Introducing: Susan Kusel

It's time once again 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. In this final installment, it's Susan's turn.

Susan Kusel visiting the Yiddish Book Center

1. Describe a day in your professional life. 

Library at Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church,VA
I love being a solo synagogue librarian because so many different things could happen in one day. I answer reference questions on every topic from board books to Talmuds, and have patrons every age from 2 to 92. I work with our volunteers, religious school, nursery school, clergy, adult education and temple book clubs. I select new books, buy, process and catalog them. I sort through boxes of donations and see what can be added to the library. I do story times. Oh, and I shelve books. It’s a fun job.

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

L-R: Susan Kusel, Sylvie Shaffer, and Rebecca Levitan: Sydney Taylor members at ALA
It’s been an amazing ride from trying to get on the committee to being a Member and then the Chair and now the Past Chair. Reading every Jewish children’s and young adult book published in the last half decade has really opened my eyes to the current canon. I owe a great debt of gratitude to all my fellow members, chairs, past chairs and the Association of Jewish Library leadership who has helped me and been with me throughout this journey. I love seeing how different committee members get different insights out of the same books. Calling the winners and publishers is always a special treat. During the time I’ve been on the committee, the Sydney Taylor Book Award celebrated its 50th Anniversary and started to be announced at the Youth Media Awards at the American Library Association. I’m so glad I was around for these two major milestones.

3. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? 

Beekle was the Caldecott winner the year Susan was on the committee
I’m going to cheat and say there are several. I can’t narrow it down to just one.

-Seeing a book I’ve written get published. It’s been a long journey and after years and years of analyzing and talking and recommending books, I can’t believe that there will finally be a book with my name on it.

-The award committees I’ve been on. It has been a true honor to be on the Caldecott and the Sydney Taylor committees and several others. I’m really grateful for those opportunities, the incredible people I’ve worked with, and forever knowing how the winning books made those lists.

-The librarians I mentor. I have worked hard at mentoring as many librarians as I can and I am in awe of the amazing things these librarians have achieved.

-The connections with patrons. If someone tells me that a book I recommended, or an article I found, or a fact I researched for them made an important difference to them... well, that is everything.

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

The Magician by I.L. Peretz. My mom read me the Uri Shulevitz picture book version of this short story when I was young and it stayed with me. I rediscovered it many years later as an adult in a Jewish library and fell in love with it again, but wanted to make changes to it. I sat down to write my own version, and nine years after I did, it is being published as my debut picture book from Neal Porter Books/Holiday House. I still love the story today as much as when I first heard it. 

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

I’m always looking for Jewish books on new topics or told in a different way that we haven’t seen before. Books that kids can connect to, whether they are Jewish… or not. Books on holidays that aren’t Hanukkah. Books about Jews of color. Books that happen in different countries. Books that show more than the Holocaust and the Lower East Side and the Inquisition. Books that happen now. Books that happened then (in different time periods than we’re used to seeing). Sephardic books. Biographies on many, many different subjects. Fantasy. Early readers and chapter books. More middle grade. More young adult. More, more, more.

Lots of this has been happening, and I’ve been very excited to see it.

Bonus Question: How can people find you?

Instagram: @susanhkusel
Jewish Kidlit Mavens: