Category Archives: Grades 1-2

Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter

Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2009.     ISBN 9781416994374

Basing the book on a true story, Winter tells how Afghani women resisted the Taliban and continued to teach their daughters in secret, home-based schools.  An introduction, which can serve as a starting point for discussion with older readers, explains the differences in women’s lives before and after the Taliban seized control. The story itself addresses younger readers effectively.

When soldiers take Nasreen’s father away, her mother sets off in search for him and doesn’t return. Nasreen stops talking, and just sits, waiting. As her despair grows worse, her grandmother finally decides to risk taking her outside to a school for girls that she has heard about. As time passes, Nasreen still doesn’t speak. But after the winter break, she responds in a whisper to one of her classmates, and finally begins to smile and talk, and learn, and to find comfort in the discovery that her country was once filled with artists and writers and mystics, and that there was a bigger world outside.  Winter’s beautiful illustrations work for story time, but a closer perusal provides an even deeper engagement with the text.

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Filed under ***** A must read, Grades 1-2, Grades 3 - 4

Emma’s Poem, The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire Nivola

Houghton Mifflin, 2010     ISBN: 978054717845

This beautiful blending of words and pictures tells the story of how Emma Lazarus, author of the familiar words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” grew up wealthy and protected, came to care for, and help the immigrants arriving in America, many of them Jews like her, and how through her writing, she attempted to turn public opinion toward a greater acceptance of these new Americans-to-be.

The book works well to link the past with the present, with the cover showing people of many cultures in the present day, looking out over the water to the iconic figure of the Statue of Liberty. The choice to place a facsimile of “The New Colossus,” with its old-fashioned script on the flyleaf, plunges the reader into the past, and sets the stage for the story to come. The picture of the Statue under construction, followed a few pages later with the completed Statue, bring the story full circle. Even the use of old family photographs with the author and illustrator information serves to show the timeless meaning of the Statue and the poem.

The pictures are full of detail, and the pages laid-out with lots of space, inviting the reader to take time over the story. The author’s note giving more detail about Lazarus’s short life, and the full text of the poem will interest older readers who may want to know more.

The book reflects the importance Jews place on the work of Tikkun Olam, the repairing of the world, as it tells the story of a young Jewish woman who did what she could to make the world a better place for others, and it is also a book that celebrates the fact that ours is a nation of immigrants.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 1-2, Grades 3 - 4

2010 Sydney Taylor Book Awards Announced

New York – January, 2010
April Halprin Wayland and Stephane Jorisch, author and illustrator of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings, and Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, are the 2010 winners of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Seattle this July.

For Younger Readers
Wayland and Jorisch will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Younger Readers Category for New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.  The Jewish New Year is a special time of year, with a change in seasons, symbolic foods and other traditions. It is also the time for introspection and the ritual of Tashlich, when sins are symbolically cast into a body of flowing water. Izzy thinks about things for which he is sorry. He “compares Tashlich to cleaning out his toy closet, an example of the wonderful way this story conveys to children, at their own level, a contemporary version of the healthy Jewish way we start fresh at the beginning of each new year,” commented Susan Berson, a member of the Award Committee. Incoming Committee Chair Barbara Bietz noted that the “whimsical watercolor illustrations are a perfect pairing for the delightful prose.”

For Older Readers
Friedman will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Older Readers Category for The Importance of Wings, published by Charlesbridge. Ah, the drama of being in eighth grade! There’s the boy you have a crush on who likes someone else. There’s getting dressed in gym class and being picked last for teams. There’s your parents, who are so unlike Mike and Carol Brady and not even like Ma and Pa Ingalls. And there’s your hair, that won’t go in the popular feathered back style that everyone else is wearing. When an Israeli girl moves next door, Liat “not only shows Roxanne how to give her hair ‘wings,’ but she helps her ‘wing’ her way toward maturity and self-esteem,” asserted Debbie Colodny, a member of the Award Committee. Another Award Committee member, Kathy Bloomfield, affirmed this praise: “With appealing and affecting writing, Ms. Friedman grabs the reader immediately and takes her on a journey of self-discovery, confidence building and empowerment that will leave her hoping for a sequel.” Friedman’s book about male bulimia, Nothing, was named an AJL Notable Book for Teen Readers last year.

For Teen Readers
Engle will receive the 2010 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s Teen Readers Category for Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, published by Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.  After Kristallnacht, many Jews tried to leave Germany, but other countries refused the refugees. Cuba agreed to take in some of these people, but at a price. The tension of this era is seen through the eyes of several of the people affected: Daniel, a thirteen-year-old German boy whose parents put him on a boat to “the Americas,” hoping to save his life; Paloma, the daughter of a Cuban official who prefers a dovecote to her home; David, who escaped the pogroms of Russia, sells ice creams, and helps the new refugees; and Gordo, Paloma’s father, who is profiting by charging exorbitant fees for visas to stay in Cuba. “The verse and the different perspectives make the history of Cuba during the Nazi era accessible while illustrating the complicated situations and the twists and turns of political interactions,” noted Kathe Pinchuck, Committee Chair. Ms. Engle is known to readers for her Newbery-Honor book The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, for which she also won the Pura Belpre Award.

Honor Books & Notable Books
Eight Sydney Taylor Honor Books were named for 2010.  For Younger Readers, Honor Books are: Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Jago (Kar-Ben), Benjamin and the Silver Goblet by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano (Kar-Ben), Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber with illustrations by Adam Gustavson (Tricycle Press) and You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? by Jonah Winter with illustrations and an amazing lenticular cover by Andre Carrilho (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House).   Two works in translation were named Honor Books for Older Readers: Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol (translated by Arnold J. Pomerans) (Roaring Brook Press/Flash Point, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group) and A Faraway Island by Annika Thor (translated by Linda Schenck) (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House). Lost, a historical novel by Jacqueline Davies (Marshall Cavendish) and Naomi’s Song, a biblical fiction by Selma Kritzer Silverberg (JPS) were named Honor Books in the Teen Reader Category.

The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible by Ellen Frankel with illustrations by Avi Katz (JPS) was named a Notable Book for All Ages. The Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee was very impressed with Ms. Frankel’s retelling of biblical stories. “She succeeds in creating an age-appropriate interpretation of the most intriguing and familiar stories that allow families to glean the essence of Jewish teachings, ethics, and history,” commented Rita Soltan, Award Committee member. “Readability, faithfulness to ‘idiomatic nuances of biblical Hebrew,’ and softly rendered color illustrations are the main features of this compilation,” noted Susan Berson, Award Committee member.

In addition to the medal-winners, the Award Committee designated twenty-two Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2010: eight in the Younger Readers Category, eight in the Older Readers Category, and six for Teens.  A complete list of Award, Honor, and Notable titles may be found at, and more information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, may be found online at Information about the awards can also be found on the AJL Facebook page at

Blog Tour

A blog tour featuring winning authors and illustrators will take place February 1-5, 2010. The schedule will be posted on the Association of Jewish Libraries’ blog People of the Books at

For more information, contact:
Kathe Pinchuck, Chair, Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
(973) 777-4504

Association of Jewish Libraries | c/o NFJC | 330 Seventh Avenue, 21st Floor | New York | NY | 10001

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Filed under Awards, Grades 1-2, Grades 3 - 4, Grades 5 - 6, Middle School, Preschool - Kindegarten

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco

butterflyIn this picture story about the holocaust, which is based on a true story about Polacco’s great-aunt Marcelle, and Marcelle’s daughter Monique, young Monique wakes in the night one night to see a girl about her own age sitting at the end of the bed. When she says something, the girl flees, and Monique believes she has seen a ghost. In the morning her mother dismisses it as a dream, and Monique doesn’t think any more about it, until the girl reappears many nights later. Sevrine is a very real girl, a Jew, hiding, with her parents in Monique’s cellar. The girls secretly become friends, but one night they are seen by a neighbor, and Sevrine and her parents have to flee.

When Monique and her mother are returning from helping them escape, they get separated at a train station where the Nazi’s are searching people. Monique is swept up onto a train car and doesn’t know where she is going. Finally she recognizes the name of a station, and gets off, and walks home, having no idea where her mother is, paralleling the uncertainty about the safety of Sevrine and her parents.

Polacco manages to convey both the terror of life during the holocaust for Jews, and for ordinary citizens, as well as showing the courage of those who took risks to help, in a way that children can understand and identify with.

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Filed under **** Highly Recommended, Grades 1-2, Grades 3 - 4