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AJL 2016

horseA few days before Roger and Martha set off for ALA, I flew to Charleston for the annual conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). As a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee (named for the author of the All-of-a-Kind Family series; which sibling are you?), I was eager to hear from this year’s winners and honorees.

Laura Amy Schlitz.

Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz, winner in the Teen category for The Hired Girl, talked about how this story for her started as a “splinter in the thumb.” It began with diaries: those of her grandmother and a student of hers, as well as her own childhood diary (which, as a dramatic adolescent — “I wanted to be Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde” — she “slashed apart after someone read it”). What these diaries had in common were the voices of people “yearning for a bigger life.” Schlitz talked about feeling like a misfit at her rural high school (the mascot was a cow) and being embraced by Jewish friends in Baltimore (“my Jewish fairy godmothers and godfathers”). She was inspired by the founders of the Park School, where she works, and the values of progressive education. “I was worried the story didn’t have enough conflict,” she said. “It was good people treating each other well — who wants to read that?!” When asked during the Q&A about people’s objections to parts of the book, she said: “Interpretation is the prerogative of the reader,” and you got the sense she meant it.

Lesléa Newman, Jeffrey Green, Laura Amy Schlitz.

Lesléa Newman, Jeffrey Green, Laura Amy Schlitz

Lesléa Newman, winner in the Younger category for Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed, talked about her own inspiration: her cat, Princess Sheba Darling (how great is that?!), and a letter from her rabbi in the synagogue newsletter about the real Ketzel. (Click here to read a New York Times article about Ketzel and be sure to listen to her composition!) She also told us that an entry for Ketzel can be found in the World of Women in Classical Music reference book, which is at once hilarious and a striking example of how there need to be more women — human women — in classical music. It was great to meet the mameleh of Heather Has Two Mommies (and everyone should read her powerful Huffington Post piece “The Way We Were: Life Before the Orlando Shooting“).

Jeffrey Green, translator of Aharon Appelfeld’s winning book in the Older category Adam & Thomas, talked about his relationship with the author (both men live in Israel) and about the translation process. Green says he doesn’t read the whole book before he starts translating because he wants to be surprised. He talked about Appelfeld’s own difficult childhood and about “people helping as a form of heroism.” Honor winners Leslie Kimmelman (for the picture book Everybody Says Shalom) and Suzanne Nelson  (for the YA novel Serendipity’s Footsteps) also spoke eloquently about their inspiration and writing processes; their research; and audience reception to their books. The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee members talked about trends in Jewish children’s books, and I spoke on a panel with the very smart Lisa Silverman about Jella Lepman, IBBY, and international children’s books. The indefatigable Heidi Rabinowitz, host of the Book of Life podcast, won the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award.

After-hours there was a heated discussion (yes, ok, in the hotel bar), spearheaded by the bright and sassy Rachel Kamin, about an upcoming holiday-themed picture book with which she takes great issue. Take a look at Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf and see what you think. Rachel, chime in!

And next year the AJL will be meeting in New York! Bring on the good bagels and knishes (sorry, Charleston; but you sure are pretty).fountain

Read and Read: thanks for the reminder, Charleston!

Read and Read: thanks for the reminder, Charleston!

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.



  1. Lisa Silverman says:

    So fun working with you, Elissa!
    I love the photo–somehow I missed that sign in my foray into town. It was such a highlight to meet Laura Amy Schlitz and Leslea Newman–both writers I highly admire.

    (One day we shall organize that trip to International Youth Library in Munich!)

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