The Phoenix Award is granted to a twenty-year old book that was not given a major award the year (or award cycle) it was published. What a fun way to honour those favourite books that were originally overlooked by Award Lords!
This year’s recipient was the semi-biographical Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse. A Russian Jew, Rifka and her family must flee to America when one of her brothers abandons the army in 1919. In a series of letters to her cousin, Rifka recounts the difficult trip from Russia to America. Rifka’s trip is delayed when ringworm keeps her detained in Europe while her parents and brothers go on to America. Lonely as she is, a year alone in Antwerp and Ellis Island unexpectedly prepares Rifka for life as an immigrant. A brave and clever girl, Rifka’s voice is one worth hearing. That children get a taste for Pushkin’s voice (through epigraphs and additional quotes from Pushkin since she is writing her letters in one of his books) is an added bonus.
Letters from Rifka did not go completely unrecognized when it was first published. It received the National Jewish Book Award in 1992.