The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement has brought much-needed attention to children’s literature with diverse characters and themes, but recognition for these books is not a new idea. Youth literature awards exist for minorities from American Indians to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community to the differently abled. As a synagogue librarian, my particular minority focus is on awards for literature of Jewish interest. The Association of Jewish Libraries, the Jewish Book Council, and the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards have been promoting quality Judaic kidlit to Jewish and mainstream audiences for decades.
The purpose of these awards is to celebrate and promote the continuing publication, sales, and reading of books that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Award-winning titles engender pride in Jewish readers while building bridges to readers of other backgrounds. As with other ethnic awards such as the Coretta Scott King Book Award for African American literature, winning Jewish kidlit titles appeal to all readers and should be read and celebrated both within the community depicted AND far beyond it.
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As those familiar with the genre of Jewish kidlit might expect, awards have gone to stories and nonfiction about holidays, folktales, immigration, and the Bible, as well as Antisemitism and the Holocaust. But unusual topics and formats have also been winners: graphic novels like the Hereville series by Barry Deutsch, biographies of Jewish figures from American colonial patriot Haym Solomon to Olympian athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld to composer Leonard Bernstein, pop-up books like Chanukah Lights by Michael Rosen, stories of cross-cultural understanding like Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde or As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson, odd historical incidents like George Washington learning about Hanukkah in Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, a Holocaust memoir illustrated with detailed embroidery called Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, and more. As publishing gets more creative and diverse, so too do Jewish kidlit titles.
Jewish Kidlit Award Announcements
Each January, winning titles for children and teens are announced by the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Jewish Book Council; the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards are announced in September. Authors and illustrators receive their awards at gala events held by each organization. The best way to keep track of Jewish kidlit winners is to watch the websites and/or follow social media for these organizations.
The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) established the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 1968. Books are recognized in age categories of Younger, Older, and Teen Readers. Since 1985, AJL has also offered the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award for unpublished works of Jewish kidlit aimed at 8-13 year olds. To be kept in the loop for award announcements, watch AJL’s website and blog People of the Books, AJL on Facebook, or @jewishlibraries on Twitter.
The 2016 winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Award are:
- Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed by Lesléa Newman (Younger Readers)
- Adam and Thomas by Aharon Appelfeld (Older Readers) – this title was also a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in the Children’s Literature category, and won the Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Award (a secular award for books in translation)
- The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (Teen Readers) – this title also won the National Jewish Book Award in the Young Adult Literature category, and the Scott O’Dell Award (a secular award for historical fiction)
There were also five Honor Books and twelve Notable Books named. Click here for the full list.
The 2016 winner of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award for unpublished works is “Honey and Me” by Meira Drazin. Click here to learn more about Honey and Me.
The Jewish Book Council (JBC) has administered the National Jewish Book Awards for adult and children’s literature since 1948. Youth categories include the Jewish Book Council Award for Children’s Literature and the Posner Award for Young Adult Literature. Award announcements appear on JBC’s website and blog The ProsenPeople, on JBC’s Facebook page, and at @JewishBook on Twitter.
- Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya and Richard Simon (Children’s Literature)
Three additional titles were named as finalists of this category.
- The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (The Posner Award for Young Adult Literature) – this title also won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Teen Readers Category.
Three additional titles were named as finalists of this category.
The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards were established in 1987. Sponsorship has moved among several organizations over the years; in 2015 the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University sponsored and administered the award. Keep an eye on the Youth Literature category at the CJLA website.
The 2015 winner of the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in the Youth Literature category is Playing With Matches by Suri Rosen.
Jewish-interest books often win secular recognition as well. Just in the past year, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor Award; Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle won the Pura Belpré Award for Latino books and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults; and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli won the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens, and was on the longlist for the National Book Award.
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour is an annual virtual book tour for authors and illustrators who’ve won gold or silver medals from the Association of Jewish Libraries. A wide variety of blogs host interviews with winners, and links are rounded up at AJL’s People of the Books blog at jewishlibraries.org/blog.
The 2016 Blog Tour takes place February 8-12. Links to participating blogs can be found here.
Jewish Kidlit All Year Round
Even when it’s not awards season, the blogosphere is talking about Jewish kidlit. Here are a few sites that will help you keep abreast of the genre.
- The Book of Life Podcast
- The Whole Megillah
- Jewish Books for Kids
- The Jewish Book Carnival
- Marjorie Ingall’s Blog
Mirrors & Windows
For Jewish readers, these titles are mirrors that reflect and validate their own experiences. For other readers, Jewish kidlit titles are windows that showcase the world’s diversity and humanize people who are different. For all readers, these award-winning Judaic books are highly enjoyable works of art and literature, crafted with skill and care by Jewish and non-Jewish authors, illustrators, and publishers. “Mazel tov” (congratulations) to every award-winner, and “Barukh haba” (welcome) to every reader!by