The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.
For 2014 younger readers, two Honor Books were selected, both published by Kar-Ben a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Stones for Grandpa by Renee Londoner with illustrations by Martha Avillés and Rifka Takes a Bow by Betty Rosenberg Perlov with illustrations by Cosei Kawa. I am pleased to share Stones for Grandpa and my interview with illustrator Martha Avillés.
The illustrations show a balance of love and loss, of joyful memories and sad moments missing grandpa. As you were composing your illustrations, did you have personal memories that inspired your art?
Of course I did, this work was a trip into my memories but was, too, one way to think in the present – a time of thinking in the way that I am in the life of the persons that I love. This work took me to remembering the legacy of my grandmother, everything that I shared with her and the presence that she has in my life. For me, work on this book was like having a long conversation with my grandmother.
Could you explain your illustration process? How long did contemplating and planning your illustrations take?
The working time was around 7 months. First, I read the text again and again. After reading: PARALYSIS, I don’t draw, I start to search and see the images in my head all the time (while I walk, cook, see books, ate or sleep) But one day, all of it appears in my head, and this is the moment to sit down and draw. Draw again and again to call the characters, until they decide to walk from my heart to my hand. There, one day, they ARE ! The process at this point acquires a bit of magic, the characters start to tell your story, they have done themself almost alone. One scene and other, the characters are telling me their scenarios, their positions and expressions, they are alive and talking. In this way I finished the stage of drawings.
Now starts the color stage after I have received the comments and approval to go to finals from my editor. In this time, I feel absolute TERROR, it is the most difficult time for me. It is the harder and longer process, these take 4-5 months. This is a time of loneliness with music, readings and meditation; a time of “fight” where I always lose, but it gives me a profound transformation and an unwavering desire to follow, insisting, trying to find just that I want to tell with the images.
Did one particular illustration become your favorite or the most challenging? gives me a profound transformation and an unwavering desire to follow insisting, trying to find just what I want to tell with the images.
These illustrations were done with acrylic on cotton paper. My favorite are two: the first one is where the child is in his bedroom because there is a moment of maximum privacy: only him and his memories.
The other is the last page: because there is a moment of maximum complicity that shows a live dialogue between the child and his grandfather (in this image there is not death, there only are love and life).
What are your recommendations for great Jewish kids lit?
I personally admire the loyalty of the Jewish to their traditions. I think these are fertile soil to strengthen ethical and spiritual values that lead to sensible and conscious human beings .
What trends do you see coming our way?
I think there is a need to retrieve the values of children and youth formation, and I think that Classics, tradition and myth are a source of such values, which are of vital importance to underscore the significance of life and the self-being. On the other hand, I see that there are some opportunities in the production of playful publications for adults, if there are illustrated books for children, why not for adults? In this area, I think that it is necessary to break the paradigm by creating products that refresh the traditional concept of books for adults.
What are your next steps in your career?
To work more with children than for them. Recently, I have had meetings with groups of K-8 grade students to share my experiences, and the result has been, for them and for me, of transforming wealth. I want to create through my work a space for playful and creative dialogue with children.
What does the Sydney Taylor award/honor mean to you?
At a personal level the award gives me joy and a dose of unexpected affection. Professionally, it promotes the awareness and outreach of the book. The true value of the award is to enable the “message in the bottle” to reach many ports, and touch the heart and curiosity of more children and also a more diverse audience.
Will anything be different now that your work has been recognized by the Sydney Taylor Book Award?
I am not certain of the meaning of this award for a Children’s Book Illustrator in the US, but for me working from Mexico it means a different opportunity to connect with kids or diverse cultural groups in the US through the illustration. This award strengthens my confidence in the work I do and my love for it, as well as the joy with which I do it.
Thank you for sharing such an absolutely beautiful story through your illustrations. I believe you have provided all parents of any religion a story to share, to help grieve, and to go on living with happy memories. My favorite illustrations are the ones that show grief through solitary tears on the family members while you can tell they are remembering happy times and celebrating the life of their beloved grandfather.
Be sure to visit the Association of Jewish Libraries blog and the official Sydney Taylor site. Below is the schedule for the 2014 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2014 Renee Londner, author of Stones for Grandpa Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category At The Write Stuff
Martha Aviles, illustrator of Stones for Grandpa Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category here at Practically Paradise
Aline Sax, author, Caryl Strzelecki, illustrator, and Laura Watkinson, translator of The War Within These Walls Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category At The 3 R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, Research
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2014 Laurel Snyder, author of The Longest Night Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category At Geo Librarian
Catia Chen, illustrator of The Longest Night Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category At Holy Sparks
Robyn Bavati, author of Dancing in the Dark Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category At Bildungsroman
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2014 Neal Bascomb, author of The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category At Randomly Reading
Carol Matas, author of Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category At Pen and Prose
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2014 Cosei Kawa, illustrator of Rifka Takes a Bow Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category. At Jewish Books for Children
Elisabeth Leyson, contributor to The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible…on Schindler’s List Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category. At The Interlace Place
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2014 Patricia Polacco, author and illustrator of The Blessing Cup. Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category. At Ann Koffsky’s Blog