A Great Day!

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that our holiday season was far from joyous. Our dear dog Tasha suddenly got sick and died. Our neighbor Marianne’s dad died in December. Her mom died the month before. The economy is terrible. Friends and neighbors are out of work. War broke out in the Middle East. In addition to being concerned about friends who live in Israel, I’m speaking at an international school there in February. I read the news. Everything is glum.

And then the universe sends a greeting. I found a voice mail message on my phone last night from Carolyn Hessel, an old friend and fellow Midwood High School alumna, asking me to give her a call. Carolyn is the director of the Jewish Book Council. I wasn’t sure what she wanted. If she needed a favor, I’d be happy to do it if I could. I called her early this morning. To my astonishment, she told me that my book, The Mysterious Guests, had won the National Jewish Book Award for 2009 in the picture book category.

I nearly fell out of my chair. This is the big one, even more important than a Caldecott for a book about a holiday not generally well-known outside of Jewish circles. I’m awed, and thankful. And grateful, too, because a good part of the book’s merit goes to Katya Krenina and the gorgeous illustrations she created for it. Also, Regina Griffin and Mary Cash, my editors at Holiday House, and to John Briggs, my publisher, who has encouraged and supported me for twenty years.

And to Nell Carter, too. Remember Ain’t Misbehavin’? I was speaking at the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 2002. Ms. Carter was performing that night. I had an invitation to go, a free ticket which I was not about to pass up. The auditorium was packed. Ms. Carter gave a fabulous performance. One of her last, in fact, because she died a few months later.

I came back to my hotel all aglow from that wonderful evening, only to discover that there had been a power failure and all the lights were off. I sat in the darkness with nothing to do, too wound up to sleep. I started thinking about a story. Two brothers have two sukkahs. One is generous, but poor. The other is rich, but stingy. What might happen then?

By the time the lights came back on, I had a story. And today I have a big award.

Thanks, Carolyn. Thanks, Katya. Thanks, Regina, Mary, and John.

Thanks, Nell. I couldn’t have done it without you.

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