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The Book of Life: Jewish Kidlit (Mostly)

Arts & Culture Podcasts

The Book of Life is an interview-format podcast about Jewish kidlit, mostly, with occasional coverage of Jewish YA/adult books, music, film and web, established in December 2005. Host: Heidi Rabinowitz Sponsors: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida & the Association of Jewish Libraries


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The Book of Life is an interview-format podcast about Jewish kidlit, mostly, with occasional coverage of Jewish YA/adult books, music, film and web, established in December 2005. Host: Heidi Rabinowitz Sponsors: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida & the Association of Jewish Libraries






Pride Month Special with A.J. Sass

SHOW NOTES: It's June and that means LGBTQ+ Pride Month, the perfect time to talk to author A.J. Sass. Andrew Sass is known for writing middle grade books featuring respectful portrayals of trans and nonbinary characters, with neurodivergent and casual Jewish representation included as well. I was excited to talk with them about a few books: debut novel Ana on the Edge from 2020, Ellen Outside the Lines, which was a 2023 Sydney Taylor Honor Book, and the new Camp QUILTBAG, co-written with Nicole Melleby. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these thoughtful, funny, and heartfelt books. Over half of the books currently being challenged by bigoted extremists are targeted for their LGBTQ+ content. In support of the queer Jewish community, for Pride Month I will post an LGBTQ+ Jewish kidlit title each day in June on The Book of Life's Facebook page at It should go without saying that gender identity and/or age appropriate sexual content does not automatically equal porn or obscenity. Children and teens are human beings who have bodies and experience age-appropriate sexual feelings, and sometimes they need books that will help them understand their bodies and feelings more fully. Queer books save lives, and I'll be proud to share with you excellent examples of queer Jewish representation all month long. LEARN MORE: A.J. Sass's websiteTwitterTikTokFacebookInstagramAna on the EdgeEllen Outside the LinesCamp QUILTBAGJust Shy of OrdinaryOn All Other NightsShabbat Is...Daily LGBTQ+ Jewish reading recommendations from The Book of Life, June 2023 ANDREW'S READING RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BOOKS WITH NON-CISGENDER CHARACTERS Young Adult (these all have Jewish representation) A Million Quiet RevolutionsWhen the Angels Left the Old CountryJanuary 2023Camp Middle Grade (these mostly don't have Jewish representation) The Best Liars in RiverviewThe House That WhispersToo Bright to SeeDifferent Kinds of FruitKyle LukoffMoonflowerSir Callie and the Champions of HelstonLily and Dunkin Visit the SHOW NOTES to find a transcript and more!


A Sky Full of Song

SHOW NOTES: When I read Susan Lynn Meyer's middle grade novel, A Sky Full of Song, I was swept away by her descriptions of the North Dakota prairie and really touched by the characters' struggles with prejudice, assimilation, and identity. This story is one of those in which the specific is also the universal. It showcases a quintessential American experience and at he same time, a very Jewish experience. I thought it would be a perfect interview to bring to you this May for Jewish American Heritage Month. Click on SHOW NOTES above to find a transcript and more. LEARN MORE: Susan Lynn Meyer's website A Sky Full of Song American Prairie Jewish American Heritage Month resourceShe's a Mensch


A Walk on the Jewish Side

SHOW NOTES: Jewish identity can be complicated, especially for people who come from a mixed background. We are starting to see this reality acknowledged in middle grade and young adult fiction, with characters who are working to figure out what being Jewish means to them, or who are trying to better integrate the different parts of their heritage, who don't feel like they are enough. For this episode, I've called together three authors whose novels explore this topic: Primrose Madayag Knazan, author of the YA novel Lesson in Fusion, and middle grade authors Aimee Lucido, who wrote Recipe for Disaster, and Amanda Panitch, who wrote The Two Wrong Halves of Ruby Taylor. Join us for a virtual panel discussion about identity, a walk on the Jewish side. See SHOW NOTES for links to the authors' websites, books, recipes, and tikkun olam suggestions as well as a transcript.


Shoham's Bangle

SHOW NOTES: Sarah Sassoon's debut picture book Shoham's Bangle (Kar-Ben) was named a 2023 Sydney Taylor Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Based on Sarah's family history, it's the story of a Jewish family's escape from Iraq to Israel, and a rare example of Mizrahi representation in kidlit. See SHOW NOTES for links to Sarah's website, a transcript, and more.


The 2023 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, Revealed!

SHOW NOTES: The winners of the 2023 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, recognizing the best Jewish children's and young adult literature of the year, were announced on January 30, 2023 at the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards event. Martha Seif Simpson is the current chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee, and she joined us to discuss the 2023 winners of the award. Please click on SHOW NOTES above to see the full list of winners and find links to more info about the award.


When the Angels Left the Old Country

SHOW NOTES: When the Angels Left the Old Country is Sacha Lamb's debut novel. It's a young adult historical queer fairy tale about an angel and a demon who immigrate together through Ellis Island to the Lower East Side of New York. From labor unions to dybbuks to a heist, this extremely Jewish tale has everything you need for a thoroughly satisfying adventure. Sacha is a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellow in YA fiction, a graduate in Library and Information Science and History from Simmons, and a reviewer for the Jewish Book Council. They are also a part-time stepparent to a small flock of miniature goats. See SHOW NOTES for links to Sacha's website, the book, reading recommendations, and to read Sacha's short stories online.


It's Always a Party with a Sephardi

SHOW NOTES: TRANSCRIPT: Sarah Aroeste is a singer/songwriter of Ladino music, a leader of Sephardic travel tours, and an author of board books featuring Sephardic culture and Ladino vocabulary. Bridget Hodder is a Sephardic author of middle grade and picture books, who frequently collaborates with Muslim author Fawzia Gilani-Williams (past Book of Life guest, 2017) on stories about interfaith friendship. We recorded this episode live and in person at the Highlights Foundation's Symposium for Jewish Creatives. See the SHOW NOTES for links to their websites and books. TREATS FOR YOU: Peddler's Gift GRATITUDE: Dianne Siekmann


Orthodox Excellence

SHOW NOTES: Representation of Orthodox Judaism has been virtually non-existent in traditionally published contemporary young adult fiction, but that is starting to change. In this episode, I spoke with Leah Scheier, author of The Last Words We Said published by Simon & Schuster, and Isaac Blum, author of The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen, published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. These two young adult novels offer layered and insightful portraits of well-rounded Orthodox characters in books aimed well beyond an Orthodox readership. TRANSCRIPT:


The Very Best Sukkah by Shoshana Nambi

SHOW NOTES: The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda is Shoshana Nambi's debut picture book. She is a member of the Abayudaya, the Jewish community of Uganda, and is in the U.S. studying at Hebrew Union College to become the country's first female rabbi. This delightful story, rich with authentic detail, was named to the Association of Jewish Libraries' Holiday Highlights Fall 2022 Holiday Highlights list. TRANSCRIPT:


Some Kind of Hate

SHOW NOTES: Sarah Darer Littman does not shy away from tough topics. Her middle grade and young adult novels address religious identity, internet predation, eating disorders, and online bullying. Her new YA novel, Some Kind of Hate, addresses radicalization and antisemitism. It's an important and all too timely book that helps readers understand how ordinary people can become radicalized extremists. LEARN MORE: Buy Some Kind of HateSarah Darer Littman's websiteEducational resources for Some Kind of Hate White Right: Meeting the Enemy"What Happened After My 13-Year-Old Son Joined the Alt-Right" 2006Confessions of a Closet Catholic2011Life, After Justice


Detour Ahead

SHOW NOTES: Detour Ahead is a contemporary middle grade novel about Gila and Guillermo and the way the H4 bus in Washington DC brings them together. Pamela Ehrenberg wrote the part of Gila, a neurodivergent white Jewish girl who loves breakdancing, and Tracy Lopez wrote Guillermo, a boy from a Salvadoran immigrant family who writes poetry. I was impressed by how well the two distinct voices wove together and how real the characters felt to me. It's a quiet story but cuts right to the heart. I especially enjoyed the nuanced depiction of b'nai mitzvah: Gila doesn't just want to get through the big day, she really wants to understand what it means to be an adult. LEARN MORE: Buy Detour Ahead Pamela Ehrenberg's website Tracy López's website Detour Ahead playlist


Catnip for Librarians: Smart Kids Talk About Books

SHOW NOTES: Ten year old Hudson and thirteen year old Ellery are graduates of PJ Our Way's National Design Team. These two young avid readers joined me to discuss their love of reading in general and Jewish books in particular, as well as the societal significance of Jewish literature, libraries, and censorship.


Zay Getray Zikh Aleyn, or You Be You: The Kid's Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family

SHOW NOTES: You Be You, The Kid's Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family by Jonathan Branfman may not seem like an obvious choice for coverage on The Book of Life, but I was fascinated by the fact that it had been translated into Yiddish to make it accessible not only to scholars of modern Yiddish but to Hasidic families. Branfman brings both Jewish and gender expertise as a scholar in both fields. Translator Lili Rosen is not only a translator but also a cultural consultant and actor on the Netflix hit Unorthodox and other Yiddish-related media. They combined their talents to create a book for 7-12 year old readers that is affirming and inspiring. See also The Book of Life's list of Queer Jewish Kidlit at


Unite Against Book Bans

SHOW NOTES: Recently, libraries and schools have been facing an outrageous number of book challenges. Jewish tradition encourages debate and the exchange of ideas, and to me, the attempted repression we are seeing right now is diametrically opposed to Jewish values and American values. Books about marginalized communities, including the Jewish community, have been targeted. Librarians and educators are being vilified. It's time to speak out to protect the rights of all readers to have access to books that reflect their own experiences. That's why I asked Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the Director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, to come on the podcast and talk about censorship and ALA's Unite Against Book Bans campaign.


Wayward Creatures

SHOW NOTES: Wayward Creatures by Dayna Lorentz is a heartfelt animal friendship story for middle grade readers, told from the points of view of both a troubled young Jewish boy and the wayward coyote he befriends after a forest fire changes both of their lives. A local restorative justice program helps Gabe learn the value of community and tikkun olam. This book takes place in the United States of America in the state of Vermont. During Jewish American Heritage Month in May, I'll be posting a Jewish American kidlit title every day on Facebook at Follow along to see my recommendations, and share your own favorites!


Passover! "Holiday Highlights"

SHOW NOTES: Regular listeners will remember my friend Susan Kusel, a librarian/bookseller/author who partners with me frequently to promote Jewish children's literature. In this episode, we discuss Holiday Highlights, a project we set up through the Association of Jewish Libraries. Our expert committee, Amy Lilien-Harper, Robbin Friedman, and Sylvie Shaffer, compile seasonal Holiday Highlights lists representing the best Jewish children's holiday books each Spring and Fall. We tell you all about the project, and about the amazing Passover picture books on the Spring 2022 Holiday Highlights list.


The Unfinished Corner

SHOW NOTES: The Unfinished Corner, a National Jewish Book Awards finalist, is a graphic novel that challenges a bat mitzvah girl and her group of diverse Jewish friends to finish a corner of the universe left unfinished by God, in order to rid the world of evil. It's a bold premise, brilliantly carried out with a mix of ancient folklore and modern thinking. I was excited to speak with author Dani Colman to learn more.


Good Grief

SHOW NOTES: Today I've got a group interview for you, with three authors whose books each take a different and fascinating angle on dealing with grief. It's a difficult topic to talk about with young people but these books handle it with grace and sensitivity. Tyler Feder, author of the Sydney Taylor Book Award winning graphic memoir for young adults, Dancing at the Pity Party, middle grade novelist Emily Barth Isler, whose debut book is called Aftermath, and returning guest Joanne Levy, who was on the show in October 2020 to talk about Fish Out of Water, is back with her new middle grade novel Sorry for Your Loss, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book.


Blog Tour 2022: The Sydney Taylor Book Award

SHOW NOTES: Welcome to this special edition of The Book of Life, recorded as a part of the 2022 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! Visit to find the full schedule of interviews with the gold and silver medalists, published February 7th to 11th, 2022 and available thereafter to read at your convenience. I had the pleasure of speaking with the gold medalists: Susan Kusel and Sean Rubin, author and illustrator of the picture book The Passover Guest, Veera Hiranandani, author of the middle grade novel How to Find What You're Not Looking For, and Aden Polydoros, author of the young adult novel The City Beautiful. I hope you'll enjoy the conversation as much as we did.


The 2022 Sydney Taylor Book Awards, Revealed

SHOW NOTES: Martha Seif Simpson is the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She joined us to discuss the 2022 winners of the award, which annually recognizes the best Jewish literature for children and teens.