Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Lesléa Newman and Amy June Bates

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Hello, Lesléa Newman! Hello, Amy June Bates! Congratulations on your Sydney Taylor Honor for Picture Books for Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story.

Lesléa and Amy, what does this honor mean to you? 

Lesléa Newman: It means so much to me to receive this award on a book based on my own family story of immigration. My Aunt Phyllis, (daughter of the real “Gittel”) is alive and well at the age of 91, and she is absolutely thrilled that her mother’s story is being honored in this way and that children all across the country are reading her story. 

Lesléa and Phyllis Rubin (“Aunt Phyllis”) daughter of the real Gittel.
Amy June Bates: I feel so proud of our book and its accomplishments. Many people put effort and love and pain into this story including Gittel herself. Looking at it like that I think that this is award is very important and that my part in it was small in comparison.

Lesléa, what ran through your mind (or your heart) the first time you saw Amy June Bates’ finished illustrations for Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Lesléa Newman: I literally gasped (as did Aunt Phyllis) when we saw Amy’s beautiful paintings. She captured Gittel’s and her mother’s emotions so powerfully, and in such a heartfelt way. Her artwork is absoslutely gorgeous and really brings the story to life. I have worked with Amy before (on Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed, which won the Sydney Taylor Medal in 2016) and knew that she would do an amazing job, but I really think with this book, she “out Amy-ed” herself!). 

Amy, what ran through your mind (or your heart) the first time you read Lesléa’s manuscript for Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story

Amy June Bates: Gratitude. I so love good stories. And I felt selfishly grateful for an opportunity to dig into illustrating a good story. Thank you, Lesléa. I also felt like this story represents so many people’s stories coming to this country. I still am amazed by how many people tell me that a similar thing happened to their grandma, great-grandma, sister, aunt. Just yesterday someone was telling me about a cousin. It is a story that belongs to all of us.

Lesléa, please finish the following sentence starters: 

I hope Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story teaches young readers to be compassionate to children and adults new to this country and to ask their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents about their own family histories.

Picture books are magic!

Story is what makes the world go round. 

Amy, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story’s case cover is meant to evoke the beauty of books from the early 1900’s. I took inspiration from designs in Eastern European folk art, architecture and windows to make the frames in the book. Windows that Gittel could have looked through and designs that would have been familiar and comforting to her.

School libraries are the most important rooms in a school. Protect them and the librarians that work in them.

Picture books are windows, doors, tunnels, wardrobes, rockets, spaceships, timetravel devices, magical mirrors, and spellbooks.

Borrow Gittel's Journey: An Ellis Island Story from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Lesléa Newman is the author of 70 books for adults and children. Her literary awards include a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award, and the Massachusetts Book Award. She lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts. 

Amy Bates is the illustrator of Bear in the Air, Minette’s Feast, and The Dog Who Belonged to No One. She lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.


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