Find us on: Bookmark and Share

One position on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee will be available beginning January 1, 2011.

Applicants should be (or should become) members of AJL, familiar with the scope of Judaic children’s literature, experienced in writing critical reviews, willing and able to read and review over 120 books during the course of a year, and able to meet deadlines.

Committee members are expected to attend annual conventions and to participate in committee-sponsored events, including speaking at the Committee’s annual AJL Convention presentation. The term of membership on the Committee is four years.  Each committee member typically receives more than $2,000 in books for review each year, which may be kept for personal use or added to the member’s library. Membership on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee is both fun and intellectually challenging, but it also requires a substantial commitment in terms of time and energy.

Members must be able to submit reviews electronically and correspond with other committee members through regular e-mail.

To apply, send an e-mail indicating the reasons for your interest, a resume, and several examples of your recent reviews of Jewish children’s books to Barbara Bietz, Committee Chair, at Applications will be accepted through December 1, 2010.

Today I have for you an interview with graphic novel artist and writer Barry Deutsch, whose book Hereville, a graphic novel about a troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox girl launches today from Amulet Books. Barry is an accomplished artist and you can visit his website, Amptoons, to learn more.

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background as an artist?

I was born in New York City, and raised in New York and Connecticut. I've loved comics for as long as I remember. My parents have an original "Pogo" Sunday page -- Pogo, for your readers too young to know, was one of the all-time great newspaper comic strips, the Calvin and Hobbes of its day – and I would kneel on the back of the sofa and read that page over and over again.

[caption id="attachment_577" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Barry Deutsch"][/caption]

I remember drawing comics in junior high and in high school. I was an okay student -- sliding by on book smarts rather than hard work, a sure recipe for mediocrity -- but I took drawing classes very seriously. After attending and dropping out of Oberlin College (my poor parents!), I attended School of Visual Arts in New York City for a year, where I took Will Eisner's cartooning class. Then I moved to Massachusetts, where I wasn't a student at UMASS, but nonetheless did a daily strip in their student newspaper, which was an amazing learning experience. Next came Oregon, and finally Portland State University, the first college I actually graduated from. While there I did political cartoons in the student paper, for which I won the national Charles Schulz Award for outstanding college cartoonist. Along the way I began and abandoned any number of larger comic book projects.

2. Why did you decide to write about rebellious Mirka? What interested you about her and her family? What audience did you write the book for?

One of my abandoned ideas was a comic about a Jewish woman, in the middle ages, wanting to fight a dragon St George style, but facing (among other barriers) that Jews couldn't legally carry weapons at that time. I had also read Liz Harris' book Holy Days, which has many great stories of Hasidic family life, about a decade earlier. I think those things were percolating in my mind, because when my friend Jennifer Lee (the awesome cartoonist behind told me, a website for girl-friendly comics, was looking for submissions, the idea of an Orthodox 11 year old girl's quest for a sword popped to mind pretty easily.

Beyond that, I had no idea what I was doing. Girlamatic said "yes," so I was making up the pages as I drew them, and in my spare time I started doing more serious research. And the more I learned, the more interested I became in Mirka's family and home life. In particular, Stephanie Levine's book Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers was very inspirational to me – in particular, how girl-centered life is for girls in that culture before they reach a marriageable age, and how incredibly spirited and strong Levine found the girls she met to be.

The main audience I write for is myself. I wanted to create a comic that I'd want to read. So it has a lot of elements I love to see in comics -- lots of humor and adventure, but also a lot of cultural information, and (I hope) interesting storytelling and layouts.

3. At the end of the day, the fanciful fable you tell about a brave girl who battles a troll turns out to have a very domesticated moral. What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

I don't think of my work as having a message. If readers come away feeling attached to the characters and saying "that was a really great story," then I'm satisfied. If some readers see some deeper things then that -- if they see it as a story about ambition, and about mourning a dead parent – then I'm delighted, but it's not necessary.

I am concerned with identity politics -- I'd like to see more girl-centered pop fiction, and I'd like to see more Jewish characters in popular fictions. And if other readers, especially female readers and Jewish readers, have been feeling that same hunger and so get a bit of extra pleasure out of reading Hereville, then that's great.

4. How did you develop your visual style? Do you think the comics medium is valuable for telling Jewish stories? Why or why not?

Some of my visual style comes from consciously imitating other cartoonists -- I spend a lot of time trying (and failing) to get my figures to flow as smoothly as Will Eisner's did, for example. But some of it didn't seem to
come from anywhere. It's just there, and the more I draw the more apparent it becomes. Why the big muppet-like mouths, for instance? I don't know why.

I think the comics medium is valuable for telling any sort of story, Jewish stories included. There is no limit, either to what stories comics can tell, or to the number of Jewish stories to be told.

5. What other Jewish comics artists do you admire?

I've already mentioned Will Eisner, but I'll mention him again, because he was such a spectacularly great cartoonist. His drawing was dazzling, his layouts were innovative, and on top of all that he was the first great cartoonist to make Jewish characters the text (instead of a hidden subtext) in his work.

There are so many great Jewish cartoonists! But some whose work I like are Jules Fieffer (who began his career working for Eisner), Will Elder, Al Hirschfeld (another cartoonist my parents had on their walls), Harvey Kurtzman, and more recently Art Spiegelman, Ariel Schrag, Rutu Modan, and Daniel Clowes. Oh, and just last week I picked up one of Sarah Glidden'scomics about Israel, and it was really good -- I can't wait to read her whole book.

6. What are you working on now and when can we see you in print again?

I'm working on the second Hereville book! Abrams hasn't yet announced the publication date, though.
Barry, thank you so much for participating and telling us about your book! Best of luck and keep in touch with what you're working on next!

Posted by Marie.
Here are some great new links in the world of Jewish books, libraries and librarianship.

From Schocken Books, Random House Goes Kosher!

Gale Expands AccessMyLibrary apps for College and Android Users, from Booklist.

An Afternoon with Avi Steinberg, from Tablet. AJL has an interview coming up soon with Steinberg-stay tuned.

From Information Wants to be Free, Inspiring Stuff to Read, Take 3.

Vasily Grossman's The Road: Previously Untranslated Work from an Important Soviet Writer, from the Jewish Literary Review.

Two New Sets of Primary Sources from the Library of Congress, from ResourceShelf.

Have a great week. Email me at mcloutier at with feedback or suggestions.

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Link Round-Up
Naomi Steinberger is Director of Library Services at Jewish Theological Seminary. This interview was conducted by Bob Schrier. Bob Schrier holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Earlham College and spent the last 8 years working as a teacher, manager, and high school librarian. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University with a focus in Jewish and digital librarianship.

This is part two of a two-part interview. See Part One here.

Q: How have you helped the library to cope with changes in technology over the years?

“Today it’s very different than when I started. When I came to this library there was one computer in the library. It was 22 years ago; it was a different time. We had a card catalog in those days. But times have changed and that was evolutionary. People still wanted the cards even though we had the online system but slowly people began to believe that the online system would work.

Skip forward to 2010 and were talking about ebooks. I can tell you that over the last four or five years we’ve talked about electronic periodicals. And four or five years ago we said ‘Alright, fine, we’ll get a hard copy and electronic format.’ Slowly, as people got used to using electronic journals, this year we decided to buy only electronic copies and we get hard copies only if an electronic copy is not available. So it’s an evolution of the world and the library.

There’s such major changes in the library today. To keep up we have meetings, talk to people, and we also have to stay in touch with our users. Our undergraduates, for example, are coming from a whole different world than most of our veteran librarians. By the time they were born and could read, the internet already existed.

You have to go with the trends and the way the world is changing. I think that librarians by and large are fine with moving in that direction. I feel like there’s much less resistance to change today than there was 15 years ago because of the way the world is changing so rapidly.

Q: Do you ever encounter resistance to change?

With regard to people who are resistant: sometimes we do focus groups, sometimes we do brainstorming sessions. We discuss how we’re going to make changes, exactly what we’re going to do, how it will impact other things we’re doing, how our users will see the changes.

I think there was more discussion about it 10 years ago than there is now because change is so rapid all the time. I don’t think we ever held brainstorming sessions about shifting to ejournals but 10 years ago we talked a lot about what our website would look like. Today we’re not talking as much about it. There are smaller groups dealing with it; it’s sort of just understood.

With regard to other kinds of change: we’ve unfortunately had a lot of cuts in staff and that’s been very difficult on a personal level because we had to lay people off and also because we had to take on more responsibility. People have been extremely cooperative in those areas and also understand that there are things that can’t be done that we would like to do. Sometimes we get someone who ambitiously comes and says ‘I really wanted to do x-y-z and plus-plus-plus,’ and we have to reign them in a little. We refocus and try to put the idea in a positive light so that we work on how we actually can do it. You don’t have to tell them they can’t do it. You have to say ‘ let’s work on how-to’ rather than telling them why we can’t do something.

We have a wonderful staff who are open and are always looking for new challenges. I know a lot of larger institutions and larger academic institutions have problems with a lot of resistance. Some of their staff is unionized, they have strong unions and won’t do things a certain way because their contract says that they shouldn’t. We don’t have those problems here. We really have a group of amenable and cooperative people.

But there are always challenges because there are always changes.”

Q: What do you like best about your job?

Every day I come in and there’s something new, it’s never boring. There are interesting people to talk to and interact with. And there’s always something that you can do to make a difference, both in the library and hopefully for the community of people who use our collections, onsite and electronically. Another really exciting part for me is dreaming up new projects and seeing them come to fruition.

Q: What are your thoughts on the role of digital librarianship in libraries today?

Digital librarianship. That’s a large field. Are we talking about the actual people doing the digitization, making choices about the digitization; are we talking about the people who create metadata, how is metadata different for electronic objects different than traditional cataloging; are we talking about the web, the presence on the web; are we talking about images, are you talking about text; how are you going to present the text, different formats, the pros and cons of different kinds of formats; also the back office programming, systems work vis-à-vis presentation of the digital object. It’s a very big field to go into because clearly that’s the future.

Q: Specifically, is there a need for digital librarians in the area of Jewish librarianship and at JTS?

“I think there’s a lot of material in Jewish studies out there on the web now and nobody has pulled it all together. We did a rare book digitization project last fall and the first thing that we did was to make sure that no one else already digitized the items. There’s no union list of digital items in Jewish studies. There’s a pressing need for that so that we don’t duplicate each other’s work.”

Q: Is pulling all that material together part of JTS’s mission?

“We’re talking to other organizations to work collaboratively on it. I’m not sure it’s our job to take it on. I see it as a job for the National Library in Israel to take on. But I think that an area that’s important in Jewish studies, it’s important to bring it all together.”

Q: What you look for in the people you hire?

Aside from competency, you have to be able to interact with people. Different types of people are good for different kinds of jobs. In the public area you want people who are easy to interact with, people who want to deal with the public, who don’t want to sit buried at their desks. In other areas, you need specific skills. In cataloging you need specific skills, you need language skills. It really depends on the type of job. There also has to be good chemistry between the supervisor and the potential employee. It’s really a combination of skills and excitement about what they’re doing.

Also you have to have a feel for whether or not someone is going to stay the course. We have someone who’s completing a project for us. It was an 8-month project and we’re in the sixth or seventh month and even she found another job, she said ‘I’m not leaving now. I have to finish this job.’ So a lot of commitment also.

I can tell you that I’ve gotten better at it. Earlier on there were people that I made mistakes with but you make fewer mistakes as you get more experience. Sounding people out is essential in the interviewing process. It also helps if you bring other people into the process. While you might get very excited about someone, another person may see it differently and give good insight. That helps a lot for a better evaluation.”

Posted by Marie.
Note: On October 12, 2010, beloved novelist Belva Plain passed away. What follows is an appreciation of her life and work by writer Randy Susan Meyers, author of the novel The Murderer's Daughters (2010, Macmillan).

“In the beginning there was a warm room with a table, a black iron stove and red flowered wallpaper.”

That’s the first line of Belva Plain’s first book. In a prescient review, Library Journal wrote of Evergreen: “A magnificent story...this beautifully written book will be treasured and reread for many years to come."

I read Evergreen as I did most books in 1978—for the luxury of escape, seeking solace in a world that wasn’t mine, my world being defined by a two-year-old, a five- year-old, and a marriage chosen at 19, when I was in love and desperate for perceived safety.

Belva Plain’s books comforted me then and her life story has comforted me ever since. Each birthday

that another year passed without publishing a novel, each year that writing gave way to raising children and working, I’d think of Belva Plain publishing her first novel at 59. She’d sold short stories in her twenties, but broke from writing as she raised her family. I’d co-authored a nonfiction book in my twenties, and then became lost in family and work, until I realized my dream at 57, when I published my novel The Murderer’s Daughters.

Belva Plain was a guiding light to me from 1978 forward. As I counted down the years, in a world where youth is treated as an achievement, the presence of Belva Plain calmed me. For every time there is a season, I reminded myself. Ms. Plain was my example against the world’s devaluation of middle-aged women.

Ms. Plain was a New York Times bestselling author. Though rarely given critical acclaim, her rich reads offered millions exactly what they wanted, stories thick with family, conflict, and all the true and tough issues facing women. In her New York Times obituary, she is quoted as saying: “I got sick of reading the same old story, told by Jewish writers, of the same old stereotypes — the possessive mothers, the worn-out fathers, all the rest of the neurotic rebellious unhappy self-hating tribe,” she said. “I wanted to write a different novel about Jews — and a truer one.”

An amazing and accomplished woman, Belva Plain built a wonderful life. From within her happiness—a long loving marriage, beloved by and close to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—Ms. Plain was able to touch the ways women stay strong in the face of the disasters they faced in their homes, in their communities, and in the world.

Belva Plain provided succor and transport in her stories and a breath-taking role model with her life. She will be missed.

You can find out more about Randy Susan Meyers and her novel at

[caption id="attachment_556" align="alignleft" width="181" caption="Randy Susan Meyers"][/caption]

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Authors, Guest Post
Welcome to our weekly roundup of interesting links from around the internet on Jewish libraries, librarianship, books and more.

AJL's Cleveland Chapter gives us The Best of the Best.

Heidi Estrin guest-posts at From the Mixed-Up Files... of Middle Grade Authors with (Sometimes-Not-So) All-of-A-Kind-Families.

What do have planned for the Global Day of Jewish Learning, November 7, 2010? Check out the site here.

From, Noshin' Review: 'Kosher Nation' by Sue Fishkoff.

From ACRLog, Managing E-Resources for Users, 100%.

Burnt Books now on sale, from Schocken Books.

From Information Wants to be Free, Management, Upward Mobility and Sticking.

Check out Anna Levine's Free Fall blog tour schedule at The Teen {Book} Scene- then go visit the tour!

Email me at mcloutier at with feedback or suggestions and have a great week.

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Link Round-Up
Naomi Steinberger is Director of Library Services at Jewish Theological Seminary. This interview was conducted by Bob Schrier. Bob Schrier holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Earlham College and spent the last 8 years working as a teacher, manager, and high school librarian. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University with a focus in Jewish and digital librarianship.

This is part one of a two-part interview. Come back next Wednesday, October 27, for the conclusion.

In broad strokes, Ms. Naomi Steinberger paints a picture of her personal career path as well as her outlook on JTS and the state of libraries in general, past, present and future.

Q: What led you to the library profession and how did you make your way into your position at JTS?

“ While I was living in Israel, I first earned a degree in musicology and then got a library job. While working there, I realized that I really enjoyed working in the library. So after that, I did a masters in musicology and a master’s in library services.

I’ve been at JTS for a long time, for more than 20 years. Before that, I worked as a music librarian in various capacities: in music libraries, as a music archivist, and in a music indexing and abstract journal/database.

I’ve worked in public services, as a head of systems, and have been doing this job more or less for the past 10 years or so, maybe a little longer.

My background in Jewish studies is more informal. I acquired a lot of knowledge here but before that, I had Jewish education through high school and lived in Israel for many years. I also did some Jewish studies courses in college in Israel but music was my subject specialty area. So I was able to draw on that plus the music when I came to JTS, which has large music collection.”

Q: What exactly do you do at JTS?

“I administer all activity here in the library. We’re comprised of three departments: technical services, public services, and special collections. In terms of the day to day, I supervise the department heads and the different departments. I also work on special projects as well as initiating grants and administering them. Overall, I manage the professional aspects of the library as opposed to the more academic aspects.”

Q: How does that supervising process take shape?

“Each department has a rhythm of its own and has tasks that it has to take care of in order to meet the user’s needs.

My role comes in more with charting out a course, setting strategic plans, and setting up goals and objectives. There is a formal review process. I meet with each department head once a week. I summarize generally what’s going in the library but we also plan what we would like to do, what we are going to do, how we’re going to change, and the direction we’re going. In other words, we focus on strategic planning. We look at the department strategically and see how we’re going to accomplish certain types of things that we’d like to do.”

Q: Do the strategic goals have to do with whoever’s funding the department or is it more internal in terms of the goals that are set by JTS itself?

“The library has a mission: to collect and preserve and make available the literary cultural heritage of the Jewish people. So we’re actually doing that in each department. I’d say that now it’s slightly different because of changes in funding but sometimes it’s funder directed and sometimes it’s our choice based on what we feel is important at a particular time.

The funded ones are pretty straight forward. You get funding to do a certain project and you have a certain timeline deadline; you have to make sure the work gets done.

In terms of JTS directed programs on the other hand, we’re upgrading our library catalog system, for example. That’s cyclical and it happens every two to three years. So the quantity of testing and customization is our prerogative.

We have three phases of the test for the system. The first phase is: did our data transfer properly? And that’s imperative to accept the system. Then it’s more about the functionality: is the functionality working the way we’d like it to work? What changes do we need to make and what changes would we like to make? The final step is making the system-function move forward from its current level to a level that will work better for what we need. That’s where more of the planning and prioritizing comes in. Ultimately then, we ask ourselves at what stage are we going to do these improvements? That whole process has nothing to do with our funding. It has to do with regular project work in the library.

We have a grant now from the Metropolitan New York Library Council to put up an archival collection in our digital library. There, we must finish the project by November first present them with a completed report. For that, you have to make sure that each of the pieces are in their place as we’re working.

So there are different ways of supervising and managing different kinds of projects.

Also it has a lot to do with people; getting the right people to do the right kind of work and making the right kind of matches for people.”

Q: So your position must require you to be extremely knowledgeable about your staff.

“Well first of all, we’re not such a large staff. Unfortunately we’re smaller than we were, somewhere between twenty-five and thirty now. We’ve been up to thirty-five or forty but we’ve had some cutbacks. If I don’t personally know what would be a good match, the supervisors can make that determination.”

Q: So it sounds like one of the keys to your success is a well-trusted staff of supervisors who help you get things done.

“Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely!”

Come back next Wednesday, October 27, for part two of this great interview. Please email me at mcloutier at if you would like to be interviewed or know of someone who'd make a great subject.

Posted by Marie.

Association of Jewish Libraries

Research Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections Division

Call for Papers, 2011 Annual Convention

The Research Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections Division (RAS) of the Association of Jewish Libraries is soliciting paper proposals for AJL's 46th Annual Convention, to be held at the Marriott Chateau Champlain in Montreal, Quebec, June 19-22, 2011. Librarians, archivists, scholars, educators, and authors will meet to share their interest in Judaica librarianship, Jewish literacy and related topics.

We solicit paper proposals on aspects of Judaica librarianship as it is practiced in research libraries, archives, museums, and special collections and as it pertains to higher education. Examples of suitable topics include, but are not limited to:

§  Technological developments and tools in higher education institutions: cloud computing, academic social networks, e-book platforms, mobile devices and virtual reference;

§  Resource sharing: database access, union catalogs, reference sources, cataloging services;

§  Cataloging in RDA (Resource Description and Access).

§  The future of print book collections in academic institutions, seminaries and Hebrew colleges, as revealed in collection development practices and policies, or other library operations;

§  Changes in Jewish Studies methodology as they are portrayed in libraries.

A special focus this year will be the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Montreal Jewish community. Appropriate topics may include archives or special collections in the area, history of the Canadian Yiddish theater, programs about Jewish Canadian notables such as Mordechai Richler or Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg, as well as Canadian women writers, history of local synagogues and other community landmarks, or unique Jewish communities in Montreal (Moroccan, Iraqi, Spanish-Portuguese).

Proposals should be emailed to, with the following: presenter's name, address, affiliation, telephone and email address; brief biography; title of proposed presentation; paper abstract (up to 250 words); and specific technology or equipment requirements, if any.

All submissions must be received by November 30, 2010. Proposals will be reviewed by the Program Planning Committee, which is composed of national and local AJL members. Notification will be made in January 2011.
Today is the day for October's Jewish Book Carnival.

Visit the Jewish Book Council to see this month's Carnival and we hope you have time to visit and comment on as many blogs as you can!

The carnival was started by Heidi Estrin and Marie Cloutier to build community among bloggers and blogs who feature Jewish books. It will run every month on the 15th.

Feel free to download and save the logo, and use it on your blogposts or sidebar. Please do not link directly to the picture.

The Jewish Book Carnival has a GoodReads page, where we host discussions and more. Whether or not you’re participating, we hope you’ll stop by, join and take part!

Here's some great links from around the blogosphere this week on Jewish books, reading, libraries and librarianship.

Congratulations to Howard Jacobson, winner of this year's Man Booker Prize for his novel The Finkler Question.With Jacobson's Booker Prize Win, A New Life for the 'Jewish Jane Austen,' from NPR.

What if Being a Librarian was the Most Dangerous Job in the World? from GalleyCat.

Turning the Research Lens on Ourselves, from ACRLog.

Skype Offering Free Trial of Virtual Classroom Environment, from OnLion/Behrman House.

The 12th Annual Jewish Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, from the Jewish Book Council.

RUSA Best Websites, from Booklist Online.

From Resource Shelf, Guide: How to Host an Effective Virtual Meeting.

That's it for today. Have a great week. Email comments or suggestions to me at mcloutier at

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Link Round-Up
This year, AJL will participate in Library Snapshot Day, an ALA library advocacy initiative.

It's easy and fun to participate and we want your library to be part of it!

Here's all you have to do:

1. Pick a single day during the week of November 1 - 7, 2010 (Monday through Sunday) for your Library Snapshot Day. During your chosen day, you will keep a head count of the number of people who visit your library.

You may wish to plan a program that will bring in lots of people, but you are welcome to record a "typical" day in your library if you choose. Sunday November 7, 2010 is also the Global Day of Jewish Learning; if you are planning an activity tied to that event you are welcome to double dip and use it for Library Snapshot Day too. If you are already planning a crowd-pleasing event for the following week, you may choose to use that date for your Library Snapshot Day, as long as you can send in your results by the deadline, November 17, 2010.

2. Along with your head count, please collect comments from visitors about how wonderful your library is (written, audio, videotape, whatever works for you), and please take photographs. Pictures, pictures, pictures!

3. By Wednesday, November 17, 2010, send your head count, your comments, and your pictures to Please be sure to include your name, your library name and address, and the type of library it is (synagogue, day school, community center, academic, special, other).

The results will be publicized during the first week of December, which coincides with Hanukkah. Our theme will be "Your Jewish library - a gift to your community!" Feel free to use the results of Library Snapshot Day as an advocacy tool within your own community to show the value of Jewish libraries in general and your library in particular. We anticipate publicizing our results through ALA, via the AJL website/blog/Facebook page/Twitter, via Hasafran and by e-newsletter to nonmembers, and through a press release to the media. AJL will also provide a fill-in-the-blanks press release that you can adapt to your library and use with your local media.

Posted by Marie.

UPDATE: When taking photos of patrons, please make sure that they have given permission for their pictures to be used by AJL. AJL will use selected photos on our website/blog or in our newsletter.
Posted in: Events, ALA

[caption id="attachment_488" align="alignright" width="284" caption="Mitchell James Kaplan. Photo by Renee Rosensteel courtesy of Other Press."][/caption]

Recently I had the opportunity to interview author Mitchell James Kaplan, whose new book BY FIRE, BY WATER has recently been published by Other Press. The book is an intriguing and engrossing novel set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and Colombus's voyage to the Americas and focuses on a diverse community of Spanish Jews.
You can find reviews of BY FIRE, BY WATER in  Ha'aretz (, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle (

1. What was it that drew your attention to the topic of converso Jews and the Inquisition?

I did not set out to write a book about converso Jews or the Spanish Inquisition. I set out to write a novel exploring the background of Christopher Columbus's 1492 voyage of discovery. It became clear that Columbus's voyage was as much the symptom of a world in profound disarray as it was a harbinger of change. As I explored that disarray, the Spanish inquisition and the condition of conversos came into focus as important elements in my story.

2. Why do you think this subject is important for today's readers?

Most of us are conversos today, in the sense that we must navigate between different identities and ghettos. Few of us in the western world any longer have the privilege of remaining confined within one narrow belief system or ethnicity, to the exclusion of all others. Like it or not, we are exposed to competing world-views and absorb elements from them. The conversos of fifteenth century Spain were precursors of modern man.

3. Why did you choose Luis de Santangel as the central figure of your book? How is the real life Santangel different from your fictional creation?

Santangel stood at the center of all four events that changed the world at the end of the fifteenth century: the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the “reconquest” of Granada, and the discovery of the New World. Despite his importance in history, most Americans had never heard of him. The fact that his personal life was so complex, and in some ways tragic, made him all the more compelling as a character.

My initial question, with regard to Santangel, was: What could possibly motivate such an astute and well-grounded courtier to take the risks associated with supporting Columbus's voyage, even when the preponderance of scholarly opinion found no merit in Columbus's ideas? After researching Santangel's life, I came to feel that Columbus's dream must have represented a prayer of hope for Santangel, uttered from the murky depths of a world whirling into chaos.

The Luis de Santangel of my story, like most of my characters, is closely based on the historical individual. He really did have a cousin who was murdered by the Spanish Inquisition. His son did have to pay penance in much the way I described. Santangel was accused of murdering the first Chief Inquisitor of Aragon. King Ferdinand did intervene to save him from the consequences of that accusation. Columbus really did write first to Santangel, following his 1492 voyage.

Santangel's love interest, Judith Migdal, I invented to show the condition of the Jews in Granada leading up to the expulsion. But her nephew, Levi Migdal (later baptized as Luis de Torres) was Columbus's interpreter on the Santa Maria. As Columbus describes him in his diaries, he was a Jew who spoke Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew, as well as Spanish, so it is likely he grew up in the Islamic emirate of Granada.

4. You clearly did a lot of research into the period. Did you learn anything that surprised you? Was there something particularly interesting or unusual that you learned, that didn't make its way into your book?

I learned so many surprising things, among them the aforementioned fact that the Spanish Inquisition was unique in its focus on the “judaizing” heresy among conversos. It was interesting to me to learn that the pope did not initially authorize the Spanish inquisition, and indeed continued to express qualms about it even after it was established. As I researched Queen Isabella, I came to the conclusion that she was a usurper, although most history books gloss over that fact. It would take me much more than another whole book to describe everything I had to leave out.

5. What do you want your readers to take away in terms of an understanding about converso Jews and Jewish culture of the period? What lessons can be drawn from the book?

Regarding the conversos: I like Santangel's question, "what is the advantage of knowing, with absolute certainty, what one believes? There's much to be said for doubt." This intrusion of doubt into the medieval world – a world of certainties, at least with regard to faith – marked the beginning of the process that would lead to the Enlightenment, the Existential age, and our current age which, in my view, is evolving toward mutual respect between the faiths. Karen Armstrong credits conversos with the invention of atheism.

Regarding “lessons:” What I want most of all is not to preach but for my readers to feel that their sojourn in the world of my novel has been a valuable and enriching experience.

A good novel, in my view, is an experience of language, of characters, of complexity and nuance. The best novels evoke an entire world. Like real life, a good novel teems with ambiguity, connotation, and subtlety.

For this reason, I was thrilled to discover that many of my Christian readers identified Luis de Santangel as a Christian facing a crisis of faith, while many of my Jewish readers felt he was a Jew. Similarly, some of my readers asked why I made Torquemada so “human,” as if I were trying to vindicate him, while others saw him as a psychopathic villain. When I receive a wide range of responses like that, I feel I have succeeded in at least one of my aims: to faithfully hold a mirror to a complex world.

Within that complex world, there is room for a Torquemada (whom I see as sincere and intelligent but misguided) as well as a Caceres (whose understanding of Christ's message of love and forgiveness seems to be more aligned with our own) and a Talavera (a man of contradictions, moderate and analytical). The Islamic rulers of Granada can be seen as protective (from Judith's point of view) or ruthless (from the point of view of Sarah's mother). The Jewish scribe Serero is sincere, but causes great damage to those who trust him.
Posted in: Authors, Interview
Here's this week's collection of great links about libraries, books, and Jewish libraries and books.

Heather from AJL's Greater Cleveland chapter lists some of her website Picks.

Jewish, a new e-journal, makes it debut.

The Book of Life Podcast has a new post on Jewish Presses.

The Age of Big Access, second in a series of guest posts from academic librarians at ACRLog.

From the Jewish Book Council, Twitter Book Club: The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer. (Full disclosure: I loved this book!)

From the New York Review of Books, A Library Without Walls.

Ocotober is National Reading Group Month; find a lineup of events at Book Club Girl.

Got a link to share? Thoughts? Suggestions? Email me at mcloutier at

Posted by Marie.

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. Illus. by Amy Cartwright. Price Stern Sloan. Preschool. The familiar words of the children’s Hanukkah song flow along the pages of this charmingly illustrated board book. There’s a nice surprise waiting at the end: a pop-up scene with a spinning menorah.

Eight Winter Nights by Laura Kraus Melmed. Illus. by Elizabeth Schlossberg. Chronicle. Preschool-Kdg. Short verses tell the story of a family’s enjoyment of Hanukkah, from lighting the menorah to singing, dancing, eating, and giving tzedakah. The pencil and pastel illustrations in shades of rust and magenta bathe the story in a warm, cozy light. End notes give background on the holiday and its traditions.

The Hanukkah Trike by Michelle Edwards. Illus. by Kathryn Mitter. Albert Whitman. Kdg. – Gr. 2. A little girl named Gabi is thrilled to receive a new tricycle at the end of the first night of Hanukkah. She names it “Hanukkah” but is daunted when she tries to ride it and falls off. The story of the Maccabees inspires her to persevere and her success is captured in bright paintings as well as in a rather bland text.

Happy Hanukkah Lights by Jacqueline Jules. Illus. by Michelle Shapiro. Kar-Ben/Lerner. Preschool. Rhymes, counting, and Jewish traditions are combined in this board book that shows a family’s joyful Hanukkah celebrations on all eight nights. The illustrations are cheerful and child-like.

Jackie’s Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Viking. Gr. 1-4. When young Steve Satlow helps his neighbors, the family of the baseball great, Jackie Robinson, trim their Christmas tree, he tells them that his family has no tree of their own. Not realizing that the Satlows are Jewish, Jackie delivers them one. After a few awkward moments, the Satlows decide that for this year only, they’ll have both a menorah and a Christmas tree. Jackie Robinson’s daughter wrote this handsomely illustrated story based on real events and it abounds with friendship and understanding.

The Kvetch Who Stole Hanukkah by Bill Berlin and Susan Isakoff Berlin. Illus. by Peter J. Welling. Pelican. Preschool-Kdg. There is no joy in Oyville when the local kvetch steals all of the menorahs. But fear not: the town’s brave children confront the old man, regale him with the story of the Macabbees and the true meaning of Hanukkah, and accomplish a miracle by opening the kvetch’s heart and mind to the joy of the holiday. Unpolished but energetic illustrations abound in a zany story that is meant to remind children of Dr. Seuss’s Grinch.

Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah by Tilda Balsley. Illus. by David Harrington. Kar-Ben/Lerner. Kdg. - Gr.3. The story of how Judah and the Maccabees fought the tyrant Antiochus for religious freedom o the Jews and the restoration of the Temple is retold in this animated rhyme punctuated by a repeated refrain: "Sometimes it only takes a few,/ Who know what's right, and do it, too." The rhythmic narrative is enhanced by bold paintings and would lend itself to readers' theatre.

Chag Sameach. Here are some great links from around the blogiverse on Jewish books, libraries and more.

From, Noshin' Review: Quiches, Kugels and Couscous by Joan Nathan.

From Stephen's Lighthouse, How Many Books Are There In Your Library?

From ACRLog, On Being Valuable: Point-Counterpoint.

From Tablet, Ban My Book- Please!

From the Jerusalem Post, A Succot Harvest with a Charitable Twist.

From Resource Shelf, Tweets and Reports from the "Libraries at the Tipping Point" Online Conference by Sue Polanka and the Librarian in Black.

That's it. As always comment or send me an email at mcloutier at with links, feedback or ideas.

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Link Round-Up
It's Banned Books Week this week, September 25-October 2. Banned Books Week is the American Library Association's annual spotlight on books that have been challenged or banned from libraries all over the United States.

You can click here for ALA's main Banned Books Week page, including free downloads and other resources.

Does your library have a policy in place to deal with challenges? What happens in your library when a patron says a book should be removed, or that access should be limited? Have you ever had to remove a book or move it to another section because a patron complained?

The State of Oregon compiled this useful page of resources and tips for dealing with challenges.

The National Coalition Against Censorship offers the Book Censorship Toolkit.

Last year 460 challenges were reported to ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. See the 2009 Top 10 List here.

Leave a comment with your thoughts on this important issue!

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Events, ALA
Here's some great links from around the blogosphere this week. If you know of a great blog you'd like me to read and include in these roundups please send me a note at mcloutier at

From Tablet Magazine, Sukkah of the Soul.

A Sukkot Link Round-up from Jewesses with Attitude.

From Stephen's Lighthouse, Pew/Nielsen: The Rise of Apps Culture.

From ACRLog, Ready, Set, Teach: You in the Classroom. This is the first in a new series of academic-librarian guest bloggers.

Netflix in libraries and hypocrisy, from Information Wants to be Free.

J Literary Links from the Jewish Book Council.

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Link Round-Up

Several weeks ago I had the privilege to interview Alix Strauss, author of Based upon Availability, published this past summer by HarperCollins.

Alix and I talked about the book, her own story and her history with libraries and Judaism.

The interview is about 18 minutes long in two parts:

Alix Strauss Part 1

Alix Strauss Part 2

We are hosting a giveaway of a finished, signed copy of Based Upon Availability in conjunction with this interview. To enter, simply  leave a comment on this post with your email address. I will pick a winner using random-number generator on October 7 and notify the winner on October 11. The winner will have until Friday, October 15 to reply. The contest is open to United States addresses only.

Don't forget to comment with your email address for a chance to win a paperback of the book!

Posted by Marie.
Here are this week's links from around the blogosphere on books, librarianship and more.

Ray Frank's Historic High Holy Day Services, from The Sisterhood.

Inspiring Stuff to Read, Take 2, from Information Wants to be Free.

Favorite Fictional Jewish Characters, from the Jewish Book Council Blog.

Rising Through the Ranks: On Upward Mobility in Librarianship, from In the Library with a Lead Pipe.

Yom Kippur Machzor Translated for Brazilian Jews, from the Jerusalem Post.

New Jewish Poetry from Yehoshua November from the Jewish Literary Review.

Posted by Marie.
Posted in: Link Round-Up

Today is the Jewish Book Carnival!

This month the Carnival is hosted by The Jewish Publication Society here.

The carnival was started by Heidi Estrin and Marie Cloutier to build community among bloggers and blogs who feature Jewish books. It will run every month on the 15th.

We have hosts lined up through the end of 2010 but if you are interested in hosting the carnival on your blog sometime in 2011, feel free to contact Marie at

Click here for the full schedule and list of participating blogs.

Feel free to download and save the logo, and use it on your blog posts or sidebar. Please do not link directly to the picture.

The Jewish Book Carnival has a GoodReads page, where we host discussions and more. Whether or not you’re participating, we hope you’ll stop by, join and take part!

For now, head over to the Jewish Publication Society and check out this month's collection of great links.

Posted by Marie.

Page 10 of 16First   Previous   5  6  7  8  9  [10]  11  12  13  14  Next   Last