By Megan Ciskowski, Assistant Publicist
The virtual American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter concludes with the Youth Media Awards, and Kar-Ben has received two commendations from the Sydney Taylor Book Awards! Awarded annually by the Association of Jewish Libraries, a division of the ALA, these awards are given to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.
Miriam at the River, a picture book by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Khoa Le, has been named a Sydney Taylor Honor Book, and middle-grade novel Beni’s War by Tammar Stein has been named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book! Kar-Ben Publishing®, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group™, published both titles.
Miriam at the River
Miriam at the River follows a brave sister as she gives her baby brother a kiss and places his basket into the river. With a quick push, she sends the basket into the current, hoping her brother will be rescued. Pharaoh’s daughter arrives in time to save him, setting the stage for the boy who will become a Prince of Egypt. A biblical retelling of the story of Moses as told by his big sister
Author Jane Yolen was ecstatic to hear Miriam at the River was a Sydney Taylor Honor Book, and we asked her a few questions.
What does this mean to you that the Sydney Taylor Award Committee selected this book?
That feminist midrashim is alive and well in children’s books. And a good old story can be told again and again, to energize a new generation.
What prompted you to tell this story from Miriam’s perspective?
I had recently published a nonfiction book with Barbara Diamond Goldin—Meet Me at the Well—looking at the women in Torah. And as modern women, we offered up at the stories from a feminist perspective. This picture book grew out of that research, though it is a more poetic take on Miriam’s childhood than Meet Me at the Well.
How did your poetry background influence this story?
I have done a novel in verse, had ten books of adult poetry published (11 and 12 coming out this year), and told a boatload of picture books in thyme. My first writing was in rhyme. I was in first grade! (It was predictably awful!) But I tend to write prose lyrically anyway, so it wasn’t a stretch but a continuation. As I began to retell the story, metaphor and lyric lines supported my telling. It’s just the way I think best.
Praise for Miriam at the River
“Elegant storks wade in the water as hippos and crocodiles swim nearby. This biblical tale is filled with wonder, hope, and beauty.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Yolen puts readers inside Miriam’s mind as the girl carries out her mission and realizes she is part of a bigger destiny.” — Publishers Weekly
“An enlightening note at the end of the book includes the biblical story on which this book is based, with mention of the three times in Miriam’s life where water is significant” — AJL
“Although the book closes with Miriam’s confident assertion that ‘some day all the world/will know my brother’s name,’ Yolen and Le have presented the early life of a woman who will also change history.”— Jewish Book Council
In Beni’s War, twelve-year-old Beni struggles to settle in his new school after relocating to Golan at the end of the Six-Day War. But on Yom Kippur 1973, shocking news comes over the radio: a stunning strike on Israel has begun, led by a coalition of Arab states. In the blink of an eye, Beni’s older brother Motti is off to war, leaving Beni behind with his mother and father. Beni must find a way to aid the war effort in his own way, proving that he too can be a hero, even as he learns along the way that there is dignity in every person, including the people he considers the enemy.
Tammar Stein was happy to share her thoughts on the 2021 Youth Media Awards and the recognition of her work.
What was your initial reaction to learning your book had won a Sydney Taylor Notable?
I was thrilled! It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to send a book out into the world and it’s wonderfully reaffirming when a committee as discerning and prestigious as the AJL likes my book.
What does this mean to you that this book was selected?
I wrote Beni’s War to fill a need for books for kids about Israeli history. Getting a Sydney Taylor nod feels like an acknowledgment that this topic is important, and that Beni’s War handled it with respect and skill.
How does it feel to have two of your books win this award?
It’s truly wonderful. I wrote The Six-Day Hero knowing there would be a second book. Though they each have different narrators and can be read separately and in any order, they are connected. I researched each one deeply, travelled to Israel, interviewed dozens of first hand sources. It’s so satisfying that they’ve both been embraced and well-received.
Praise for Beni’s War
“Readers coping with shattered contemporary realities will recognize themselves in a child’s fears and growing empathy.” — Kirkus Reviews
★”Readers will be motivated by Beni’s perceptiveness and inspired by the strength he demonstrates through acceptance—even towards the enemy.” —starred, School Library Journal
“Beni’s War depicts neither an idealized Israel nor a flawed country which needs to be apologized for. Instead, it faithfully paints life as lived in a country where war is never far away.” — AJL
“This book will give children/youth a better understanding of what some families might experience during times of war in Israel and different ways to hold on to hope. “— A Journey to a Promised Land
More information about these titles and commendations can be found in our press releases.