Children's & teen literature

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Judaic Audio Lectures, Panel Discussions, Author Talks, Workshops & More

The AJL Podcast brings you the best talks on Jewish literature and the Jewish library world, with respected experts and popular authors. Please check back periodically, as new lectures will be added to the series.

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Children's & teen literature

Judaism has a built-in mechanism for coming-of-age, but are there ways that contemporary books for middle and high school readers deal with Jewish girls’ development in addition to or beyond the Bat Mitzvah ceremony? How has the Bat Mitzvah been positively and negatively portrayed in recent books? What are the pressures that Jewish tweens, teens, and young women face and how does the current body of literature address or contribute to the conflicting messages about beauty, body image, and self-esteem that are prevalent in our society?

June Cummins is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, where she specializes in children’s literature and Jewish-American Literature. She gave this presentation at the 2009 Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Chicago.

32 min 20 sec

Followers of children’s literature have recently witnessed an unusual amount of illustrated books about the Holocaust being published. Along with the many narratives and memoirs for older readers, there is a large subgroup of supposedly simple picture books that are being offered to a younger crowd. After taking a look at almost everything about the Holocaust published in picture book format, one could come to the conclusion that children these days are seemingly prepared to absorb much of the horrors of 20th century at a tender age. Clearly this subject cannot be hidden from children who hear references to it often, but perhaps the bibliography discussed in this presentation will be of some assistance to teachers, librarians and booksellers who are at a loss as to which of thses pictrue books are most appropriate for various age groups, grades 4 through high school.

Presented by Lisa Silverman of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Click here for Lisa’s bibliography of books mentioned in the presentation.

Click here for Lisa’s article in School Library Journal, “Bearing Witness Through Picture Books” March 2007.

1 hr 7 min 10 sec

4-authorsHow does a children’s book writer come to write a Jewish children’s book? Chicago children’s book writers Esme Codell, Ilene Cooper, Brenda Ferber, and Esther Hershenhorn answer that very question, sharing how their mindsets, heart-sets, experiences and backgrounds helped them crate their respective award-winning books (Esme: Sydney Taylor Honor Book Vive La Paris; Ilene: National Jewish Book Award winner Jewish Holidays All Year Round; Brenda: Sydney Taylor Book Award winner Julia’s Kitchen; Esther: Sydney Taylor Book Award winner Chicken Soup by Heart).

Click for links to:

These authors gave this panel presentation at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention on July 6, 2009 in Chicago, IL.

1 hr 5 min 39 sec

Author Sonia Levitin won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Older Readers category for Strange Relations. She had the opportunity to present her book and its backstory to an appreciative audience at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 24, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

45 min 59 sec

Author Sarah Gershman and illustrator Kristina Swarner won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Younger Readers category for The Bedtime Sh’ma: A Good Night Book.  They had the opportunity to present their book to an appreciative audience at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 24, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

20 min 01 sec

At each year’s AJL convention, members of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee participate in a panel presentation to discuss the best and worst of recent Jewish literature for children and teens. In this podcast, you can hear members Susan Berson, Kathy Bloomfield, Rachel Kamin, Kathe Pinchuck, and Nancy Rivin (referred to as Nancy Austein in the recording) sharing their delight and dismay over juvenile Judaica published during 2007. Books are discussed in rounds:

  • New Editions
  • Unexplored Terrain
  • But Is It Jewish Enough?
  • Contemporary
  • New Perspectives on the Holocaust
  • Hot/Not
  • Sneak Peaks

Click here for the Powerpoint slideshow/handout that accompanied the session

This presentation was given at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 24, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

1 hr 30 min 13 sec

Information about information books: do “they” pick out the pictures and write the narrative? Or do “they” write the text and find pictures to match? Find out as three recognized authors, Deborah Heiligman, Christos Nicola, and Bill Rubin, talk about the cahllenges of this genre.

Deborah Heiligman is the author of 25 books for children, including the AJL Notable books Celebrate Hanukkah, Celebrate Passover, and Celebrate Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur.

Christos Nicola has devoted over 30 years to the study and exploration of caves in the former Soviet Union, as well as the Caribbean, Europe, and the Americas. He is the founder of the nonprofit Ukranian American Youth Caver Exchange Foundation. His book, The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story, received a 2008 Sydney Taylor Honor Award for Older Readers.

William J. Rubin is the Executive Director/COO of the Community Foundation for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago and the driving force behind the graphic novel HOMELAND: An Illustrated History of the State of Israel.

They presented this session at the Celebration of Jewish Children’s Literature that was held in honor of the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s 40th anniversary, as part of the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention, on June 25, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

1 hr 10 min 52 sec

This panel presentation on the history, current trends, and hope for the future of Jewish children’s literature was the opening session at the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s 40th anniversary celebration, held at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention on June 25, 2008. Panelists included Evelyn Freeman, Rita Soltan, and Joni Sussman, and the session was chaired by Rachel Kamin and moderated by Heidi Estrin.

Dr. Evelyn B. Freeman is the Dean and Director of the Ohio State University at Mansfield and a Professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology. She is also President of the Children’s Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Rita Soltan has been a public librarian in New York and Michigan for over 30 years. She regularly reviews children’s books for major publications including School Library Journal, Horn Book, and Kirkus. She is the author of several books from Libraries Unlimited on reading clubs and summer reading.

Joni Sussman is Publisher at Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group.

1 hr 4 min 39 sec

L-R: Deborah da Costa, Jane Breskin Zalben, Sarah Marwil Lamstein

Picture book authors Deborah da Costa, Sarah Marwil Lamstein and Jane Breskin Zalben provide insight into their creative processes. Learn about their most recent books and their upcoming projects.  This panel was part of the Celebration of Jewish Children’s Literature held in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Book Award on June 25, 2008.

Among their other books, our speakers highlighted recently recognized titles. Deborah da Costa is the author of Hanukkah Moon, a 2008 AJL Notable Children’s Book. Sarah Marwil Lamstein is the author of Letter on the Wind, a 2008 Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Jane Breskin Zalben is the author of Light, a 2008 Sydney Taylor Honor Book.

54 min 52 sec

Rita Berman Frischer

It is hard to imagine the world of children’s books without Jewish women writers. In this session, Rita Berman Frischer supports what she wrote in an article published in Jewish Women in America: A Historical Encyclopedia, presenting a lively overview of Jewish women writers past and present, while noting trends and examining the contributions of specific women writers in more detail.

Rita Berman Frischer, former Director of Sinai Temple Library in West LA and Chair of the first AJL Sydney Taylor Award Committee, is a writer and reviewer of juvenile and YA literature. She has presented lectures and workshops for HUC-JIR, AJL, CAJE, and others in the US and abroad, and served as judge for numerous book awards.

25 min 20 sec

The Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award grows and expands as it plans for its 14th award in 2009. This award has been endowed by Sonia Levitin, renowned author of children’s and young adult literature, and her family, and is administered by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance Library and Archives. We larn from and are inspired by AJL’s Sydney Taylor Book Award. In this talk, Adaire Klein discusses the history and future plans of the award, and how others can share in bringing quality children’s literature to young readers, “building tolerance through literature.”

Adaire Klein is the founding Director of Library and Archival Services for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. She designed the Once Upon a World Children’s Book Award and has administered it since its inception. She gave this presentation at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 23, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

14 min 07 sec

The Klezmer Company Orchestra with author Heidi Smith Hyde

Author Heidi Smith Hyde’s picture book, Mendel’s Accordion, was named a 2008 Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries. It tells a story of klezmer music, immigration, and the passing on of tradition from one generation to the next. Ms. Hyde did a live reading of Mendel’s Accordion accompanied by members of the Klezmer Company Orchestra at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida on February 25, 2009. For full information about the event and links to resources on the story, visit klez4kids.blogspot.com.

31 min 30 sec

Lisa Silverman and Talma Shultz participated in a panel discussion moderated by Adaire Klein on teaching with Holocaust books. Lisa spoke about teaching the Holocaust using picture books, and Talma spoke about the middle and high school perspective.

Adaire Klein is the founding Director of Library and Archival Services at the Simon Wiesenthal CenterMuseum of Tolerance. She holds a B.A. in Hebrew Literature and a M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University.

Talma Shultz is an instructor and lecturer with Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit organization that offers teacher training programs for Middle School and High School Holocaust Education.

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library at Sinai Temple. She leads classes and book groups, along with organizing community programs on literature. She is the children’s editor of Jewish Book World magazine and also a reviewer of children’s literature for various other publications. She has often been a featured speaker at library conventions or literary conferences. She serves as a judge for the children’s division of the National Jewish Book Award and also for the “Once Upon a World” Book Award.

They gave this presentation at the 7th annual Association of Jewish Libraries Western Regional Conference on Jewish Literature for Children on February 1, 2009 at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

47 min 17 sec

Tags: Holocaust

Hamida Basmajian & Eric Sundquist

ISSUES IN HOLOCAUST LITERATURE, THE AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE: Eric Sundquist

  • Early responses, before “the Holocaust.” Hersey, Uris, and others.
  • Priority of testimony and its relation to fiction. Elie Wiesel and others.
  • The problem of authenticity and hoaxes. Kosinski, Wilkomirski and others.
  • The Americanization of the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s Diary and others.
  • Second-generation approaches. Philip Roth, Thane Rosenbaum, and others.
  • Eric Sundquist discusses the evolution of Holocaust literature, particularly from the American perspective, from the immediate aftermath of the war through late-twentieth-century responses by those of the second generation, including children of survivors. Issues to consider include the priority of testimony and its relation to fiction; the problem of authenticity and hoaxes; the “Americanization” of the Holocaust; and the self-reflexive and sometimes postmodern strategies of some second-generation writers.

    FRAMING HOLOCAUST NARRATIVES AS CHILDREN’S LITERATURE—AUTHOR, GENRES, AND READERS: Hamida Basmajian

  • Perception of “Children’s Literature” as an academic field of study.
  • Authorial motivation to write Holocaust narratives as children’s literature.
  • Contexts and readers of Holocaust narratives for North American children and youths. The aim of testimony in the context of children’s literature.
  • Structures, Conventions, Genres—
    § The survivor journal, memoir, or autobiography as privileged form –ethos of the survivor as hero, the testimony of the survivor as victim.
    § Fictionalized autobiographies based on authorial childhood memory.
    § Fictional Holocaust narratives and acquired memory—possibilities and limitations.
  • Hamida Basmajian refers to the following narratives as examples during this session: The Diary of Anne Frank, Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage and The Holocaust Lady, Carol Matas’ Daniel’s Story, Gudrun Pausewang’s The Final Journey, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Doris Orgel’s The Devil in Vienna, Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic and Briar Rose.

    Eric J. Sundquist is the UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. Professor Sundquist received his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University and is the author or editor of twelve books, the most recent of which are King’s Dream (2009); Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America (2005), which received the Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute Book Award.

    Hamida Bosmajian, Professor Emerita of the English Department at Seattle University, is the author of Sparing the Child: Grief and the Unspeakable in Youth Literature about Nazism and the Holocaust (Routledge, 2002) and Metaphors of Evil. Contemporary German Literature and the Shadow of Nazism (U. of Iowa Press, 1979). The Children’s Literature Association honored Sparing the Child with the ChLA Book Award in 2004.

    They gave this presentation at the 7th annual Association of Jewish Libraries Western Regional Conference on Jewish Literature for Children on February 1, 2009 at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

    1 hr 18 min 57 sec

    Tags: Holocaust

    Dina Rosenfeld, Hara Person & Claudia Valas

    Representatives from URJ Press, Hachai Publishing, and EKS Publishing discuss each publisher’s unique approach to Jewish children’s literature. Topics include a brief history of each house, some classics, and current trends. They gave this presentation at the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Celebration of Jewish Children’s Literature, in honor of the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s 40th Anniversary, held on June 25, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Rabbi Hara E. Person was the Editor-in-Chief of URJ Press at the time of this panel, but is now the Publisher and Director of Press at CCAR

    Dina Rosenfeld is the Editor-in-Chief at Hachai Publishing and has written 18 children’s books of her own.

    Claudia Valas is the President of EKS Publishing, a company created for the development of Hebrew educational matierals.

    76 min 0 sec

    Nancy, Maureen and Etta

    Book clubs… Reading Clubs… Literature Circles… in essence, they’re all the same thing. A reader, be it child, teen or adult, has much to gain by reading the same book as others in a group and then sharing their experience with the other members. This workshop will focus on the issues:

    • Why to have a book club
    • How to start a book club
    • Selecting books
    • Running and marketing a book club

    and book club best practices, based on theory, research, and experience from three librarians who run three different types of successful book clubs: Nancy Austein, Etta Gold, and Maureen Reister.

    Nancy Austein is the Library Director at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX.

    Etta Gold is the Library Director of Temple Beth Am in Miami, FL.

    Maureen Reister is Dirctor of Libraries at Ann & Nate Levine Academy, a Solomon Schechter School in Dallas, TX.

    They gave this presentation at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 23, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

    78 min 48 sec

    Successful books for teen readers combine authentic voice and personal conflict, as well as relevant issues. These three prolific YA authors continue to deliver! In a dynamic panel presentation, Margo, Carol, and Sonia explain their personal histories and react to each other’s stories in ways that are both fascinating and touching. They gave this presentation at the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Celebration of Jewish Children’s Literature, in honor of the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s 40th Anniversary, held on June 25, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

    Sonia Levitin is the author of Strange Relations, the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers.

    Carol Matas is the author of The Whirlwind, a 2008 AJL Notable Children’s Book of Jewish Content.

    Margo Rabb is the author of Cures for Heartbreak, a 2008 AJL Notable Teen Book of Jewish Content.

    72 min 31 sec

    Swarner, Gershman, Levitin & Fleischman

    Swarner, Gershman, Levitin & Fleischman

    The Sydney Taylor Awards are sponsored by Jo Taylor Marshall, daughter of Sydney Taylor, and are administered by the Synagogue, School, and Centers Division of the Association of Jewish Libraries. The 2008 awards were presented at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 24, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

    The winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Award were:

    For Younger Readers: The Bedtime Sh’ma: A Good Night Book by Sarah Gershman, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, EKS Publishing, 2007

    For Older Readers: The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman, Greenwillow Books, 2007

    For Teen Readers: Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin, Knopf, 2007

    The winner of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award was:

    Stealing the Show by Margaret Chaikin

    40 min 25 sec

    Though the American comic book format has only been around for 75 years, every decade since 1933 has seen examples of stories taking place in Israel or using Israeli characters. There have been over a dozen examples since 2000 (and the decade’s not over yet!). This presentation showcases the variety and types of such representation. These include superhero stories, humor cartoons, first-person travelogues, “comics journalism,” biographies, wordless collages, graphic histories and graphic fiction. Though comics are still often seen as irrelevant and catering to a niche market, this presentation should demonstrate that there are notable exceptions, which make it worthwhile to be aware of what is being published and what those publications are trying to say.

    An online handout which includes the visual elements of this presentation may be found at israelincomics.blogspot.com.

    Steve Bergson is research administrator for the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and he blogs about Jewish comics at jewishcomics.blogspot.com. He gave this presentation at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention on June 23, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio.

    32 min 44 sec


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