First-time winners take top book honors


NEW YORK (JTA) — A coming-of-age novel about an Israeli girl whose family relocates to Staten Island was among the winners of the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Awards for Jewish children’s literature.

“The Importance of Wings,” by Robin Friedman, won in the older readers’ category when the awards were announced this week by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

This year’s top winners are all first-time recipients of the highest honors, Kathe Pinchuk, chair of the award committee, told JTA.

Friedman’s book has received critical acclaim for capturing the contemporary immigrant experience as well as the middle-school angst of teenage girls trying to fit in.

She was 5 years old when her own family moved from Israel to the same New York borough as the teenager in her book. Friedman told JTA that she struggled with learning English and American culture like immigrants from early generations who came to America.

The authenticity of the two Israeli families depicted in the novel stood out for the judges, Pinchuk said.

“New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story” (Dial/Penguin), by April Halprin Wayland and illustrated by Stephanie Jorish, won in the young readers category. The book explores the tradition of Tashlich, and its themes of reflecting on one’s actions and seeking forgiveness.

"Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba” (Holt), by Margarita Engle, won the highest award in the teen category. Speaking through the voices of two teens — a German Jewish refugee and a Cuban — Engle sheds light on the little-known history of Jewish refugees in Cuba fleeing the Nazis.

The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are named for the author of the popular children’s series “All of a Kind Family.” Current and past recipients include Jewish and non-Jewish writers and artists, according to Pinchuk.

Among the six honor books is “Anne Frank: Her Life in Worlds and Pictures,” by Menno Metselaar and Ruud van der Rol, and translated by Arnold J. Pomerans (Roaring Brook Press/Flash Point).

"The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible" (JPS), by Ellen Frankel with illustrations by Avi Katz, was named a Notable Book for All Ages.

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