The REAL 2023 Sydney Taylor Book Awards

The Real Sydney Taylor Book Awards were announced on January 30, 2023! Below are the real winners, honors, and notable books for 2023! We've linked to the Shmooze reviews, but you'll notice that there is one book we didn't review. We try to cover all the Jewish books published each year but sometimes we miss a few. 

Listen to a podcast interview with awards chair Martha Seif Simpson on The Book of Life about this year's winners!

The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana, illustrations by Susan Gal. Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2022. ISBN: 9781338225891. Thirty-five years after Nazis destroyed her beloved shtetl of Eishyshok, Poland, Yaffe Eliach recovered thousands of precious photographs preserved by relatives and survivors to recreate her community at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Susan Gal’s expressive illustrations bring to life this true story of love and remembrance. 

Big Dreams, Small Fish written and illustrated by Paula Cohen. An Arthur A. Levine Book, published by Levine Querido, 2022. ISBN: 9781646141265. Shirley has many ideas for her family’s new store, but they think she’s too young to help. Left alone one day, her “free with purchase” deal has the diverse clientele finally clamoring for her mother’s gefilte fish. Vibrant, comical illustrations expand the story. Delicious. Yiddish glossary and recipe are included.

The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda by Shoshana Nambi, illustrations by Moran Yogev. Published by Kalaniot Books, an imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing Company, 2022. ISBN: 9781735087580. Each year, the Ugandan Abayudaya community has a sukkah decorating contest. Competitive Shoshi hopes her family will win. After a storm wrecks one sukkah, all the neighbors help rebuild it, and Shoshi learns the value of people coming together. Illustrations are in bold folk-art colors and patterns. Informative backmatter included.

Sitting Shiva by Erin Silver, illustrations by Michelle Theodore. Published by Orca Book Publishers, 2022. ISBN: 9781459827721. This beautiful, age-appropriate picture book about the loss of a girl’s mother teaches readers about the meaningful act of sitting Shiva and the importance of family and friends supporting each other through grief. Soft illustrations complement the text and the book includes informative back matter about Jewish mourning practices.

Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey by Ruth Behar, illustrations by Devon Holzwarth. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2022. ISBN: 9780593172414. Estrella’s Tía Fortuna is about to leave another home. Having emigrated from Cuba to Miami years before, she is now entering an assisted living facility. Tía Fortuna’s loving memories comfort Estrella and show her that difficult changes can be accepted with grace. Colorful illustrations include Sephardic imagery.

Madame Alexander: The Creator of the Iconic American Doll by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrations by Sarah Dvojack. Published by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, 2022. ISBN: 9781250138590. This picture book brings to life the creator of the Madame Alexander doll company with illustrations as elegant as the iconic dolls. Repairing dolls with her father, Beatrice Alexander learns to use her talents to bring joy and comfort to other children. Accompanying backmatter further illuminates her life and work.

Shoham’s Bangle by Sarah Sassoon, illustrations by Noa Kelner. Published by Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, 2022. ISBN: 9781728438962. Sad because she can’t take her gold bangle bracelet, Shoham is entrusted to carry Nana Aziza’s homemade pita bread when her family leaves Iraq. Arriving in Israel, Shoham finds a welcome memento of her homeland. Kelner’s art lovingly depicts the refugee families during the 1951 Operation Ezra & Nehemiah airlifts.

Raquela’s Seder by Joel Edward Stein, illustrations by Sara Ugolotti. Published by Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, 2022. ISBN: 9781728424293. Although Raquela’s family must keep their Jewish faith a secret during the Spanish Inquisition, her clever father, a fisherman, finds a way for the family to have a Passover seder. Lovely illustrations, rich with ocean and sky blues, accompany the story of “a night different from all other nights.” 

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk by Mari Lowe. An Arthur A. Levine Book, published by Levine Querido, 2022. ISBN: 9781646141258. Aviva and her widowed mother live next door to their synagogue in rooms above the mikvah, rumored to be haunted by a dybbuk only Aviva can see. This inside look at a close-knit Orthodox community explores changing friendships, antisemitic vandalism, and the many ways of dealing with grief.

Honey and Me by Meira Drazin. Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2022. ISBN: 9781338155433. When outgoing, confident Honey enters the Modern Orthodox school attended by quiet, thoughtful Milla during their bat mitzvah year, their best friendship shifts along with other changes in their lives. Milla must learn to recognize her own qualities and talents, while learning to appreciate more in the people around her. (Middle Grade Honor) 

Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack. Published by Versify, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2022. ISBN: 9780358572039. Ziva will stop at nothing to keep her gravely ill brother alive, even if that means teaming up with a half-sheyd to outrun the Angel of Death. Racing across a folkloric ancient Khazaria to a city where it is said Death cannot enter, the companions must confront their greatest fears.

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass. Published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2022. ISBN: 9780759556270. Ellen thrives on planning, knowing what’s going to happen, and strict categories. When she must confront sudden changes during a school trip to Barcelona, including distance from her best friend, a new non-binary classmate, and a scavenger hunt through the city, Ellen must learn to think outside the lines.

Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson. Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2022. ISBN: 9780063083899. “I don’t care what you do. Just live,” implores their father while marching to the killing fields of Drobitsky Yar, prompting Zhanna and her sister to procure false papers and become part of a troupe entertaining Nazi officers. This taut, true story-in-verse includes quotes from Zhanna and comprehensive back matter.

The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner written and illustrated by Marissa Moss. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS, 2022. ISBN: 9781419758539. Mixing prose with comic panels, this biography tells the often-neglected story of Lise Meitner, whose work identifying nuclear fission would change the world forever. A Jewish woman working in Europe amidst the rise of Nazism, Meitner’s resilience and moral compass proves a stark contrast to her too-complacent colleagues. Extensive backmatter included.

The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz. Published by Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, 2022. ISBN: 9781728430331. 3 Joey’s boisterous family has run a senior resort for decades, but casino development is changing Atlantic City in 1975. A run-in with a mob boss sets Joey off to a summer of new experiences, squiring an older teen girl around town as he tries to avoid getting into serious trouble. 

When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb. An Arthur A. Levine Book, published by Levine Querido, 2022. ISBN: 9781646141760. Uriel the Angel and Little Ash the demon have been Talmud study partners for centuries. When a shtetl girl goes missing, they journey to America to find her. Brimming with Yiddishkeit, this brilliant, queer historical fantasy novel richly depicts the immigrant experience and tells an ageless tale of love, justice, and friendship. 

My Fine Fellow: A Delicious Entanglement by Jennieke Cohen. Published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2022. ISBN: 9780063047532. Bossy Helena Higgins and her Culinarian classmate, Penelope Pickering, attempt to turn a Covent Garden peddler, Elijah Little, into a gentlemen chef. This clever epicurean riff on My Fair Lady, set in 19th century England, spotlights prejudices of the time, especially against Jewish Elijah.

Some Kind of Hate by Sarah Darer Littman. Published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2022. ISBN: 9781338746815. In this gut-wrenching novel, told in dual perspectives, we meet Declan as he gets radicalized online by white supremacists, to the horror of his Jewish best friend, Jake. With an intense but hopeful ending, this book peels back the curtain on the terrifying reality of extremists and antisemitism.

Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds. Published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2022. ISBN: 9780593349755. 2 Shira wants to date Isaac, but she’s a disaster at flirting. After a night snowed in with her nemesis Tyler, they strike a bargain: flirting lessons in exchange for connecting Tyler to her family’s business empire. Set during Hanukkah, this story is full of love, light, family, and romantic twists.

Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems by Barbara Krasner. Published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers, 2022. ISBN: 9781635926255. Ethel Rosenberg, who loved to sing, is given voice in this heartfelt and unsettling biographical novel-in-verse. She rises above difficulties through hard work and idealism, but is tragically and wrongfully labeled a spy and betrayed by the judicial system, the FBI, and her family. Includes extensive notes and bibliography.

The Ghosts of Rose Hill by R.M. Romero. Published by Peachtree Teen, an imprint of Peachtree Publishing, Inc., 2022. ISBN: 9781682633380. Sixteen-year-old budding violinist Ilana visits Prague, where she encounters ghosts and a river monster (vodnik) while tending the graves in an abandoned Jewish cemetery. This suspenseful novel-in-verse combines elements of Judaic tradition with magical realism and is divided into movements, resembling the classical music Ilana plays.