Monday, February 17, 2014

SYDNEY TAYLOR AWARD BLOG TOUR: The Longest Night by Laurel Snyder

Thanks for joining me today as I welcome Laurel Snyder to my blog for an interview. Laurel recently won a Sydney Taylor Gold Medal for her book, THE LONGEST NIGHT: A Passover Story.

The Sydney Taylor Award is defined as follows by the Association of Jewish Libraries:
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.
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ABOUT THE BOOK

Here's a picture book for all Jewish families to read while celebrating Passover. Unlike other Passover picture books that focus on the contemporary celebration of the holiday, or are children's haggadahs, this gorgeous picture book in verse follows the actual story of the Exodus. Told through the eyes of a young slave girl, author Laurel Snyder and illustrator Catia Chien skillfully and gently depict the story of Pharoah, Moses, the 10 plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea in a remarkably accessible way.
INTERVIEW

What's the 'story behind the story'? What lead you to tell this particular story?

Actually, this is a long long story. But I'll tell you the short version.

I've always been a little obsessed with the plagues. Is that weird? As a kid I loved Passover best of all the holidays, and I remember the picture in my own childhood bible with the Egyptians clutching their throats, choking. It's an image--however gruesome--that stuck with me.

When I was in college, I tried to write a poem about it, and even performed the poem with a group of friends, reading it in a kind of round, at a local theater. But it never felt quite right.

Then, in grad school, I tried again, and the poem I wrote felt better this time, but I still wasn't satisfied with it.

So a few years ago, when I was casting around for an idea for my next picture book, the plagues popped back into my head. I was worried at first that the subject matter might be too dark for any editor to consider (and you can see we were vague with the girl's impressions of the tenth plague). But The Longest Night was the end result of the process. And at last it feels right!

Isn't that funny, that it sometimes takes many tries for a story to find its best form?

Tell us a little about your writing career. When you first got published? Got into writing? etc.

Oh, I started writing when I was eight years old, and used to make little books out of wallpaper scraps and paper bags. Then in high school I was lucky to have a creative writing class at my school, and that focused my energies on poetry. I went to college and grad school for poetry, and published a book of poems for adults.

Then, a few years later, I found myself returning to the books of my youth. And my poems began to change. It took me a while to figure out I was writing for kids, and another ten years (and 49 rejections) to publish my first book. But now I feel like this was what I was meant to do, all along. My eight year old self is very excited!

If you could travel anywhere where would you like to go and what would you do there?

That's a hard one! I've traveled a lot, but never with my kids, so what I really want is to introduce them to the places I've loved. Jerusalem. I want to show my boys Jerusalem. And Ireland, and Italy. I want to see them realize the world is BIG.

What do you enjoy most about school visits?

Enjoy is a funny word for it. It's work, and sometimes it's very hard work. My last novel, Bigger than a Bread Box, is about a kid whose parents are splitting up, and every now and then I have a kid come and seek me out, to talk about a rough situation at home. A moment like that can be so important, and so rewarding, but it's painful too, for everyone. I have a few kids who've reached out and stayed in touch, and I've sent them books, or met them and their parents at events later. That's a very deep and special aspect of the job, but enjoy feels like the wrong word.

I suppose I enjoy reading to the kids, doing the silly voices in Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. I definitely enjoy that!

What are your feelings about the Sydney Taylor award and what it means?

It's a huge huge honor. Of course, we don't write for awards, but the attention that awards can bring to our field is important I think. They help assure that the world knows about children's literature, about Jewish children's literature specifically. They make us more visible, and I think that's good!

For me, personally, it's startling and almost bewildering because I look at the past winners, and I'm blown away to think my book sits beside them.

Favorite treat?

Anything lemony! And I adore black licorice.

Favorite color?

Blue, always and forever.

Favorite sports team?

Does my son's second grade basketball team count? Go DRAGONS!

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