As the first-ever recipient of the Groner/Wikler Scholarship, I was financially able to attend last week’s Association of Jewish Libraries annual conference, this year held in Las Vegas. Thank you to AJL and Kar-Ben for this wonderful award!
Over the course of three days, the conference offered about 30 talks, presentations, and panels. Topics ranged from “Women of Valor: Female Resistance to the Nazis” to “What Are We Reading?: The Latest and Greatest in Jewish Adult Fiction” to “The Koren Talmud.” There were also several committee meetings and an exhibit area.
Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner Presentations
I volunteered to shepherd Neal Bascomb, STBA winner for his teen nonfiction book, The Nazi Hunters, around the conference. I found his approach to the topic, his research, and his writing style to be inspiring. Neal and STBA award winners for younger readers, Laurel Snyder and Catia Chien, for their picture book, The Longest Night, spoke at an after-lunch panel on Monday, June 23. Patricia Polacco, winner in the older reader category with The Blessing Cup, was not able to attend the conference. However, she sent her Simon & Schuster publicist and a poignant video.
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, chaired by Aimee Lurie, followed with their presentation of the criteria for judging, showcasing books that either exemplified a Jewish value or fell short of it. These values included:
- Age appropriateness
- Depth of Jewish content
- Positive focus and values
We also covered trends we saw in the 2013/2014 submissions. These included:
- Science fiction and fantasy
- Gender issues
- Common Core
We had lively discussions, in particular, about sensitivity. Lurie introduced new committee members and the new chair, Diane Rauchwerger.
Monday night banquet features Jo Taylor Marshall and STBA award winners
Jo Taylor Marshall, daughter of All-of-a-Kind Family series author Sydney Taylor, spoke to a riveted audience about the genesis of these books and the real-life personalities on which the stories were based.
Awards were presented to Bascomb, Snyder, Chien, Polacco (accepted on her behalf by Simon & Schuster), and to Joni Sussman, Kar-Ben publisher, who accepted on behalf of her honor-winning authors and illustrators. (For a full list of award winners, click here.) Elisabeth Leyson accepted the honor award for older readers on behalf of her husband, author of The Boy on the Wooden Box. Leon Leyson passed away before the book hit the stands. Mrs. Leyson’s speech was particularly moving.
Tuesday panels on Jewish children’s books
Mira Reisberg posed the question to the room full of librarians: What books do you wish you had for your collections? This sparked a wonderful conversation about gaps in collections, such as YA books for boy readers, holiday books beyond Hanukkah, and Israeli biographies.
I gave a talk about “Building a Credible World: The Importance of History in Jewish Children’s Books.” I presented an eight-point checklist and discussed authors who handled history well and those who didn’t. If you’re interested in the presentation, contact me at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net.
Next year’s conference will be in the Washington, DC area. Writers, please consider coming! Librarians affect your book sales since they are the ones recommending them to their patrons.