Graphic novel about the rescue of Jewish children wins award

Kathryn Shoemaker and Irene N. Watts have won a second award for their graphic novel Seeking Refuge, published by Tradewind Books.

The book has won in the category of “Children & Youth” for the Jonathan & Heather Berkowitz Prize.


​Seeking Refuge captures Irene Watts’ experiences when she was sent to England from Germany on the Kindertransport at the age of seven. This was a military operation that saved almost 10,000 Jewish children during WWII. ​

IRENE N. WATTS has written poems, plays, novels and non-fiction books. As a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, she wrote and directed plays for young audiences to be performed at schools.

KATHRYN E. SHOEMAKER is the illustrator of more than 40 books for children. She has broad experience as an art teacher, curriculum specialist, filmmaker, fund raiser and event designer. She teaches children’s literature at UBC.

The Western Canada Jewish Book Awards are part of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival in Vancouver. This initiative is designed to celebrate excellence in writing on Jewish themes / subjects and showcase the achievements of authors who reside west of the Ontario/Manitoba border, including the Northern regions. The Awards aim to recognize these writers’ contribution to Jewish culture by. For the 2018 awards, books published in 2016 and 2017 were accepted.


The Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival is one of Vancouver’s leading cultural and literary events, attracting a large and varied audience of over 5,000 people of all ages. This highly popular community-wide event brings together prominent and emerging Jewish writers and non-Jewish writers with Jewish interest subject matter in literature, the arts, philosophy, theology, history and current events over 5-6 days in November, which is Jewish Book Month. In 2018, the 34th annual Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival will take place between Nov 24th-29th.

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Tiffany Stone Book Launch – April 20th, 2018

Please join Tiffany Stone as she celebrates the launch of her brand-new picture book, Tree Song, published by Annick Press!

When: Friday, April 20th, 2018, 7-9 pm
Where: Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art
3696 West 8th Avenue (at Alma) in Vancouver


Listen to the music of the trees.

This joyful book follows the life cycle of a tree as it grows from seedling to mature tree, and finally gives way to a new sapling. At every stage of the tree’s life, children are seen playing under its branches.

Tiffany Stone

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Silvana Goldemberg: Playing with Words, by Pam Withers

Growing up in Villaguay, Argentina, Silvana Goldemberg was surrounded by reading, writing, love and humour. Not only did her grandfather tell fun stories and her mother read books to the gathered family, but late into the night, Silvana could hear the clack-clack of her mother’s typewriter creating children’s books.

All that changed in 1994 when a Buenos Aires Iranian bomb took the life of Silvana’s brother-in-law, leaving his three children, including a three-month-old, fatherless. Murders and robberies grew rife, and remain prevalent to this day, she says.

So, Silvana and her husband began to research safer countries for bringing up their two daughters. They felt fortunate when they were able to move to Vancouver and gain Canadian citizenship by 2003.

Long before then, Silvana had become a kindergarten teacher, and used to write stories for her young students. She never imagined trying to publish any until her mother dared to “borrow” one, rework it and submit it to a contest in Ecuador with a double byline: her own and her daughter’s. Thrilled when it won, Silvana began writing and submitting children’s stories on her own, soon publishing them in Argentina, Peru and Cuba.

Her first Canadian stories were a collaboration between her and the late Max Tell, a fellow CWILL-BC member. It became a self-published audiobook in English and Spanish. Her 2013 Tradewind young-adult book Victoria was a finalist for the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature BC Book Prize. Its focus on Argentinian street kids offered Canadian children a wider perspective.

To date, Silvana has published more than 20 books, some in English and some in Spanish, including novels, short stories, poems, word games, nonfiction, plays and scripts. She also teaches Spanish and creative writing, babysits, works in a pizza place (her favorite pizzas have anchovies), and runs the Spanish Book Fair (coming up for its third year) in collaboration with the Vancouver Public Library.








Of these, teaching Spanish is one of her favorite activities because she feels passionate that immigrant parents should help their children start life bilingual. “It’s easier when they’re younger than when they’re older, and it helps them keep the culture and stay in communication with their family and friends, especially grandparents abroad. Also, we’re living in a small world and we need more languages; it’s good for traveling, for knowing more people, for studying and for getting more job opportunities.”

She adds that while it was a challenge coming from a Spanish-speaking to English-speaking country, “Now I’m happy I have two languages to play with.”

As if those activities are not enough, Silvana also paddles canoes and kayaks, plays soccer and walks her three dogs daily. Meanwhile, both her university-age, bilingual daughters have taken up the family tradition. The oldest has won three awards for plays, and the second writes stand-up comedy.

“I write mostly with humour,” Silvana says. “I especially like rhymes. I grew up reading and playing with words. My husband and girls, we play with words. It’s the thing I like most. I also like real stories and short stories. My favorite authors in English are Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck.”

As an activist, she works “to prevent things like what happened to my brother-in-law in Argentina, I do my best to help Canadian organizations that fight terrorism and antisemitism.”

She’s also currently working with a First Nations man, helping him write his life story in middle-grade, chapter-book form. She has no favorite book, genre or age group. “I like them all, as long as they are well written.”

Another work-in-progress: “my first non-fiction book in Spanish with tips and exercises for new writers ages 7 to 120.”

A long-time member of CWILL-BC, she appreciates the workshops, socializing and opportunities for asking advice.

But she’s lucky to still have her mother for advice as well. They speak by phone several times weekly. And today, at 83, Susana Goldemberg continues to publish children’s stories, even with more than dozens of books to her name and more than 100 awards.

Like her first role model, Silvana writes whenever, wherever she can – in the kitchen while family members are slow to drag themselves to the supper table, or on her tablet when kept waiting at the doctor’s office.

She’s surrounded by reading, writing, love and humour. She’s busy, happy and proud to be Canadian. Meanwhile Canada, and especially CWILL-BC, is proud to have her.

Pam Withers has written 17 YA adventure novels.




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Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize 2018

Congratulations to BC Book Prizes finalists Norma Charles and Kallie George, who are shortlisted for the 2018 Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize!

Runner: Harry Jerome, World’s Fastest Man
by Norma Charles
Publisher: Red Deer Press

Harry Jerome is one of Canada’s forgotten heroes. From a skinny little kid growing up in St. Boniface, MB, he rose to become “the fastest man in the world,” a title he held for an incredible eight years. He achieved this, despite having to battle the prejudices he and his family had to overcome, on account of their African-Canadian heritage.

In this engaging and inspiring novel, acclaimed children’s writer Norma Charles has woven together Harry’s fascinating life story from facts gathered through research; interviews with his family, friends, and coach; and also from her own memories of his races at UBC when she was a student there.

Norma Charles is an award-winning children’s author. She is the author of several bestselling picture books including See You Later, Alligator and All the Way to Mexico.

Heartwood Hotel Book 1: A True Home
by Kallie George
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

When Mona the mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes the staff will let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But it’s not all acorn soufflé and soft, moss-lined beds. Danger lurks nearby, and as it approaches, Mona has to use all her wits to protect the place she’s come to love. Because this hotel is more than a warm shelter for the night. It might also be a home.

Kallie George works as an author and editor in Vancouver, BC. She is also a public speaker and leads workshops for aspiring writers.


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Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature Honours Irene Watts and Kathryn Shoemaker

Irene Watts

Following a successful re-launch in 2016, the Vine Awards for Jewish Literature honoured four Canadian writers on October 3rd, 2017 at the Park Hyatt in Toronto. Each of the winning authors at the luncheon was presented with a unique glass Vine Awards trophy and a $10,000 prize.

Kathryn Shoemaker





In the category of children’s literature, the award was shared between author Irene Watts and illustrator Kathryn Shoemaker. They gave their acceptance speeches together, approaching the podium and quipping, “We do everything together.”

Watts then shared an anecdote of her childhood, saying that she was seven years old in 1938, when she was placed on a Kindertransport train with 200 other children and rescued from a Nazi-controlled area just before the war broke out. “Who would have guessed I would end up here?” she said as she accepted the award for her book with Shoemaker, Seeking Refuge.

The Vine Awards are given based on literary merit to both Jewish and non-Jewish authors who engage dynamically with Jewish themes, traditions, or history in their works. The four categories are fiction, non-fiction, history, and children’s writing, with an additional poetry prize awarded every three years.

Abridged from an article in Open Book



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Author/Illustrator Jami Gigot: Never without a sketchbook in her back pocket, by Pam Withers

It was the movie Toy Story that inspired Jami Gigot to move from her Madison, Wisconsin home to Vancouver – to study animation and visual effects at Vancouver Film School.

Always enamoured by her love of a good story (“My mom was always reading to me, and I had a big collection of Nancy Drew that I was given by my grandmother”), she dreamed of applying her skills to the movie industry. So after graduating, off she went to work on films in Los Angeles, then London, England – where she met her French-born, Tokyo-raised husband and had their first child.

When the BC film industry picked up, and an opportunity to move back to Vancouver arose in 2010, Jami happily returned with family in tow. It was just after having her second child that she began to focus her energy on working on her own stories and building an illustration portfolio. She soon realized that creating picture books was a true passion, and in 2015 her first picture book Mae and the Moon was published by Portland, Oregon-based Ripple Grove Press. In March of this year, her second book, Seb and the Sun, rolls off the same press.


Did we mention that her kids, Mae and Seb, are eight and six, and shyly proud of their mom’s new picture-book career?

In the meantime, Jami remains with her day job, Scanline Visual Effects, where she works as a vfx (visual effects) artist and digitally paints various characters, environments and props for a variety of film projects.

Does that make her cool? “Either that or a dork,” she responds with a laugh.

Jami begins her picture-book projects by brainstorming with a sketchbook in hand.

“When I have a glimpse of an idea in my head, I usually start by writing a rough manuscript, and then break it out into thumbnail sketches. My process is a little all over the place, a bit messy, to be honest.” When she assembles together a rough dummy book, she finds that she deletes many of the words she starts with, simply because the illustrations tell the story better. Finally, when the dummy’s ready for feedback, she sends it off to her critique group.

She met her critique partners though an online forum for writers and illustrators called 12X12. Members support one another while endeavouring to put out 12 manuscripts in 12 months. She finds them particularly helpful in that most are writers, not illustrators, and writing does not yet come as easily to her.

The next stop is her New York City-based agent, followed by lots of reworking, the status she’s at with several projects on the go now.

One of Jami’s challenges is finding creative time for picture books between her busy 9-5 and family life. “I try to find time in the little bits and pockets during the day. You have to squeeze in the time when you can; find that creative space.”

She’s enthused about having joined CWILL-BC a year ago. “It has been wonderful to meet fellow illustrators and writers who are so welcoming and have a lot of experience and advice.”

While shy about offering advice when she still feels like a newbie herself, she says what has helped her most is to never be without a notebook in her pocket. “You never know when an idea might strike you.”

Nor when your children just might star in it. Welcome to CWILL-BC, Jami.

Pam Withers has written 17 YA adventure novels.


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