All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah near Santa Monica*: 2019 AJL annual conference recap

This year’s Association of Jewish Libraries annual conference was held June 17th through 19th in Woodland Hills, CA. That’s in the Los Angeles area, near Topanga Canyon, lots of beaches, and plenty of other beautiful scenery. As a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee, I was forced to attend.

It’s a tough job.

After some exploring with STBA committee-mate Sylvie (protip: jump on the Topanga Beach Bus, which costs a dollar), we met with the rest of the committee to plan our presentation, check in about our reading for next year’s award, and discuss the general state of “outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.” After lunch and a stint at the registration table, I caught part of a session on Looking at International Youth Literature, in which Marjorie Gann discussed children’s books about the Arab-Israeli conflict and Annette Goldsmith recommended translated children’s books with Jewish content. Next, I attended a live recording of Heidi Rabinowitz’s Book of Life Podcast, where guests Joana Sussman and Barney Saltzberg provided insights about the relationship between publishers and illustrators — and got us all singing.

Catriella Friedman of PJ Library’s PJ Our Way program treated us to a delicious dinner at Street Café by Aroma (you know you’re at a kosher restaurant when the ambient noise is a birthday song in Hebrew) and to some glimpses into how PJ Our Way works. And, in my case, to updates on Catriella's children, since I was their first babysitter when all of us were much younger. #JewishGeography

On Tuesday, we heard a keynote speech from Eugene Yelchin, whose stories of reading forbidden literature in the Soviet Union are always compelling. Then came a session with the 2019 STBA winners.

Emily Jenkins and a latke-shirt-clad Paul O. Zelinsky, author and illustrator of Younger category winner All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, talked about exploring their characters’ emotions and incorporating their extensive research about New York’s Lower East Side.

Paul O. Zelinsky and Emily Jenkins, illustrator and author of All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah.

Paul O. Zelinsky sports his custom All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah latke-print shirt.

Jonathan Auxier's presentation on the "story soup" that came to be his Older category winner Sweep  involved an emotional recounting of a dream and a yo-yo reenactment of protagonist Nan’s backstory.

Jonathan Auxier discusses the "story soup" of Sweep.

While speaking about her Teen category winner What the Night Sings, author Vesper Stamper mentioned her stint as a child model…including a job posing as Charlotte on the cover of Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family. (On the edition that was the first chapter book I read on my own, no less. I’m not flabbergasted, you’re flabbergasted.)

What the Night Sings author Vesper Stamper's presentation.

Several of the honorees presented as well. Barb Rosenstock shared how a wrong turn at the Art Institute of Chicago led to an inspiring chance encounter with windows by Marc Chagall, who later became the subject of her Honor book Through the Window. Jane Breskin Zalben recalled how shopping for Rosh Hashanah at a Lebanese food store informed A Moon for Moe and Mo, a story emphasizing how much Jews and Muslims often have in common. Erica Perl told us how the funny-and-also-serious Honor book All Three Stooges came to be. She also showed us her childhood writing project, The Bears Chirstmas [sic] — as she explained, she knew so little about Christmas that she couldn’t even spell it, but wrote about it anyway because the world she knew didn’t include Jewish characters in books.

Unlike many other award committees, STBA permits committee members to reveal what we thought of eligible books, which gave us a chance to recommend some books we loved that didn’t win in our own presentation (think “Mind the Gap,” but with fewer puns and more latkes). My picks: Fast Asleep in a Little Village in Israel and The Bagel King.

Finally, it was time for the awards dinner! Committee chair Rebecca Levitan officially presented the awards and we heard again from the winners and honorees. Overall, it was a happily busy few days, with lots of chances to chat with the authors and get to know my committee-mates better.

Next year in Chicago!


*Credit for this title goes to this Tom Lehrer song, which was stuck in my head for the entire conference.
Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees.

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Emily Schneider

Shoshana, Thanks for this thorough report on the highlights of the conference. I was pleased to read about one of my favorite books, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah, and especially about how Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky did extensive research as part of their collaboration. People are concerned about diversity and sensitivity, and rightly so, but identity in a group does not negate the need for attention to detail and historical accuracy. Nor does being from a different group make it impossible for an author to portray someone else's experience; Auxier's Sweep is a testament to that fact. Jane Breskin Zalben's wonderful Moon for Moe and Mo has a timely theme; it is only one more contribution from a long and distinguished career. (Mehrdokht Amini's illustrations are beautiful.) Finally, I love The Bagel King! I am linking to my review of it at the JBC. I'm so happy that you also enjoyed this underrated gem:

Posted : Jun 21, 2019 08:06



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