"People of the Books" Blog

AJL Reads Wrap-Up: My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner


On January 10, nine callers had a lively time discussing My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir by Meir Shalev. Veteran discussion leader Rachel Kamin brought us insightful questions, along with a statement from the real Abigail (a character in the story). Below you will find the recording of our conversation, along with the questions we discussed and a bibliography of Meir Shalev's other works along with suggested read-alikes. Enjoy!


58 min 09 sec


2016 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Announced

Honey and Me by Meira Drazin is the winner of the 2016 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award, presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries. The Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award is given each year to an unpublished fiction manuscript for readers aged 8 to 13 that appeals to readers of all backgrounds while depicting authentic aspects of Jewish life.

Honey and Me chronicles a year in the friendship of Honey Wine and Milla Bloom, two Modern Orthodox sixth graders. The girls are very different in personality and family life but balance each other in their friendship. The year is fraught with change, family crises, and personal growth, including Honey’s becoming a bat mitzvah in a women’s minyan, the death of a beloved teacher, and Milla’s complicated relationship with her mother.

While there were several outstanding entries in this year’s competition, the judges were taken by the energy of the characters, the natural way Judaism was woven into the story, and the contemporary flavor to the manuscript. Said one of the judges, “ This is a modern American story set within an observant Jewish milieu.” Another commented that “ the variations in lifestyle between families of Orthodox Jews living in a modern and positive world are rarely depicted in such a non-judgmental way.”

Ms Drazin was inspired by Sydney Taylor, the author of the beloved All-of-A-Kind Family series, which, she feels, shows the importance of the smaller dramas in everyday life. Honey and Me also melds the everyday events in the lives of Honey and Milla with their Jewish identities. Says Drazin, “It’s a huge honor and validation for any writer to be acknowledged for his or her work, not to mention tremendously exciting. But, as they say in the Talmud, ‘kai v’chomer’ -- how much more so to be awarded the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award, an honor literally named for the very inspiration for my project!”Ms. Drazin is a transplant  from Toronto and New York to London, England, where she lives with her husband and four children. A graduate of Barnard College with an MA in English and Comparative Literature, she has been a senior editor for New York Family and is currently a freelance magazine writer. She has been invited to accept her award at the 51st Annual Association of Jewish Libraries Conference in Charleston, SC in June 2016.

Manuscripts are now being accepted for the 2017 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award here.

There is an opening on the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Committee, click here for details.

New AJL Publication Released

Creating a Collection


The AJL Publications Committee is pleased to announce the publication of the 6th edition of Creating a Collection by Marlene Schiffman and Leslie Monchar.

Creating a Collection is an invaluable resource for new Judaic libraries. In this revised edition of AJL's annotated non-fiction collection development guide, our editors have added many recent titles and expanded the list of categories. Existing libraries in synagogues, centers, schools and academic institutions will also benefit from reviewing the list to ensure that their collections are comprehensive and up-to-date.

The book can be ordered directly from Amazon at https://www.createspace.com/5781349?ref=1147694&utm_id=6026.

Best wishes to all for a Happy New Year,
Joyce Levine
AJL Publications Chair

AJL READS: Join the Discussion January 10

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner

Please join us for a discussion of My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner by Meir Shalev on Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central/6pm Pacific Time via call-in show. We'll discuss the book by phone, and record the discussion for those who miss it.

Call (724) 444-7444 and enter the Call ID 139461 to participate! The discussion will last approximately one hour. 

You can hear AJL READS' October 2015 book discussion of The Wayward Moon, and get the schedule for other upcoming book discussions, HERE.


Author Janice Weizman on The Wayward Moon

Dear AJL Book Club Participants

I regret that I was not able to participate in your discussion of my book, The Wayward Moon, but I'm grateful that I was able to listen to the recording of your meeting. After listening in, I asked Debbie if I could respond to some of the topics that came up.

I wrote The Wayward Moon in an attempt to explore the question of why, in the history of the Middle East, (not to mention most of the world's cultures), we have no first hand evidence about the lives, thoughts and experiences of women. We know the women were there, living alongside the men, but we scarcely know anything about their lives and work. This book was written as a sort of "what if". What if a woman of that place and time was released from the limiting demands and expectations of her family, her village, her community? What if she suddenly had to make her own choices about her life, her survival, perhaps most importantly, her sexuality? Women of that time (and in most times and places in the history of civilization) had no education, no freedom of movement, and no say at all in questions of their own sexual experience, marriage and pregnancy (when and how many). So what would it look like if this freedom of choice was somehow bestowed on her?

The Wayward Moon traces a path from Rahel, its protagonist, having zero autonomy to full self-mastery, from a place of agreeing that her life to be determined by others to her "owning" her own life.

Many readers are dismayed by the books ending, but I believe that it is the most authentic ending possible. There was only one acceptable path for a woman's life, and Rahel understood that if she wanted to live a happy life she had no choice. Her sons, who burn her manuscript, do so in order to protect her name. Any knowledge of Rahel's choices and behavior would bring only shame and ignominy on her and her children. They too have no choice.

With thanks again to Debbie, the AJL, and all who participated in the discussion for supporting this book,

Janice Weizman

NEXT BOOK CLUB MEETING: Sunday December 10, 2016 at 9pm Eastern. We will discuss My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner by Meir Shalev.