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:
Nat Bernstein is the former Manager of Digital Content & Media, JBC Network Coordinator, and Contributing Editor at the Jewish Book Council and a graduate of Hampshire College.