As a new member of a prestigious book award committee, I recently winged off to Vegas to meet my fellow committee members, attend conference sessions, and generally be invigorated by the field of children’s books and the librarians who love them. Leave ALA to Roger and Martha — I was at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference (June 22-25, 2014).
The first order of business was to meet in person my fellow committee members on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. Sydney Taylor was the author of the wonderful All-of-a-Kind-Family books (the first of which was a Horn Book Fanfare selection in 1951; the series has recently been reissued by Lizzie Skurnick Books — yay! And here’s a great 2005 Horn Book Magazine article by June Cummins). The award bestowed in her name (since 1968) recognizes “outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.” This year’s Gold Medal winners were: (for younger readers) Laurel Snyder and Catia Chien for The Longest Night: A Passover Story; (for older readers) Patricia Polacco for The Blessing Cup; and (for teen readers) The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb. A complete list of winners, including Honor Books and Notable Books, is available here.
Catia, Laurel, and Neal spoke about their creative processes and the inspiration for their respective books. Patricia Polacco submitted a touching video in which she’s surrounded by family mementos — including the real Blessing Cup (cracked in two during the 1989 San Francisco earthquake) and a replica of the now-tattered Keeping Quilt (painstakingly re-created by friends and family and presented to the author as a surprise gift).
Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee Members (with indefatigable outgoing committee chair and moderator Aimee Lurie, unpictured) discussed the winners, the losers, and the also-rans, and the criteria for each one.
Two Obies: Fellow Oberlin College alum and past-president of the AJL with me!
Later in the evening came the “main event” (in Vegas parlance). The awards banquet featured an appearance by Sydney Taylor’s daughter, Jo Taylor Marshall (a dead-ringer for Doris Roberts, BTW). It was truly a thrill to hear the daughter of middle-sister Sarah (she changed her name to Sydney for publishing reasons) speak about her mother, her beloved (and feisty!) aunts — Ella, Henny, Charlotte, and Gertie, whose own daughter was also in attendance — and uncles, and her grandparents (Mama and Papa in the books). As Martha Parravano aptly noted, for little Jewish girls who grew up to be children’s book people, it’s like meeting Liesl’s daughter.
A little more kosher wine, and we were on our way. It was a great introduction to the AJL, to Las Vegas (I’d never been), and to my new awards committee. Stay tuned for the winners early next year!