Book About 8-year-old in Warsaw Ghetto Wins Jewish Literature Prize

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Jim Shepard author of “The Book of Aron: A Novel,” October, 2015.
Jim Shepard author of “The Book of Aron: A Novel,” October, 2015.Credit: Screenshot, Larry D. Moore / Wikimedia Commons

A critically acclaimed novel told in the voice of an 8-year-old boy in the Warsaw Ghetto is the winner of the 2016 Sophie Brody Medal for achievement in Jewish literature.

The award for “The Book of Aron: A Novel,” by Jim Shepard was announced Sunday night at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting, a four-day conference being held in Boston.

Honorable mentions were awarded to “After Abel and Other Stories,” by Michal Lemberger; “The Complete Works of Primo Levi,” by Primo Levi and edited by Ann Goldstein; “The House of Twenty Thousand Books,” by Sasha Abramsky, and “Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel,” by Dan Ephron.

The medal, funded by Arthur Brody and the Brodart Foundation, is named for Sophie Brody, a philanthropist and leader of the United Jewish Federation. Past winners include Boris Fishman, Yossi Klein Halevi, Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, and Nathan Englander.

In his eloquent, heartbreaking work of fiction, Shepard offers readers an unlikely narrator, Aron, a young, misunderstood boy from an impoverished Jewish family who ends up in the Warsaw Ghetto. As Aron’s life descends into further misery of ghetto smuggling and thievery, he comes under the wings of Dr. Janusz Korczak, a real-life Holocaust hero who saved orphan children and sees beyond the misery of Aron’s existence.

Shepard, a professor at Williams College, is an award-winning author of six novels and collections of stories.

Of other Jewish interest at the gathering of 10,000 attendees, including librarians, educators, authors and publishers, was a speech by the popular fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Mizrahi, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish Syrian family in Brooklyn, spoke about his upcoming memoir that reveals the challenges he faced as a gay young man attending Jewish day school and the creative path he followed to break away from the community’s conservative environment. Mizrahi is the subject of an upcoming exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York.

The American Library Association also announced the winners of its prestigious literary prizes in children’s and youth literature, including the Caldecott and Newberry awards. Noted author and artist Jerry Pinkney is the 2016 recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton award for lifetime achievement.

Children’s writer David Adler, known for his many books on Jewish subjects and historical figures, received the Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) award for “Don’t’ Throw It To Mo!,” illustrated by Sam Ricks.

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