Remarks read at the Association for Library Service to Children Awards Ceremony held on June 26, 2023, in Chicago, as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Library Association.

“What a thrill it is for me to be here at this meeting of the American Library Association.I can still remember my astonishment to discover, when I was growing up, that there was a place called ‘the library’ where you could find what seemed to me like every book in the world! That, of course, was not entirely true. In the 1950s and ’60s, for instance, relatively few children’s books were translated from other languages into English. In my case, as the
daughter of Italians who had immigrated to the United States, I would have loved to read books that had been written in my parents’ language and that Italian children read — but, with the exception of Pinocchio, those books were still out of reach.

Lia Levi’s autobiographical Just a Girl. A True Story of World War II describes the life of young Lia from elementary to early middle school age. Lia’s story is especially worth telling because it is also about being Jewish in Italy during World War II: it is about family life, school, friendship, and it is also about anti-semitism. It is about war and why there should never be any wars. It is about intolerance as well as kindness and hope. Lia never loses hope. The young Lia tells her story in a way that is poignant, profound, and inspirational, but funny, too. Her father loses his job, her family is separated, Lia and her sisters must go into hiding in a Catholic boarding school. The reader is moved, but often can’t help smiling because of the way spunky Lia tells her story. As her family is forced to move from city to city because of Italy’s racial laws, Lia tries to understand what is often inexplicable to her. Jewish fathers lose their jobs. She wonders: ‘Why would Mussolini want to get rid of some poor workers who spend the whole day in an office, some days without even a break?”Mussolini doesn’t want Jewish children in Italian schools,’ her mother tells her. ‘That’s silly! Who would ever believe something so ridiculous?’ Lia replies.

The beloved film critic Roger Ebert once said that movies are empathy machines. I would like to borrow that expression to say that in realizing the importance of children from one country knowing the books and stories of many other countries in order to create nearness and international understanding, Mildred Batchelder was able to turn children’s books into empathy machines. I like to imagine these small empathy machines as a paper fleet of ambassadors.

Thank you to Lia Levi for writing this book, to HarperCollins for understanding that it absolutely had to be translated into English and for asking me to translate it, and thank you to the amazing and esteemed Batchelder Award Selection Committee who chose Lia’s book for this year’s Mildred E. Batchelder Award.”

2023 Mildred L. Batchelder Award

“HarperCollins is the winner of the 2023 Mildred L. Batchelder Award for Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II. The award was announced by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), during the ALA’s LibLearnX: The Library Learning
Experience held January 27-30, in New Orleans. The Batchelder Award is given to the most outstanding children’s book originating in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States. Originally published in Italian in 2020 as Una bambina e basta. Raccontata agli altri bambini e basta, Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II was written by Lia Levi, illustrated by Jess Mason and translated by Sylvia Notini. During Mussolini’s reign, Lia and her family leave their home because of the persecution of Jews. Based on her adult memoir, Levi retells her story through the eyes of a young girl who experiences the racism and hatred of Jews during this period. ‘The interpretation of the theme, the clarity of presentation and plot, and the believable voice of the narrator make this book a clear choice’ said Batchelder Award Committee Chair Barbara Scotto.” 

The Awards Ceremony will be held at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, Ilinois, on June 26, 2023.

13th Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for an Outstanding Translation of a Scholarly Study of Literature

“The Modern Language Association of America awards its thirteenth Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for an Outstanding Translation of a Scholarly Study of Literature to Sylvia Adrian Notini for The Venetian Qur’an: A Renaissance Companion to Islam by Pier Mattia Tommasino (University of Pennsylvania Press).
In The Venetian Qur’an: A Renaissance Companion to Islam, Pier Mattia Tommasino traces the origins of an anonymous book, the Alcorano di Macometto, first published in Venice in 1547, in an extremely comprehensive work linking archival research with literary analysis and close readings. Tommasino examines the history of the translation of the book and its publication, outlines the publishing life of the real author of this text, and then places the purpose of this translation and its lasting influence in a tempestuous religious and political background that extends far beyond Venice. This work also serves as a commentary on the practice of translation across many languages and traditions, which are brought to life by Sylvia Adrian Notini’s elegant and compelling translation, which will induce the reader to follow the many steps of Tommasino’s interpretive interdisciplinary apparatus.”

The Awards Ceremony was held at the 135th MLA Annual Convention on January 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.