Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour Interview with Howard Schwartz


Every year, the Association of Jewish Libraries honors the best in Jewish books for kids and young adults with the Sydney Taylor Book Award, named after the author of the beloved classic All-of-a-Kind-Family series. You can read more about the Sydney Taylor Book Award on the AJL website; today, and all week, the AJL has organized a blog tour where you can learn about many of the winners and nominees for this year's awards. I am privileged to share an interview with Howard Schwartz, author of the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner for Younger Readers, Gathering Sparks. Gathering Sparks is a beautifully written and illustrated (by Kristina Swarner) picture book about the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, and tells the story of the ten ships that form the basis for one version of the story of how the world can be repaired through good deeds or mitzvot.


1. What inspired you to use the metaphor of stars for good deeds?

Gathering Sparks was inspired by the essential Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, repairing the world. This was the primary teaching of Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Ari, who lived in Safed in the 16th century. In linking the stars with good deeds, I was drawing upon an interpretation of the Ari’s myth of the Shattering of the Vessels and the Gathering of the Sparks. This interpretation proposed that when the vessels filled with primordial light shattered, as takes place in the Ari’s myth, not only did they scatter holy sparks everywhere, but they also created the stars. According to the Ari, by following the mitzvot, the commandments, or by doing a mitzvah, a good deed, these holy sparks will be gathered, and the world will be repaired. The commentary that linked the creation of the stars with the Ari’s myth gave me the clue I needed.

2. What were you thinking about as you wrote the book? What ideas motivated you?
For years I have taught adults the beautiful myth of the Ari, and they have always been inspired by it. I wanted to communicate these ideas to children, so they would have the sense that they could contribute to the world, and to their family, and even assist God, simply by doing good deeds.

3. Who do you see as the audience for the book?
Since the repair of the world is such a big job, I hope that everyone will do their part. So while the Ari lived in an exclusively Jewish world in Safed, his myth should be an inspiration not only for Jews, but for everyone. Of course, Jewish people can be especially proud that a genius like the Ari created a myth to inspire and guide the people to work together in harmony to make the world a better place. But the basic teaching of tikkun olam can be appreciated by everyone, Jewish or not.

4. Where did the story of the ten vessels come from? Why is it meaningful?
The Ari is considered to be the greatest Jewish mystic of all time. The story of the ten vessels is his central teaching. He lived not not long after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Those who were expelled from the culturally rich lives of Spain, and found themselves living in poverty in far-flung places in the Middle East and other countries. When the myth of the Ari spread throughout the Jewish world, it changed their lives completely. They no longer saw themselves as exiles, but as people with a mission from God to improve the world—and gather holy sparks at the same time. Today the Ari’s myth is best known through his teaching about tikkun olam. Everyone needs a purpose. This essential Jewish teaching offers a positive purpose to everyone who is touched by it.

5. How do you hope parents and educators will use the book?
I have already heard from librarians and teachers who have had exiting responses from the book. For example, librarian Sharon Elswit wrote that “A second grade teacher in my independent (secular) school captured the imagination of her class with the book on project day, letting them explore ways that they could make the world a better place.” I hope that parents and educators will take this opportunity to explore their children’s ideas about how the ways they could gather sparks for the good of all. 
 
You can see the complete schedule for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour on the AJL blog, and below, as well:


THE 2011 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD BLOG TOUR
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2011
Carla Jablonski, author of Resistance
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Comics
Leland Purvis, illustrator of Resistance
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Shelf-Employed
Sarah Gershman, author of Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Biblio File
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2011
Linda Glaser, author of Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at ASHarmony
Claire Nivola, illustrator of Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese
Evelyn Krieger, author of One Is Not a Lonely Number
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Ima On and Off the Bima
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2011
Barbara Diamond Goldin, author of Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Tale
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Great Kid Books
Jaime Zollars, illustrator of Cakes and Miracles: A Purim Tale
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at The Book of Life
Susan Lynn Meyer, author of Black Radishes
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at The 3 Rs – Reading, ‘Riting & Research


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2011
Howard Schwartz, author of Gathering Sparks
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Boston Bibliophile
Barry Deutsch, author and illustrator of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at BewilderBlog
Dana Reinhardt, author of The Things a Brother Knows
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2011
Kristina Swarner, illustrator of Gathering Sparks
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
And illustrator of Modeh Ani: A Good Morning Book
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog

Sarah Darer Littman, author of Life, After
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe
Eishes Chayil, author of Hush
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Frume Sarah’s World
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2011
Morris Gleitzman, author of Once
Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at The Fourth Musketeer
Sydney Taylor Award Winners – Wrap-Up
All winners, all categories
at The Whole Megillah

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive a complimentary copy of Gathering Sparks for review or to use to prepare this interview.