‘Devil’s Arithmetic’ author wins lifetime achievement award


By Penny Schwartz

Jane Yolen, the acclaimed and prolific children’s book author whose oeuvre of more than 400 books includes the bestselling Holocaust time-travel novel “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” was honored for her writing career by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Yolen received the Body-of-Work award from this year’s Sydney Taylor Book Awards, which recognize excellence in Jewish children’s literature. Named after the author of the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series, the awards were announced Monday in a virtual ceremony at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting as part of the ALA’s Youth Media Awards.

The coveted Body-of-Work award recognizes an author who has made a substantial contribution over time to the Jewish children’s literature. Yolen’s books include an array of Jewish children’s books for all ages, according to Martha Simpson, chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

“Her range of subjects and lasting appeal to all types of readers impressed the committee. We are proud to recognize her with this honor,” Simpson wrote in an email.

More than 30 years ago, Yolen hesitated to write “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” her first Holocaust novel, she said in a 2018 interview.

She accepted the challenge from her editor and the 1988 book, in which a Jewish girl from the present day travels back in time to 1941 Poland and experiences internment in a concentration camp, subsequently became a bestseller and staple of middle-school classrooms nationwide. In 1999 it was made into an Emmy-winning Showtime film starring Kirsten Dunst. Yolen went on to write two more Holocaust novels for young readers, including 2018’s “Mapping the Bones.”

“I look at all three and I realize it’s not just the Holocaust that binds them together. It’s remembering,” she said.

The gold winner in the picture book category, Susan Kusel’s “The Passover Guest,” is set in Washington, D.C., in 1933, during the Great Depression.

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