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Conference report: Association of Jewish Libraries 2015

While you wait with bated breath for next week’s ALA Annual conference — and the July/August Horn Book Magazine containing the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and Wilder awards speeches and profiles of the winners, plus roundups of the year’s books, our Mind the Gap Awards for books that didn’t win at ALA, and more — let me tell you about the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) conference’s Jubilee year, celebrating fifty years of AJL.

The conference was held in Silver Spring, Maryland, a short Metro ride from downtown Washington, DC. There was a family program and a welcome dinner on Sunday, then sessions started in earnest on Monday. I was on a panel on Monday morning about book reviewing, moderated by peppy and smart librarian Rachel Kamin, with fellow panel members Alan Cheuse from NPR, Washington Post columnist (did I forget to say Pulitzer Prize winner?) Michael Dirda, Jewish Book World‘s children’s editor Michal Hoschander Malen, and Lisa Silverman of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal (um, wow). Discussion included: the mechanics of writing a review, how to be critical without being mean, how to (whether to?) review self-published books, and more; there was no time left for audience questions, and we basically had to be kicked out so the next panel could start.

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On book reviewing: Michal Malin, Michael Dirda, Alan Cheuse, Elissa Gershowitz (me!), and Lisa Silverman. Photo: AJL

aylesworth_my grandfather's coatOn Tuesday afternoon the winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers, Jim Aylesworth (author) and Barbara McClintock (illustrator), spoke about their picture book My Grandfather’s Coat, and I fangirled out AGAIN! on them both (but mostly Barbara, sorry Barbara).

Before his very successful children’s writing career, Jim spent many years as a teacher, which in turn taught him what kids love and what to write about, among other topics (and in song, no less!): Sound, Poetry, Animals, Fantasy, Language, Color, “Gross Stuff” (the latter not Barbara’s forte, he qualified). Regarding folklore: Comparing different versions of folktales encourages very young kids to think in a way that’s “literary, not literal.” In tune, and with slides and hand gestures and audience participation: “One book is good… / One book is good… / Put them together, and it makes them both better.” Lucky, lucky students to have had Mr. Aylesworth.

Barbara talked about her inspiration for the book’s illustrations: the Jewish farmers who moved to rural northeastern Connecticut in the early-to-mid twentieth century, where she now lives and where “cows outnumber people two to one.” It’s a different take on the traditional Yiddish folk tune on which My Grandfather’s Coat is based; Simms Taback’s Caldecott-winning Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, for example, was based on the same song and featured an Old World setting.

Jim and Barbara’s editor Dianne Hess, executive editor at Scholastic, was there, and the pair credited her with much of the book’s success. Editor Sylvie Frank, from Paula Wiseman Books, spoke on behalf of Donna Jo Napoli, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers, for Storm. Donna Jo was in Italy, but Sylvie had sent her some questions about the book, anticipating our questions, and she read us her questions and Donna Jo’s answers; they brought up the bonobo sex before we even had the chance. The winners for Older Readers, Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, and Greg Salsedo, for Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust, could not attend and sent a speech that was read by our wonderful committee chair Diane Levin Rauchwerger.

My committee then did a panel on trends in Jewish children’s books from last year. I talked about observant Jewish YA love stories, Kathy Bloomfield talked about inclusivity, Heather Lenson presented Holocaust books, and Ellen Tilman discussed graphic novels. Incoming committee member Susan Kusel — who was on the 2014 Caldecott committee but who WOULD NOT CRACK despite my persistence — presented a 2015 book, Watch Out for Flying Kids, as “something different” for this year.

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Kathy Bloomfield, Elissa Gershowitz (me!), Diane Rauchwerger, Heather Lenson, Ellen Tilman, Susan Kusel. Photo: AJL

Home stretch! The AJL Banquet took place that night. Jim and Barbara spoke, along with Sylvie for Donna Jo, and several of the Honor Book recipients: Barbara Krasner (for Goldie Takes a Stand) and Jacqueline Jules (for Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain); Donna Gephart (for Death by Toilet Paper) and Jennifer Elvgren (for The Whispering Town). Here’s the complete list of winners, honorees, and notables for 2015.

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Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock at the AJL Banquet. Photo: AJL

And now we buckle down and read read read and choose the books for 2016. Wish us luck! And BTW, if you haven’t yet figured out Which All-of-a-Kind Family sibling YOU are, now’s your chance! Take our quiz and find out. I’m an Ella. Roger is a Henny. (I know, right?!)

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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