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AJL 2017 in NYC

This year’s Association of Jewish Libraries conference was in NYC (don’t worry, I’ve already made all the bagel jokes). The conference was hosted by Hebrew Union College, in the vicinity of dynamic and confusing Greenwich Village, and the theme was “The Sky’s the Limit.”

As a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards committee, I was thrilled that all three of our Gold Medal-winning authors were able to attend — Debbie Levy for I Dissent!: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (winner in the Younger Readers category), Adam Gidwitz for The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Older Readers winner), and Gavriel Savit for Anna and the Swallow Man (Teen Readers winner). In addition, five Silver Medal-winning authors and illustrators were in attendance: Rich Michelson for Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy and Michelle Edwards and G. Brian Karas for A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love (both books Younger Readers honorees) as well as Andrea Davis Pinkney (those boots!) for A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day and Joel ben Izzy for Dreidels on the Brain (both books Older Readers honorees).

2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners Gavriel Savit, Adam Gidwitz, and Debbie Levy, with outgoing committee chair Ellen Tilman

And if that weren’t enough: All of a Kind Family author Sydney Taylor’s daughter, Jo Taylor Marshall — who sponsors the awards in her mother’s name — shared so many warm stories about her family, and real-life youngest AOAKF daughter Gertie’s own daughter and son-in-law were also there and poised to continue the award sponsorship for future generations. Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards (hey, just like BGHB this year!), so stay tuned for revelry.

In addition to the excellent awards speeches, there were wonderful sessions with appeal for children’s book lovers both Jewish and goyish. I’ll start with my own dreamy session, “More Than Just One Person’s Opinion: What Makes Good Book Criticism?” which featured to-die-for panelists Marjorie Ingall, author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, and Leonard S. Marcus, author of… I shouldn’t have to tell you; among his latest is The Runaway Bunny: A 75th Anniversary Retrospective. Other panels included “The Path to Publishing” featuring Scholastic VP and publisher and consummate mensch Arthur Levine; “From Concept to Book: Authors Tell Their Stories,” with Tammar Stein, Anne Dublin, and Jacqueline Jules; “Trends in Jewish Children’s Literature”; “Secular Children’s Literature in a Jewish Context” (including “The Talmud in Korean: Rabbinic Literature as Children’s Literature”); and “The Who-What-Where of Holocaust Children’s Literature: The Holocaust Kidlit Database.”

Elissa Gershowitz, Marjorie Ingall, and Leonard S. Marcus. Photo: Heidi Rabinowitz

James G. Neal, president-elect of ALA, gave a lunchtime keynote speech. And did I mention Dr. Ruth Westheimer was a special guest speaker? This book of hers was a conference giveaway.

The conference hotel was in Times Square, and there were theater trips (Indecent), cultural tours (the Tenement Museum, the Center for Jewish History), and Synagogue tours. Of course there were meals together and stories to share. Gavriel Savit said this award meant something extra special to him coming from the mishpocheh, and the AJL is like one big family down to the awards luncheon remarks by Kathy Bloomfield, president of the Synagogue, School, and Center Division, who said, “You can’t leave before you eat your dessert! What would your mother say?”

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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