Within the span of a single week two of the top Jewish book awards giving credit to great works of Jewish children's literature posted their latest winners. Here are some of the titles they awarded.
First and foremost we have The National Jewish Book Award, now in its 64th year. Awards are presented in 18 different categories. This year, in the Children's and Young Adult Literature category the following books won top honors:
The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax; Caryl Strzelecki, illus.; Laura Watkinson (Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) - In this illustrated novel, Misha and his family do their best to survive in the appalling conditions of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, and ultimately make a final, desperate stand against the Nazis. Booklist says the book, "makes a powerful impact that will last long after reading."
Shanghai Escape by Kathy Kacer (Second Story Press) -Lily Toufar and her family, along with other Jewish refugees, arrive in Shanghai, China, to escape Hitler and the Nazis before the Second World War, but they are forced into ghettos by the Japanese government which is aligned with Hitler. School Library Journal called this, "a good and different addition to Holocaust literature."
The Extra by Kathryn Lasky (Candlewick Press) - Is the chance to serve as an extra for Hitler's favorite filmmaker a chance at life—or a detour on the path to inevitable extermination? In this chilling but ultimately uplifting novel, Kathryn Lasky imagines the lives of the Gypsies who worked as extras for the real Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, giving readers a story of survival unlike any other.
The other Jewish book prize to recently be released came from the Sydney Taylor Book Awards. In their own words the award is, "Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968" and "the award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature." With its focus squarely on books for children, the award had many medals and honors to bestow.
Younger Readers - Winner
The Longest Night: A Passover Story by Laurel Snyder, ill. Catia Chien (Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House) - Written in gentle verse, the tumultuous days leading up to the Jews' flight from Egypt are described from the perspective of an unnamed slave girl in this beautifully illustrated story. It provides a unique introduction to the Passover holiday for young readers in an honest, but age-appropriate way.
Younger Readers - Honors
Stones for Grandpa by Renee Londoner with illustrations by Martha Avillés (Kar-Ben, a division of Lerner Publishing Group) - After a year of missing his grandfather and remembering things they did together, a young boy and his family unveil Grandpa's tombstone, place stones on it, and share stories, knowing the memories will never be lost. School Library Journal called it "a solid addition to Judaic collections or for libraries needing additional titles that address death and grief."
Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov with illustrations by Cosei Kawa (Kar-Ben, a division of Lerner Publishing Group) - Rifka's parents have the best job in the world. Actors in the Yiddish Theater, they often will take their spunky daughter to work with them and it is there that she grows to love her home away from home. A note about the Yiddish theaters of the late 1800s / early 1900s and the author's own experiences as a child are included alongside photos and playbills at the book's end.
Older Readers - Winner
The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster) - Polacco shares the story of a treasured family heirloom. The miraculous journey from the shtetl to America of the remaining teacup from a china tea set, deliberately left behind when her Jewish ancestors were forced to leave Czarist Russia, will strike an emotional chord with readers. It is a prequel to The Keeping Quilt, which won the same award in the Youger Reader category in 1988. This book also appeared on New York Public Library's 2013 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list!
Older Readers - Honors
The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible...on Schindler's List by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran and Elisabeth B. Leyson(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division) - The youngest Holocaust survivor on Oskar Schindler's famous list tells his story at last—bringing a child's perspective to the Nazi occupation of Kraków and the remarkable courage needed to live through those horrifying times. This book also appeared on NYPL's 2013 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list.
Teen Readers - Winner
The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic) - A stunning account of the mission to capture Adolf Eichmann by an elite team of Israeli spies.
Teen Readers - Honors
The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax; Caryl Strzelecki, illus.; Laura Watkinson (Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) - In this illustrated novel, Misha and his family do their best to survive in the appalling conditions of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, and ultimately make a final, desperate stand against the Nazis. This book was also the winner of the National Jewish Book Award in the Children's and Young Adult Literature category! In addition to the medal winners, the Award Committee designated thirteen Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2014.
Notable Books for Younger Readers
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel with illustrations by Melissa Sweet (Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street by Ann Redisch Stampler with illustrations by Francesca Carabelli (Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.)
Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown with illustrations by Stacey Schuett (Henry Holt and Company, LLC)
The Passover Lamb by Linda Elovitz Marshall with illustrations by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc.)
Notable Books for Older Readers
The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales by Shoshana Boyd Gelfand with illustrations by Amanda Hall story CD narrated by Debra Messing
(Barefoot Books Inc)
B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy) by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple (Dutton's Children Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)
Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
Touched by Fire by Irene N. Watts (Tundra Books)
Notable Books for Teens
Helga's Diary: A Young Girl's Account of Life in a Concentration Camp by Helga Weiss, translated by Neil Bermel, Introduction by Francine Prose (W.W. Norton & Company)
Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust by Leanne Lieberman (Orca Book Publishers)
Finally, the place to go for the most up-to-date Jewish literary new for kids is at Tablet Magazine. There, Marjorie Ingall waxes poetic on a range of different topic. She chose her own Best Books of 2013. Be sure to also check out the following:
Hanukkah: A Counting Book, by Emily Sper - Marjorie says, "Bright, bold, and graphic, with die-cut holes in the shapes of candles for little fingers to poke through. Count candles, jelly doughnuts, latkes, dreidels, and more in Yiddish and Hebrew (in Hebrew letters and transliteration)—the penultimate page offers an explanation of the holiday. Cute and simple."
The Boy Who Loved Math, by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham - Awkward outsider Paul Erdos became one of the most influential mathematicians of his time. Complex illustrations show us the world as Paul saw it—with math everywhere! This book also appeared on NYPL's 2013 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky - Young Albert Einstein didn't talk until he was three, but the gift of a compass taught him to question everything. Find out how he grew up to become an internationally celebrated scientist! This book also appeared on NYPL's 2013 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list.
Hanukkah Bear, by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka - Marjorie says, "Bubba Brayna (whose sight and hearing aren't what they used to be) invites the rabbi for latkes, but her visitor doesn't turn out to be who she expects. Kids will find Bubba Brayna's perky cluelessness hilarious, and the ending is very satisfying."
Sam and Charlie (and Sam Too!), by Leslie Kimmelman illustrated by Stefano Tambellini - Marjorie says the book, "consists of five short stories linked by the theme "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). Each story about new neighbors and pals Charlie (girl), Sam (boy), and other Sam (girl) is about being kind—letting a friend pick up the last ring from the bottom of the pool at camp, bringing a friend chicken soup when she's sick, apologizing to a friend on Yom Kippur (aka "I'm Sorry Day"). But what kind of friend wants the last prune hamentaschen? Gross."
Kids' Chapter Books
Aces Wild by Erica S. Perl - Marjorie says the book is "the sequel to When Life Gives You OJ but it can be read as a stand-alone. In it, Zelly Fried has at long last gotten a dog. She names it Ace, in honor of her zayde, also named Ace, who has announced that he's no longer going to go by Ace, except that he keeps going by Ace, and the mix-ups between the two Aces lead to comic mishegas. Ace-the-dog is wild, in that he can't seem to stop peeing and pooping hither and yon. Ace-the-grandpa is wild, in that he seems to have forgotten his late wife Bubbles and is going out with all kinds of lady friends. Can Zellie get both Aces in hand? As with the first book, the story provides tons of giggles but also packs a sneaky emotional wallop."
The Sasquatch Escape, by Suzanne Selfors, illustrations by Dan Santat - Marjorie says, "10-year-old Beverly Hills kid Ben Silverman is banished for the summer to his Yiddish-speaking, Catskills-rhythm-y grandfather in the dull boonies of Buttonville. (His grandfather's suggestion for a fun activity is Pudding Night at the senior center.) But when the cat drags in something that looks an awful lot like a wounded baby dragon, Ben and his new pal Pearl talk their way into Dr. Woo's Worm Hospital, a mysterious veterinary practice in the town's boarded-up old button factory that turns out to serve imaginary (but real!) animals. When Ben accidentally unleashes Bigfoot, he and Pearl have to recapture the creature before the rest of the world discovers that magical beings exist. There are charming story and art prompts for kids at the end, plus a pudding recipe."
Young Adult Books
Proxy, by Alex London - If you'd really like to read a sci-fi dystopian YA version of Paul Fleischman's The Whipping Boy, now's your chance. Born into one of the City's wealthiest families and paired with a Proxy named Syd, who endures punishments for Knox's misdeeds, Knox discovers that he has more in common with Syd than either of them previously understood when his father's manipulations prompt a cross-country chase that forces the boys to save each other.
Starglass by Phoebe North - As Marjorie describes it, "In the distant future, a 15-year-old girl named Terra Fineberg lives on board the Asherah, a city-sized spaceship populated by Jews from the doomed planet Earth. Five hundred years earlier, the ship was launched in search of the distant planet Zehava … and now they've almost arrived. The incorporation of Hebrew words and Jewish ideas is clever and consistent, and Terra's relationship with a cynical female botanist is especially well-drawn."