife Sarah (Sarah Laughs) accessible to young readers. Benjamin and the Silver Goblet stands out as both author and illustrator capture the anxiousness and excitement of Benjamin’s venture out into the world. All of these were recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee – Abraham as a Notable Book, and Sarah and Benjamin as Honor Books. Miriam in the Desert will be coming out in September, and I can hardly wait!
Jacqueline Dembar Greene’s books have also been recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. One Foot Ashore and Out of Many Waters, both Honor Books, are historical fiction about the Sephardic experience. The American Girl series about Rebecca were notable books this year. Jacqueline’s topic will be “Beyond Rebecca: Ashkenazi and Sephardic History in Juvenile Fiction.” I’m hoping this discussion will also include The Secret Shofar of Barcelona, a 2010 Notable Book, where conversos include a shofar in a concert of “New World instruments” on Rosh Hashana, giving the other hidden Jews strength and encouragement.
Margarita Engle uses free verse to bring attention to lesser known aspects of Cuban history. This year’s Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers, Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, uses three voices to give different perspectives of the Jews fleeing Germany hoping to make a new home in the Americas. Daniel’s parents have sent him to Cuba, and he is lonely and worried about his family in Germany. He is befriended by David, a Jewish ice cream seller who had escaped the pogroms of Russia by going to Cuba. Paloma, a Cuban girl whose politician father is using the situation to his advantage, also befriends Daniel. As with Engle’s Newbery Honor Book, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, I learned a lot about history, and I was amazed how her free verse could evoke so many emotions with so few words. In Surrender Tree, it was “Peace is not the paradise I imagined, but it is a chance to dream…” In Tropical Secrets, it was these lines about Kristallnacht: “How can hatred have such a beautiful name? Crystal should be clear, but on that dark night the glass of broken windows did not glitter.” In an interview in Booklist (January 2010), Margarita Engle was asked about putting together history and poetry. She replied, “I love the dreamlike quality of historical novels in verse. I know there are modern critics who dislike the combination of storytelling with poetry, but to me, it seems so natural and ancient, a form that has been rediscovered, not reinvented.” I could not agree more. (Margarita Engle's photograph was taken by Marshall W Johnson.)
Now I must get to work on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee Panel Presentation. While many veterans of past conventions look forward to the “Hot/Not” portion of the program, we’ve found it more useful to talk about the Jewish aspects of books submitted for consideration, as well as offering some age appropriate Holocaust book suggestions. This year we added a new round, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Jewish Book.” The committee members will be discussing books, not necessarily recognized by the committee or that have Jewish content, that made an impact during the year of reading (over 120 books!)
See you in Seattle!