Okay, so... this morning, ANYA AND THE DRAGON received the Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor for Middle Grade. What the heck does that mean? Here's the official description:
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.
So... a decently big deal! My books will have a silver medal on the cover for all future printing! OMG!!!
If you're subscribed to my newsletter (which you totally should be!) you already saw my recounting of how I found out about getting the honor. Here it is just in case you're not getting my newsletter!
Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor
I'm in school for psychotherapy, and every Wednesday I have practicum with patients, where I spend an hour with each of them talking them through what's going on in their lives. My office is in the basement of a Cold War-era building that is literally supposed to be a bomb shelter if the Soviets attack (it's uhhh an old building), so I don't have great reception down there. It's very spotty, anyway. And on Wednesday while I was prepping for my next patient, I happened to see a Twitter DM from Susan Kusel, the previous chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee who I met last year at Highlights. She said, "I have something urgent and important and good to talk to you about." Okay, I don't know if all of you feel this way, but any time anyone says to me, "I need to talk to you," I immediately start to go through everything I've done, said, even thought, that could have gotten me in trouble. It's not a good response and I have to tell myself that it's never as bad as I anticipate, so just calm down, Sofiya. So when Susan said, "I have something URGENT and IMPORTANT to talk to you about," I skipped right over the GOOD part and started panicking. What had happened? Was there a problem? I started thinking of all the intersections that Susan and I have. Highlights was the first thing, because I'm going there in April and I am so excited so it's been on my mind. Was Highlights cancelled? Why would Susan tell me about that though? Maybe she got a copy of my ARC for Anya and the Nightingale and she hates it. I didn't think of the STBA at all. So I responded back "Yes!!!!" because the more exclamation marks you use, the more positive you are, and I needed to make sure Susan didn't know I was panicking. But I can't take phone calls inside my Soviet bunker, so I had to go outside. And it happened to be sprinkling. That's fine. I'm not made out of sugar. So off I go away from my building (if you stand too close to it, your phone signal gets gobbled up), pacing the parking lot, waiting for Susan to call. And while I was pacing, and reading the message she sent me over and over, I noticed that it said GOOD. Good? What could be good? She called. And I honestly don't remember what I said. I was just trying to act cool. But I do remember what she said next: "Hey. So. How would you feel if I told you that Anya is a Sydney Taylor Book Award honor?" I felt very surprised. And very amazed. And very surprised. And again, I don't remember what I said, or what she said. I think I just gibbered and squealed, mostly. So there I am. Standing in a parking lot in the rain that is rapidly getting worse, and it's freezing cold and of course I forgot my coat, and I'm trying to keep my emotions contained because if my patient arrives and I'm sitting in my office sobbing, they're going to be very concerned. Susan, as the past chair, isn't responsible for calling this year's winners. The current chair, Rebecca Levitan, is supposed to do that. But Susan asked to call me because, a few weeks ago, we were talking about the new book I wrote (I made some Choices with the way the story went and I was nervous that everyone would hate it, and she talked me down), and in that conversation I said something like, "The STBA would be cool but there's no way Anya would ever win." At this point in time, the voting for the STBA hadn't started yet. The committee hadn't met up yet. So Susan didn't yet know that Anya had gotten an honor. When she found out, she remembered our conversation. It's kinda funny, right? Back when I was writing Anya, I left out a lot of the Jewish stuff that was eventually included, because I thought no one would want to read a fantasy book about a little Jewish girl and a dragon. I would have wanted that book as a kid, but . . . who am I? This morning at ALA Midwinter, the STBA winners, honors, and notables were announced. And my book was up on screens for everyone to see. A fantasy about a Jewish girl who argues with goats, stops everything to bake challah, and discusses Torah with her grandmother, was up in front of thousands of people: librarians, readers, authors, and booksellers. A few reviews of Anya have said something along the lines of "this is a book I needed as a child." Others have been delighted that there were two entire chapters dedicated to baking challah. Anya's ending is not tragic, and the dynamic between her and Ivan is idyllically uncomplicated by religion. It's the fantasy that I would have wanted as a kid. The one that, as a parent, I want my own kids to experience. And I've been so incredibly fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to tell this story and publish it in the first place. Now it's got a shiny sticker on it, which is absolutely mind-blowing, but not the important part. The chance for even more kids--kids like me, like my own children, like those reviewers who really felt a kinship with Anya and her experiences--to read about Anya and understand that Jewish stories aren't just about trauma and tragedy, is the best and most important thing about this honor. Now, please excuse me while I cry a lot.