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- Sonia Levetin -


BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

* Born August 18, l934, in Berlin Germany; daughter of Max [a manufacturer] and Helene (Goldstein) Wolff;
* Came to the United States in l938;
* Married Lloyd Levitin (a corporate planning director), December 27, l953;
* Children: Daniel Joseph, Shari Diane.
* Education: University of California, Berkeley, student, 1952-54; University of Pennsylvania, B.S., 1956; San Francisco State College, graduate study, 1957-60.

Sonia Levitin grew up in a family with older two sisters. Her family moved to the United States because of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. They left all of their worldly goods and savings in Germany and escaped into Switzerland. They waited for a year there as their father went on to find a place for them in America. She grew up in poverty but pursued her education to college. Her family shared a feeling of guilt that they survived and were unable to save many relatives that had been left behind.

Her family moved back and forth between new York City and Los Angeles for several years until they settled in Southern California. Sonia married at nineteen and settled with her husband in the San Francisco area after finishing their schooling. After taking some classes to develop her writing skills, she began writing publicity releases and articles for magazines and newspapers. She was not able to be very successful with writing short stories and began writing about her family’s experiences when she was young. This grew into her first book, Journey to America. From there she went on to publish a new book almost every year.

Comments from the Author:
"While I was quite young, I began to imagine myself as a writer, and at the age of eleven, I confessed this ambition in a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder. She responded with a kind, encouraging note -- I still treasure her letter. Although I wrote an occasional poem while I was growing up, being a student and then a teacher left little time for my serious writing. When my first baby was born, I began writing in earnest. I wrote every single day, and after eight months I sold an article to a baby magazine. I enrolled in night classes at San Francisco State College and had the good fortune to study with Walter Van Tilburg Clark who taught me to write about that which I feel most deeply—and then to rewrite.
"My life is about equally divided between the two things I love the most: my family and home on the one hand, and writing on the other. Daniel and Shari help me more than they realize. I marvel at their curiosity and their ingenuity, two traits that every writer can use more of.
"To write is my overriding ambition. The greatest influences are my inner need to communicate, my admiration of artistic achievement, and the great pleasure I have derived from reading good books."



BIBLIOGRAPHY

All the Cats in the World, Harcourt, l982.
Annie’s Promise, Atheneum, l993.
A Piece of Home, Dial, l986.
A Season for Unicorns, Atheneum, l986.
A Single Speckled Egg, Parnassus, l975.
A Sound to Remember, Harcourt, l979.
Beyond Another Door, Atheneum, 1977.
Escape from Egypt, Little, Brown, l994.
Evil Encounter, Simon & Schuster, l996.
The Fisherman and the Bird, Houghton, l982.
The Golem and the Dragon Girl, Dial, 1993.
Incident at Loring Groves, Dial, l988.
Jason and the Money Tree, Harcourt, l974.
Journey to America, Atheneum l970.
The Man Who Kept His Heart in a Bucket, Dial, l991.
The Mark of Conte, Atheneum, l976.
Nine for California, Orchard Books, l986.
Nobody Stole the Pie, Harcourt, l980.
The No-Return Trail, Harcourt, l978.
Reigning Cats and Dogs, Atheneum, l978.
The Return, Atheneum, l987.
The Return, Ballantine, l992.
Rita the Weekend Rat, Atheneum, l971.
Roanoke: A Novel of the Last Colony, Atheneum, l973.
Silver Days, Atheneum, l989.
What They Did to Miss Lily, Harper, l981. (Under Sonia Wolff.)
Who Owns the Moon?, Parnassus, 1973.
The Year of Sweet Senior Insanity, Atheneum, l983.
Yesterday’s Child, Simon & Schuster, l997.



AWARDS

Journey to America
* Charles and Bertie G. Schwartz Award for Juvenile Fiction from the Jewish Book Council of America
* American Library Association Notable Book honors;

Roanoke: A Novel of the Lost Colony was nominated for the
* Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nomination
* Georgia Children’s Book Award nomination
* Mark Twain Award nomination

Who Owns the Moon?
* American Library Association Notable Book honors

The Mark of Conte
* Southern California Council on literature for Children and Young People Award for fiction
* California Young Reader Medal award nomination in the junior high category

The No-Return Trail
* Golden Spur Award from Western Writers of America
* Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

The Return
* Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People award for a distinguished contribution to the field of children’s literature
* National Jewish Book Award in Children’s Literature
* PEN Los Angeles Award for Young Adult Fiction
* Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award
* Austrian Youth Prize
* Catholic Children’s Book Prize (Germany)
* Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nomination
* Parent’s Choice Honor Book citation
* American Library Association best Book for Young Adults award

The Incident at Loring Groves
* Edgar Allen Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America
* Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nomination
* Nevada State Award nomination.



QUOTES FROM REVIEWS

The Return
* reviewed by Sheila Klass of New York Times Book Review:
"…a remarkable fictional account. The Return is crammed with history, as Sonia Levitin, the author of other distinguished books for young people about Jewish history, here tells the story of an entire people."
* reviewed by Booklist:
"Vivid and compelling…Whatever their religious persuasion, young people will be touched."
* reviewed by The Kirkus Reviews:
"Satisfying, enriching."
* reviewed by The Christian Science Monitor:
"[A] believable triumph of the individual human spirit over great challenges."

The Golem and the Dragon Girl
* reviewed by School Library Journal:
"Ghosts, music, and poltergeists blend in this satisfying story, rich in Chinese and Jewish culture… The them of knowing one’s own heritage in order to know and appreciate others is handled nicely."
* reviewed by The Kirkus Reviews:
"Levitin’s entertaining, well-written story…deals creatively with a number of significant themes."
* reviewed by Booklist:
"The characters are engaging, and the book’s pace is swift…Levitin shows off her writing skill…[and] keeps readers entertained."

Jason and the Money Tree
* reviewed by Booklist:
"A convincing mixture of commonplace and magical details with a dash of warm family relationships thrown in makes this far-fetched story fun, especially for reading aloud for a class (grades 4-7)."
* Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Marafino, English Department, Tunxis Community College, Farmington CT in Library Journal:
"Although Levitin throws a monkey wrench into this entertaining fantasy with a confusing discussion of dollar devaluation and the mechanics of the I.R.S., her characters ­ especially Jason and Mr. Matroni, an understanding shopkeeper—are all believable, and readers will be kept guessing as to the outcome of Jason’s unusual predicament."



SUMMARY OF BOOKS

The Golem and the Dragon Girl, Fawcett Juniper, 1993

We are separated less by our differences than by our difficulty in recognizing our similarities. This seems to be the message in Sonia Levitin’s The Golem and the Dragon Girl. She tells a story set in modern times of two pre-teens, both with strong cultural backgrounds, who discover how much they have in common. At the same time, they both reach a deeper appreciation for their own heritage.
Laurel does not want to move from her beloved home because she does not know how to bring her Chinese great-grandfather’s spirit with her. She has believed since she was a small girl that the ancestor she never had a chance to meet resides in the oak tree outside her father’s den. Laurel’s family is moving because her mother’s parents are finally getting the chance to come to America and will live with them.
Jonathan moves into the house reluctantly. He has not accepted his mother’s new marriage and does not want to leave behind his neighborhood or his Uncle Jake who has been helping him study Hebrew and the Torah. He believes that because of his strong feelings against his stepfather he has set into motion a golem, a spirit which can be destructive if created by hostile feelings.
Both Laurel and Jonathan experience a string of bad luck events which lead them to believe that they have set the spirits loose to create havoc. They learn through their own exploration and through trusting in their parents and elders that there are many unexplained things in the world. Laurel’s exploration of the dragon symbol in Chinese tradition tells her that the dragon represents unseen power in the universe. Like the energy from the Jewish golem spirit, it can be used for creative purposes or for destructive aims. As Laurel and Jonathan see that there is difficulty accepting change, there is also value and opportunity. The story closes with Jonathan reaching a new level of acceptance and appreciation for his stepfather. Laurel also realizes what a gift her grandparents will be to her for the rest of her life.

The Return, Atheneum, 1987

For thousands of years, from the days of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, people of Jewish faith lived in Ethiopia. They formed a subculture who lived within, but separated and oppressed by the other peoples of Ethiopia. Sonia Levitin’s The Return tells the story of a family’s journey to Israel where they are told that they will be welcomed home.
The story is told by the girl, Desta, who is nearing maturity. She tells of the prejudice and hostility that other Ethiopians have towards her people. When American visitors come to her village high in the Simien Mountains, Desta’s brother, Joas, becomes determined to leave Ethiopia and reach a Sudanese camp where he is promised passage to Israel. Desta is ambivalent about whether to stay with her aunt and uncle in the land she grew up in or to go with her brother on the dangerous journey. She is also troubled by pressure to marry Dan, the young man she was betrothed to at birth. Dan is also going to Israel with his grandmother and cousin.
Desta, Joas, and their little sister, Almaz, begin the journey alone, hoping to catch up with Dan’s family. However, they must hide from soldiers and hostile villagers, hope to find food and water, and travel in unfamiliar territory at night. Before they meet up, Joas is killed. The difficult part of their journey had only just begun. Crossing the border, Dan stays behind to divert soldiers and is taken prisoner. The others travel on through drought-forsaken land to come to the refugee camp in Sudan. There they see unspeakable sickness and death as they wait for the bus to come that will start the last leg of their trip. They are fortunate to board the bus and then travel by plane out of Sudan and into Israel. In Israel, they find a completely different way of life and many adjustments to be made. Desta finds that she has changed greatly on the journey, and when reunited with Dan, convinces him that it is too soon to marry. There are many other Ethiopian Jews being brought to Israel in a secret six month airlift before it is shut down by political pressures. They can only hope that someday they will be reunited with the rest of their loved ones.

Jason and the Money Tree, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974

This book ends as positively as it begins. Jason, always a "good and sensible boy" who is "eleven, going on twelve, nearly thirteen", decides to plant the ten dollars his dead grandfather gave him. A money tree grows, and Jason soon discovers that the "fruit it bears" can solve as many problems as it creates. It is enjoyable to look into the overreacting, blow-out-of-proportion-the-situation mind a young boy. Whether or not anyone will ever believe Jason, he knows that "nothing is impossible" and that money does grow on trees. (11 pictures, 121 pages)



UNIFYING ELEMENTS

While some of Levitin’s work focuses on humorous family tales, most of her work deals with developing stories around young people who must face major challenges. A recurring theme throughout her writings is the importance of her Jewish heritage. As Levitin states, "In each book, I try to do something different from the previous work. Themes and characters might repeat themselves, but I believe that my growth as a writer and as a person depends on accepting new challenges, deepening my experience and my efforts." Her works also consistently recognize the existence of another world, unseen by some and only seen by selected others.



STUDENT ACTIVITIES
1. Sentence collecting.
2. Genealogy tree.
3. Response log.
4. Student-directed vocabulary log.
5. Cultural perspective worksheet.



Page compiled in part by: Jean Marie Learman and Pamela M. Smith















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