The REAL 2021 Sydney Taylor Book Awards
The Real Sydney Taylor Book Awards were announced on January 25, 2021! Here is the press release, and below are the real winners, honors, and notable books for 2021! Listen to a podcast interview with awards chair Rebecca Levitan on The Book of Life.
Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal. Published by Charlesbridge. This warmly illustrated, poetic book parallels the experiences of a young boy at a Passover seder and a small white kitten outdoors. When the boy opens the door to welcome the prophet Elijah, he finds a furry friend instead. Simple text, diverse characters, and a timeless feel make this a story to be treasured.
I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book by Mychal Copeland, illustrated by André Ceolin. Published by Apples and Honey Press, an imprint of Behrman House. Clear instructions on how to do different yoga poses are complemented by brief, boldly illustrated stories from the Bible. Back matter includes reflection on yoga practice and a discussion of “What’s Jewish about yoga?”
Miriam at the River by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Khoa Le. Published by Kar-Ben Publishing, a division of Lerner Publishing Group. The poetic tale of young Miriam placing baby Moses in the river is strikingly and vividly illustrated in palettes of blues, oranges, and purples.
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Galia Bernstein. Published by Holiday House. The eight knights of Hanukkah are charged by Lady Sadie to go out and perform “deeds of awesome kindness and stupendous bravery” before the Hanukkah celebration that evening. A little silly and very sweet, this punny title is a wonderful story of performing mitzvot for others and celebrating Hanukkah.
The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Lisa Anchin. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Brightly illustrated, this is the timely true story of a young Jewish boy who grew up to be a chemist who helped eradicate polio. Author’s note and sources included.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Shahar Kober. Published by Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing. Max and Rachel have just moved to a new apartment, but they can’t find any of their Hanukkah stuff. With help from their new neighbors, they do their best to celebrate, even though “it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” On the ninth night, they decide to celebrate “shamash night,” thanking all the helpers in their building.
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein. Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Will’s bar mitzvah service project helps him face challenges in his own life in this engaging story by a debut author. Bullied at school and a loner, turtle-loving Will completes a bucket list of milestone activities for a terminally ill boy and gains the strength to face his own upcoming surgery.
The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman. Published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House. In 1986, Valentina and Oksana flee the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In 1941, Rifka finds refuge while escaping the Nazis. Blackman masterfully merges the timelines of these two stories in this compelling work of historical fiction.
No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen. Published by Groundwood Books. Miriam and her new friend Kate concoct a “miracle” in order to attract visitors to Miriam’s family’s small town motel in this story about community, interfaith understanding, making a home, and keeping up Jewish traditions.
Anya and The Nightingale by Sofiya Pasternack. Published by Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In this sequel to her 2020 Sydney Taylor Honor book, Anya and the Dragon, Anya and her friends travel to Kiev and encounter the mythical Nightingale. Vivid descriptions of tenth-century Russia, a memorable Shabbat dinner, and an exciting rescue highlight this wonderful fantasy.
Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House. On the eve of WWII, Esther describes her journey from Poland to Cuba, where everything from the people to the climate are foreign to her. A heartwarming and satisfying immigrant narrative that brings a lesser known Jewish community to light.
A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan. Published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Pakistani Muslim Sara and British-Jewish Elizabeth meet in a school cooking class where they gradually navigate friendship, family problems, and fitting in. A delicious blend of serious themes (racism, mental illness, financial insecurity) and classic sixth-grade angst, told in vivid alternating voices.
We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson. Published by Scholastic Focus, an imprint of Scholastic. Hopkinson weaves together primary sources — memoirs, interviews, and photographs — to piece together the accounts of 21 children and teens who were saved from the Nazis via the Kindertransport in this meticulously researched World War II nonfiction book. Back matter includes a timeline, additional resources, source notes, and an index.
Beni's War by Tammar Stein. Published by Kar-Ben Publishers, a division of Lerner Publishing Group. A follow-up to the Sydney Taylor Honor book Six-Day Hero, this tense narrative describes the 1973 Yom Kippur War from the point of view of a twelve-year old boy living in the Golan.
Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House. This debut memoir in graphic form is a funny, sad, confidently illustrated meditation on grief. It’s both a tribute to Tyler’s wonderful mom, who died of breast cancer at the age of 47, and a guide to Jewish mourning practices. A singular achievement.
They Went Left by Monica Hesse. Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. A historical mystery with an unreliable narrator, this post-war page-turner is set primarily in a displaced persons camp. It tells the story of Zofia, desperately searching for her little brother Abek...and the possibility of a life after trauma.
Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon. Published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Publishing. In one wild 24-hour period, high school rivals Rowan and Neil go on a scavenger hunt throughout Seattle and (spoiler alert) fall in love. A sweet, funny, Jewishly inflected romp.
The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli. Published by Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House. A guide to queer activism and collective responsibility, Eli’s clear and concise call to action is filled with autobiographical Jewish reflections and teachings.
The Way Back by Gavriel Savit. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. A dark and spooky journey from the world of the shtetl into the underworld of Jewish demons...and back again.
The Assignment by Liza Wiemer. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Based on a true incident, a high school teacher assigns students to argue in favor of the Final Solution. Two students fight back, and the resulting schism rocks the school and community.