Introducing: Heidi Rabinowitz

It's time to meet your Sydney Taylor Shmooze admins! Three friends run this blog: Susan Kusel (whose brainchild it was) and her partners in crime, Chava Pinchuck and Heidi Rabinowitz. You can read a bit about us in the About section but we thought you might like to get to know each of us a little better. Today it's Heidi's turn.

Heidi Rabinowitz

1. Describe a day in your professional life.

Purim puppet show
Things I hear every day: "Miss Heidi, what are we reading about today?" "Another book, please!"  "I'm going to Disney World tomorrow!" "I have a dog!" "The! End!" "I love you, Miss Heidi."

Things I say every day: "Everybody say 'Hi, Miss Heidi!'" "Do you hear the rhyming in this book?" "You get what you get and you don't get upset." "Take your finger out of your nose." "What a good question!" "I love you too."

Things I do every day:
  • Preschool storytime for babies through age 5, or our "Look & See" visual literacy special in the computer lab for ages 3-5. 
  • Manage the Feldman Children's Library 10,000+ volume collection (secular preschool books, bibliotherapy, Judaica for kids and teens, and a new Social Action collection to help kids grow up to be mensches). 
  • Look for ways to promote Jewish kidlit (via the Association of Jewish Libraries, The Book of Life Podcast, The Sydney Taylor Shmooze, the Jewish Kidlit Mavens, etc) because more Jewish books = more Jewish reading = more learning = less prejudice = more peace.

2. Talk about your experience on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. 

Heidi with 2004 Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award winner Eric A. Kimmel
My term on the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee began in 2002, so my memories of the details have been dimmed by the mists of time, but I definitely remember how the constant barrage of book packages felt like having my birthday over and over again. As a fangirl, I loved being in touch with publishers. As a bossyboots, I enjoyed running the committee. One of my favorite parts was going to Book Expo America with a heavy shoulder bag full of promotional packets containing bookmarks, business cards, and CD-ROMs (!) that I passed out to publishers to raise awareness about the award and drum up submissions.

Once you are part of the Sydney Taylor Book Award gang, you never really retire from it. I stayed directly involved with the committee for several years after my chairship ended, doing administrivia. And even now, I get heavily mixed up with the award announcement each January, helping to proof the press release, update the AJL website, set up the Blog Tour, blast social media, and announcing the winners on The Book of Life Podcast. Now that our award is announced at ALA, the job of promoting it has gotten MUCH easier!

3. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

L-R: Barney Saltzburg, Joni Sussman, Heidi Rabinowitz. Podcast Live Show, June 2019.
The Book of Life Podcast tops my list. I started the show in late 2005 after my Sydney Taylor chairship ended; I guess I was afraid I'd be bored with my time suddenly freed up, LOL!

Doing the podcast is like a ramped up version of the best bits of being on the Sydney Taylor committee. I get exciting packages in the mail, I get to talk to authors, I get to promote books to readers, I get to play with technology... and I can cut out the boring bits: I don't have to report to anybody and I don't have to read any books I don't like.

I am proud to have done over 225 interviews with authors, illustrators, publishers, filmmakers, musicians, and other creatives, boosting the signal of so many worthy Jewish projects. I'm proud that guests feel comfortable enough with me to open up and share deep thoughts, and that they tell me afterwards that I made them sound good! I'm proud that I've kept the show going for so many years, and found ways to branch out from it, like starting the Jewish Kidlit Mavens group on Facebook under the podcast umbrella.

4. What Jewish book has been the most influential in your life?

Of the few Jewish books I had as a child, my favorite was The Rabbi and the 29 Witches by Marilyn Hirsh. The repeated catchphrase "After all, I am the Rabbi," spoke to me in many ways. It revealed a Yiddishy sense of humor. It showed a character taking on leadership because, after all, if he didn't do it, who would? It defined a hero who used brains, not brawn, to solve a problem. The Wizard of Oz connection with the melting witches tied the story into American culture. The book took place in a shtetl environment, and while that's not so relatable for today's kids, it worked for me in the 1970s because my Grandpa Leon began life in a Ukranian shtetl in the 1900s.  So this was a book that made me feel welcome, acknowledged in secular ways, Jewish ways, and personal ways.

5. What changes are you hoping to see in the genre of Jewish kidlit in the future?

Although the shtetl setting worked for me personally, I'd like to see its use circumscribed at this point, in favor of more modern settings and more diverse geographic settings. I also want to see us lean into diverse representation of Judaism; this has been happening in recent years but I want to see even more kinds of Jews! I'd like to see more books about minor Jewish holidays, but more importantly, I'd like to have more books that are not about holidays at all, but about daily life. Although we must Never Forget the Holocaust and other incidents of antisemitism, I'd like to see those topics represented by a smaller proportion of the genre, with non-persecution stories becoming a larger majority. I'd love to see more Jewish titles from major publishers who are able to create gorgeous books with their excellent editorial and artistic resources; a Jewish imprint at a mainstream publisher would be terrific. And at the most basic level, I want Jewish stories written from the heart, to share and to delight rather than to teach. The scope of Jewish kidlit has expanded greatly over the last decade or so and I'm excited to see that trend continue!

Bonus Question: How can people find you?

Find me at work at
Find my podcast at
Find me in Jewish Kidlit Mavens at
Find my creds on LinkedIn at
Email me directly at bookoflifepodcast [at] Gmail [dot] com


  1. Although I didn't know it as a child, The Rabbi and the Twenty-Nine Witches was a book I read yearly to kids when I was a school librarian and it was beloved. So nice that it was eventually re-issued.
    Heidi, thank you for your 225 interviews! I have probably heard all of them at some point, and learned a lot!


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