The ProsenPeople

8 Books to Preorder Over the 8 Nights of Hanukkah

Thursday, December 10, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Back when we first started the Eight Nights of Stories series here on The ProsenPeople, I mentioned a childhood friend’s family tradition of gathering to hear stories read aloud by the light of the shamash after lighting the other candles each night of Chanukah. (You should read it, really, it is a lovely post. There’s a Harry Potter reference in there for the true fans and everything.)

That same childhood friend is about to be a published author. His debut novel, Anna and the Swallow Man, comes out January 2016 from A. A. Knopf, and friends, it is a very, very good book. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either: Jewish Book Council’s entire staff has been coveting our shared advance copies since they arrived from the editor, and laudatory reviews are beginning to roll in across the publishing playground.

What I have personally enjoyed most in reading Anna and the Swallow Man, from the first manuscript to the first edition, is how much of the author’s boyhood imagination is present in this story. Entering the novel’s “realthereal” universe , in each moment of scintillated magic I recognize the make-believe games the author conjured under the crabapple trees and twisted mulberry boughs of our youth, fantasies culled from the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Barrie, Gaiman, Jacques, Dahl, and Rowling—and plenty of non-fantasy writers besides.

Beyond my own nostalgia, what I love most about those moments of recognition is how they emblematize the influence of exposure to great literature from an early age, not only through reading but from hearing books read aloud. Michal Hoschander Malen, Jewish Book Council’s children’s editor and (newly retired) school librarian, has written editorial after editorial on the importance of reading to and with children even through adolescence: her proof is in the countless students transformed into readers from the moment she put her voice to Charlotte’s Web in a classroom visit; mine is in the emerging literary career of an old friend—and many more, I hope, like him to come.

Anna and the Swallow Man sadly does not come out until several weeks hence, but I would encourage you to entice readers 12 and up—adults very much included—with a preorder of this spellbinding novel as a Chanukah gift.

In fact, there’s a full season ahead of great titles to await, so here’s a quick list of books to look forward to reading over the Festival of Lights:


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Eight Nights with Hevria: Ardor and The Age of Prophecy

Monday, December 22, 2014 | Permalink

One year ago, the Jewish Book Council launched the 8 Nights of Stories series on The ProsenPeople. For each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council set out to help our readers find more stories—to read to children, to share with young adults, and to read on your own after the kids are in bed. For Chanukah 5775, we’re delighted to partner with the writers of Hevria, a new collaborative of Jewish self-identified creators, as guest contributors over the next eight nights.

For the third installment, Hevria contributors Eric Kaplan and Chaya Lester write about the stories they think most worth sharing:

Eric Kaplan

In Ardor, Roberto Calasso writes about ancient texts as if they are postmodern texts, and by so doing lets us see the Vedas as the most intimate writing, like a remembered dream we are afraid to share because we don't know if it makes sense. He changes your sense of what makes sense and gives you the courage to express thoughts you were afraid to know you had.

Chaya Lester

Introducing the Jewish Harry Potter: The Age of Prophecy by Dave Mason! This Biblical thriller is set in the era not long after King David. The book is exotic and mystic, full of danger, wisdom and intrigue. But it's for kids. And it's more educational than any Hebrew School. It's as fact-based as a doctorate, but with a story-line from a block-buster screen-play. We all want our kids to veggies right...but want them to think its chocolate. That is what this book is. Jewish health-food that tastes like Godiva. And the kicker is that you'll want to scarf this masterpiece down, too!

View the full Eight Nights of Stories series, in partnership this year with Hevria!

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  • Lauren Grodstein: Growing to Love Hebrew School
  • Eight Nights with Hevria: The Little Prince and The Secret Life of God

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014 | Permalink

    One year ago, the Jewish Book Council launched the 8 Nights of Stories series on The ProsenPeople. For each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council set out to help our readers find more stories—to read to children, to share with young adults, and to read on your own after the kids are in bed. For Chanukah 5775, we’re delighted to partner with the writers of Hevria, a new collaborative of Jewish self-identified creators, as guest contributors over the next eight nights.

    For the second installment, Hevria contrubitors Rochel Spangenthal and Salvador Litvak write about the stories they think most worth sharing:

    Rochel Spangenthal

    There is a part of me that grew up. There is a part of me that didn't. Both of those parts treasure The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry a book whose cover is worn from the excited grasps of young and old readers alike.

    The story is simple. A young boy, who has never really found anyone who understands him, grows up and eventually becomes a pilot. When his plane crashes in a desert, he meets the Little Prince—a charming (but confusing) young explorer who is the prince of his own Astroid. In their brief encounter, the young prince reminds the pilot of how simple and beautiful life can be.

    The book is no thicker than your iPhone. It can be read in an hour—maybe two, if you take time to truly appreciate the simple and fresh illustrations. But the truths and magical realities of childhood are hidden in this short fairy tale.

    There is a reason that The Little Prince is one of the best-selling books ever published (140 million copies have been sold to date). Get the 140,000,001st copy and find out why.

    Salvador Litvak

    A book that changed my life was The Secret Life of G-d by David Aaron.

    It was my door into Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah. It broke down my deep seated fallacy about G-d as an Infinite Other whom I struggle to petition, praise, or placate.

    It laid out in clear terms that the perfection we ascribe to G-d is actually a limitation. G-d has to have the power to evolve and improve, or G-d would lack something.

    How can a "perfect" Being evolve? Through us. We can evolve. We are partners in the Creation with a job to do.

    And Rabbi Aaron has a good sense of humor.

    View the full Eight Nights of Stories series, in partnership this year with Hevria!

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    Eight Nights with Hevria: King Solomon and How to Write

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Permalink

    One year ago, the Jewish Book Council launched the 8 Nights of Stories series on The ProsenPeople. For each of the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Book Council set out to help our readers find more stories—to read to children, to share with young adults, and to read on your own after the kids are in bed. For Chanukah 5775, we’re delighted to partner with the writers of Hevria, a new collaborative of Jewish self-identified creators, as guest contributors over the next eight nights.

    To kick the series off this year, Hevria co-founders Matthue Roth and Elad Nehorai share the stories they think most worth sharing:

    Matthue Roth

    When I was a kid, I had an old, heavy hardcover edition of the book Stories of King Solomon by Lillian S. Freehof. The illustrations were vintage '70s papercuts in psychedelic colors. Each story wasn't more than 2 or 3 pages, and I hadn't yet learned to call them midrashim. But the stories it was filled with were magical and miraculous: his magic carpet, the quest for the worm that could cut through mountains, the demon Asmodeus who was as clever as Solomon, but was evil, and once altered his image and replaced him. Disney princesses serve their own purpose, but I want my kids to grow up to think that THIS is royalty.

    Elad Nehorai

    If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland changed my life. I walked into Barnes and Noble, a young college kid who just realized he wanted to take up writing. Then I saw this book that seemed about right called, If You Want to Write. I wanted to write! So I picked it up, having no idea what was inside.

    It turns out that it was written by a cool beatnik lady in 1938 named Brenda Ueland. Ueland opened my eyes for the first time into what writing, and all art, was at its core: an expression of our soul.

    From the very beginning, she writes with enthusiasm and a clear love for her reader, showing that heart is so much more powerful than "mere memory" and that a writer must learn to rise over the traumatic rejection they've often had to face as sensitive people in a world that is often cynical and negative, crushing the potentially positive, alive people of the world.

    Ueland guides her readers as only she can into an exploration of the artist's essence and potential, showing them what they really can become when they stop listening to the people stuck in their minds and start embracing the part of themselves that just wants to cry when it sees a sunset.

    An absolute necessity for anyone who "wants to write".

    Check back tomorrow for the next installment of Eight Nights of Stories, in partnership this year with Hevria!

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    Eight Nights of Stories: The Yiddish Masters

    Wednesday, November 13, 2013 | Permalink

    Posted by Nat Bernstein

    Yes, if you’re wondering, my parents have been following the entire Eight Nights of Stories blog series. My mom has no memory of the night she introduced her children to Harry Potter—in fact, she doesn’t recall reading it aloud to us at all—but she still loved the post. [Insert obligatory my-parents-would-love-anything-I-write comment here.] And maybe it’s better she forgot, because within another week she was wretchedly disappointed to discover that each of us possessing the adequate reading skills had stolen the book to read ahead, quietly returned it to its hiding spot by the end of each day, and feigned innocence when she brought it out again at bedtime. That was the true magic of The Sorcerer’s Stone: even (but not only) the mildest of kids would literally lie, cheat, and steal to READ.

    After reading about that first night, though, my mother reminded me of a book she read to us every year, each night of Chanukah. For this last installment of Eight Nights of Stories, I think it’s nice to come full-circle from that inaugural introductory post with another memorable Chanukah read from my own childhood, selected and read aloud by my Ema.

    The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer
    Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer crafted this little-known collection for children in 1990: eight endlessly engaging tales, one for each night, set in the Poland of his youth. The Power of Light is arguably the ultimate Chanukah book. Written for a young audience and accentuate with lovely paintings by Irene Lieblich, Singer’s holiday stories speak to readers of all ages, eliciting as strong a response from kids as from the parents reading to them. It’s the perfect book to share.

    Hanukah Money by Scholem Aleichem; Uri Shulevitz, illus.
    Scholem Aleichem (he’s so hot right now) produced his own Chanukah book the year following Singer’s, also delving into the world he left behind. Two young brothers traipse about their snowy shtetl, introducing us to a host of quirky relatives along their mission to determine how much gelt they’ll get for Chanukah. Yes, it’s the world of Tevye the Dairyman from the child’s perspective, capturing the same humor and appreciation for absurdity of Scholem Aleichem’s stories for adults. Hanukah Money is a bit of an obscure work, but similarly enjoyable for readers across the board.

    Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer; Maurice Sendak, illus.
    Shulevitz’s illustrations for Hanukah Money often draws comparison the work of artist and children’s author Maurice Sendak, which brings us back to Isaac Bashevis Singer and his 1965 classic, Zlateh the Goat. This collection of Jewish folktales was the first of Singer’s compilations of stories for children, and the magic and foolery found within it have proven timeless. Written (and translated) simply and thoughtfully, the text is as clear and wondrous to children now as it was half a century ago.

    The Seven Good Years: And Other Stories of I.L. Peretz Esther Hautzig, trans.; Deborah Kogan Ray, illus.
    From another master of Yiddish literature, the ten stories in this collection are both appropriate for young readers and different enough to engage older children and teens. Peretz’s style is less campy and more directly critical of human behavior and false piety, and while this collection adapts his work for children, the stories retain their sophistication and mature appeal.

    After the kids are asleep…

    It’s been a great year for Scholem Aleichem. I could recommend several new biographies or anthologies, but it probably doesn’t get any better than biographer/Yiddishist Jeremy Dauber’s handpicked selection: If You Read Just Ten Stories by Scholem Aleichem.

    It’s also well worth your while to (re)discover I.B.’s older brother with the recent republication of The Brothers Ashkenazi by I.J. Singer. This groundbreaking Yiddish novel on sibling relationships rivaled Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind on The New York Times Best Seller list when the English translation was first published in 1936, and the craft and themes of I.J. Singer’s writing remain eternally striking and relevant in this new edition.

    Want to view the entire Eight Nights of Stories series all in one place? Click here.

    Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a... Rabbi?

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013 | Permalink

    Read all of the posts in our Eight Nights of Stories series here.

    Hanukkah Bear by Eric A. Kimmel; illus. Mike Wohnoutka
    I have to admit, I was extremely puzzled when I first approached this book. It looked completely unfamiliar, yet I knew I had read this story somewhere before.

    So have you, if you held a subscription to Cricket magazine two decades ago. Originally published in Cricket and as a 1990 picture book under the title The Chanukah Guest, Hanukkah Bear is a new rendition of the Eric Kimmel classic, out this year. Once more, our nonagenarian heroine Bubba Brayna welcomes the wooly “rabbi” into her home for Chanukah: she lights the candles, plays a game of dreidel, feeds her guest steaming, scrumptious latkes, and sends him home with a new knitted scarf before her friends arrive and discover her foolish mistake!

    I wouldn’t say that Hanukkah Bear is an improvement on it’s original incarnation; nor is it an inferior edition, either: Holiday House merely seems to be trying to achieve something very different with the story than the original publication strove for—as evidenced by the very titles of each book. Where The Chanukah Guest relied on subtlety, Hanukkah Bear goes for the overt. The former maintained the Cricket air of sophistication in stories for young readers; the latter adopts a childish text font and warm, cartoonish illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka—a stark contrast to Giora Carmi’s subdued renderings. Thought the text remains, as far as I can recall, unchanged, Hanukkah Bear bends toward a younger readership than its predecessor by dint of aesthetics alone. It is certainly a charming book for readers 4-8, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more longevity, see if you can get your hands on a copy of the original title.

    Of course, what lends Hanukkah Bear its plot is the twist of mistaken identity—a literary ploy crucial to virtually every superhero narrative. It's the apex of dramatic irony in the comic book world: the one thing we are allowed to know outside of the action as it unfolds. It's exhilarating and often amusing whenever Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne narrowly avoid discovery, much like when Bubba Brayna unwittingly faces off with a hungry bear. But what about the average schmo who's mistaken for a hero? Reeling from the legal controversy over the ownership of Superman, Clark Kent creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster dreamed up the mortal Funnyman, a television comedian who develops a taste for humorously fighting crime. The full collection of comic books and newspaper strips have been reproduced in Siegel and Shuster's Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero From the Creators of Superman edited by Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon, interlaced with historical explanations and critical essays. Teens who appreciate comic books, mid-century cultural history, or a good wisecrack ought to get a taste of this Superman side project and legitimate piece of Jewish American history.

    After the kids are asleep...

    Maybe you'd like a graphic novel for yourself? In a dark twist on the mistaken-for-a-rabbi premise of Hanukkah Bear, The Big Kahn by Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani follows the three children of a fictional (and fictitious) prominent rabbi as they cope with the discovery that their father had been living a lie right up to his death: Rabbi David Kahn, now deceased, was never Jewish. The Big Kahn is a graphic novel for adults: the depictions of sex and complex adult relationships might not be appropriate for younger readers; anyone considering this book for a teenager should make sure to it passes a parental review first.

    But tonight's theme also involves the welcoming of strange guests, and it doesn't get much better than the S.Y. Agnon classic A Guest for the Night.

    Eight Nights of Snicket

    Monday, November 11, 2013 | Permalink

    Read all of the posts in our Eight Nights of Stories series here.

    The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket; Lisa Brown, illus.
    On a year when Chanukah and Christmas fall nowhere near each other on the calendar—hardly in the same season, really—the challenge of finding contemporary Chanukah stories that don't in some way confront the Jewish experience of American Yuletide becomes much more strongly defined. Suddenly, it doesn't make sense to talk about Christmas, however preoccupied we are about it any other year. So why, when we've avoided all other tales of holiday encounters, are we featuring "A Christmas Story"? Two reasons, mainly: 1) It isn't just a Christmas story, or just a Chanukah one, either, and 2) it's written by Lemony Snicket, and it is a really, really great book.

    If you aren’t reading Lemony Snicket with your kids already, you should be. Snicket consistently delivers impossibly well-written, enjoyable literature for children and teens, and The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming undeniably bears his signature. Snicket operates on curiosity, which partly accounts for writing this short “Christmas Story” about a latke—a screaming latke, at that. In his usual brilliance, Snicket succinctly explains the history and customs of Chanukah with the same flourish he administers to unusual vocabulary or phrasing, and no one can wield words like “arrondissement” or “unabated” in children’s literature quite like him. As our potato pancake protagonist attempts to make himself understood to an assortment of Christmas ornaments, it becomes increasingly evident that the book’s message is not only about the Jewish experience of Yuletide culture but, more importantly, about the universal childhood frustration of being misunderstood.

    Snicket writes smart books. Period. He trusts in young readers’ appreciation for sophisticated humor and eloquence, and educates with discerning alternation between subtlety and brazenness. Kids love his stories and imbibe his insistence on impeccable diction and grammar without even realizing it: I have several friends who only comprehended how much they’d learned from reading Snicket in their youth when they sat down to their first practice SATs. Abound with winks to the adult audience, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming promises amusement for readers of any age—but why stop there? Advanced readers will love A Series of Unfortunate Events and Snicket’s newest oncoming series, All the Wrong Questions; he has also published a collection of imaginative books for younger readers—13 Words with illustrations by Maira Kalman is a personal favorite.

    Finding Lemony Snicket too childish for young adults? Try his quieter collaboration with Maira Kalman: Why We Broke Up, published under the author’s real name, Daniel Handler. Written as a beautifully illustrated letter ending a teenage relationship, Why We Broke Up focuses on the everyday objects that acquire the bittersweet significance of fraught young love. The unflinching writing is more relevant to your teen’s life than you might realize—and if it isn’t yet, it will be.

    After the kids are asleep...

    But in keeping with tonight’s theme of humorous Christmas-Chanukah dialogue, give yourself a giggle with Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Hanukkah” Op-Ed for The New York Times.

    Eight Nights of Stories; Three Nights of Kafka

    Friday, November 08, 2013 | Permalink

    We're leaving you with three nights' worth of reading in one book for the weekend, but don't worry: Eight Nights of Stories continues next week!
    What's this all about? Read the introduction to the Eight Nights of Stories series here and find all posts from the series here.

    My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs by Matthue Roth

    There’s a sort of wonderment to Franz Kafka’s perspective on the world that adults generally miss or mistake for bleakness, but it isn’t lost on kids. As Matthue Roth discovered while reading Kafka stories to his own children, there’s a delightful creepiness and wry humor in these works that just clicks with young readers. Honestly, between the collapse of reality into the imaginary and an alluring dash of terror, all that really separates Kafka from Where the Wild Things Are are Maurice Sendak’s enchanting illustrations—and now Kafka has them, too: Rohan Daniel Eason’s stark, intricate black-and-white etchings somehow capture, more expression than colors ever could, transmitting a sense of constant, warped movement on each page.

    My First Kafka introduces “The Metamorphosis”, “An Excursion in the Mountains”, and “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk” to readers 5 and up—and I mean all the way up. But for readers ready to cast aside the picture book, RocketChair Media has developed a whimsical iPad app that transforms “The Metamorphosis” into a truly captivating interactive experience. To clarify: this is not an e-book; it’s an app that forces the reader to virtually enter the story, effectively simulating Gregor Samsa’s disorientation upon waking one morning to find himself utterly transformed.

    After the kids are asleep...

    You thought I’d suggest some more Kafka for you tonight, eh? Sure, go for it! I would never discourage anyone from reading more Kafka. But maybe you feel that you’ve hit your Kafka quota for the night—perfectly understandable. In any case, I recommend switching to Bruno Schultz for the latter portion of your evening, especially if you’ve never read him before. And even if you have, as with Kafka’s works, The Street of Crocodiles is always worth a re-read: you’ll see something completely different with each subsequent encounter.

    Chanukah Adaptations

    Thursday, November 07, 2013 | Permalink

    Making our way through a stack of recently published children's Chanukah books for our first 8 Nights of Stories series, we were charmed by some familiar echoes harking back to a few of our favorite children's classics. Read all of the posts in our Eight Nights of Stories series here.

    If you loved...

    Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
    Tomie de Paola's iconic Calabrese fairy godmother entrusts the care of her home and garden to Big Anthony, who can't resist the temptation of her magic pasta pot. If you're familiar with The Sorcerer's Apprentice, you know how this goes.

    ...your kids will like:

    The Golem's Latkes by Eric A. Kimmel; Aaron Jasinski, illus.
    With the Golem hanging around Rabbi Judah's house, why should housemaid Basha do all the work? With plenty of guests coming over for the first night of Chanukah, Basha sets the Golem to sweeping, mopping, and making latkes. But who will tell the Golem to stop?

    If you loved...

    A Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter
    Mischievous mice Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca make a mess of the lovely dollhouse wherein Lucinda and her cook-doll, Jane, reside, only to regret their impulsive acts of vandalism and theft. How will they make amends for their naughty behavior?

    ...your kids will like:

    The Hanukkah Mice by Steven Kroll; Michelle Shapiro, illus.
    A family of mice living in the Stillman's basement move into a dollhouse that arrives on the first night of Hanukkah. With each night of the holiday, new furnishments miraculously materialize in the miniature home. But where are these gifts coming from?

    If you loved...

    Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
    The beloved moonlight walk of a boy with a vivid imagination and a crayon to match.

    ...your kids will like:

    Journey by Aaron Becker
    Ok, this book doesn't really have a Chanukah theme: it's just lovely. The wordless journey of a lonely girl and her vermilion chalk through a breathtaking world of fantasy rendered by Amherst-based artist Aaron Becker, The New York Times Book Review aptly deems this picture book "A masterwork. A beauty distinctly its own."

    If you loved...

    It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach
    The classic Yiddish folktale of an overcrowded house and a wise rabbi's bewildering instructions to its disgruntled inhabitants.

    ...your kids will like:

    A Horse for Hanukkah by Myriam Halberstam; Nancy Cote, illus.
    On the first night of Hanukkah, Hannah receives the gift she's been wishing for: a horse! But having a horse in the house is much more hassle than Hannah anticipated, and each night of the holiday ends in equine mishap. As the eighth night of Hanukkah draws nigh, what will her family do? Sweet illustrations, holiday customs, and a smattering of Hebrew expressions enhance this festive be-careful-what-you-wish-for story about resorting to reasonable wishes.

    If you loved...

    "The Brave Little Tailor" by the Brothers Grimm
    Tale number 20 of the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm: a confident young man sets out into the world and takes on a giant, outwitting him at every challenge.

    ...your kids will like:

    Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel; Trina Schart Hyman, illus.
    Read why here.

    Check back tomorrow for the next installment of the Jewish Book Council Eight Nights of Stories series!


    Wednesday, November 06, 2013 | Permalink

    Welcome to the second installment of the Jewish Book Council's Eight Nights of Stories series! Missed yesterday's reading list on Hanukkah magic? Catch up here.
    What's Eight Nights of Stories all about? Read Nat's explanatory blog post!

    Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen

    There can’t possibly be a better book, for readers of any age, for the intersection of Chanukah and Thanksgiving. My mother (she who recognized the potential for Harry Potter well before its popularity soared in North America, remember) has always averred that Molly’s Pilgrim is one of the best children’s books ever written, period. Barbara Cohen masterfully unravels the complex subject of American identity for young readers through the simple story of a Jewish Russian immigrant girl’s Thanksgiving school assignment. The narrative is timeless, and speaks to universal experiences of otherness, heritage, and childhood. It’s a book to be read every autumn, year after year.

    Does your teen need an update to this story? YA novel Losers by Matthue Roth also focuses on the Russian immigrant experience in the American classroom, similarly addressing questions of identity and belonging, but with an edgier, older twist.

    If Molly's Pilgrim sparks an interest in the experience of Russian Jews, it's shared with Emma Lazarus, the Jewish American poet best known for composing the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Libert by Linda Glaser and illustrated by Claire A Nivola detail Lazarus' young mentorship under Ralph Waldo Emerson, blossoming career of poetry and political activism, and her commission for "The New Colossus".

    Nadia Kalman was 2010 Sami Rohr Prize finalist for her debut work of fiction, The Cosmopolitans. The novel follows the stories of an aging Russian immigrant couple in suburban Massachusetts and their three adult daughters, each family member facing challenges of identity and human interaction. The Cosmopolitans is blunt: it doesn't crow the feel-good, inspiring ending of Molly's Pilgrim, but it is darkly humorous, delivering a very real taste of the modern Russian American family.