Archive for the 'Shlemiel Crooks' Category

Anna Olswanger’s Shlemiel Crooks musical to premiere

Thursday, April 7th, 2011 by Brian Seidman

Shlemiel Crooks by Anna OlswangerA number of reviewers have complimented Anna Olswanger’s award-winning children’s book Shlemiel Crooks for the music of its Yiddish-inflected language. Now, Shlemiel Crooks and a number of Olswanger’s other stories will actually be set to music, as a new Shlemiel Crooks musical comes to the stage. Shlemiel Crooks: The Musical, directed by Wendy Gross Baker, premieres April 10 at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York, featuring the hall’s professional Poppy Seed Players troupe.

Shlemiel Crooks tells the story of a stalwart community’s effort to keep the ghost of Pharaoh from ruining Passover; the new musical will debut as the Poppy Seed Players’ first Passover play, similar to their annual Purim show. Olswanger told the New Jersey Jewish Standard that working with the musical’s scriptwriters was “not really hard. I was lucky. These are good people. The goal is to have a fun musical for kids.”

Olswanger recently wrote about the origins of Shlemiel Crooks on the JewishGen blog. In her essay “Genealogy: The Gift of Stories,” Olswanger writes about how a desire to hear again the stories of her late father lead her to genealogical research. A Yiddish newspaper article about bumbling crooks trying to steal her great-grandfather’s Passover wine became the basis for Shlemiel Crooks, which received rejections from over one-hundred publishers before being accepted by NewSouth, and going on become a Sydney Taylor Honor Book, a Koret International Jewish Book Award Finalist, and a PJ Library Book, along with a musical and puppet show.

“Best of all,” Olswanger writes, “Shlemiel Crooks allowed me to pay tribute to my great-grandparents. Although I don’t have my own children to give their story to as a gift, the way my father gave his stories to me as gifts, I can give the story of my great-grandparents to any child who reads or hears Shlemiel Crooks.”

Also on the JewishGen blog, Toby Bird reviews Shlemiel Crooks, calling it “vibrant.”

“The period details are quite wonderful,” Bird notes. “It’s as if we’re listening, not reading. In fact the story begs to be read aloud. Enhancing the animated narration are the colorful drawings by Paula Goodman Koz, many of them full-page.”

Read Anna Olswanger’s “Genealogy” essay and Toby Bird’s review at the JewishGen blog. You can learn more about Shlemiel Crooks: The Musical from the Merkin Concert Hall, or connect with Anna Olswanger at

Shlemiel Crooks is available from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online retailer.

New website created by Anna Olswanger showcases work of Berl Olswanger

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 by Suzanne La Rosa

Shlemiel Crooks by Anna Olswanger Anyone who reads Shlemiel Crooks, the award-winning illustrated children’s book by NewSouth author Anna Olswanger, will hear the music in it. In the lilting rhythms of its charming Yiddish-inflected prose, you might even hear the author paying homage to her dad.

Berl Olswanger was a genial and talented blues man who created and played music in and around Memphis, Tennessee, for most of his life. A child prodigy (he started playing the piano at age three), he was a prolific composer, band leader, recording artist, and music store owner. In fact, he was so identified with his work that he became popularly known as “Mr. Music.” Now, in loving tribute to her father, Anna has created an elegantly realized website which showcases his work and, via audio links, allows the viewer to hear a few of his recordings. They are very special.

For more on Berl Olswanger, read Vance Lauderdale’s story from Memphis Magazine.

And in a fitting related development, a musical loosely based on Anna’s own Shlemiel Crooks has been written by Sean Hartley and Bob Kolsby and scored by Scott Ethier and Clay Zambo. The new work was given a successful first reading at NYC’s Kaufman Center last month.

Anna Olswanger remembers Sid Fleischman

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 by Kali Mobley

Anna Olswanger, author of Shlemiel Crooks, remembers fondly fellow Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators member Sid Fleischman, who died of cancer on March 17, 2010, the day after his ninetieth birthday.

Sid Fleischman, the Newbery Award-winning author of The Whipping Boy, was originally born in Brooklyn, New York, but he grew up in Sand Diego. A magician at heart, he traveled in vaudeville as a performing magician, but his live performances were transformed into the mysteries of writing. Fleischman attempted, at first, to write for adults, and then, he wrote some screenplays. Only when he began to write children’s books did he find literary success. He wrote over thirty-six books for children, including the McBroom series, By the Great Horn Spoon!, and Mr. Mysterious and Company.

Anna Olswanger was very fortunate to capture Fleischman’s love for his writing and his audience in an interview she conducted in 2002 at a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in L. A.:

Olswanger: What are some of the intangible rewards of writing for you? 

Fleischman: There’s the satisfaction in knowing that your books have had an impact. You discover that from the letters you get. Kids tell you they have gotten pleasure from your books, or parents and teachers let you know that one of your books turned a resistant child on to reading. There’s also the reward of doing a good job. When you finish a novel, and you’ve solved the problems, that’s a tremendous satisfaction. And there’s the reward of the lifestyle that writing has given me. I have complete freedom, although we writers work ourselves much harder than people who have a boss. I work seven days a week, and I don’t know how many hours between doing all the things that go along with it — researching, writing, answering the mail. If I were working for a salary, I would want a raise!

Olswanger: Which of your books are you the proudest of?

Fleischman: The Whipping Boy is one. By the Great Horn Spoon!, a novel about the California Gold Rush, is a second. By the Great Horn Spoon! has been continuously in print for more than 40 years and sells a huge number of copies every year. It’s widely read in fourth grades in the West. That and The Whipping Boy, I suppose, will be my legacy. It’s not to say there aren’t others out there I’m happy with. I’ve had fun with the McBroom stories. I love Mr. Mysterious and Company — I can’t tell you the magicians I’ve met who were turned on to magic by that novel. And I think Scarebird is the best piece of work I’ve done. I wish I could do. It’s a picture book, one of those books you feel you wrote under special grace that doesn’t visit you often. I had all kinds of problems with it, but the finished book is as close to perfection as I will come.

Fleischman left behind his son, Paul Fleischman, who is a writer and poet. Like father, like son: Paul received the Newbery Award for his book of poetry Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices in 1989. Fleischman received his award in 1987.

As an amazing author and a talented magician, Fleischman’s love for these performing arts remains timeless and can be found in several of his published works as well as in the hearts and imaginations of many children.

Shlemiel Crooks named one of best Passover books for children

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 by Andrew

As noted on Media Bistro, NewSouth children’s author Anna Olswanger recently had her award-winning book Shlemiel Crooks included on a shortlist of “The Best Passover Books for Children” by Flashlight Worthy, a website devoted to handpicking book recommendations on hundreds of topics.

From the review:

This off-beat and funny story — set in St. Louis in the early 1900s — is based on the author’s grandfather. It involves the attempted robbery of Reb Olschwanger’s saloon by two shlemiel crooks who are instigated by the ghost of Pharaoh and foiled by a talking horse and a neighborhood “shtuss.”

Flavored heavily with a Yiddish inflected narration and illustrated with earthy, heavily outlined linocuts, this gem of a story requires considerable practice before reading aloud… but it’s worth the effort.

Congratulations Anna on this noteworthy and timely selection.

Shlemiel Crooks is available from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online retailer.

NewSouth Books proud to partner with PJ Library’s Harold Grinspoon

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 by Lisa Harrison

Harold Grinspoon, the dynamic charitable force behind the PJ Library, was profiled in a recent piece by the Boston Globe. The foundation headed by Grinspoon has given away two million free books to Jewish families over the last four years, in an effort to help strengthen Jewish values and an understanding of Jewish culture, especially among those who are the product of mixed marriages or who live outside urban areas with large Jewish populations. The article observes that Mr. Grinspoon had little formal Jewish education and came to realize the importance of Jewish-themed literature later in life.

NewSouth Books is proud to have published three award-winning books selected by the PJ Library for give-away through its program: Alef-Bet and Chicken Man by Michelle Edwards and Shlemiel Crooks by Anna Olswanger.

New Jewish author website and Shlemiel Crooks audio from Anna Olswanger

Friday, November 20th, 2009 by Lisa Harrison

Shlemiel Crooks by Anna OlswangerAnna Olswanger, author of Shlemiel Crooks, is involved in the Jewish book world as both an author and literary agent. Her twin lives intersect in a website she developed, called, which was recently acquired by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity. It’s a move that Olswanger says will allow her site and the CJCC to “combine the proverbial strength with strength.” is a free web source of information on Jewish-themed books worldwide. The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity undertakes projects that address Jewish identity and Jewish community through the medium of arts and culture.

Olswanger’s award-winning children’s book, Shlemiel Crooks, published by NewSouth Books in both hardcover and trade paperback (new!), continues to receive nice notices, including a review from, which calls the book a “charming tale” and “an imaginative introduction to the history of Passover.” The reviewer adds that the book “captures the heart of the immigrant experience.”

Many reviewers have commented on the musicality and great read-aloud character of Shlemiel Crooks. A new audio clip from the book lets you hear the text for the first time. You can find the link on NewSouth’s website and also at Download the audio clip of Shlemiel Crooks and listen in!

Shlemiel Crooks is available from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite retail or online book seller.

Anna Olswanger Speaks on Children’s Book Trends with Women’s National Book Association

Monday, March 31st, 2008 by Brian Seidman

Anna Olswanger, author of Shlemiel Crooks, spoke as part of a panel discussion on February 21 with the Women’s National Book Association, New York Chapter.

In a discussion titled Into the Future: Trends in Children’s Publishing, the panelists–including librarians, editors, and others–considered not only the current trends in children’s books, but also how those trends can be good or bad for the industry. Anna, who also works as an agent for Liza Dawson Associates, noted that she often eschews trends in favor of good writing. She worried that a trend toward emphasizing a book’s visual impact over the words on the page may cause children to be less engaged overall with the books they read.

A full report of the panel was provided by Kate Lindsay in the WNBA newsletter. Learn more about the WNBA at their website,

Shlemiel Crooks is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer. Shlemiel Crooks is a Koret International Jewish Book Award Finalist and a Sydney Taylor Honor Book.

Anna Olswanger Announces New Website

Thursday, January 24th, 2008 by Mary Katherine

Need a Jewish book author for your upcoming event? Check out, a new independent list site created by Anna Olswanger, author of Shlemiel Crooks.

The site, searchable by name, location, or genre, makes it possible for those who wish to arrange visits and signings with Jewish book authors to quickly find and connect with these authors worldwide. All authors listed on the site have agreed to participate and have provided their contact information, book titles, lecture topics, and areas of travel, and each listing contains links for purchasing the books mentioned. This site should prove invaluable for Jewish Community Centers, Federations, synagogues, book clubs, libraries, bookstores or any other group hoping to host a Jewish book author.

Learn more at

Shlemiel Crooks is available directly from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite local or online book retailer. Shlemiel Crooks is a Koret International Jewish Book Award Finalist and a Sydney Taylor Honor Book.

Ninth Annual Jewish Children's Book Writers' Conference on Nov. 18, 2007

Thursday, September 20th, 2007 by Brian Seidman

Anna Olswanger, author of the NewSouth book Shlemiel Crooks announces the Ninth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference, held at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on Sunday, November 18, 2007, from 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m. The conference is co-sponsored by the 92nd Street Y Buttenwieser Library and the Jewish Book Council.

Featured speakers are senior editor Reka Simonsen of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, editor Jennifer Wingertzahn of Clarion Books, senior editor Lindsey Silken of JVibe/JFL Media, sales manager Sarah Aronson of Jewish Lights Publishing, literary agent Kirsten Wolf of Jill Grinberg Literary Management, and associate art director Einav Aviram of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Author and illustrator Neil Waldman, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, will give opening remarks, and the day will include sessions on publishing and writing in Israel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award and Manuscript Competition, and new this year: a panel on “How I Got My First Book Published.”

The registration form is available for download at Call 212-415 5544 or e-mail for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is November 12. The conference is $85 before November 1 and $100 after November 1, and the fee includes kosher breakfast and lunch.

If you write or illustrate children’s books for the Jewish market, this conference is for you!

Shlemiel Crooks Author Anna Olswanger Interviewed on Children's Book Podcast

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 by Lyndsey

Shlemiel Crooks author Anna Olswanger has been interviewed by the online book review program Just One More Book. Just One More Book is podcast devoted to literacy and childrens books.

During the interview, Anna detailed the development of her career as an author and literary agent and gave hints to aspiring writers from the perspective of both a writer and an agent.

Anna explained that she began her education expecting to be a painter, but realized her niche was in literature. When asked why she began writing, Olswanger responded that she “remembered painting what I considered my last painting and making a decision that it would be writing from then on that would be my creative output. So it was not my first choice, I really wanted to be an artist. I turned to writing and what I discovered was I really liked the whole professional aspect of it.”

The transition from a writer into a literary agent seemed to come naturally to Anna, who described herself as being “very happy” with her career path. Says Anna, “It allows me to be involved with all kinds of genres and work with different kinds of authors. I’m free to do whatever I want and that is something that is very gratifying for me.”

When giving advice to authors seeking to hone their skills, Anna suggests that writers learn how to “open the floodgates and stop judging themselves because the problem for most writers is that from the very moment they try to write they say, ‘this is not going to be good enough, nobody is going to be interested, I’m not going to succeed’ you must give yourself permission to take a risk.”

Listen to the full broadcast of the interview at Just One More Book.

Shlemiel Crooks, written by Anna Olswanger and illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz, is available from NewSouth Books,, or your favorite online or local book retailers.