Monday, September 24, 2012

Celebrating Diversity in Jewish Books for Children

Guest post by Barbara Bietz, Past Chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, author, and creator of the blog Jewish Books for Children.

By learning about other cultures through literature, we celebrate our differences as well as our commonalities. Books about different cultures offer young readers access to people whose backgrounds and religious beliefs may be unfamiliar, but through their stories readers establish emotional connections that foster understanding and compassion. Book awards that celebrate diversity help librarians, teachers, and parents identify excellent works that offer meaningful experiences to readers.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award

The Sydney Taylor Book Award, established by the Association of Jewish Libraries in 1968, 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 about a Jewish family with five sisters growing up on the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 1900’s. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded Silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.

Within the genre of Jewish literature for children, there is a wide range of people and cultures represented. Many outstanding books recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee fall within the traditional categories of Jewish literature for children such as Jewish holidays, folktales, and Holocaust themes. In addition, noteworthy books that explore the unique religious and cultural diversity within the broader context of Jewish life have also been recognized including books that promote cross-cultural understanding. A few examples include:

Life, After by Sarah Darer Littman explores a contemporary Jewish immigrant story about a Jewish teen and her family as they leave their home in Argentina and struggle to make a new life in New York. 

As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Raul Colon portrays the little known friendship between two religious leaders – Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel, who came together in the fight for freedom. 

Vive La Paris by Esme Raji Codell celebrates the unexpected friendship between a young African American schoolgirl and her feisty piano teacher, a Holocaust survivor who shares life lessons.

The varied Jewish experiences portrayed in Jewish books for children that can enrich and educate readers. The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors books that are accessible to readers of all backgrounds, continuing the legacy and literary standards of the All-of-a-Kind Family series.

For complete book lists, information about the Sydney Taylor Book Award, or to learn more about the Association of Jewish Libraries, please visit For submission guidelines, contact the Committee Chair.


  1. Books that once might have been considered more experimental are the ones that always touch me the most, and seem to reach younger readers in a way that is inclusive, more down-to-earth and less static. These suggestions look just wonderful.

  2. We can't keep Life After on the shelves in my library! So worthy of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards! Great post, Barbara!


  3. Excellent choices and some of my all-time favorites. Thank you, Barbara.

  4. There are also many excellent Jewish-themed children's books that exemplify diversity, beyond those that have received the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Some examples of books that go beyond the white European Jewish experience include Rebecca's Journey Home by Brynn Sugarman (about a Jewish family adopting an Asian baby), Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz (about a boy of mixed Jewish/African-American heritage), and Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin (about religious diversity within Judaism - an assimilated teen gets to know her Orthodox relatives). The Wooden Sword by Ann Stampler and Much, Much Better by Chaim Kosofsky depict Jews living in Arab countries. I would also like to point out that Kar-Ben Publishing has been doing a great job of adding characters with a wide variety of skin tones to the illustrations in their Jewish picture books.

  5. The Sydney Taylor award books not only give a wonderful window into Jewish American culture,they are also wonderful pieces of literature in general. Check them out!
    Debbie F.

  6. Thank you Barbara for mentioning my book on this excellent CBC site, which has become a wonderful resource.