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THE 2021 SYDNEY TAYLOR BOOK AWARD BLOG TOUR

WELCOME TO DAY 4 OF THE STBA BLOG TOUR

 

STBA 2021 Blog Tour


FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH

AUTHOR RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND

&

ILLUSTRATOR ANDRE CEOLIN

DISCUSSING THEIR

HONOR-WINNING PICTURE BOOK

I AM THE TREE OF LIFE: My Jewish Yoga Book

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BOOK SUMMARY:


The Torah is called the Tree of Life. Just as a tree is always growing and changing, the Torah’s ideas can help us grow and change, too. Yoga can do the same. Both can help us strengthen ourselves, calm our minds, and learn to appreciate the world around us.

Written by rabbi and certified yoga instructor Mychal Copeland, I Am the Tree of Life encourages us to explore both the world of yoga and the stories of the Bible and find meaning in both.

INTERVIEW WITH RABBI MYCHAL COPELAND:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Congratulations on your great honor, Rabbi! What a pleasure to have you as our guest today.

“How might it feel to stand at Mount Sinai? To dance at the red sea?” are the inviting opening words to your lovely picture book. This gentle and meaningful introduction to yoga through Torah exploration is a wonderful idea for a story. Please share your inspiration with us. Is this a practice you use with children?

Rabbi Mychal Copeland: This book came together organically, doing yoga with children at Jewish summer camps and synagogues. We imagined, together, which stories we could form with our bodies. I loved seeing kids use their imagination and how easily they understood what it means to embody, or become, an animal, object, or character. Those ideas evolved over many years into the poses in the book, alongside poses I brought into my adult Jewish yoga classes based on the weekly Torah readings and holidays.

GRWR: The beautiful blend of the spiritual and physical come together seamlessly in I AM THE TREE OF LIFE. What do you feel your book offers to youngsters especially now when they have been coping with an unprecedented pandemic?

RMC: Parents of young children are striving to bring grounding, healthy practices into their kids’ lives, especially during this pandemic. Yoga teaches adults and children that we can regulate our own breathing, calm ourselves down when necessary, pay attention to what we are feeling, and to be empowered in our bodies. Children have lost their daily opportunities for movement, so I’ve been thrilled to hear that this book has helped them get moving during this time. I hope that has, in turn, connected them to their spiritual selves and to the world around them as they embody a mountain, tree or a fish.

GRWR: I love how there’s a boat pose to signify Noah’s Ark. Did you have trouble finding poses to correlate to the various stories? Or did you select the stories based on existing poses?

RMC: I have been teaching yoga in a Jewish context for many years, and in my practice I connect the poses to the weekly Torah portion or Jewish holiday wherever there is a meaningful link. I have collected so many poses that fit perfectly with our stories. In fact, I had a tough time choosing which ones to drop to make the book the right length for children!

 

Tree pose int1
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

 

GRWR: Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?

RMC: The book is based around the image of the tree, both as a metaphor for our Torah and of our bodies. The cover so perfectly brings those images together with a child coming into Tree Pose against the backdrop of a tree so we can see how our feet are like roots, legs like a trunk, and arms like branches. I also love the way he integrated the Torah stories we are about to read into the Tree of Life while we are forming Tree Pose on the opening pages. I also love the Crescent Moon, because Andre so beautifully captured the sweeping feeling of this pose and the story in Genesis.

 

Crescent moon int5
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

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GRWR: The book is filled with a variety of wonderful Torah stories. Is your hope that, in addition to wanting to try yoga, children reading your book might also become interested in further Jewish study?

RMC: Yes! My hope is that the short glimpses into the Torah stories will pique a child’s curiosity to know the full stories. Perhaps at a Passover seder, they will hear the Exodus narrative and remember that they tried a yoga pose from that formative story. If they feel like that story is theirs because they embodied it, even better. I hear so many young adults say that they don’t feel Jewish enough, that they didn’t learn enough to feel it’s theirs, or that the Jewish community doesn’t accept them as being fully Jewish. My hope is that our upcoming generation of kids feel like they own their own Judaism. It is not someone else’s tradition that they are peering into. It is wholly theirs to live, learn, and create.

GRWR: I love how at the end of the book you address what’s Jewish about yoga. For those reading who do not yet have the book, what’s your answer?

RMC: Yoga emerges from the Hindu philosophical tradition. Jews have a long tradition of being open to learning and incorporating wisdom from other traditions that surround us (medieval liturgy based on Arabic poetry, piyyut, is another great example). But movement also has a long history in Judaism. Our ancient rabbis discussed how to move our bodies during prayer, recognizing that words are not the only way to pray. One medieval Jewish mystic matched Hebrew letters and vowels with head movements. Other kabbalists envisioned different aspects of God as a chart in the shape of a tree, the Tree of Life, and mapped that chart onto the human body. And Hasids used body movements to enhance their prayer.

So yoga is a practice that Jews are borrowing, but spiritual movement is not new to our people.

GRWR: This is such a feel good, calming read. What other Jewish or non-Jewish children’s books have you enjoyed reading for your own writing inspiration?

RMC: Howard Schwartz and Kristina Swarner’s Gathering Sparks (a Sydney Taylor Award winner) has been such an inspiration to me, inviting children to contemplate a complex spiritual, mystical idea in a way that is both relatable and calming. Their book, Before You Were Born, has that same mystical, whimsical quality. I have also been heavily influenced by Rabbi Sandy Sasso’s work (In God’s Name, God’s Paintbrush and so many others), bringing a depth of spiritual conversation to an ecumenical audience.

GRWR: What else would you like to mention about your experience writing the book?

RMC: In early conversations with Apples and Honey Press, we wanted to make sure that the children pictured in the book would represent the diversity of the Jewish community. They brought Brazilian artist, André Ceolin, to the project and I am overjoyed with the illustrations. Portraying children of color in books does not solve the deep-seated issues we face in the Jewish community or our larger American culture. Yet making sure People of Color are represented in Jewish children’s literature is one way we can show kids they are visible in Jewish life, while showing white children that a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds is what Jewish looks like. We can offer the next generation an invitation to connect themselves to Jewish stories and other Jews. Collectively, we can make intentional choices about which stories and images are passed on.

 

INTERVIEW WITH ANDRE CEOLIN:

GRWR: Congratulations on your great honor! What a pleasure to have you as our guest today, André.

On the very first spread of the book readers see the tree of life pose along with the tree itself representing the Torah. Can you speak to some of the wisdom shown on the different branches of the tree, the preview of stories to come, and how you imagined this particular illustration?

André Ceolin: Both Ann Kofsky, from Behrman House, and Rabbi Mychal have given me the guidelines and important insights for that illustration, coming up with the idea of the tree showing the passages in each branch.

The tree is strong and healthy, and each branch of it shows an image which represents a passage from the Torah. For me it shows that the wisdom from each passage lead us to a balanced, steady and healthy life.

GRWR: Can you please tell us how you created the artwork? Was it done digitally? And what made you choose this color palate? How long did it take to complete the illustrations?

AC: On a piece of paper and using a good pencil, I always start with several small sketches, the size of a thumbnail, for each illustration to be done. In doing so, I experiment several approaches, having a general idea of the drawing structure, without being distracted by the details.

After evaluating all the miniature sketches, I shoot some photos of the best ones and then, start to work at the computer in a bigger and more detailed version, which will be sent later to the editors and authors for evaluation .

Once approved, I get started with the final version of the illustration, more elaborate and colorful. This step is made digitally as well.

Regarding the color palates, each drawing has its own one in order to express the feeling and the time period in which the story takes place.

Normally, it takes from 2 to 4 days for each illustration, from the sketches to the final version, depending on its complexity.

GRWR: Do you have a particular favorite illustration and if so, why?

AC: The illustration with Jonah inside the giant fish is my favorite, because it was really fun to illustrate that monster-fish. Besides, the image shows some tension, at the same time that it shows hope.

 

Jonah and The Whale int16
Interior spread from I Am The Tree of Life written by Rabbi Mychal Copeland and illustrated by André Ceolin, Apples and Honey Press ©2020.

 

GRWR: You made all the poses look so easy and fun. Did you have to learn yoga to be able to illustrate this book?

AC: Yes, I had to learn a little bit about Yoga, despite not being able to do many of the poses (maybe one day I will take some Yoga classes). Rabbi, through her feedback helped me a lot to correct and make right each of the poses illustrations, as shown in the book.

GRWR: Who are some of the illustrators who have influenced your art?

AC: There are many artists whose work I admire. Stephen Michael King, Rodney Mathews, Rebecca Dautremer and Edivaldo Barbosa de Souza are some of the artists who inspire me.

GRWR: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your experience illustrating this book?

AC: Illustrating The Tree of Life was a very rich and enjoyable experience in which, in addition to learning about yoga, I learned about the wisdom of the Torah and Jewish culture.

 

GOODREADSWITHRONNA THANKS YOU BOTH SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR THOUGHTFUL REPLIES!

 

BIOS:

You can find Mychal getting into yoga poses while teaching, writing, reading Torah, and even leading Shabbat services at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.  Mychal is both a Reconstructionist and Reform rabbi, earned a masters and teaching credential from Harvard Divinity School, and is a certified yoga instructor, fusing Jewish spirituality with movement through yoga. She co-edited Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives (SkyLight Paths, 2016) and I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book (Apples & Honey Press, 2020)  is her first children’s book. She leads yoga sessions that are steeped in Jewish thought and prayer, melding breath and posture practice with Jewish ideas.  Her interests span Jewish magical texts, interfaith dialogue, Jewish issues of inclusion, and teaching Judaism as a spiritual path. 

Click here for my Facebook page where people can find me and yoga opportunities for their kids.

 

Ceolin photoAndré Ceolin is a self-taught illustrator from Brazil He started his first attempt at sketching around the age of four when his father brought home some reams of paper from work. It was in that moment that he fell in love with painting and drawing. André initially got a degree in pharmacy at UNIMEP. Though he worked in this field for several years, his artistic passion was too strong to ignore. As a young father, he was surrounded by beautiful children’s books and was always drawn to the spontaneity of the imagery. He then decided to switch gears and studied at School of Visual Arts in NYC, Melies, and Escola Panamericana de Artes to develop a signature look and learned new illustration techniques. He illustrated his first book “Um Dia na Vida de Micaela” de Cauê by Steinberg Milano, published by Editora Roda & Cia in 2009. Ever since, he has illustrated over 20 books by great publishers in Brazil such as Roda & Cia, Saber e Ler, SM, Moderna, FTD, Editora do Brasil, Editora Abril. He loves working with books targeting juvenile readers from the very young age to middle-grade and young adult. When not illustrating, he creates toys and small sculptures for his son. He also enjoys bicycling, playing his guitar, and, singing. Visit his website here.

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BOOKMARK THESE SITES:

Association of Jewish Libraries

Sydney Taylor Book Award
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STBA BLOG TOUR DATES

Below is the schedule for the 2021 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. Please follow the links to visit the hosting blogs on or after their tour dates, and be sure to leave them plenty of comments!

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2021 

Lesléa Newman and Susan Gal, author and illustrator of Welcoming Elijah
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Picture Book Category
at A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal

Sofiya Pasternack, author of Anya and the Nightingale
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at 100 Scope Notes at School Library Journal

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2021

M. Evan Wolkenstein, author of Turtle Boy
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Middle Grade Category
at Mr. Schu Reads

Jane Yolen and Khoa Lee, author and illustrator of Miriam at the River
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Picture Book Category
at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast 

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2021

Anne Blankman, author of The Blackbird Girls
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at The Paper Brigade Daily at The Jewish Book Council

Monica Hesse, author of They Went Left
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Young Adult Category
at Jewish Books for Kids

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2021

Tyler Feder, author of Dancing at the Pity Party
Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Young Adult Category
at Out of the Box at The Horn Book

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2021

Tziporah Cohen, author of No Vacancy
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Category
at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

Podcast interview at The Children’s Book Podcast

Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah

Read about last year’s 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour here.

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