Evan Wolkenstein is the author of "Turtle Boy." (Photo/Fred Greene; detail from book cover)
Evan Wolkenstein is the author of "Turtle Boy." (Photo/Fred Greene; detail from book cover)

Bay Area authors win Jewish children’s book awards

A teacher’s coming-of-age novel and a rabbi’s picture book about Jewish yoga are among the books by San Francisco authors named in this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards for the best in Jewish children’s literature.

Evan Wolkenstein, who teaches at Jewish Community High School of the Bay, won the middle-grades gold medal for his book “Turtle Boy,” and Rabbi Mychal Copeland, who leads Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, was awarded one of two silver medals in picture books for “I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book.”

The awards, given by the Association of Jewish Libraries, were announced Monday at the American Library Association’s virtual midwinter meeting.

“Turtle Boy” tells the story of seventh-grader Will Levine, a shy loner paired for his bar mitzvah project with a terminally ill, hospitalized teen longing for adventure.

“I wrote this book to work through the story that I had been carrying around since I was an adolescent,” he told J. in May. “It’s the story of going from hating my body, my face, the way I looked, and believing that it was going to doom me to unhappiness — to the place where I am today.”

Copeland’s “I Am the Tree of Life” is a picture book and guide book to yoga and Jewish values.

two images: the cover of the book "I Am The Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book," which features an illustration of a dark-skinned boy in a yoga tree pose; and a photo of the author, a smiling white woman with long dark hair standing in front her synagogue.
“I Am The Tree of Life” is the first children’s book by Rabbi Mychal Copeland. (Photo/Norm Levin)

“In our tradition, the body is a way we connect to the Divine,” she told J. in July. “The body is a vehicle for prayer. We bow, we loosen our spines — you don’t just pray with words. It’s all intertwined.”

The Sydney Taylor Book Awards honor books for children and teens that exemplify “high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.” They are named in memory of the author of the 1951 book “All-of-a-Kind Family” and four sequels.

The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries’ annual conference, which this year will be held remotely at the end of June. The full list of winners is available here.


Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.