Today is publication day! The Year of Goodbyes is about my mother’s experience in 1938 Nazi Germany. It’s about what that year was like for my mom, then a tween with the usual concerns about friends, gymnastics, and the latest American movies–but also a girl who saw her friends and their families inexplicably disappear; who heard whispers about mysterious places called “concentration camps”; who saw her father’s increasingly desperate efforts to navigate the less-than-welcoming U.S. immigration and visa system. (Click here for more information about the book.)
This is a re-issue of The Year of Goodbyes, which originally came out in 2010. It has a new cover, which I love; newly designed interior pages, which I love; and a spot-on foreword by kids’ author extraordinaire Tom Angleberger, which I love. I’m grateful to my publisher, Disney-Hyperion, for giving this book a new lease on life. I’ll be talking about The Year of Goodbyes at events this fall, starting tomorrow at a forum focused on the impact of immigration on children coming into the United States, convened by the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation of Greater Washington, DC.
With four books released between August and November–this will never happen again in my writing life!–I don’t have a launch event planned specifically for The Year of Goodbyes. So this post is my book party, complete with a couple of photos from our very celebratory 2010 launch. The Year of Goodbyes is a Parents’ Choice Award winner, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book, a VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Nonfiction Honor book–and it’s so close to my heart. Please help me spread the word, and put my mother’s story, as relevant today as it was a decade ago, in the hands of readers everywhere.
(The book’s cover photo, by the way, is Mom on the deck of the RMS Queen Mary in November 1938, on her way to New York City. Coincidentally, a few days ago The Washington Post ran an article about the ship’s role in bringing Jews to the United States. Some great photos and a video there, too.)
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Today is publication day for my two newest picture books! I’ll let a couple of the reviews introduce these stories to you:
The Key from Spain, from Kar-Ben Publishing. “Levy’s captivating picture book biography tells the story of Flory Jagoda, known today as the ‘Keeper of the Flame’ of Sephardic culture and music. . . . Levy’s writing and Wimmer’s mixed-media illustrations strike the perfect synergy, working together to celebrate music, heritage, and family histories. The writing is poetic and lyrical, effortlessly weaving centuries of history into the story while maintaining a strikingly intimate tone. Wimmer’s illustrations are nuanced, and readers will enjoy discovering new details upon each rereading of the book.” (School Library Journal, starred review.)
Yiddish Saves the Day! from Apples & Honey Press. “Levy’s story is built on the specific and delightful premise that Yiddish is a language with superpowers. . . The Yiddish once spoken broadly among Ashkenazic Jews, from secular to observant, and the cornerstone of an incredible body of literature, has faded from daily life. Readers can kvell that Yiddish Saves the Day brings this world back to life for readers too young to have known it was gone.” (Jewish Book Council review.)
Did I set out to have two books of Jewish interest published on the same day by different publishers? I did not. We authors don’t have that kind of control! But I’m delighted on this August 1st to bring stories of two different Jewish cultures–Sephardic and Ashkenazic–to young readers and their families.
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Nine-and-a-half years ago, Disney-Hyperion published my book about my mother’s—Jutta’s—last year living in Nazi Germany before Europe exploded and she and her family made their way to the United States. The Year of Goodbyes reached people across the country—people familiar with stories of refugees from Hitler’s terror, and people who were learning about what life was like for Jews in that era for the very first time. Mom and I went to schools, conferences, luncheons, and other events where we talked about her story.
We talked to many people, my mother and I did, and the book had quite a few readers—but to an author there can never be enough readers. And at this particular moment in time there can never be enough readers of a story that puts them in the shoes of a young person on the receiving end of anti-Semitism, injustice, and hate. The Year of Goodbyes is also about the small treasures my mother’s friends gave her before they all scattered. Those treasures were the poems and proverbs Jutta’s friends wrote in her poesiealbum—a type of poetry album or friendship book. The pages these young people created provide the architecture of, and serve as springboards for, this true story.
Now, I’m really pleased and grateful to share news of a re-issue of The Year of Goodbyes, coming from Disney-Hyperion in September. It will have a new cover that will resemble a poesiealbum. The poesies that begin each chapter will be rendered more beautifully.
And there’s this: Tom Angleberger, beloved author of outstanding, creative, funny, full-of-heart books for kids, has written a foreword for the book. In it, this creator of the Origami Yoda series frames my mother’s story in a way that only someone who reaches kids where they live could. His essay at the beginning of this fresh edition is perfect.
For me, the impetus for a re-issue of this book began a couple of years ago. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia; during my senior year I lived on the Lawn, desecrated in August of 2017 by the neo-Nazi march and violence in Charlottesville. My mother never graduated from college but oh, how she loved UVa, which she knew as a young woman when she drove down to spend party weekends there with friends. The bold resurgence of white nationalism and anti-Semitism, including its presence in middle and high schools, reinforced my feeling that there could never be enough readers of my mother’s story. What’s happening feels personal.
It’s no slight to the other strong, accomplished, admirable, and lovely women of my more recent books—Jo Ann Allen Boyce of This Promise of Change, Ruth Bader Ginsburg of I Dissent—to say that Jutta Salzberg Levy of The Year of Goodbyes has an unrivalled place in my heart. It’s my book about my mother, and that puts it in a category of its own. So I know that Jo Ann and Justice Ginsburg will completely understand if I close by remembering that, when I used to talk with Mom on the telephone (she died in 2013), and we were wrapping up the call, I’d say “I love you” as part of my goodbyes. We all do, right?
“Love you more!” she’d sing out and then, BAM! hang up lickety-split. She wanted the last word. Love you more.