Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sydney Taylor Award Blog Tour - Interview with author Jane Yolen

Today I'm featuring an interview with Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty, a book for younger readers which has been chosen as an Honor Book for the Sydney Taylor Book Awards of 2009. The book tells two stories; on one side of the page, you'll learn about an immigrant Jewish family's journey to America. On every facing page, Yolen features the story of the Statue of Liberty, from idea to creation to installation. It's a very effective way to teach the two sides of the story of immigration side by side. Ms. Yolen was gracious enough to answer my questions about the book:

1. The topics of immigration and the Statue of Liberty go together so beautifully but I don't think I've ever seen a children's book present these topics in parallel as you have in Naming Liberty. Why inspired you to choose this presentation?

When the editor and Jim Burke and I were discussing a new book, one of the many historical topics I threw out was something about the Statue of Liberty. It fitted Jim's style. But when the editor loved the idea, I suddenly got cold feet. Unless I could find some new way to present the story, it didn't excite me. There were already many boks out there about Liberty. And then suddenly, the idea of twinning it with the story of a family--not unlike a smaller version of the Yolen family (there were eight children, which were too many for a successful picture book)--popped into my head. From then on, that was the book I wanted to do.

2. Throughout the book, the concept of naming is very important; the changing names of the children is symbolic of their assimilation into American life. Why did you choose this particular metaphor?

From the beginning of the twinning idea, I knew the child was going to change her name at the climax. After all, my father had been Velvul (Wolf) in the old country and became Will/William here. In fact I didn't know he was called anything else but Will until the day after he died, when my uncle Harry (who had been Aron) told me. But also being a fantasy writer, I know the importance of names, sympathetic magic. And in a sense, that is what the girl does. She changes her life by changing her name.

3. We've seen a lot of books about immigration over the years; why do you feel the themes of Naming Liberty are still relevant today?

America is still a nation of immigrants. And once again, certain immigrants are being castigated, beaten, thrown under the metaphoric patriotic bus. So if this book in some small way reminds us again that--in America--outsiders become insiders. In this year, when we have elected a man who should have been an outsider--a child of two nations, two colors, two hearts in a single breast as a the pphilopsoher Montaigne once said--and who is now our most public insider, it seems the right book at the right time.

4. As you did your research, did you learn anything that surprised you, or uncover an anecdote or fact that didn't make it into the final version? Is there something a little "extra" that you'd like to share with our readers?

I learned about the cigar rollers (my mother's family had an uncle who did that) and how the men working in the factory learned English by someone reading to them from the newspaper. That was fun. But I had to shorten the journey, the hard journey, across Eastern Europe, over the ocean. It would take a novel to get all that happened on the way down on paper.

5. Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is very different from the Jewish family about to move to America; what did they have in common to you that lead you to tell their stories together?

Each of them start on their journey with a dream. An almost impossible dream--but a dream that comes true. After much difficulty, the Statue was erected and dedicated in 1886. In the book after an arduous and difficult journey, Libby's family arrives in America. My father and his mother, father, and four of his siblings, arrived at Ellis Island 1914. His older brother had come in 1912, his two oldest sisters in 1913. So they would have seen the Statue but not known its history. And what a fascinating history it is. And of course the hind end of the word history is STORY. My favorite thing I learned was how the head of the statue was brought through the streets of Paris. And didn't Jim Burke capture that brilliantly!

Ms. Yolen, thank you very much for participating!

I think Naming Liberty is a great book and I knew as soon as I read it that was Sydney Taylor Award material. The award was named after Sydney Taylor, author of the All-of-a-Kind-Family series, classics beloved by generations of children. You can find more information about the award and its history here.

If you'd like to explore more Jewish kids' books (and great blogs) check out the complete tour schedule:

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Aranka Siegal, author of Memories of Babi
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers Category
at The Book of Life

Monday, January 19, 2009
Richard Michelson
Author of As Good As Anybody, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
Author of A is for Abraham, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Well-Read Child

Monday, January 19, 2009
Ron Mazellan, illustrator of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese Writes

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Boston Bibliophile

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Anna Levine
Author of Freefall, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
Author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Abby (the) Librarian

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Page Flipper

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jacqueline Jules, author of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Chicken Spaghetti

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Write for a Reader

Friday, January 23, 2009
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009
Shahar Kober, illustrator of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe


Heidi Rabinowitz said...

A fascinating story, and such an appropriate book to think about on Inauguration Day! Thanks for sharing, Marie!

LorMil said...

What an excellent interview! The book sounds educational, but also fascinating.

Andi said...

What a fantastic Q&A! I love Jane Yolen, and this book sounds fantastic. Thanks!

Tarie Sabido said...

Thank you for this enlightening interview. :o) I would really like to read Naming Liberty!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I really enjoyed this interview and how cool to get to do one with the great Jane Yolen!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

We have Jane Yolen's *Owl Moon*; it's a favorite!

I haven't seen *Immigration*, but I'll look for it now. Thanks for hosting the interview.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Oops, I'll never find Jane Yolen's *Immigration* ... better look for *Naming Liberty* instead :)

Ali said...

Great interview, I'm really looking forward to checking out this book. I just got one of the Richard Michelson books from the library yesterday but haven't read it yet.

Unknown said...

Loved your interview. I will definitely check it out. I have not read a child's book since my son was little. The story looks so appealing to the Jewish perspective. I definitely am missing something. it's time to try it out for myself. The illustrations look wonderful.
I will give it a try.

Thanks again for the review.

Anna said...

This sounds like a book my daughter and I would enjoy. I love immigrant stories. My mother came to the U.S. from Germany when she was 3, which probably is why I find such stories fascinating.

Diary of an Eccentric

Ana S. said...

Fantastic interview! I too love Jane Yolen :)