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The Sydney Taylor Book Award 2024 Winners, Honors, and Notable Books

Updated: Feb 10

Introducing the winners and honors of the Sydney Taylor Book Award (2024), presented annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.


Listen along:



Episode Transcript:


INTRO


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, a writer, and a fan of kids. 


Children’s publishing just celebrated its biggest awards show of the year. Each year, librarians, authors, illustrators, and other book people gather at the American Library Association’s midwinter conference for the Youth Media Awards. Awards including the John Newbery Medal, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the Schneider Family Book Award, the American Indian Youth Literature Award, and the Stonewall Book Award recognize some of the best that publishing had to offer this year.


Among these prestigious awards is the Sydney Taylor Book Award, which is presented annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.


It has been a distinct pleasure for me to welcome the author and illustrator recipients of the Sydney Taylor Book Award medal, honors, notable books over the history of this podcast, and today we’re upholding that tradition. 


This year, I asked my guests to share what kind of reader they had in mind when forming their work, and what message I might share here for their readers, both school-age and grownup.


I’ll have book covers and more information included with this episode on my website at matthewcwinner.com, but for now, all you need to do is listen.


We’ll begin with the gold medalists. 



GOLD MEDALISTS


Matthew: The 2024 Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medal winner in the Picture Book category is Two New Years by Richard Ho, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, published by Chronicle Books. 


Follow a Chinese Jewish family as they celebrate not one, but two new years: Rosh Hashanah in fall, and Lunar New Year in early spring. With warm illustrations that evoke the paper cutting traditions of both cultures, this thoughtful look at the two celebrations is full of joy and light.


Let’s hear from Richard and Lynn.



Richard: Hi, my name is Richard Ho. I'm the author of Two New Years, illustrated by Lynne Schofield. The book is about a Chinese Jewish family that celebrates both Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year. 


The readers that I had in mind while writing this book are any kids that love to celebrate holidays, but also specifically any kids that come from multiple backgrounds, and I want to send the message that kids should be proud of the different cultures and heritage that are part of their family.


And even though a lot of the customs and the traditions might be different, uh, they are all actually more related than you might think. And I hope readers of all backgrounds get to enjoy this book. 


Lynn:   Hello, my name is Lynn Scurfield, and I'm the illustrator of Two New Years. Two New Years is about a family who celebrates both Lunar New Year and Rosh Hashanah. It aims to show readers that these two celebrations, though different in many ways, also have a lot in common.  


Readers I had in mind specifically while making the illustrations for this book are kids who come from mixed race families, as well as those who celebrate more than one kind of holiday. When I was a kid, there wasn't a lot of mixed race representation out there, and I'm very proud to be able to contribute a piece of media that kids can potentially relate to. Also, you can never have too many celebrations. 


The message that I would like to share with everyone is celebrate who you are, know that differences can be strengths, and always spend time with your loved ones and enjoy the time you spend with your loved ones. 


Matthew: The 2024 Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medal winner in the Middle Grade category is The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman by Mari Lowe, an Arthur A. Levine book, published by Levine Querido. 


Lonely preteen Shaindy is lured into assisting popular Gayil with a series of pranks targeting students in their all-girls Orthodox Jewish middle school. But as the consequences escalate, Shaindy must decide whether fitting in is worth the cost to her classmates—and herself. A subtly thrilling story of friendship, consequences, and forgiveness.


Mari was not able to join us today. We hope you’ll check out The Dubious Pranks of Shaindy Goodman from your local library or independent bookstore.




Matthew: The 2024 Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medal winner in the Young Adult category is The Blood Years by Elana K. Arnold, published by Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 


Growing up in Czernowitz with a protective grandfather and an unstable mother, thirteen-year old Frederieke (Rieke) Teitler and her older sister Astra struggle to survive when war breaks out and their beloved community is invaded by the Russian and German armies. Inspired by the author’s grandmother’s experience in Holocaust-era Romania.


Here is Elana.



Elana: Hello,  my name is Elana K. Arnold and I am the author of The Blood Years. Uh, The Blood Years is a novel based on my grandmother's teenage years in Czernowitz, Romania, before and during the Holocaust. It is a story about family, about the many ways we can break one another's hearts. I think truly, ultimately, it's a story about the great and terrible things that people do in the name of love. 


When I was writing this story, um, the first person I always think of, honestly, when I'm working on a story is myself. Uh, I don't allow the reader into the room with me for many, many months. Sometimes it's as in this case, many years. It's just me and the story, uh, trying to figure out the most true way to tell,  in this case, what happened to be a very personal, complicated, rich, important story.


Then my editor comes in the room and together we tackle the question of, uh, how do we help reshape what I've created in order for it to have the most potential impact with readers. Um, so that is a question that comes for me a little bit down the road.  As far as what message would I like to share with my readers, um, ultimately I think that  what Opa says in this book applies.


“What we are here to do, if we are here to do anything at all, is to build the world with love.”



SILVER MEDALISTS


Matthew: Eleven Sydney Taylor Honor Books were recognized this year.


For Picture Books, the Honor Books are Afikomen by Tziporah Cohen, illustrated by Yaara Eshet, published by Groundwood Books; Hanukkah Upside Down by Elissa Brent Weissman, illustrated by Omer Hoffmann, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS; and Hidden Hope: How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Amy June Bates, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS.


Tziporah, Elissa, Omer, Elisa, and Amy June each share messages.



Tziporah: Hi, my name is Tziporah Cohen, and I am the author of Afikomen, illustrated by Yaara Eshet, and winner of a Sydney Taylor Award Honor for 2024.  Afikomen is a wordless picture book in which three children at their Passover Seder are transported to Biblical Egypt with the help of a magical time traveling piece of Afikomen. 


There, they see Moses mother and sister placing baby Moses in a reed basket, about to send him down the Nile to save his life.  The children help make sure Moses safely reaches his destination, Pharaoh's daughter, before they are transported back to their Seder.  I wrote this story for all children, Jewish and non Jewish, for those familiar with the Passover Seder, and the story of Moses, and those who never have encountered it before. 


For those who are familiar with the Passover story, I know how awesome it is to see your own experience reflected in a book. And for those who aren't, what fun to learn something new! And who doesn't like time travel?  On Passover, we are supposed to tell the story of the Jews escaping from slavery to freedom as if we ourselves experienced it, not just our ancestors.


The beauty of a wordless picture book is that the reader gets to tell the story the way they want to.  So linger over Yaara's beautiful illustrations with your child, and let them tell you the story. Ask questions to draw out the details, and see what magic unfolds. 



Elissa: Hello! My name is Elissa Brent Weissman, and I'm the author of Hanukkah Upside Down, a picture book about a pair of cousins, one in New York and one in New Zealand, who have a friendly competition to see if Hanukkah is more fun in winter or in summer. My family and I moved from Baltimore, Maryland to Christchurch, New Zealand a few years ago, and this book was inspired by our first Hanukkah in the Southern Hemisphere.


When I wrote it, I was thinking about readers in this part of the world who rarely get to see themselves in holiday stories, because books and movies and songs and even greeting cards about end of year holidays are pretty much always filled with snow and other wintry things. I was also thinking about readers in the Northern Hemisphere who might never have considered that their own experience could seem upside down to someone else.


So, my hope is that this picture book encourages readers to step outside their own perspective and learn about people or places that are different in some way. The story also celebrates the fact that it's absolutely possible to maintain strong relationships with family and friends who live far away, even other side of the globe far away. 


No matter the distance or the differences between us, there are things we all share, and there's nothing better than sharing them together.  Thanks so much for listening, and ngā mihi nui, kind regards, from Aotearoa, New Zealand.


Omer: Hi, my name is Omer Hoffmann and I'm the illustrator of the book Hanukkah Upside Down. 


 Hanukkah Upside Down follows two cousins who celebrate Hanukkah in very different circumstances. There's Noah, who lives in New York City, so for him holiday time is cold and snowy. On the opposite side of the world, there's Noah in New Zealand. For her, it's summertime.  They both engage in a friendly competition, whose Hanukkah is the best.


So throughout the book, they compare their holidays. While Noah is playing in the snow, Noah goes to the pool. As Noah is eating sandwiches, Noah enjoys. Ice cream.  But in the end, they both celebrate Hanukkah in the very same way. Lighting candles, eating latkes, singing the same songs, and enjoying time with their respective families. 


  Illustrating a picture book is such a long term project, so if you're planning on doing one, it's best to do something that you like, something that captures your imagination for those long months of solitary work.  So in a lot of ways, I draw mainly for myself. I really enjoy art that would make me laugh and keep me engaged with the characters I draw. 


But that's just one side of things. I believe that in order to be a picture book illustrator, you need some kind of access to your younger self. So you can also say that I draw for the young version of me, for that young person who loved funny characters and spent his time pouring over books to find all the small hidden details. 


  Uh, I think that the story demonstrates one thing in particular that I can really relate to. Even though the main characters of the story are engaged in a friendly competition, they never lose sight of each other. I think it's important to share your point of view and your experiences and your way of life.


Just remember to be mindful and respectful of the other person's experience as well, of his or her point of view, and enjoy the difference. I hope that kids and grown ups alike remember this lesson. 



Elisa: Hi, my name is Elisa Boxer, and I'm the author of Hidden Hope, How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust.  It's the true story of a teenage girl in World War II. She joined the French Resistance and used a toy wooden duck to hide secret documents from the Nazis.  I wrote this book for young readers.


who were ready to learn about the Holocaust through the eyes of a hero who never gave up hope that her actions could make an impact.  And that's a big part of what I hope young readers take away from this story, that you can make a difference in this world when you harness your courage and follow what is in your heart, when you follow what you know is the right thing to do, even when it seems like the whole world is against you and even in the darkest of times. 


Amy June: Hi, my name is Amy June Bates, and I am the illustrator of The Hidden Hope, How a Toy and a Hero Saved Lives During the Holocaust, which is a book written by Elisa Boxer and is about a girl who was 16 during the Nazi occupation of Paris.  Her name is Jacqueline, and she bicycles through the streets of Paris working with children as a social worker.


What the Nazis don't know is that she is really Judith Geller, a member of the French Resistance, and she is working to save as many people as she can, and even her own family. 


As a historical illustrator, I try to pay attention to details so that the viewer can immerse themselves in the place and time  and I try to be as accurate as I can. With a story like this one, I was, you know, I think I was also  thinking about artwork that was somber and scary but that was still going to go inside a children's book. 



Matthew: For Middle Grade, the Honor Books are Don’t Want to Be Your Monster by Deke Moulton, published by Tundra Books, an imprint of Tundra Book Group, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited; The Jake Show by Joshua S. Levy, published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; Not So Shy by Noa Nimrodi, published by Kar-Ben, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group; and A Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer, published by Union Square Kids, an imprint of Union Square & Co.



Josh and Noa each share messages.



Joshua: Hi, my name is Josh Levy and I am the author of The Jake Show. The Jake Show is a middle grade novel about a Jewish kid with divorced parents. One side very religious, the other side not so much. Navigating those different worlds, he lies his way to a summer camp neither side would approve of.  What kind of reader did I have in mind when crafting this story?


A kid like Jake, who might also be caught between the type of person they want to be and the type of person other people expect them to be. And what message would I like to share with my readers? Uh, well, one aspect of Jake's story is the way he sees himself as something like the main character in a TV show.


He forgets that the people around him, including his best friends, are as much main characters in their stories as Jake is in his. It's tough to remember sometimes that we're all going through something. And the lesson for Jake, um, and I hope readers too, is to try not to forget other people's stories even while we play out our own.


Thanks.



Noa: Hi, I'm Noa Nimrodi, author of the middle grade novel, Not So Shy. The book follows 12 year old Shai and the challenges she faces moving from Israel to the United States. In crafting this story, I hoped kids who experienced similar challenges would be empowered and inspired by seeing themselves reflected in the book.


But also, I hoped kids who never faced such challenges to see outside their own experiences with empathy.  As for the message you've asked me to share, since I'm very troubled at the moment by what's happening in my beloved homeland Israel, I'll say something related but very general. A message that can be applied to many situations in life. 


Don't settle for simple explanations for complex situations. Know that there is more understanding to be gained  before reaching conclusions.  Ask more questions, apply critical thinking, and always let love, not hate, guide you in the search for truth.  Thank you, Matt, for allowing me to voice my thoughts.


I'm grateful to be heard among all the wonderful authors you've interviewed.




Matthew: For Young Adult, the Honor Books are Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust by Neal Shusterman, illustrated by Andrés Vera Martínez, published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.; Going Bicoastal by Dahlia Adler, published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers; Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe by Steve Sheinkin, published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers; and Wrath Becomes Her by Aden Polydoros, published by Inkyard Press, an imprint of Harlequin Trade Publishing, a division of HarperCollins Publishers.


Neal, Dahlia, Steve, and Aden each share messages.




Neal: Hi, I'm Neil Shusterman, the author of Courage to Dream.  Courage to Dream is a graphic novel featuring five stories that take place during the Holocaust. The stories take the unique approach of blending reality with folklore and poignant fantasy that will hopefully resonate with readers of all ages. 


While developing the book, our goal was to appeal to a broad audience, particularly readers who might not pick up a historical novel, but might pick up a graphic novel and find much more to think about than they were expecting.  The book, which is beautifully illustrated by Andres Vera Martinez, is our attempt to show that even in the darkest of times, hope and tradition can still thrive and unite us, allowing us to shine a light into the dark corners where hatred hides. 



Dahlia: Hi, my name is Dahlia Adler and I'm the author of Going Bicoastal.


 Going Bicoastal is the story of a 17 year old bi Jewish girl named Natalia who has to choose which parent she wants to spend the summer with. And she can't decide, and so both stories play out in parallel timelines. In one, she stays with her dad in New York City, pursues a relationship with a girl she's been crushing on for a long time, um, kind of figures out her professional life a little bit and what she wants to do with the future, and um, spends a lot of time with her.


And in the other timeline, she goes for something totally new and spends the summer in LA with her semi estranged mom, working with her, um, falls for the guy who, her co intern, uh, and she makes new friends and also kind of figures out her professional future in both timelines. She is, um,  getting to better know her mom and she is figuring herself out and she is falling in love.


And so you get to see how both choices really have their merits, um, and are potentially the right choice. 


 I would say I most specifically had queer Jewish readers in mind, just because that really does come up a lot. They're both really significant, important parts of Natalia's identity, and she's really proud of both. Um, but just in general, I was really thinking of teens and how it seems like they just have to make the biggest decisions all the time and everything either feels so life or death or kind of irrelevant and renders them powerless, which is how I feel that sliding doors narratives often go like it kind of could go either, you know, it doesn't really matter what they chose because there was always this one faded ending or it doesn't really matter what they chose because they never really had the power or it was a really big deal what they chose, you know, really in like a life or death sense.


You know, spoiler alert if you've seen the original Sliding Doors, um, and I just wanted to,  uh, maybe help teens breathe a little bit that there can be two right choices that you can have power, but it doesn't mean that there is a right and a wrong and a better and a worse and it's just that your life can take different paths and, and really work out either way.


 I really just want my readers to know that there's like kind of always hope. There's always a way to change things. Your decisions are not permanent. Your paths are not permanent. Um,  yeah, you can discover you're somebody different from what you thought you were. You can discover you're capable of something other than what you thought you were.


You can discover you were meant for a different path and all of that is healthy and good and an option. And especially if you're a teen reader. You should never feel like the choices that you make now should define you for your entire life.


 What we are here to do, if we are here to do anything at all, is to build the world with love.



Steve: Hi, my name is Steve Schenken and I'm the author of Impossible Escape. 


This is a true story, non fiction for young adults, and some of the story is right there in the title. It is among other things, I think many other things.  The greatest escape story, true story, that I've ever come across in a lifetime of research, it is the story of Rudy Verba,  who is 17 when he gets thrown into Auschwitz, and it's the story of him surviving there, but also pulling off what was really thought to be an impossible escape, and what makes his story just  Over the top, incredible and inspiring is that, yes, of course he wanted to survive, but he didn't do it just for himself.


In those years that he spent in camp,  he saw what was really happening and  wanted to be the one, if no one else did it before him, to tell the world.  Hopefully before it was too late to save some lives, and that's exactly what he did. He gave the first eyewitness account of what was really happening inside the gates of this death camp.


And it did end up saving, historians estimate, as many as 200, 000 lives. 


This is a story, as a Jewish kid, that I didn't know. I sort of vaguely heard the name, and  when I read books about the Holocaust, it's in there, maybe as a paragraph or something, but  In terms of who I was thinking of  as an audience, it was me. It was me in middle school, high school. I really, I would have loved and been inspired by this story, and I didn't find it until, until I was an adult. 


The two main characters in this story, Rudy is 17. when he leaves home and has this dream of, uh, he's in Slovakia, Jewish kid from Slovakia has this dream of making his way across Europe and fighting the Nazis. And we sort of know from a distance that this is impossible, but he's 17. He's invincible. He's going to do it. 


And his good friend Goethe, Sidonova,  who grew up in the same town as him, another Jewish kid, they were friends, they got kicked out of school together when anti Jewish laws were enforced at the start of World War II. And the story follows their survival stories. They are, of course, separated by war. As he's thrown into the camp, she has her own series of adventures and survival,  close calls, escapes.


And  it comes full circle near the end of the story.  where they meet up again. I won't, I won't give away more than that, but so I think it's particularly effective, I hope, way to tell the story to young people, to people of that age, maybe a little bit younger. I myself have a 14 and 17.  year old kids now.


And it's just amazing to think that people that age were having these experiences. And I think, although it's a, it's a heavy story, it's a serious story, a dark one at times, of course, I think it's a really effective way to teach and introduce and explore this part of history, this part of World War II through the eyes and experiences of people who are teenagers.


And who did these remarkable things and who in retrospect would say we weren't heroes we were just kids who were surviving and doing what we thought was right. I personally think they're incredibly heroic, but I also think and hope that this is an effective and, and intriguing way to explore the story and to spark curiosity.


I'm not a big. Here's the message to take away Guy. I just, I think it's all in the story. And as a matter of fact, I struggle with this because at the end of the book,  there's an epilogue and I bring the story kind of up to date whatever happened to the the people after the war because the story that I want to tell that I tell in Impossible Escape ends when they're still teenagers and so I talked to people who knew Rudy and he had a whole long life after.


after the war  and, and gave, in addition to this career as a chemist and, and, and these other things, he also talked and gave a lot of presentations, especially to young people about his story.  And so I thought, well, maybe I'll wrap up by  just saying what he said. It's his story after all, let him have the last word.


And I talked to people who. who knew him and had heard him give these presentations about his life.  So I, I was kind of asking for help. I said, well, Wari, what did he say at the end of his talks? What was his message? What was his takeaway? And people told me he didn't do that. He did not do your work for you. 


What he would say was the story is the thing. Everything is in the story.  You've heard the story, you know what to do.  And that's how I ended the book because, and I really believe that's right for, for this, this book is not intended for young kids. It's for  teenagers and up. And I think that's exactly how I feel is that I'm going to tell you this story.


I'm not going to tell you  what to think about it. I mean, we all know, and certainly kids of that age will know.  What happens when we separate people into categories and  tell lies about each other and rank people based on who deserves which rights and where that can lead? This is an extreme  example of that,  but it's also all too familiar to anyone who lives in this world.


And so I think the most powerful thing I can do is tell the story of Rudy and Goethe  and leave it for you, the reader. You know what to do. 



Aden: Hi everyone, my name is Aden Polydoros and I'm the author of Wrath Becomes Her.  Wrath Becomes Her is set in 1943 Lithuania and it follows Vera,  a golem, which is a creature made of clay in Jewish folklore.  After being brought to life in order to avenge her creator's murdered daughter,  her career goes missing and Vera ventures out in search of him. 


Along the way she meets Akiva, a young Jewish partisan fighting in the woods. And together they kick some Nazi butt.  The kind of reader I had in mind for this story was honestly, a reader like myself as a teen. One who liked scary stories, uh, and who wants to, you know, read a book where Jews aren't just depicted as passive victims. 


I'm hoping that readers will be able to take away a message of hope from this novel that, you know,  We're more than just  the worst thing that has, that's happened to us. Um,  and that, you know,  we're strong and we're courageous. 



NOTABLE BOOKS


Matthew: In addition to the medal winners, the Award Committee designated three Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2024. The Notable Picture Books are The Rabbi and His Donkey by Susan Tarcov, illustrated by Diana Renjina, published by Kar-Ben, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group; and Zhen Yu and the Snake by Erica Lyons, illustrated by Renia Metallinou, published by Kar-Ben, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. The Notable Middle Grade Book is The Witch of Woodland by Laurel Snyder, published by Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.






OUTRO


Matthew: Time to visit your library to put these great books on hold! There were so many compelling stories. I hope you heard one that feels just-right for you. And, if you didn’t, I hope you heard one that makes you want to step outside of your comfort zone to try something new.


Thank you to the Association of Jewish Libraries and to all of those individuals recognized through this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards. 


You can pick up your own copies of these titles wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through Bookshop.org. You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/). 


Our music is by Podington Bear. 


Podcast hosting by Libsyn. 


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


Don’t forget to check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack, if you are a fellow teacher or librarian. It’s the perfect podcast to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities. It’s available wherever podcasts are found.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.




End Of Episode

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