Sydney Taylor book award winners announced

February 3, 2017

The Association of Jewish Libraries has announced the winners of the 2017 Sydney Taylor Award — the children’s book awards named in memory of the author of the classic “All-of-a-Kind Family” series. The awards recognize books for children and teens that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.

The winner for the Younger Readers category, announced Jan. 11, is “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark” by Debbie Levy, with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Shuster).

This fun and engaging biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sorely needed because of the dearth of children’s books about important Jewish women of history. In it, we learn that from a young age, spunky Ruth objects, resists and dissents when she feels things are unfair.

“Ruth has disagreed, disapproved, and differed,” writes author Debbie Levy. “Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes.”

The immensely readable story of Ginsburg’s life begins in 1940s Brooklyn, when boys were expected to grow up to provide for their families and “do big things” while girls were expected to find husbands. Ginsburg’s mother encouraged her to aim higher.

She first experienced prejudice against Jews while on a family road trip after seeing a sign that said, “No dogs or Jews allowed.” She never forgot how prejudice felt from that moment, and throughout college and law school; it set the stage for her future work.

Ginsburg’s law school class had 500 men and nine women. After graduation, she found it hard to get a job because she had three strikes against her: She was a woman, a mother and Jewish.

Bold, bright typography in capital letters punches up the narrative with phrases such as “SHE RESISTED AND PERSISTED” when Ginsburg is faced with an obstacle she will soon overcome. Her close, personal relationship with the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia — their families  vacationed together! — is highlighted, but so are her disagreements regarding some of his legal views.

Some Supreme Court cases are mentioned in the text and readers can get more information about them, along with real photos of Ginsburg, from the author’s extensive end notes. A useful bibliography for further reading is also included. This colorful, well-written, child-accessible biography would make a great choice for a school report but is highly recommended as just a good read — and particularly engaging for young girls.

The other winners:

Older Readers: “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Dutton Children’s Books/Penguin Random House). Part fantasy and part adventure, this is the tale of strangers who become friends while on a quest to save thousands of volumes of the Talmud. The beautiful illuminations reflect the medieval flavor of the book.

Teen Readers: “Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House). Anna is left alone in 1939 Krakow when the Nazis take away her father. After meeting the mysterious Swallow Man, who speaks “bird,” she travels with him in the forests of Poland, where they spend four years hiding and eluding capture. This is a haunting story that may be allegory or folktale or, perhaps, both. 

Lisa Silverman is the library director of the Sperber Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University.

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