Oberman, Sheldon 1949-

views updated

OBERMAN, Sheldon 1949-

PERSONAL: Born May 20, 1949, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; son of Allan Oberman (a champion weightlifter and cafe owner) and Dorothy Stein (known as Dot Dobie, a psychic counselor); married Lee Anne Block (a teacher/director), August 9, 1973 (divorced, March, 1990); married Lisa Dveris (a therapist/social worker), September 2, 1990; children: Adam and Mira (first marriage), Jesse (second marriage). Education: University of Winnipeg, B.A. (with honors), 1972; University of Jerusalem, graduate study, 1973; University of Manitoba, B.Ed. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Creating collage art, camping, canoeing.

ADDRESSES: Home—822 Dorchester Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba R3M 0R7, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: High school teacher at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1976—; writer. Has worked variously as a journalist, editor, scriptwriter, playwright, songwriter, actor, and director of short films. Performs regularly as a storyteller and guest speaker; gives readings at libraries, schools and conferences; conducts storytelling workshops; and is a writers' mentor.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada, Manitoba Writer's Guild, Manitoba Association of Playwrights, Winnipeg Film Group.

AWARDS, HONORS: Canadian Authors Association Short Story Award, 1987; International Silver Medal, Leipzig Book Fair, 1990, for The Lion in the Lake/Le Lion dans le Lac; $10,000 Journey Prize nomination, 1991, for best Canadian short story of the year; McNally Robinson Book of the Year nomination, 1994, for This Business with Elijah; National Jewish Book Award; Sydney Taylor American Librarians Award; American Bookseller Pick of the List Award; A Child's Magazine Best Book of the Year citation, and International Reading Association Choice citation, for The Always Prayer Shawl; five Juno nominations for children's albums which include his songs; Norma Fleck Award for Canadian children's nonfiction (shared with Simon Tookoome), 2000, for The Shaman's Nephew: A Life in the Far North.


(With Steve Johnson) The Folk Festival Book: The Stories of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, photographs by David Landy, Turnstone Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1983.

(Editor, with Elaine Newton) Mirror of a People: Canadian Jewish Experience in Poetry and Prose, Coteau Press (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1985.

Julie Gerond and the Polka Dot Pony, Hyperion Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1988.

The Lion in the Lake/Le Lion dans le Lac (alphabet book), Peguis Publishers (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1988.

TV Sal and the Game Show from Outer Space, illustrated by Craig Terlson, Red Deer Press (Red Deer, Alberta, Canada), 1993.

This Business with Elijah (interrelated short stories), Turnstone Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1993.

The Always Prayer Shawl, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1994.

The White Stone in the Castle Wall, illustrated by Les Tait, Tundra Books of Northern New York (Plattsburgh, NY), 1995.

By the Hanukkah Light, illustrated by Neil Waldman, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.

(With Simon Tookoome) The Shaman's Nephew: A Life in the Far North, Stoddart Kids (New York, NY), 1999.

The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba, illustrated by Neil Waldman, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA) 2000.

Also author of the family play The Always Prayer Shawl, 1995, based on the book of the same name. Numerous articles have been published in the Winnipeg Free Press.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Greek myths of Crete; researching Jewish folklore.

SIDELIGHTS: Sheldon Oberman grew up an only child in the North End area of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Though this environment had much to offer in terms of cultural diversity, it had little physical space, and Oberman spent his childhood sharing a room with a boarder over his parents' store. Both of his parents had colorful histories: Oberman's father's family of weightlifters ran the local steam bath and pool hall, while his mother possessed remarkable psychic powers. They both worked long hours in the family cafe, leaving Oberman to spend his time on the streets but making sure they got him to the library frequently, and he thus became an avid reader.

As a young teen, Oberman was solitary, self-conscious, and lacking in basic social skills. In an effort to help him overcome his introversion, his mother took him to—of all people—the local butcher, the person Oberman believes to be one of his greatest teachers. Mr. Freedman had a shop down the street from the Oberman store. This short, stocky, homely man had a lisp and thick glasses yet, with confidence and poise, could hold a room full of people captive as he spoke. Mr. Freedman had the young Oberman write and memorize a short speech and present it to him in his living room. Over the months, he taught the boy how to interject appropriate pauses, hand gestures, and other techniques. Oberman's first speech at Toastmasters was rather a flop, but Mr. Freeman remained undaunted. The boy practiced and spoke in front of the Toastmaster audience until they grudgingly applauded. It was Mr. Freedman who gave Oberman his voice.

Adolescence—and working his way through university—brought Oberman an assortment of jobs, including that of a train porter, a door-to-door salesman, a cook, and a factory worker. With the jobs came a period of traveling, first across Canada, and then overseas. The end of these travels saw Oberman back in Winnipeg, though, where he eventually began teaching English at a Jewish high school in the neighborhood of his childhood. In addition to teaching, Oberman wrote, and he still devotes the majority of his time to these two activities.

The White Stone in the Castle Wall has a personal story behind it. Just outside of Toronto stands the Casa Loma, built by Sir Henry Pellat, the rich and powerful magnate of Toronto's electric streetcar and telephone companies. In the philanthropic mindset of the early 1900s, Pellat's gift to the townspeople was to pay one dollar for every stone brought to his castle and chosen by him for construction of a surrounding wall. One dollar then equaled the wages of a ten-hour day. Of the 250,000 rocks in the wall, only one is white. While visiting friends in Toronto and jogging daily around the castle, Oberman began wondering why only one white stone. So he conjured up a story about a Scottish boy's determination to bring the stone to America. The story actually became a legend in Toronto. Of the book, Susan Perren wrote in Globe and Mail, "This is a very satisfying work of historical fiction for the young."

In By the Hanukkah Light, young Rachel and her grandfather faithfully polish the family's old silver menorah each year as Grandpa retells to his gathered family a story of the Festival of Lights and the Old Testament battle between the Jews and the Syrians. This time, however, he adds his own story—of fighting the Nazis only to return home to find his town destroyed. As if by a miracle, in the devastation, he sees the family's menorah gleaming in the ashes of what was once his home. Rachel vows to tell the story to her own children, passing on tradition and strengthening family ties. Ellen Mandel, reviewing the book for Holiday Books Roundup, commented, "Oberman weaves a memorable story around a religious artifact that has survived brutalities and hazards to be lovingly handed down through generations."

The Shaman's Nephew: A Life in the Far North, a story in picture form, was ten years in the making. This is a memoir of Inuit nomad, artist, and traditional hunter Simon Tookoome, coauthor and illustrator of the book. When Oberman was touring the Northwest Territories in 1989 promoting his works, he asked to be housed with a traditional Inuit family and was welcomed into the Tookoome household. Simon Tookoome is one of the last Inuit to hold firmly to his ancestral heritage of living off the land, providing food and clothing for his large family by hunting caribou and seal. Tookoome, a shaman's nephew who speaks no English, asked Oberman to write down the stories of a lifestyle and tradition that has almost disappeared. Michele Landsberg, reviewing the book for the Toronto Star, wrote, "Many translators, as well as Tookoome's daughter, worked with the pair as they pierced through layers and layers of difference to get at the heart of Tookoome's amazing narrative and make it accessible to us 'kabloona,' or non-Inuit." Landsberg called Tookoome's illustrations "eerie and captivating," adding what a shame it would have been for her to miss this book. It was only through her membership on the jury for the Fleck Award that she became aware of its importance in the telling of Aboriginal tales.



Children's Literature Review, Volume 54, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Booklist, December 15, 1993, p. 750; October 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba, p. 362.

Books for Young People, February, 1989, p. 8.

Books in Canada, October, 1985, pp. 21-22; November, 1993, pp. 57-58.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1999, review of The Shaman's Nephew: A Life in the Far North, p. 468.

Children's Book News, spring, 1999, review of The Always Prayer Shawl, p. 17.

Globe and Mail, October 28, 1995, Susan Perren, review of The White Stone in the Castle Wall.

Holiday Books Roundup, September 1, 1997, Ellen Mandel, review of By the Hanukkah Light, p. 32.

Horn Book Guide, spring, 1998, review of By the Hanukkah Light, p. 42; spring, 2001, review of The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba, p. 46.

Maclean's, November 22, 1999, review of The Shaman's Nephew.

Multicultural Review, March, 1998, review of By the Hanukkah Light.

New York Times Book Review, December 21, 1997, review of By the Hanukkah Light, p. 18.

Quill & Quire, October, 1993, p. 40; January, 1994, p. 36.

Reading Teacher, April, 2001, review of The Wisdom Bird: A Tale of Solomon and Sheba, p. 727.

Toronto Star, December 17, 2000, Michele Landsberg, "Finally, a Fresh Look at the Inuit Experience," review of The Shaman's Nephew.

Winnipeg Free Press, September, 1993, "Author's Life Is Fodder for Fiction," review of This Business with Elijah; November, 1993, Chris Kent, "Family Portraits Are Lovingly Drawn," review of This Business with Elijah.


Sheldon Oberman Home Page,http://www.sheldonoberman.com/ (March 20, 2003).