Friday, January 23, 2009

Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour: Interview with Illustrator Shahar Kober

Welcome to the last stop on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour!

Every year, the American Association of Jewish Libraries recognizes the best in Jewish children's literature by giving the Sydney Taylor Book Awards to books that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.

This year, one of the Sydney Taylor Honor Awards in the Younger Readers Category goes to Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen, with illustrations by Shahar Kober (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2008).

Using simple yet effective drawings, a light palette that is fresh and elegant, and balanced use of space, illustrator Shahar Kober shows us Engineer Ari's train ride to Jerusalem. During his journey across Israel, Engineer Ari collects goodies to celebrate the Jewish New Year and learns an important lesson about friendship and forgiveness. Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride is based on the true story of the first historic train ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem in 1892.

For the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour, I had the honor of interviewing Shahar about illustrating children's books and working on Engineer Ari. I am so excited to now present my interview with Shahar, along with some illustrations from Engineer Ari and their rough drafts!

Shahar on Shahar:

I'm a graduate of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design (2005), with a B.Des degree in illustration and graphic design. I work as a freelance illustrator for children’s books, advertising, newspapers, magazines, television and the Internet.

I am currently illustrating two weekly columns in Yedioth Aharonot, Israel's most read newspaper, on a regular basis.

My first three children's books were published in 2008. (Engineer Ari in the USA, and the other two in Israel.)

I'm now working on a new picture book in Israel and will soon begin working on a sequel to Engineer Ari.

I'm married to a beautiful redhead who is about to give birth to our first baby very soon. We have a very demanding cat and a very energetic dog. We live in a small town near Tel-Aviv, Israel.

What was your road to publication as a children's book illustrator?

I graduated from college four years ago. My final project was an illustrated children's book, which got great reviews but no one wanted to publish it! So, finding no work illustrating for children, I found my way to some of the leading newspapers in the country and started doing freelance editorial illustrations. After a year or so I tried my luck again, and after several attempts I managed to get a freelance job illustrating for a children's TV channel. That opened the door to other jobs, which led to other jobs, which led to other jobs (and so on). I keep on working for newspapers.

What motivates you to illustrate for children?

Most of all - I'm looking to have some fun. I have other illustration projects for adults - editorials for newspapers and magazines, illustrating for advertisements and other media, which all provide a good income, but in most cases they are not as fun as illustrating for children. I have the liberty to go a bit more wild when it comes to children's books, an opportunity I cannot miss.

What are the challenges and rewards of illustrating children's books?

The main challenge is doing something new. I like to do something new in every book I work on. Try new techniques, new angles, new colors, new things I never had to draw. I also find it a challenge to develop new exciting characters which won't resemble characters I drew in the past.

The biggest reward of illustrating a book is watching it come out of the press, to hold the first bound book in your hand, and to smell the fresh pages.

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

My favorite children's book illustrators are:

1. David Polonsky - He's an Israeli illustrator. I envy his ability to excel in every illustration he does, and his ability to master so many styles.

2. Wolf Erlbruch - A German illustrator. I love his style, his colors and his compositions.

3. Maurice Sendak - For nostalgic reasons.

What did you think of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride when you first read the story?

Well, I immediately thought it would be great fun to draw the red engine! I like trains. I was also very happy with the chance to investigate the period, how people looked and dressed, how local architecture looked like, how trains looked like back then, etc. The visual research prior to the sketches stage is always my favorite part, especially in such a book which is based on history.

What exactly was your process when you were working on Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride? How much research did you do? Did you use models/source pictures or did you draw from your memory/imagination?

As I just mentioned, I began the work doing visual research on the period. I checked how people dressed at the time, how buildings looked like, how the views looked like, etc., etc. Most research was done using simple image searches on the Internet. The next stage was doing a sketch of Ari, the main character in the book, and once it was approved by the publisher I went on with the rough drafts for the whole book. I first draw everything using a soft pencil. Once I'm happy with the general layout I do another set of roughs with more details of the whole book. After sending these to the publisher and getting some comments I continue to final black and white images, using a soft pencil and a technical pen. I scan these and start colouring using Adobe Photoshop.

How do you feel about Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride winning a Sydney Taylor Honor in the Younger Readers Category?

I'm very honored to win the award. When I think about it, this is actually the first award I ever won in my life. Even as a child I never won a thing! So, I'm very happy about this.

Shahar, thank you so much for kindly answering all my questions and sharing your images for the book. And whoa, I look forward to seeing your art for the sequel!

Dear readers, click here to view Shahar's portfolio. Click here to read Becky Laney's interview with Engineer Ari author Deborah Bodin Cohen. And click here for a list of all the other stops on the blog tour. :D


A Third Butterfly Award :D

WOW. Today I received my third Butterfly Award. Vicki of Random Rants of a Starter Mom thinks my blog is cool! Thank you, Vicki! This award from Vicki means a lot to me because I think Vicki is real smart and strong. And because she's a mommy - she has a little boy and a little girl (y'all know I have massive respect for mommies). Thank you again, Vicki. :o)

So which blog do I tag now? What is another blog that I think is cool, cool, cool? Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast! At Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Jules and Eisha give us EXCELLENT blog posts on children's literature. I especially love the amazing features on children's book illustrators. They are so informative and inspiring, and the pictures are always a delightful visual treat. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is one of the best blogs on children's literature. Plus, Jules and Eisha are sooper nice.

So, tag, Jules and Eisha, you're it! You can give the Butterfly Award to up to ten blogs you think are just the coolest. :D

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Review and Author Interview: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

What will you find if you go deep into the piney woods of East Texas? There is a tilting house that reeks of old bones, fish, and dried skins. In that shabby house is a hard-edged and bitter man who drinks hard-edged and bitter drinks. He is called Gar Face because his face resembles the prehistoric half fish, half alligator known as the gar. Underneath the porch of that house is Ranger, an old and injured hound chained to a post, with a calico cat and her silver twin kittens named Puck and Sabine. Underneath a dying tree by a creek is a lamia - half serpent, half woman - who has been trapped in a jar for 1,000 years. She is best known as Grandmother Moccasin. Grandmother Moccasin has been seeking revenge for more than 1,000 years. Deep underneath the water of the muddy Bayou Tartine is the Alligator King. He is thousands of years old, a hundred feet long, and always, always hungry.

What does Gar Face want more than anything else in the world? How did Ranger become best buddies with the calico cat and papa hound to Puck and Sabine? Why does Grandmother Moccasin hiss and spin in hatred? What is the Alligator King waiting for?

What are the places, yearnings, and other creatures that connect these characters? How do the characters all come together? Ahh, to find out, you have to read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (with drawings by David Small).

Kathi Appelt is an astonishingly good storyteller. I found her forest setting and its inhabitants endlessly interesting and firmly established. There are herons, bald eagles, and cranes. Bullfrogs, squirrels, beavers, foxes, rabbits, crawdads. Different snakes like massasaugas, cottonmouths, corals, and copperheads. There are even trees like winged elms, blackjacks, and water oaks that keep time and tales. And so, so much more. The tone, mood, and atmosphere of the novel were striking and amazing. While reading the novel, I felt as if I were riding on a sentient zephyr that was taking me along and guiding me through the adventures of Puck, Grandmother Moccasin, and Gar Face. At the same time I felt as if I were in the Deep American South during a sultry summer afternoon. On someone's porch sipping lemonade and listening to a wise, old man or woman tell Puck's, Grandmother Moccasin's, and Gar Face's stories.

With language that uses repetition and rhythm in a simple, yet sophisticated way, Kathi Appelt expertly crafted and intertwined the stories in The Underneath. Here is a poetic and bittersweet exploration of love and family, as well as a poetic and unflinching exploration of loneliness and hatred.

The pace of The Underneath may be too slow for some. Its enchanted creatures and other mystical elements are beautiful, but seem superfluous to the novel. Still, I have no doubt that animal and nature lovers under the age of ten will love listening to this novel read aloud to them. And I have no doubt that animal and nature lovers aged ten and above will love reading this novel on their own.

[Exciting edit on Jan. 26: The Underneath has just won a Newbery Honor!!! The Underneath is EXCELLENT literary children's fiction. It totally deserves the Newbery Honor.]

Are you curious about the writer behind The Underneath? Read on for my conversation with Kathi Appelt about reading, writing, and sharing children's and young adult literature.

Kathi, I think your debut novel, The Underneath, is beautiful. I am so glad to have you here!

You are the author of over twenty books for children and young adults (picture books, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, and your debut novel). What motivates you to write for children and young adults?

To be honest, I don't see myself as writing for one audience or another. My hope is always that my stories have appeal for all audiences, even those that are "packaged" in a form that looks like it should only be for youngsters. I believe that we all have an innate urge to tell stories. We are the story animals; as far as we know, we're the only creatures who tell them. We know that other animals communicate--they send out warnings, they mark trees, etc. But it's humans who get together in groups of two or more to share our stories. We're built for storytelling, and we've been doing it ever since we began to gather around campfires back in cave dwelling days.

That said, I do keep my child audiences in mind when I write. It's important to me that my stories recognize the yearnings, the sensibilities, the interests, of my young readers.

But here's the thing--one of the reasons I became a writer for kids in the first place was because of the wonderful experience I had reading to my own sons as they grew up. It seemed to me that whenever we sat down to share a book, we created what I think of as a "magic circle." Within that circle, with the story in the center, there were no longer so many separations--no age barriers, no grade barriers, no ability barriers. The trials and tribulations of the day melted away. We were joined together through the story itself. We shared emotions, we shared interests, we were caught together in the grip of the story. It was a kind of enchantment. I truly believe that story has that power--to bring us together at our human level, where we're more united than divided. I love that.

So, always, regardless of whether my story is targeted toward two year olds or fifteen year olds, (and really I think those age targets, the ones that are printed on the books themselves, are largely ambiguous), I hope that there is something in the book that can appeal to just about anyone.

Of course, it's important in the case of very young children, that a caring adult take a look at a book first before sharing it with a little one. That's our jobs as parents and teachers, isn't it? But I also support the right of kids to read what they need and want to read. Too often I think we look at books and make the claim, "that's certainly not for kids," I've even been guilty of that myself. Years ago, I felt that way about Lois Lowry's The Giver. It came out when my older son was in the 4th grade, and when I read it I really felt that it wasn't a book that he would like. But to my surprise, he loved it. Henceforth, I've stopped saying that unless the book has been tested out by kids themselves. How are we to know what kids like unless we give them a chance to read it? And this sentiment also, I think, too often turns "kids" into some amorphous entity that assumes that all kids like the same things. We don't do that with adults, so I don't think we should do that with kids either.

Geez, why am I going on about this? I think it's because I just read Susan Patron's wonderful essay in the LA Times and I so clearly identified with it, both as a former child reader who loved complex and thought-provoking novels and as a parent who loved reading those same books to my kids. Here's the link to that article.

So, in a nutshell, why do I write for kids and young adults? Because I have stories to tell, all of us do. I don't think it's more or less than that.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

Years ago I made a commitment that I would find at least five minutes every day to write. I've never broken that commitment, even if the five minutes is spent writing in my journal or making my grocery list. As long as pen is on the paper or fingers are on the keyboard, I count it.

What is your definition of a “bad writing day”? How do you deal with bad writing days?

Hmm . . . I've never really thought about classifying my writing days into bad or good or anything else. I've never thought of writing vs. non-writing days. I write every day, every single day. Do I have moments of frustration? Absolutely. Do I often feel humbled in the face of a story or a character? All the time. But I see those as part of the overall process. I write, therefore I am.

You teach at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Does your teaching affect your writing in any way? (And whoa, thank you for sharing this picture of your dorm room at Vermont College!)

I know that I'm a better writer because I'm also a teacher. I learn so much from my students, I'm inspired by them. And what's wonderful about the program at VCFA is the community itself. It's a lot like the description I mentioned above--a magic circle. Only in the case of the MFA program the circle is expanded and enlarged, but always story is at the heart of it. Our common goal is to really examine the story, and that includes the reasons for telling it, the impetus behind it, and then looking at how to best tell it. When looking at stories from all angles, from inside out and back in again, all of us emerge as better writers. And better teachers too.

And of course, being in the company of my faculty mates is also inspiring. I work with some of the most wonderful authors in our industry and that fact alone encourages me to work even harder, to keep my chops up so to speak. It's a privilege to work with such a talented crew.

Let us not forget as well that writing is a basically solitary act for the most part; a community is important just for our mental health. I love coming together twice a year with my colleagues and students. It fills me right up. As important as solitude is in the life of a writer, being with other people is a necessary thing too. Keeps us from going off the deep end.

What were the influences and inspirations (literary or otherwise) you drew from when writing The Underneath?

I feel like every book I ever read and wrote played a part in writing The Underneath. I drew from every cell in my body, every organ and platelet were needed to get through the writing process. Along the way I turned to my friends for advice, for commentary, for hugs. I turned to an amazing mentor, Dennis Foley, who basically kept pushing me along, and to my smart agents and editor who believed in the book from the start.

But maybe, if I had to point to one singular text that spoke to me it would be Kipling's The Jungle Book, not so much for the story itself, but for the heart of it, that heart that recognized the deep longings that arise from within ourselves, regardless of our exterior appearances or social realms, and then realizes the very essence of our mutual connectedness. There is one spot, in particular, that captures this. The animals, in a heartbreaking moment, look at Mowgli, their adopted human, who is leaving the safe nest he’s been raised in, and state clearly, “we be lonely without thee, little brother.” The animals knew something that we humans don’t want to see: that they had to let their man-child go in order to save his life. Children's literature has this power, with its elasticity, it’s ability to push them out and pull them in, to let our children go, to give them characters who look like them, who are facing the same things they are, who feel as deeply as they do, and yet it breaks our hearts to get out of their way. As adults, we are fearful of our own hearts, aren't we, and so for the most part we tend to turn to literature that is "safe," that won't call upon our hearts to break. It's way too scary. I think we gravely underestimate our children when we do that.

I told my agent that I wanted to write a story that would "crack open the heart." In the writing of it, however, I realized that I would have to crack open my own heart, and so as I wrote I drew upon this moment of Kipling's--to understand that "we be lonely," but that at the end of the day we would fall back upon the love that was always there from the beginning.

What do you want young readers to take away from The Underneath?

I want them to know that they always have the choice to turn toward the light, that no matter their circumstances, they can turn away from darkness. I want them to know that they can move beyond the confines of whatever underneath they are experiencing, and that all of us, even the smallest among us, can make enormous differences.

What are some of your favorite experiences so far from book signings, school visits, interviews, and other promotional activities for The Underneath?

(Kathi at the Texas Book Festival with Kaylen, a student who wants to be an author too.)

This past fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with two fifth grade classes in Farmington, NM. The public library there--an amazing facility run by an amazing staff, especially their community liaison Flo Trujillo--sponsored my visit. I spent a couple of hours with the students and their teachers. Those kids were completely prepared for me, they had read the book, loved the book, and they asked amazing questions. Truly, it was a visit that I'll never forget.

I also recently got a letter from a teacher in Maine that made me hum. She's a 3rd/4th grade teacher and she had read the story out loud to her students. I'm just going to quote her here: "I have been teaching for 28 years and have rarely found a book that has had such an impact on my students. Your novel has everything in it a child loves: magic, mythology, a horribly BAD character, characters in moral conflict and sweet, adorable good characters with strengths and weaknesses." But the best part of her letter was this: "They really hated Gar Face and devised ways to do him in at recess. When he finally met his demise, they leaped out of their seats and danced around the room cheering (no kidding!). I have to say I enjoyed that." Her letter validated everything I had hoped for in the book, in the story.

So, both cases I suppose, were huge strokes to my ego. I confess it. And if I were a bigger person, they might not have meant so much to me, but I'm not, so I'm hanging onto them.

And of course, the whole National Book Award event was thrilling. I still feel as though I'm shaking the glitter out of my hair.

This is me with two of the students at the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference in NYC. I wish I knew their names, but they are writers too. They gave me a copy of their own anthology that was hot off the presses. I'm lucky that they autographed it for me.

What are your favorite children's and young adult books?

Missing May, by Cynthia Rylant, and Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson are two books that I don't think I could live without. I return to them often, always with the question, "how did she do it?" whenever I open their pages. I actually do the same thing with Louis Sachar's Holes and Kimberly Willis Holt's Keeper of the Night.

In the picture book department, I love Skippyjon Jones, by Judy Schachner, In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky. I just don't think any child should grow up without those three books.

Non-fiction: Race, by Marc Aronson. There Might be Giants, by Diane Applebaum and Buddy, by Anne Bustard. Also, anything by Elizabeth Partridge.

What book would you like your work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact, popularity, sales, or awards)?

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Could you get any higher than that?

What children's or young adult books are you reading now?

My current favorite is Cynthia Leitich Smith's new novel called Eternal. Wow! I've never been a huge reader of gothic fantasy. I can usually scare myself just fine without help. And Cyn's book is scary. But it's also filled with light. The story has two main characters--a vampire and an angel. It's a great read, seriously. Tim Wynne Jones has a new book too, The Uninvited, which kept me on the edge of my seat. I literally couldn't put it down. So I didn't. The mystery of it, the setting, the language all work together to create a book that shines.

Picture book wise, there's a new book just about ready to come out, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich called Bella and Bean, that makes my heart sing. It's about friends and poetry and how the two don't have to be separate. The art is just beautiful--Aileen Leijten is the illustrator. It's a book that is full of wonder. Another book that flew under the radar, but that deserves a broader audience is Little Red Fish by Tae-Eun Yoo. It works on so many levels, both in the text and in the art, but at its heart is its nod to the imagination and what can happen inside the pages of a book.

I'm currently reading Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Who ever thought you could successfully combine beetles with art? It's ingenious.

Another book that I want to recommend, also ready to emerge, is called The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. It's set somewhere in the American Southwest, in the desert, in a fictional enclave that resembles one of the fundamentalist Mormon offshoots. Wow. It's powerful, stirring, brave. And the language is so so soulful. It's a book to savor, a challenging book, and one that is going to call to all of our inner angels.

On the top of my stack is M.T. Anderson's second part to Octavian Nothing.

EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the USA, and maybe the world, should read these books. Yes.

(Kathi with Cynthia Leitich Smith, in San Antonio for the SA Express Book Festival in November 2008.)

(Left to right: Kathi, John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, and M.T. Anderson at NCTE in San Antonio, November 2008.)

What are you looking forward to professionally in 2009?

I'm right in the middle of my next novel, tentatively called Keeper. I've finished the earliest drafts, but it still has miles to go, so my main goal this year is to get it wrapped up. I'm also doing some traveling, visiting schools.

And I can't resist asking this... If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why? :o)

Shoot, I'd try to do it all--except the underground caves part and scuba diving.

Kathi, thank you for visiting Into the Wardrobe and sharing so many of your ideas and experiences!

Recommended links: For an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the writing of The Underneath, click here and here to read Becky Laney's interview with Kathi at Becky's Book Reviews.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Stops on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

Two stops have been added to the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! :D

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese Writes

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Write for a Reader

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

Another important announcement! :D

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be celebrating and showcasing its winners with a blog tour! Here is the preliminary blog tour schedule:

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children

Monday, January 19, 2009
Richard Michelson, author of As Good As Anybody
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
and author of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Well-Read Child

Monday, January 19, 2009
Ron Mazellan, illustrator of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Boston Bibliophile

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Anna Levine, author of Freefall
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
and author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig
Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Abby (the) Librarian

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Page Flipper

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jacqueline Jules, author of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Chicken Spaghetti

Friday, January 23, 2009
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009
Shahar Kober, illustrator of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe

That's right, Into the Wardrobe will be participating in the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! I am sooo excited about hosting children's book illustrator Shahar Kober, so don't forget to stop by on or after Jan. 23 to read my interview with him. And of course, don't forget to check out all the other stops on the tour. I know I sure will! In the meantime, for more information visit the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog. :D

Friday, January 09, 2009

Wow, my second Butterfly Award. :D

Last December, I was thrilled that Into the Wardrobe received the Butterfly Award from Kaza Kingsley, author of the really fun and cool young adult fantasy series Erec Rex. Thank you again, Kaza! I passed on the award to the always charming and uplifting jama rattigan's alphabet soup, a blog (one of my favorites) on children's literature and food. YUM. :D

I am really honored that Into the Wardrobe has just received another Butterfly Award, this time from Just One More Book!! Just One More Book!! is an excellent resource on children's literature (another one of my favorites), so this means a lot to me. Thank you, Mark and Andrea! I really respect and admire you and your podcast/website.

Who will I give the award to this time around? Renay's YA Fabulous! I think Renay is really cool, and I think her blog about books for teens is really cool. Rock on, Renay, rock on! YA Fabulous is indeed FABULOUS. :D

It's your turn, Renay. You can share the Butterfly Award (on your site) with up to ten other blogs. Which blogs do you think are uber cool?

The 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Awards

Here is an important announcement from the Association of Jewish Libraries:

Richard Michelson and Raul Colon, author and illustrator of As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom, Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge, and Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, are the 2009 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 Chicago this July.

Michelson and Colon will receive the 2009 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award's Younger Readers Category for As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Two very special clergymen, one a rabbi, the other an African-American reverend are raised in divergently different countries yet experience similar levels of persecution and bigotry that will one day bring them together. As colleagues in America's struggle for civil rights, they march together from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965. Colon's colored pencil and watercolor illustrations "offer a beautiful complement to the text, describing two unique paths from childhood to adult life - Martin's in the rich, warm brown-tones of the American south and Abraham's in cool blues and grays that reminded the illustrator of old World War II movies. When the two exemplary men join in their march for tolerance, the palettes merge in full color harmony," comments Debbie Colodny, a member of the Award Committee. This book is recommended for grades 2-5.

Hesse will receive the 2009 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award's Older Readers Category for Brooklyn Bridge, published by Feiwel & Friends. While his family left the anti-Semitism of Russia to build the American dream, Joey Michtom's dream is to visit the glittering Coney Island. "Crafting a story from the spark of a true event, the invention of the Teddy Bear in 1903, Hesse masterfully weaves multiple themes of hard-work, survival, homelessness, and familial dedication with interlocking and parallel stories of families who live reasonably well opposite those less fortunate living in the shadows below the imposing Brooklyn Bridge," comments Rita Soltan, a member of the Award Committee. This book is recommended for grades 5-8. Hesse also won the 1992 Award for Older Readers for Letters from Rifka, and a 2004 Honor Award for Older Readers for The Cats in Kransinski Square.

Zenatti will receive the 2009 gold medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award's Teen Readers Category for A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, published by Bloomsbury. "This story about the relationship between an Israeli girl, Tal, and a Palestinian boy, Naim, via e-mail and instant messaging, is honest but hopeful. Well-written and compelling, the tale of their relationship conveys the confusion, anger, exhaustion, and depression felt by many young people during the 2003 intifada," comments Susan Berson, a member of the Award Committee. Zenatti's memoir, When I Was a Soldier, was a 2005-6 AJL Notable Book for Older Readers.

Check out the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog to see the list of the six 2009 Sydney Taylor Honor Books and the twenty-two Notable Books of Jewish Content for 2009.

Interviews with winning authors will be posted on prominent children's literature blogs as part of a blog tour beginning on January 18, 2009; details will be posted on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog.

All the winners sound great, but I am particularly interested in A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. I mean, WOW! Which of the winners are you most interested in reading? :o)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Author Interview: Ronica Stromberg

Ronica Stromberg is the author of The Time-for-bed Angel (Lion Children's 2008), a bedtime story for children ages 4 - 7 (preschool - first grade). Ronica's pared down writing and Kristina Stephenson's very expressive and sweet (even the word "cuddly" comes to mind :o) ) illustrations tell the story of Andrew, a little boy who can be quite a handful, and his guardian angel Sam. Reading about how Sam helps Andrew settle down to sleep one night is a great way to get your own kids to settle down to sleep for the night!

Into the Wardrobe is proud to present this conversation with Ronica Stromberg:

Where did you get the idea for The Time-for-bed Angel?

When my son was three or four years old, he started resisting going to bed. He'd think up every excuse to stay up longer. One night after putting him to bed several times, I was exhausted and said to him, "Josiah, what about your guardian angel? Don't you think he could use a little rest?" Of course, then we ended up on a discussion of guardian angels. He'd seen the "monster in the closet" and the "monster under the bed" in bedtime stories, but he'd never seen a guardian angel in a bedtime story. It seemed to me that an angel would make for a far more reassuring and comforting bedtime story than all the monsters in bedtime stories--especially if a child is afraid of the dark. As I left his room that night, I thought about the possibility of writing such a bedtime story. I researched the market, and when I couldn't find a single bedtime story with a guardian angel in it, I decided to write the book.

[Here is] a photo of me with my two sons, Josiah and James. Josiah, the one on the right, inspired The Time-for-bed Angel. This photo was taken around the time when he was still struggling with a bedtime.

What was the road to publication for The Time-for-bed Angel?

I don't have an agent, so I had to go through the slush pile. I tried both the inspirational/religious and mainline markets in the United States. I made a list of the top publishers that would be the best fit for the book. Once I had gone through that list, I picked two of the largest, best-known publishers overseas--one for the mainline market and one for the inspirational market. The inspirational publisher, Lion-Hudson, purchased The Time-for-bed Angel.

What do you want readers to take away from The Time-for-bed Angel?

Since The Time-for-bed Angel is a book parents would read aloud to children, I'm hoping the children are put at ease by the idea that they are loved and watched over at all times--even through the night.

What inspires you as a writer? What motivates you to write for young readers?

I love books. I always have. I knew at eight years old that I wanted to be a children's book author.

What are your favorite children's and young adult books?

My favorite children's book is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I also really like The Borrowers and mysteries of any sort. For young adults, I find The Adrian Mole Diaries hilarious, but although this book has a main character in his teens, I suspect it's written more for adults because you almost have to have some distance from your teen years to appreciate the humor in them.

What children's or young adult books are you reading now?

Right now I'm reading a book for adults, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. This is a National Book Award finalist, so I'm dissecting the writing for any tips I can garner. I read a broad range of books, not limiting myself to children's or young adult books.

Do you keep up with the blogs of the kidlitosphere? Which do you read regularly? Have you considered starting your own blog?

I've been invited to serve as a blogger for one site of children's writers and have been considering this seriously. What makes me hesitate is that I have limited time to write as it is, and if I start blogging, that may be all the writing I get done. I already spend way too much time reading writing newsletters, magazines, e-zines, blogs, etc. It's important to keep up on the market, but I know I need to be careful not to spend so much of my time reading about or discussing writing that I never do it.

Can you tell us about The Glass Inheritance, your middle grade novel published in 2001?

This is a mystery centered on the Depression Era glassware a 12-year-old girl, Samantha, inherits from her grandmother. Samantha's grandmother has left her clues she must solve to obtain the rest of her inheritance. As Samantha does so, she also learns about the Depression Era, World War II, and her grandmother's hidden past. (Grandmother was once engaged to a man in the German-American Bund.) The publisher of this book produces fiction for the classroom, novels that can be used to complement the curriculum. The Glass Inheritance fits with the fifth-grade curriculum in most schools.

[Here is] a photo of me from a book signing [for The Glass Inheritance]... The photo of me with the glass was taken at the time The Glass Inheritance came out, and all the glass in the photo is Depression Era glass, the subject of the book.

Can you tell us about Wrappers, A Shadow in the Dark, and Living It Up to Live It Down, your young adult novels to be published this year?

These three teen novels will be published by the same publisher as The Glass Inheritance. Wrappers addresses abstinence from a teen boy's point of view. A Shadow in the Dark is a mystery about a girl that has been seen at the windows of a farmhouse but never comes out. Living It Up to Live It Down is about a pastor's daughter who lives it up at school to try to live down the fact that she's a pastor's daughter.

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for your books to be award-winning, or for your books to be bestselling? Why?

Bestselling. It's most important to me that my books are read.

What book would you like your work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact, popularity, sales, or awards)?

This is a highly competitive business, but I try not to set up any other book or writer as a yardstick to measure my own success. I just try to do the best work I'm capable of and let it go from there.

Thank you so much for sharing, Ronica. I think that The Time-for-bed Angel is a great little bedtime story. (Folks, I highly recommend it!) And your novels for middle graders and teens sound very interesting. I wish you all the best for 2009, Ronica! :o)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Finalists for the 2008 Children's & Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards

What a great way to start the new year. The shortlists for the 2008 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) have been released! Here are the finalists for the categories I am most excited about:


The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling Books)

Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell (Atheneum)

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown)

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)

Alvin Ho by Lenore Look (Schwartz and Wade Books)


Savvy by Ingrid Law (Penguin USA)

Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish (Penguin USA)

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas (HarperCollins)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)

The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski (Macmillan)


Thaw by Monica M. Roe (Boyds Mills Press)

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion)

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher (Bloomsbury USA)

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (Little, Brown)

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (HarperCollins)

I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin (Random House Children's Books)

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (Penguin USA)


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)

Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon & Schuster)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson (HarperCollins)

Airman by Eoin Colfer (Hyperion)

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)

Click here to learn more about these books and to view the shortlists for the other categories. Let me know which books and categories you are most excited about. :D