2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour | Final Stop

 

You’ve now come to the final stop along the 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour, the culmination of a full week of insightful and inspiring award-winning author and illustrator interviews.

Read about the blog tour and all 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog posts.

The wrap-up and virtual roundtable

Imagine, if you will, available award winners seated at a dais table with mics, poised to answer questions from the press. We have eight participants:

Sydney Taylor Gold Medalists

  • Picture Books—Author Sue Macy and illustrator Stacy Innerst for The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come
  • Middle Grade—Author R.J. Palacio for White Bird: A Wonder Story
  • Young Adult—Author Rachel DeWoskin for Someday We Will Fly

Sydney Taylor Silver Medalists

Picture Books

  • Author Lesléa Newman for Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story and recipient of the Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award

Middle Grade 

  • Author Sofiya Pasternack for Anya and the Dragon
  • Author Andrew Maraniss for Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany

Young Adult

  • Author Hannah Moskowitz for Sick Kids in Love

The seating’s a little crowded, but we’ve saved room just for you. The energy’s high, although we know this will be a somewhat long discussion—there’s so much to talk about!

We begin…

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Thank you all for joining us today and congratulations on your great achievement. Let’s just dive right in. What are your recommendations for great Jewish kids lit?
Sofiya Pasternack: I don’t even know where to start! There are too many! Okay… Adam Gidwitz, the author who wrote the blurb for my book. His historical story, The Inquisitor’s Tale, is absolutely amazing and told in such a unique way. Katherine Locke is a prior Sydney Taylor Honoree and for a good reason! Their book The Girl with the Red Balloon and its sequel, The Spy with the Red Balloon, are both wonderful, as is their anthology, It’s  a Whole Spiel. Chris Baron’s All of Me, Victoria Lee’s The Fever King, Natasha Díaz’s Color Me In—I know I’m forgetting some, but that should be a good starting place for middle grade and young adult Jewish kidlit!

TWM: What trends do you see coming our way?

Lesléa Newman

Lesléa Newman: I see books that feature diverse Jewish families, which is a wonderful thing!

Hannah Moskowitz: I’m always in favor of seeing more books with Jewish characters that are set in modern times and focus on current-day issues. I’ve been seeing more of these lately and I’m so excited!

Pasternack: I’ve read some beautiful verse novels this last year, and I think there’s so much that can be done with a story as a poem rather than prose. Novels in verse I think are going to keep getting more popular. Other than that, I have no idea!

TWM: What are your next steps in your literary career?
Sue Macy: I’m actually merging my two writing interests and working on a picture book biography of a Jewish female athlete. More will be revealed.

 

 

 

 

 

R.J. Palacio: I have three novels I’m dying to write—all kind of vying for attention in my head—but I’m still not sure which one to work on next. I’m giving myself a little time for the right one to gain total control of my psyche so I can enter that world and start writing it. In the meanwhile, I’m doing a lot of binge-watching and catching up on reading.

Rachel DeWoskin

Rachel DeWoskin: My first poetry collection, called Two Menus, is coming out in April; I started out as a poet and wrote many novels in the meantime, but have been working on the poems in Two Menus for 18 years, so I’m very excited to have them in the world. Many of the poems are concerned with the same kinds of questions as Someday We Will Fly: youth and adulthood, safety and danger, humor and sorrow, fear and love.

Newman: My steps have been the same since Day One. Sit down on my writing couch, pick up a pen and  notebook, put a word down on a page and just keep going. It’s worked now for over 50 years, so as  my mom always used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Pasternack: I’m going to keep writing! I graduate from my doctoral program next year, so I’ll have more time to write after that. One day I’ll get an MFA… or maybe I’ll just take some creative writing classes. I really love learning about the craft of writing, and I think advancing a literary career (or any career, really) is all about learning, learning, learning!

Andrew Maraniss

Andrew Maraniss: I am currently finishing a manuscript for a Young Adult biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay major league baseball player. As with my first two books, Singled Out will be sports-related narrative non-fiction with a social justice message. It will come out in spring 2021.

TWM: What insights did you get into Jewish life as you wrote your book?
Macy: When I interviewed Aaron Lansky, he said Jews are a people with a culture that’s so all-encompassing, we even have our own religion. He flipped the way many Jews see themselves, on a scale of religious observance. As a secular Jew, I often felt somehow “less than,” but after speaking with Aaron and writing this book I see how Jewish I really am, in relation to Jewish history, food, language, and culture. It’s been validating.

Also, thanks to the work of the Yiddish Book Center and other groups, I’m finally getting a better picture of the lives my grandparents led in “the old country.” Before the recent English translations of Yiddish literature, some of which were produced by the Book Center, my main frame of reference for Eastern European Jewish life was Fiddler on the Roof. Now there is new, reclaimed literature available to me that presents a more well-rounded and nuanced picture of the lives my ancestors led.

 

 

Stacy Innerst

Stacy Innerst: As one who didn’t grow up immersed in Jewish life and culture, I have to say that nearly every page of the book provided  a new insight. I studied art and history in college and was particularly interested in figurative painters like  Chagall and I took every class the university offered on the history of the Jewish people. At the time, I had no idea why or that I’d be putting that accumulation of interests to such good use! I also discovered that I knew more Yiddish words than I thought I knew. Popular culture has absorbed so much Yiddish that we’re using it every day. Who knew?

When I first read Sue’s wonderful manuscript, there were a few scenes that encapsulated the story for me. One described the brother throwing Aaron’s grandmother’s suitcase full of her precious “old country” artifacts into New York harbor. Another was Aaron’s dumpster-diving quest to save discarded Yiddish books from being ruined by the rain.
Both scenes are an illustrator’s dream but they also perfectly captured the competing desires that immigrants must experience to assimilate while also preserving their own sense of self and cultural history.

Palacio: I did more research before beginning White Bird than I’d ever done before on anything—because I didn’t want to do what I’ve seen done in books before, which is to use historical events almost like a backdrop to a story, rather than its raison d’être. For White Bird to work, the Holocaust couldn’t be just a backdrop—it had to be the very architecture of the story: the driver of the plot; the drumbeat of the narrative. I understand that fiction is allowed to do use history anyway it wants, but I don’t think authors of historical fiction should bend history to suit their narratives. At least, I myself didn’t want to do that. What I wanted to do was tell a story about a very relatable girl whose life goes from wonderful to frightening in the span of a few short years. I wanted to portray the real events that shaped this girl’s life. So I read every history book and article I could get a hold of that dealt very specifically with the lives of French Jews in the 1930s and 1940s: their lifestyles, cultural practices, religiousness. You don’t necessarily see that research in the final result, but it was important that I did it. What I came away with after doing the research, what I still find the most moving thing, really, is how the Jewish faith is truly inextinguishable. That light, which Sara’s father talks about—that spirit of transcendence—so integral to Jewish life, was my biggest takeaway from my research. I mean, I knew about it before I started writing White bird, of course, but after doing all my research, I knew it anew.

DeWoskin:  I was in Shanghai in 2011, working on a contemporary television project, when I visited the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and discovered that 18,000 Jewish refugees had fled Nazi-occupied Europe and survived WWII in the only city in the world that would allow them safe landing: Shanghai. It was there that I saw two photographs that inspired me to write Someday We Will Fly; the first was a 1940 shot of a group of teenage boys from Europe. They have the soulful, hollowed-out look of kids in war-time, but also look like boys anywhere, mischievous and sweet, wearing polos monogrammed with school insignias. They hold table tennis paddles. I stared. These kids had fled entire lives; their grown-ups, on top of managing near-impossible survival, had made them a school, a table tennis table team, even tee-shirts. How? Next to that image was a second, this one of two toddlers, girls holding rag dolls. The girls were in rags themselves, but someone who loved them, their parents, maybe, or friends, or aunties, or Chinese neighbors, had sewn dolls for them, and painted on those dolls lovely, expressive faces. The records of these children’s lives, and the objects that revealed their community’s devotion to them, inspired Lillia Kazka, the 16-year-old refugee at the center of Someday We Will Fly. I wanted to ask, in as many and complicated ways as possible, the horrifying question of how human beings survive the chaos of war. I began imagining and researching teenage life in WWII Shanghai; Chinese citizens welcoming thousands of Jewish families into their city, the Shanghai Jews building businesses, schools, girl scout troupes, theater companies, chamber music groups, community, and a sense – astonishingly—of normalcy for their children. The stories I found, and the objects, documents, and photographs, continued to surprise me for the duration of the seven years I spent traveling back and forth to Shanghai, reading, asking, and writing. Someday We Will Fly is a tribute to the most surprising and compelling aspects of what I discovered: the Shanghai Jews’ gritty practicality and profound courage, and the resilience that so many refugees demonstrate, by holding onto hope in contexts that guarantee the pulse of its twin force, dread.

Newman: I realized on a whole different level, how much courage it took for my ancestors to make the voyage from Eastern Europe to America. I had to dive deeply into the emotions of my characters—specifically, Gittel and her mother—and I felt in my bones the fear and pain of their separation. In reality, they never saw each other again, but I just didn’t have the heart to make that the storyline of the book (I do talk about it in the Author’s Note).

Pasternack: I had to really learn a lot about medieval Jewish life, especially outside of the traditional medieval Jewish settings people normally think of. Part of my book is taking the reader through Anya’s Friday as she prepares for Shabbat, and realizing how much work that used to be was really something.

Maraniss: I was fascinated to listen to the sermons of Rabbi Steven Wise in New York as he spoke so eloquently and persuasively about the reasons to boycott the 1936 Olympics. I was moved by the words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz when he wrote of the love, togetherness and determination present at his synagogue on the eve of the April 1, 1933 Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. I was amazed by the courage of ordinary people like the Miller family, who sent their 14-year-old son Al to America in 1937 for his own safety without knowing if they’d ever see him again. I was inspired by the words of Elie Wiesel, who said that “those who were silent yesterday will remain silent tomorrow.” We cannot wait for those who have been on the wrong side of history to realize the error of their ways and atone for it. We can’t wait for people who may believe the right things but haven’t acted on it to speak up, either. It’s up to each of us to speak up, now, in defense of truth, justice and equality.

Hannah Moskowitz

Moskowitz:  I actually never thought of Sick Kids as a Jewish book; the characters are Jewish because I’m Jewish. I’ve been continuously surprised by how many reviews point out that they’re Jewish, because to me it wasn’t a large part of the book, but gradually I’ve come to understand how much Jewish values really do influence what’s important to the characters and, really, how I write and see the world.

TWM: Let’s talk about the award itself. What does the Sydney Taylor award/honor mean to you?
Innerst: It’s hard to describe how gratifying it is to win the Sydney Taylor Award for authentically portraying Jewish life. Sue Macy and the team at Paula Wiseman Books gave me a gorgeous story to illustrate and I couldn’t be more grateful to them and to the award committee. I knew this could be a very good picture book from the moment I read the manuscript. I was just trying not to screw it up.

When you set out to illustrate a book you don’t think, “This one’s going to win the Sydney Taylor Award and have a shiny sticker.”  It certainly is a thrill when that happens, though! I’m kvelling.

Palacio: As a non-Jewish person writing a story about a Jewish family set in France during the Holocaust, I was very conscious of the necessity to not only represent the historical narrative accurately, but in a way that illustrated the honor and affection I have always felt for people of the Jewish faith. Growing up in Queens, NY, as a first-generation daughter of Spanish-speaking Colombian immigrants, my earliest memories involve my teachers—almost all of whom were Jewish—always treating my parents and me with the utmost dignity and respect. This may seem like it would be a given, but that wasn’t always the case growing up as an immigrant in a predominantly white neighborhood—and the intellectual generosity and kindness of those elementary school teachers will always stay with me. Since then, perhaps because of that, because of the friend group I ended up being part of in middle school, or spending so much time with my best friend in high school, or the fact that I married a Jewish man—I have always felt very “at home” within the Jewish community. I’ve always felt welcomed and embraced. But having strong ties to a community isn’t the same as being one of the faith, of course, so I decided to approach White Bird neither as an insider nor an outsider, but as a storyteller. I’m telling a story that teaches children growing up right now—for whom the Holocaust might seem like distant history—about the Holocaust, about antisemitism, about intolerance. And ultimately, of course, about finding the moral courage to speak up against injustice. I strongly believe that we’re not teaching children early enough about the Holocaust, and we’ve left the burden fall on the Jewish community alone to fight antisemitism. It should be on everyone, regardless of religion or background, to teach their children about the horrors of the Holocaust. And that is ultimately why I wrote White Bird: to be able to connect the readers of Wonder, all around the world, with a story that they might not otherwise have come to. So receiving the Sydney Taylor Award means everything to me, in a way that’s almost impossible to describe. Yes, it’s a validation of the choices I made on how to tell this story, and how to illustrate it, which involved research beyond my own personal experience to authentically portray the Jewish experience—but it’s also an acknowledgement from the Association of Jewish Libraries that this book is doing what I had hoped it would do, which is to connect with young readers and build a bridge between the past and the present.

DeWoskin: I have loved All-of-a-Kind Family all my life. I read it not just as a little girl, but also to both of my daughters; every chance I had to live in Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie’s world and story—was a profound delight. Sydney Taylor’s books are part of the reason I imagined and wrote Someday We Will Fly; one of the great beauties of her work is the dignity she gives kids, the belief running through her pages that children’s lives and struggles are to be taken seriously, that their joys and fears are primal and real, their rights human rights. And this is not just true of her characters, but also of readers as I think she considers us; the loveliness and depth of her prose are evidence that she believes stories for and about young people should rise to the level of transcendent literature. Of course this is also evident in how her characters describe, think, and care about reading. All this to say, winning the Sydney Taylor Award feels poetically profound to me, like a milestone I would have been unable to dream of in my childhood, reading her books. My girls have been wearing the beautiful gold Sydney Taylor Award stickers on their clothes.

Newman: To receive the Sydney Taylor Silver Medal means so much to me especially because Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, is based on my own family history, and my 91-year-old Aunt Phyllis (daughter of the real “Gittel”) is alive and well and so moved that her mom’s story is being honored in this way and read by so many children. And to receive the Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award at this point in my life and career touches me deeply. I have been working very hard for many years (many decades!) and it’s nice to have that acknowledged.

Pasternack: I think every author worries so much about making some kind of impact. Did my book mean anything to anyone besides me? I’m an external validation person, and the Sydney Taylor Honor answered that question for me: “Yes, your book means something to someone besides you.”

Maraniss: This is a tremendous honor, and one that means the world to me. I’m honored that the committee took my book seriously. One of my pet causes is to demonstrate that sports books are legitimate books. Some of the most interesting stories of civil rights, justice and equality have taken place on the athletic fields of play. My intent is to use sports as a hook to get young people interested in reading. A book with a basketball player on the cover may seem accessible to a lot of kids. And then once they get into the book, they learn something—in a fun and interesting way—about larger issues such as racism, antisemitism, and propaganda. I am extremely proud that this honor will always be a part of my legacy as an author. It legitimizes my career in some ways. This is an honor that is held in very high esteem in the book world, so I’m incredibly grateful.

Moskowitz: A little while ago there was a Twitter thread going around where we talked about our first memories of Jewish literature, and mine was reading All-of-a-Kind Family with my grandmother when I was little. So being recognized for an award with Sydney Taylor’s name is…so, so cool. That little kid would be stunned.

TWM: And now for the final question for today’s discussion: Will anything be different now that your work has been recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award?
DeWoskin: Of course I’m absolutely thrilled with this recognition, and my great hope is that the Sydney Taylor award will bring readers to my book, and allow for a deepening of the conversation about the particular history of the Shanghai Jews, and also the larger question of how we learn from that history ways to protect vulnerable people and allow them safe havens.

Pasternack: I photoshopped the award onto a ton of stuff and annoyed my whole family! But seriously, I don’t know what will be different now. I hope it opens up some speaking opportunities for me, because I love to speak to people, especially other authors. I use my background in psychotherapy to augment my writing, and so far people have been pretty interested in hearing about that. I really want some of those speaking opportunities to be at synagogues or Jewish schools, so I can talk to the kids there about writing your own experience, and about how history is awesome!

Maraniss: Receiving an honor like this provides extra motivation to keep doing what I’m doing, keep telling stories about social justice, keep reaching kids with stories that can help shape the way they see the world and the way the use their voices. It has been obvious to me that the Sydney Taylor Book Award is held in extremely high esteem by librarians, teachers and other authors. There is a responsibility that comes with one’s work being associated with an honor like this, an obligation to b an “upstander” rather than a bystander in the face of injustice.

The Whole Megillah thanks each of you for participating in this roundtable discussion and we congratulate all the Gold Medal, Silver Medal, and Notable award winners. Readers, please check out the preceding blog tour and get to know these winners and their works even better—their techniques, their approaches, their inspirations. And thanks to all the wonderful bloggers who volunteered their time and space to interview these Sydney Taylor Book Award winners.

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. I had grand plans to work on my genealogical memoir by taking a Creative Nonfiction advanced memoir class. But that was before the semester started. I just can’t get into my personal writing space at the moment beyond my one poem per week.
  2. I have signed up for an 11-day study tour of France, Spain, and Portugal this summer, sponsored by the Sousa Mendes Foundation. I hope this leads to some manuscript creation. In preparation, I want to read Erich Maria Remarque’s The Night in Lisbon.
  3. Have you been following the 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Blog Tour! Watch for the final stop on The Whole Megillah tomorrow!

Have a great week, everyone!

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Author’s Notebook | How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History by Annette Gendler

Gendler, Annette. How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History. 2019, $8.95

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What prompted your interest in your own family’s history?
Annette Gendler (AG): Two things: When I fell in love with a Jewish man in post-WWII Germany, I knew family history was repeating itself because my great-aunt had been married to a Jew in Czechoslovakia before the war, a marriage that put the entire extended family in mortal danger once the Nazis came to power. So I went on a quest to figure out what had happened. Secondly, as I was reading through my grandfather’s memoirs to piece together that old love story, I noticed that he had had something I never had: a real homeland. He lost that homeland when my grandparents and father were expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war, along with pretty much every one of German heritage. That loss profoundly changed who the next generation was going to be. It made it possible for my dad, who was 12 at the end of the war, to eventually ship off to graduate school in America and marry an American. My siblings and I grew up in the Munich area, where we had no close family, and where our family did not come from. We grew up between two countries, speaking English and German, with a grandmother who cooked Bohemian food, and a mother who made pizza and meatballs and spaghetti.

Once I realized how profoundly my family’s history affected who I am, I felt it was important to retrace the story and put it together.

Annette Gendler

TWM: What prompted you to write How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History?
AG: I got one too many question about whether I had any materials from my workshop “Shaping Family History into Compelling Stories.” I began teaching that workshop after my memoir Jumping Over Shadows came out in 2017, sharing what I had learned about developing a narrative from artifacts such as letters and official documents. That workshop has always been very popular, and so it was clear that a book like How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History would fill a market need.

TWM: Since you’ve been teaching this subject for a long time, what do you think are the three toughest challenges in writing compelling stories from family history?
AG:

  1. Focusing on stories that are interesting and relevant to the next generation
  2. Figuring out where to start
  3. Dealing with uncomfortable truths and taboos

TWM: Is there a stumbling block that most writers of family story encounter?
AG: It is easy to get lost in a thicket of tangents. Everything is so connected when you’re writing about family that it is challenging to filter out one story line and stick to it. This is why focusing on writing about an object is such a useful tool.

TWM: What are the pros and cons of writing memoir vs. fiction based on family story?
AG: With fiction based on a true story, the writer has more leeway to create a good story. Facts can be fudged, and scenes can be made up. For the family, however, a fictional account remains unsatisfactory because it always begs the question of what is made up and what isn’t. With memoir the writer has to stick with what actually happened. Nevertheless the story will be curtailed by his or her point-of-view and some stuff has to be omitted in order for the storyline to work. No piece of writing can ever do justice to life. A story is always a construct but I firmly believe it is better to have a story than no story at all.

TWM: How can objects/heirlooms/memorabilia help?
AG: Writing about one particular inherited object can be tremendously helpful because the object provides the necessary focus. For example, all kinds of family facts and anecdotes can be attached to an inherited tea cart. Writing the story of that tea cart will yield a succinct portrait of a family, or at least some of its characters.

TWM: You made a really interesting comment: “[family] reactions are indicative of the relationship you have with the person you are writing about” (95). Could you say more about that?
AG: I have witnessed, more than once, and experienced myself, that if you have a shaky relationship with someone, writing about that person and then sharing that writing is not going to improve that relationship. In fact, it could damage it further. On the other hand, a good relationship will not be harmed and is quite often deepened by writing.

TWM: What do you think are the triumphs of writing family story?
AG: Writing my family’s story helped me understand myself better because I learned more about who the people were who came before me and how their experiences shaped who they were and thus shaped who I was going to become.

We humans, if we are at least somewhat introspective, spend a lifetime trying to understand ourselves. Family stories are a crucial component of understanding who we are, and if they are written down, they can be passed on and reinterpreted. Oral history is well and good, but as we all know, stories get distorted when they pass from one person to the next. A written story preserves the writer’s point of view.

A written family story is also a connector. It connects one generation to the next, and it gives whoever will read it the opportunity to find a sense of connection and belonging. In my opinion, a written family story is a priceless gift that will keep on giving.

TWM: How should one get started?
AG: Start small, with something easy. Write down one story a relative told you, or write about an heirloom you cherish. Once you begin writing, you will find yourself on all kinds of journeys. They happen only when you have begun writing. Jot down whatever ideas and tangents occur to you, but remain focused on your one story. Share your draft and get input, then rework the story until you feel it is the best it can be. Then write the next small story. Eventually a bunch of small stories will create a wonderful mosaic of your family history but each story can also be shared and published on its own. Approaching writing family history as one story after another is much easier than tackling a big book project.

TWM: How has your MFA helped you write memoir/family story?

AG: It did and it didn’t. In my MFA program I learned a lot of the principles of creative writing, especially how to write good prose, and how to develop family members into full fledged characters. But honestly, that can be learned in good writing classes. It might just take more time than in a MFA program, which is a more intense learning experience. My MFA program didn’t teach me how to transform source material like my grandfather’s memoirs into a compelling story. I figured that out through much trial and error, and by workshopping much of the manuscript with a group of fellow MFA graduates.

TWM: What’s next for you?
AG: I am considering creating an online class that would expand on How to Write Compelling Stories from Family History. I also have a children’s book manuscript ready that is based on my mother-in-law’s experiences as a hidden child in France during the Holocaust. So more family history stories are in the offing!

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AJL Announces 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Awards

For More Information Contact:

Rebecca Levitan, Chair
Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
Association of Jewish Libraries

www.sydneytaylorbookawards.org
sydneytaylorbookaward@jewishlibraries.org

January 27, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners Announced

Winners of the annual Sydney Taylor Book Award were announced by the Association of Jewish Libraries today in Philadelphia, PA at the Youth Media Awards announcement at the American Library Association. Named in memory of Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, the award recognizes books for children and teens that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.

2020 is the first year the Sydney Taylor Honor Books have been included along with the winners  in the announcements at the American Library Association Youth Media Awards press conference.

GOLD MEDALISTS

The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst, published by Paula Wiseman Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is the winner in the Picture Book category. The Book Rescuer celebrates the power of an individual to preserve history and culture, while also exploring timely themes of identity and immigration. In a folksy voice, this biography tells the story of Yiddish Book Center founder Aaron Lansky’s commitment to rescuing Yiddish language books and ensuring that despite all odds, Yiddish language and culture will stay alive for future generations.

White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio, published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an Imprint of Alfred A. Knopf,  a division of Penguin Random House, is the winner in the Middle Grade category. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel connects the Holocaust to familiar contemporary characters, as Julian from the Wonder series learns his grandmother’s powerful story of rescue in Vichy-occupied France.

Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House, is the winner in the Young Adult category. In this lushly written historical novel, Lillia and her father and sister flee Warsaw during the Holocaust and take refuge in Shanghai, China. There, Lillia’s need to support her family, her relationships with others, and her awareness of her privilege even as a refugee all contribute to her growth.

Lesléa Newman is the winner of the Sydney Taylor Body of Work Award. As the author of 70 books for all ages, she has helped broaden the scope of Jewish children’s books over her prolific career. She has received the Sydney Taylor Award for Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed, a Sydney Taylor Honor this year for Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story and four Sydney Taylor Notables

SILVER MEDALISTS

Six Sydney Taylor Honor Books were recognized.

For Picture Books, the Honor Books are Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Abrams Books and The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, published by Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

For Middle Grade, the Honor Books are Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack, published by Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany by Andrew Maraniss, published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House.

For Young Adult, the Honor Books are Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life and Work by Victoria Ortiz, published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,  and Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz, published by Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing.

In addition to the medal winners, the Award Committee designated eight Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2020. More information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award and a complete listing of the award winners and notables can be found at www.sydneytaylorbookawards.org.

The Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Committee did not designate a winner for 2020.

Winning authors and illustrators will receive their awards at the Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries, to be held in Evanston, IL, from June 29 to July 1, 2020. Gold and silver medalists will participate in a blog tour from February 9 to 13, 2020. For more information about the blog tour, please visit www.jewishlibraries.org. For an exclusive interview with Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee Chair please visit The Book of Life Podcast at www.bookoflifepodcast.com.

Members of the 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award committee are Chair Rebecca Levitan, Baltimore County Public Library; Baltimore, MD; Rena Citrin, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago, IL; Shoshana Flax, The Horn Book, Inc., Boston, MA; Marjorie Ingall, Freelance Writer, New York, NY; Sylvie Shaffer, Capitol Hill Day School, Washington, DC; Marjorie Shuster, Congregation Emanuel, New York, NY; and Rivka Yerushalmi, Jewish Women International Libraries, Rockville, MD.

The Association of Jewish Libraries, the leading authority on Judaic librarianship, promotes Jewish literacy through enhancement of libraries and library resources and through leadership for the profession and practitioners of Judaica librarianship. The Association fosters access to information, learning, teaching and research relating to Jews, Judaism, the Jewish experience and Israel.

Sydney Taylor Book Award gold seal

The 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Awards

Association of Jewish Libraries

 

Picture Book Winner

The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst, published by
Paula Wiseman Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Middle Grade Winner

White Bird: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio, illustrated by the author, published by
Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House Children’s Books

Young Adult Winner

Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin, published by  Viking, an imprint of
Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House

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Picture Book Honors

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Abrams Books.

The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music by Debbie Levy, illustrated by
Sonja Wimmer, published by Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group

 

Middle Grade Honors

Games of Deception: The True Story of the First US Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany by Andrew Maraniss, published by Philomel Books,
an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House

 

Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack, published by Versify,
an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

Young Adult Honors

Dissenter on the Bench by Victoria Ortiz, published by Clarion Books,
an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz, published by Entangled Teen,

an imprint of Entangled Publishing LLC

 

Picture Book Notables

Doctor Esperanto and the Language of Hope by Mara Rockliff,

illustrated by Zosia Dzierzawska, published by Candlewick Press

 

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard,
published by Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group

 

Parrots, Pugs and Pixie Dust: A Book about Fashion Designer Judith Leiber by
Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Masha D’yans, published by Little Bee Books

 

Middle Grade Notables

Masters of Silence by Kathy Kacer, published by Annick Press

A Boy is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel, published by Groundwood Books

Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas, published by Holiday House

 

Young Adult Notables

In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton, published by Algonquin Young Readers, an imprint of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing

A Light in the Darkness: Janusz Korczak, His Orphans, and the Holocaust by Albert Marrin, published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House Children’s Books

 

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Body-of-Work Award Winner
Lesléa Newman

 

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Manuscript Award Winner

There was no Manuscript Award Winner awarded for 2020.

 

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For more information contact:

Rebecca Levitan, Chair

Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Association of Jewish Libraries

sydneytaylorbookaward@jewishlibraries.org
www.sydneytaylorbookawards.org

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Author’s Notebook | Crushing the Red Flowers by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan

Author
Jennifer Voigt Kaplan

Kaplan, Jennifer Voigt. Crushing the Red Flowers. Ig Publishing, 2019. 308 pp., $12.95

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write Crushing the Red Flowers?
Jennifer Voight Kaplan (JVK): Crushing the Red Flowers is a middle-grade story set in 1938 Germany. It’s fictional, but based on true family experiences. My heritage is half German and half German-Jewish, so I grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany faced leading up to and during WWII.

I decided to confine my novel to 1938. While many wonderful children’s books exist that are set during the war years, few explore the pre-war years and the November pogrom known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in greater detail. The year offers a unique vantage point to explore the past and glimpse the future, and by remaining within 1938, I was able to provide younger readers an introduction to the Holocaust without minimizing events or compromising authenticity.

I also found that few children’s books feature German main characters and even fewer use varied perspectives to explore historic events. It’s important for young people to have access to historical fiction with diverse points of view, so I chose to write alternating perspectives of two twelve-year-old main characters, a German Jewish boy and a boy in Hitler’s Jungvolk. Themes of kindness, bullying and loyalty influence both characters and resonate with today’s middle-grade readers.

TWM: What was your research process?
JVK: Writers of history strive to genuinely portray events, but since writing fiction is by nature a subjective representation, some degree of distortion is inevitable. To minimize misrepresentation, I thoroughly researched all aspects of the story. I started by learning everything I could about the period. I read non-fiction, fiction, academic articles, and credible online sources. I also conducted interviews with family members who had lived through the era. These interviews became the book’s foundation, informing the plot and supplying original details.

As I worked on the novel, granular questions emerged: How did the events of Kristallnacht unfold? What was the weather like on certain dates? What foods were hard to obtain? How quickly could someone leave Germany after securing a visa? In what month did poppies wilt? I broadened my scope of sources and also contacted historians like Myrna Goldenberg, professor emerita of Holocaust history at Montgomery College, and Dr. Patricia Heberer-Rice from the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Lastly, even after specific questions were answered, I continued my research to gain a richer sense of German style, interiors, and mood of the 1930s. I watched movies from the time period, browsed through portraits housed at the Center for Jewish History, watched old political video clips, and inspected hundreds of visuals at the New York Public Library Picture Collection. Sometimes I found a new detail to weave into my writing, but sometimes I just verified an element already in the novel.

TWM: What led you to select Hannover as the location for your story?
JVK: I wanted to set the story in a mid- to large-sized German city with an ample Jewish population. Many smaller towns did not have sizable Jewish communities and hence, experienced the November pogrom differently. I chose to set the story in Hannover because it fit these criteria and also because my grandfather was originally from Hannover. He could vividly describe his life, apartment and much-loved city, which all became an essential part of my research.

TWM: I couldn’t help but think about Emil und die Detektive while reading your novel. Did that book figure into your preparation at all?
JVK: It didn’t. The character Emil in Crushing the Red Flowers was loosely based on my grandfather’s personality. Of course, I never knew my grandfather when he was twelve, but in senior adulthood, he could be described as kind, funny, smart, rebellious, and a goofball. He was a good father, husband, son, and friend, but he relished in his own childhood mischief. He reminisced about sneaking sweets, throwing snowballs at girls, playing “explorer” in off-limits apartment basements, and riding his bicycle on the sidewalk (which was forbidden).

Before WWII, many German Jews were integrated into German society. The character of Emil in Emil und die Detektive likely represented boyhood characteristics of the time. I’d assert that my grandfather, along with many boys raised in early twentieth century Germany, shared in these traits, so I’m not surprised that my Emil could remind a reader of Emil in Emil und die Detektive. Even in 1920s and 1930s Germany, children were children. They were fun, mischievous, yearned for independence, and had flaws, like most kids today.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing this novel?
JVK: Emotionality. Writing about one of the most disturbing periods of history was no easy feat and it was important to remember that difficult topics are difficult for everyone: kids, parents, educators, and writers. Crushing the Red Flowers took me years to write. That’s a long time to cognitively live in 1938 Germany and it was especially taxing because my book is based on true family experiences.

I coped by prioritizing self-care and by taking occasional breaks. I learned it was okay to step away from the book for short periods. This not only improved my well-being, it allowed me to see the bigger picture and ultimately improved my ability to connect with middle-grade readers.

Another challenge was staying true to my objectives. I believe a children’s writer must be certain of their intentions when undertaking a highly charged subject. I originally set out to capture portions of my family history, but also aimed for the project to become much more. I wanted to introduce this topic to middle-grade readers in a thought-provoking way without softening the disturbing reality, disregarding authenticity, or overly distressing my young readers. During the writing process, I realized Crushing the Red Flowers wasn’t like other children’s Holocaust books and that initially made me pause. But I learned that that was okay. If I were to ask a thousand people who lived through the period about their experiences, I would receive a thousand different answers. I’m glad I stayed on course because in the end, the book felt true to me and to my Jewish and non-Jewish family members who had experienced the November pogrom.

TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
JVK: My hope (and potential greatest satisfaction) is that the novel helps children develop more awareness of their own morality. To this end, I developed a discussion guide at the end of Crushing the Red Flowers as well as a longer educator’s guide tied to core-curriculum standards to encourage rich conversation, offer a safe stage to talk about difficult elements, and help discussion leaders make sure that readers understand the material. I included questions to explore characters’ feelings and reasons for their actions. I also incorporated other art forms, like sketching pictures and creating book trailers, and asked questions that have readers link back to their own lives.

TWM: Please describe your support network—writing group, readers, agent?
JVK: I’m fortunate to have a large writer support group. During the editing process, my first stop is my beloved online critique partners, where I post one chapter at a time. In the ten years I’ve worked with these children’s writers, they’ve graciously accepted everything I’ve thrown at them—novels, picture books, stories, blog posts, articles, and even website content—and labored to enhance every piece. Once I have a solid working draft, I then send the full manuscript to two or three additional children’s writers who had not previously seen the work. And finally, a few kids, my wonderful beta readers, take a peek. I love how excited they are to take part in the process and also how they don’t hold back when giving feedback. Only after gaining their approval, I’m ready to send it off to agents.

Children’s authors tend to be kind people and, considering writers never have enough hours in the day, are particularly generous with their time and advice. In addition to my critique partners, I’ve often tapped into my author community for guidance. They’ve helped me with a range of topics: from developing school visit content, to finding a website designer, to evaluating publicists, to figuring out what to work on next.

Writing is truly my happy place and I love focusing on day-to-day joys. As I look back on my lengthy journey to publish Crushing the Red Flowers, I treasure all the varied moments that were necessary to create it: collaborating with my family, establishing relationships with fellow writers, and learning about the publishing business.

TWM: How did you and Ig Publishing connect, that is, how did you get to Ig?
JVK: When the novel was finished, I began submitting it to literary agents, then editors, and all the while to writing contests. By the time it was selected by Ig Publishing, a wonderful award-winning small press, Crushing the Red Flowers had been recognized in six writing contests, including earning a Letter of Merit in the 2012 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the Middle-Grade Category in the 2016 Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize for Fiction.

What attracted me to Ig Publishing was their impressive list of awards, willingness to try new strategies, and previous experience with children’s novels with Jewish content. Additionally, Ig Publishing had reissued a number of YA classics, including a few by Sydney Taylor: Ella of All-of-A-Kind Family, All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown, and More All-of-a-Kind Family.

Working with Ig Publishing provided my book access to reviewers, exposure to booksellers, and allowed for a much shorter turnaround time than what I might have expected with a large publishing house.

TWM: Who inspires you?
JVK: I live with a very chatty internal muse and have no shortage of ideas. In fact, I need multiple spreadsheets to house all my thoughts. I keep pages of character traits, great lines, verbs, themes, and plot points.

That said, I’m often inspired by other art forms. Any time another artist effectively captures an emotion sends me running to my laptop. Examples that have moved me include hearing music lyrics that perfectly encapsulate teen angst, viewing a 1937 painting that captures the nuanced experience of Nazi resistance, spotting architecture designed to flawlessly harmonize with its surrounding landscape, and witnessing a dancer wholly and viscerally portray the piece they are performing.

Work ethic also inspires me. I love hearing stories about writers who have full lives during the day and still make time for their writing muse. Or really, any inspiring story about hard-working individuals in other professions who push themselves in the pursuit of excellence.

TWM: What’s next for you?
JVK: More children’s books! I love writing for kids and plan to continue. As I mentioned, writing Crushing the Red Flowers was a highly emotional experience for me. After completing the book, I yearned to write in a completely different genre, so I jumped into a funny, middle-grade sci-fi novel. Now that I’ve completed a draft, I’m prepared to say that I could see myself writing another historical novel at some point in the future. Currently, I’m writing a picture book and plotting a new middle-grade magical realism novel. Please follow my Facebook author page or my website to stay informed of my latest projects.

About Jennifer Voigt Kaplan

Jennifer Voigt Kaplan is an award-winning author of children’s fiction. Her debut children’s novel, Crushing the Red Flowers, was published November 19, 2019 by Ig Publishing. The manuscript was endorsed by James Patterson and was recognized in six literary contests before its publication, including earning a Letter of Merit for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the middle-grade category of Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize for Fiction. Jennifer was born in Germany, raised in Philadelphia, and now resides in the New York City area.

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Mid-Week Notes

Three quick things:

  1. The Jewish Book Council has just announced its 2019 winners. I agree with some choices, like Michael Dobbs’s Unwanted and, of course, Lesléa Newman’s Gittel’s Journey. But another book that won I thought lacked any authenticity. Sigh. I assigned sections of Unwanted to my America and the Holocaust course that starts on Jan. 27.
  2. I’m cramming in as much genealogy and writing as I can before the semester starts. I came across some information late last night that gives me a glimmer of hope that my grandmother’s sister may have survived the Holocaust. It’s a long shot. I’ve reached out to her daughter through Facebook. I usually don’t get responses that way, but at least I’m trying.
  3. A few of us Jersey girls from Gratz College’s Holocaust & Genocide Studies programs will be heading over some Sunday soon, I hope, to see the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s “Auschwitz” exhibit. One of our classmates is a docent there.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Two-in-One Author’s Notebook | Essie’s Revelation Summer by Deanie Yasner with Publisher Nancy Sayre

Author Deanie Yasner

Yasner, Deanie. Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer. Golden Alley Press, 2019, 241 pp. $8.99.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer captures so many historical (and emotional) details. How much of those came from your memory vs. research? How much of this did you personally experience?
Deanie Yasner (DY): Many of the historical details emerged from a combination of two things: memory first, followed by research to verify my childhood recollections of growing up Jewish and “different” in the deep South during the era of segregation. Even though the prevailing Jim Crow Laws were alien to my “old soul” being, they were very powerful and have had a profound influence on my perspective as an adult long-since removed from that unfortunate time in our history.

Because it was imperative for me to ensure the purity and honesty of the book before it was read by a single child, I worked hard to validate my memories by communicating with local Mississippi historians, childhood classmates and adult friends who still reside in the area. I also verified details utilizing online research.

The emotional details were from my memory. It is difficult to forget the daily events and struggles I either experienced firsthand or witnessed being faced by my dear Pearlie May and all of the black people. I cannot erase certain facts: Pearlie May not being allowed to sit with me at the local drugstore for an ice cream soda, or sit with me at the movies, or enter the public library. I will always remember the signs that read “For Whites Only—For Colored Only.” The very separateness that permeated my daily life will forever be ingrained in my psyche, not only from living under the rules of segregation but also from the fact that I was separate based upon my Jewish religion. What I personally experienced was the profound feeling of not belonging and of being in a place and time I did not understand, as Essie Rose said many times.

TWM: Please describe your writing process for this book.
DY: In many ways, this book has been writing inside me for years. I knew this was my story and mine only to tell—just how?

My very first attempt was to write a poetic novel in verse. I began with free-floating vignettes that focused on my friendship with Pearlie May and my feelings of knowing and sensing my differentness early on as a Jewish child being raised in an environment and climate that created a constant internal unease.

Simultaneously, I realized I needed to study the craft of writing in depth. I immersed myself in an array of technical books, studied authors who wrote in my genre, and sought advice from a writing teacher/coach.

Finally, I began the journey of transforming the vignettes into a story that took the form of an historical fiction novel, written as Essie Rose’s writer’s notebook. This felt right, as I was intimately familiar with my protagonist and her ways as an “old soul” observer. At this point I knew two definites that would become part of my book: the fate of Pearlie May, and that Essie Rose’s connection to Charlotte’s Web would be a sub-theme.

Then it was time to take on the task of becoming 10-year-old Essie Rose, writer and worrier, each and every time I sat down to put my words to paper. I discovered the necessity of letting go of my preconceived notions and ideas and to trust my characters to speak to me. This writing process, for me, was both laborious and glorious, even mysterious.

TWM: What were your greatest challenges in writing this story?
DY: The greatest challenge was becoming the 10-year old Jewish child, writer and worrier. I found it quite difficult, but ultimately rewarding, to realize that to achieve depth and authenticity, I would have to dig deep into my emotions. Especially the one that I experienced in all its ugliness: shame. I had to relive the struggles and emotional pain that were my story. In many ways I am still Essie Rose. It was imperative that I kept her voice from the first word of the story to the very last.

TWM: What were your greatest satisfactions?
DY: My greatest satisfactions were, first, that I achieved the creation of a strong and hopefully unforgettable character in Essie Rose Ginsberg and kept her voice throughout the entire book. The second satisfaction was, that while my book is Jewish themed, the story offers a universality that touches all children and adults. Essie Rose’s challenges of feeling different, of being bullied, of trying to find her voice and ultimately her courage, are the same challenges facing children today in our complex and divided society.

I also take great satisfaction that this book enabled me to pay homage to my real Pearlie May, and that I was able to honor the sacrifices my parents were required to make to sustain and nourish our Jewishness under difficult circumstances.

TWM: Please describe your process of revision and getting feedback for this book.
DY: Revision was a constant attempt to flesh out the characters, to make sure each scene (diary entry, in my case) moved my story forward. I was fortunate to have a circle of friends and a supportive teacher who provided encouragement and feedback during the entire process.

My final revision, accomplished in partnership with my editor/publisher Nancy Sayre, was immensely rewarding and proved to be an enormous learning experience. Working through our weekly real-time sessions to resolve specific issues and search for that perfect word or phrase was both challenging and exciting. Our commitment to this story blossomed and propelled us to the finish line.

TWM: Who inspires you?
DY: As a former special education teacher and behavior specialist/consultant, I am inspired by all the children who face daily challenges with perseverance and courage and their parents who advocate for them with the same courage.

I am inspired by those people who I witness daily doing tiny but significant good deeds just because it is the right thing to do. This is the first of Pearlie May Gibbs’ Half Dozen Words of Wisdom: BE KIND!

TWM: Was Charlotte’s Web a favorite book of yours? What else did you like to read?
DY: To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember the first time I read E.B. White’s book. I do know I read it several times prior to writing my story, not knowing it would become an important sub-theme. I continue to read it at least once a year along with another favorite book of mine, To Kill a Mockingbird. I am sorry to say that I do not recall many of the childhood books I must have read. I most likely read The Bobbsey Twins and The Ugly Duckling as well. On a lighter note, as part of our family weekly ritual growing up, I read the same Sunday comics Essie Rose enjoyed while my parents read other parts of the newspaper.

TWM: What advice do you have for writers who want to mine their memories through fiction and writing for children?
DY: I would say to any writer: If you take on this task, be forewarned that the journey might take you to places where you will experience intense emotional highs and equally intense emotional lows. If you want your story to achieve depth, clarity, and authenticity, pay close attention to both. I would also ask writers to heed the mantra I held close to my heart throughout the huge undertaking of writing Essie Rose’s Revelation Summer: Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.

It is interesting that you asked if there could be a sequel in the works. It has been so very heartening that many of my readers have asked the same question. To know they are so invested in my protagonist is a writer’s dream come true. The idea has crossed my mind, and I do find myself daydreaming about her new life. I am open and receptive, waiting for Essie Rose to lend her voice as to what the future holds.

Nancy, let’s turn briefly to you. What attracted you to Deanie’s manuscript?
Nancy Sayre: As a Christian, hopefully in the mold of Pearlie May and Moses, the Truth in Deanie’s book called my name the minute I read it. Yes! I thought. This is exactly what we all need to hear right now. What my grandchildren need to hear. And let me also say I fell in love with Deanie, herself, at the first word that came out of her mouth. She has a very sweet voice and is hands down the most grateful person I have ever met.

For more about Deanie, please visit her website.

For more about Golden Alley Press, please visit the website.

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