Sunday, December 16, 2018

Stand Up! Storytime for Social Justice


Hillary Saxton is a children's librarian at the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Public Library, and the creator of the event series "Stand Up! Storytime for Social Justice." She was originally scheduled to participate in the "Social Justice and Jewish Children's Books" panel at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference, featured on The Book of Life in August 2018. She was sick and couldn't make it, so I caught up with her later by Skype.

Find the titles used in the 2017-18 Stand Up storytimes at the Cambridge Public Library's collection of booklists here. And please share your own favorite social justice titles in the comments here at The Book of Life.

Speaking of social justice, check out the Association of Jewish Libraries' series of "Love Your Neighbor" booklists, created to provide all children and their families with a greater understanding of the Jewish religion and its people.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST





CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel  
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band   

Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast    

Twitter: @bookoflifepod  

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Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473. 




Sunday, December 02, 2018

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah



Remember All-of-a-Kind Family? It's the classic chapter book by Sydney Taylor, of five sisters living on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. Now Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky have created an original picture book based on those same characters, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah. Illustrator Zelinsky attended the 2018 Association of Jewish Libraries conference where he gave us a sneak peek at his artistic process, as you can see in the photo below. I snagged his email address and arranged a conference call with him and author Emily Jenkins, and that's what you'll hear on this podcast.


HANUKKAH TREATS FOR YOU:

* Buzzfeed Quiz: Which All-of-a-Kind Family Sibling Are You?
* Emily Jenkins' latke recipe
* Coloring pages based on Paul Zelinsky's art
* Teaching Guide for All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah
 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST



CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel  
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band   

Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast    

Twitter: @bookoflifepod  

Patreon: patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473. 




Monday, November 19, 2018

Light the Menorah! A Hanukkah Handbook


At the 2018 Association of Jewish Libraries conference, I bumped into author Jacqueline Jules. She's been on the podcast before in 2014 to talk about Never Say a Mean Word Again. Her new picture book is Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, which offers meditations for candle lighting. We grabbed a quick interview after lunch in the busy dining hall, so you will have a "you are there" experience listening to our conversation about this wonderful new holiday book!


Speaking of Jewish rituals like lighting the menorah, the Association of Jewish Libraries has published another list in the Love Your Neighbor series of book lists. List #2 is about Synagogues, Clergy, & Jewish Ritual. The picture books and chapter books on this list will help readers understand more about Jewish practices both in synagogue and in the home. Click here to see the list.


CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST




CREDITS:
Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel  
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band   

Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast    

Twitter: @bookoflifepod  

Patreon: patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473. 




Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Missing Voices of Moe and Mo

A Moon for Moe and Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben, illustrated by Mehrdohkt Amini
Jane Breskin Zalben is an artist/illustrator and the author of over 50 books for children. Her recent picture book, A Moon for Moe and Mo, was featured in the Missing Voice picture book discussion group on Facebook in September 2018. The Missing Voice group was created by another author, Lisa Rose, to bring books about under-represented populations into the limelight. You may be familiar with Lisa's book, Shmulik Paints the Town. I spoke with Jane and Lisa by conference call, in the week following the anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, because I felt it was the right time to talk about stories that model friendships between Jews and non-Jews, and to encourage people to read more books that offer windows into different cultures. 

During that same week, I worked with a bunch of my favorite women, my posse of snarky Jewish kidlit nerds from across the world, to create a book list addressing anti-Semitism. We crafted a list of picture books and chapter books on the theme of "standing up for each other." It's the first in the Love Your Neighbor series of book lists published by the Association of Jewish Libraries. There's a great article at Tablet Magazine about the creation of the book list series. Please use and share the Love Your Neighbor book lists as widely as you can! 


 
From "LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR: LIST #1 STANDING UP FOR EACH OTHER "

PICTURE BOOKS
The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper, art by Gabi Swiatkowska, Abrams, ages 4-8
This book is a gentle reminder of a timeless rule for parent and child: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A boy and his grandfather discuss the rule’s universality and how to put it into practice.
Hannah’s Way by Linda Glaser, art by Adam Gustavson, Kar-Ben, ages 4-8
After Papa loses his job during the Depression, Hannah's family moves to rural Minnesota, where she is the only Jewish child in her class. When her teacher tries to arrange carpools for a Saturday class picnic, Hannah is upset. Her Jewish family is observant, and she knows she cannot ride on the Sabbath. What will she do? A lovely story of friendship and community.
Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, art by Claire A. Nivola, Houghton Mifflin, ages 4-8
In 1883, Jewish Emma Lazarus, deeply moved by an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe, wrote a sonnet that gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty. The statue, thanks to Emma's poem, came to define us as a nation that welcomes immigrants. A true story.
Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules, art by Durga Yael Bernhard, Wisdom Tales Press, ages 4-8
Inspired by a powerful legend of conflict resolution, Never Say a Mean Word Again is the compelling story of a boy who is given permission to punish an enemy. A surprising twist shows how an enemy can become a friend.
Here is the story of two icons for social justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Joshua Heschel, how they formed a remarkable friendship and turned their personal experiences of discrimination into a message of love and equality for all.
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, art by Fabio Santomauro, Kar-Ben, ages 7-11
The dramatic story of neighbors in a small Danish fishing village who, during the Holocaust, shelter a Jewish family waiting to be ferried to safety in Sweden. Worried about their safety, friends devise a clever and unusual plan for their safe passage to the harbor. Based on a true story.
CHAPTER BOOKS
Vive La Paris by Esme Raji Codell, Hyperion, ages 9-12
Paris has come for piano lessons, not chopped-liver sandwiches or French lessons or free advice.  But when old Mrs. Rosen, who is Jewish, gives her a little bit more than she can handle, it might be just what Paris needs to understand the bully in her brother’s life…and the bullies of the world.
Refugee by Alan Gratz, Scholastic, ages 9-13
A Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany, a Cuban girl in 1994, a Syrian boy in 2015 - all three go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.
The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, art by Hatem Aly, Dutton, ages 9-15
France, 1242. Three children: a Christian peasant girl, a Moorish boy raised as a monk, and a Jewish boy. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, Candlewick, ages 10-14
Fourteen-year-old Joan’s 1911 journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a Jewish society household in Baltimore takes readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.
Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust by Leanne Lieberman, Orca, ages 13-18
Jewish teen Lauren is sick of Holocaust memorials. But when she sees some of her friends--including Jesse, a cute boy she likes--playing Nazi war games, she is faced with a terrible choice: betray her friends or betray her heritage.

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle, Henry Holt, ages 12 to adult
Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away the ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba. The young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own. Yet even in Cuba, the Nazi darkness is never far away.
CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel  
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band 
 
Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast    
Twitter: @bookoflifepod  
Patreon: patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.



Thursday, November 01, 2018

Love Your Neighbor: An AJL Book List Series


In response to the anti-Semitic domestic terrorism that took place at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA last Saturday, my friends and I have done what librarians do: we've turned to literature, not for explanations, but for solutions. After 100+ email messages back and forth, we've hammered out a cream-of-the-crop list of "window" books for youth, that we hope will build empathy and understanding in the hearts of non-Jewish readers.

There's no knowing whether books like these would have made a difference if read during the childhood of the Pittsburgh shooter, and we can't guarantee that reading them to today's kids will prevent future tragedy. But as the Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, tell us, we are not obligated to complete the work of combating anti-Semitism, but neither are we free to desist from it. We've got to do what we can. As librarians, we know that the right book can make a difference, especially when read during the formative years of childhood. 

My kidlit posse: myself, Barbara Bietz, Kathy Bloomfield, Elissa Gershowitz, Marjorie Ingall, Rachel Kamin, Susan Kusel, Chava Pinchuck, and Lisa Silverman, have spent the last few days and nights bouncing titles off each other, fine tuning our message, and proof reading like crazy. And now, we are very proud to present the first in a series (because we had too much material for a single book list), "Love Your Neighbor: Standing Up For Each Other." Future entries in the series will cover Jewish diversity, synagogues and clergy, and cross-cultural friendship. We are open to suggestion for other themes that might be useful, keeping in mind that the target audience is NON-Jewish kids and teens. 

The series will be hosted on the Association of Jewish Libraries blog. Here's the first book list: Standing Up For Each Other. Please share it as widely as you can!



Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Girl with the Red Balloon


The Girl with the Red Balloon is a magical time travel, historical fiction, kind-of-sort-of Holocaust book that won a Sydney Taylor Honor in the Teen Readers Category for 2018. I met the author, Katherine Locke, at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Boston, where we snuck into a side room to talk – please excuse the faint hubbub coming from outside. We discussed not only Katherine’s book, but also her article on Medium.com, “Thinking about Jewish Children’s Literature in a Time of anti-Semitism.”

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST




CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band 

Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast  
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
Patreon: patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.





Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Sundown Kid


Before I moved back to Florida from Massachusetts, my friend Barbara Bietz, author of The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat, came to Amherst, MA for a workshop about Jewish kidlit. We got together while she was in town and recorded our conversation for you.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST


CREDITS:
 
Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band 
Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast  
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
Patreon: patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

American Golem


American Golem: The New Adventures of an Old World Mud Monster by Marc Lumer is a new picture book from Apples & Honey Press. I ran into Vicki Weber of Behrman House (the parent company of Apples & Honey) at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Boston, MA this June, and grabbed a quick interview about American Golem. You'll notice the loud buzz of conference-goers in the background because we spoke in the dining room after lunch. Hopefully, that will give you a "you are there" feeling!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST


CREDITS:

Produced by: Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel
Supported in part by: Association of Jewish Libraries  
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band

Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast
Twitter: @bookoflifepod
Support The Book of Life by becoming a patron at Patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Book of Life Returns! with "Social Justice and Jewish Children's Books"

L-R: Lesléa Newman, Shoshana Flax, Heidi Rabinowitz, Elissa Gershowitz
at the Association of Jewish Libraries, Boston, MA, June 2018
 
The podcast hiatus is over! I'm thrilled to return to my beloved Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, and to The Book of Life podcast!


On Monday June 18, 2018 at the 53rd annual conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries in Boston, MA, I participated in a panel discussion of "Social Justice and Jewish Children's Books." Other panelists included author Lesléa Newman, and Horn Book editors Shoshana Flax and moderator Elissa Gershowitz.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST


 
As mentioned on the podcast, this post offers some titles in the various categories of books that I spoke about during the panel. These lists are by no means comprehensive. They mostly represent titles in the Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida, and the list was compiled by memory without actually visiting the library. My purpose is to offer a few suggestions to get you started on thinking about books in these categories.

BOOKS FOCUSING ON DIVERSITY ITSELF

We Are All Alike...We Are All Different by The Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergartners
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka
Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Two Eyes, a Nose, and a Mouth by Roberta Grobel Intrater
We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Kates
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
All the Colors We Are/Todos los Colores de Nuestra Piel by Katie Kissinger
The Belly Book, and Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin
We All Sing with the Same Voice by J. Philip Miller
It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
A Rainbow All Around Me by Sandra Pinkney
One Light, One Sun by Raffi
Shades of People by Shelley Rotner
One Family by George Shannon
All Kinds of Children by Norma Simon
Brown Sugar Babies; I Am America by Charles R. Smith
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler

"CASUALLY DIVERSE" BOOKS

A Kiss Means I Love You by Kathryn Madeline Allen
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang
Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett
Busy Toes by CW Bowie
My Aunt Came Back by Pat Cummings
Love; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
Shape Space by Cathryn Falwell
10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox
Everywhere Babies by Marla Frazee
Uh Oh!; Peekaboo Morning By Rachel Isadora
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Daddy, Papa and Me; Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman
Octopus Hug by Laurence Pringle
Jonathan and His Mommy;Kevin and His Dad by Irene Smalls
Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs books (interestingly, the Chanukah one is all white humans)

EXPLICITLY DIVERSE BOOKS (Celebrating specific cultures)

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
Cleversticks by Bernard Ashley
So Much by Trish Cooke
Peek! A Thai Hide and Seek by Minfong Ho
How Sweet the Sound: African American Songs for Chlidren by Cheryl & Wade Hudson
Shades of Black: A Celebraton of Our Children by Sandra Pinkney
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong
Yoko by Rosemary Wells

JEWISH DIVERSE BOOKS

Please see the bibliography I posted in June 2017 on this topic.

Diverse Jewish Kidlit

SECULAR BOOKS WITH JEWISH VALUES

Please see the notes and bibliography from my 2002 AJL presentation "Is the Rainbow Fish Jewish?" While in need of updating, this booklist is still valid.

Is the Rainbow Fish Jewish?

JEWISH STORIES ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate by Janice Cohn
Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
Hannah's Way; On One Foot by Linda Glaser
The Legend of Freedom Hill by Linda Altman Jacobs
Even Higher by Eric Kimmel
In God’s Hands by Laurence Kushner
Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree by Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand by Arthur Levine
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner
Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz
The Two Brothers: a Legend of Jerusalem by Neil Waldman
Let there Be Light: Poems and Prayers for Repairing the World by Jane Breskin Zalben

JEWISH PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES ABOUT SOCIAL JUSTICE

Emma’s Poem, The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser
The Spy Who Played Baseball by Carrie Jones
Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner
I Dissent by Debbie Levy
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers Factory Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
As Good As Anybody by Rich Michelson
A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Liberty’s Voice by Erica Silverman
Ruth Bader Ginsburgh, TBG vs Inequality by Jonah Winter

GRATITUDE BOOKS FOR THANKSGIVING COLLECTION 
(to replace false narratives about Pilgrims and Indians)

Grateful by John Bucchino
Bear Says Thank You by Michael Dahl
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
My Amazing Day: A Celebration of Wonder and Gratitude by Karin Fisher-Golton
Day by Day by Susan Gal
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes
Life Is Good by Bert Jacobs
Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson
Every Little Thing by Bob Marley
Hug Time; Thank You and Good Night; Wag by Patrick McDonnell
Thank You, World by Alice B. McGinty
Sharing the Bread: An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
Wait by Antoinette Portis
Thankfulness by Cynthia Roberts
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss
My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith
The Kindness Quilt by Elizabeth Nancy Wallace
Thank You, God by J. Bradley Wigger
The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood

RESOURCES ON TEACHING ABOUT NATIVE AMERICANS RESPECTFULLY

Guidelines from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation

CREDITS:
 
Sponsor: Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida
Theme music: The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band 
Facebook: facebook.com/bookoflifepodcast  
Twitter: @bookoflifepod 
Patreon: patreon.com/bookoflife

Your feedback is appreciated! Please write to bookoflifepodcast@gmail.com or call our voicemail number at 561-206-2473.



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Podcamp

On April 7, 2018, I attended PodCamp Western Mass, an unconference about social media and online marketing held at Holyoke Community College. You can see me right there in the front center (behind the reclining gals). As an unconference, it was really a series of intense conversations rather than presentations. Sometimes it was even like therapy. There was a session about personal branding, where I decided that my own tagline might be "proudly geeking out." Honestly, there was very little that was directly related to podcasting, but I did get some good technical tips about audio equipment from a guy who happened to be sitting at my lunch table. And I met a lot of nice people.

I am pleased to announce that The Book of Life's hiatus will soon be over! I expect to revive The Book of Life by fall 2018.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Little Women and All-of-a-Kind Family: A Guest Post by Emily Schneider

Guest poster: Emily Schneider
This February, and Adar in the Jewish calendar, marks the 40th yahrtzeit of Sydney Taylor, author of that timeless chronicle of the Jewish immigrant experience, All-of-a-KindFamily, and its sequels. Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie became mirrors for Jewish girls, who grew up recognizing themselves in her nostalgic portrait of Jewish life. Whether you were raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in suburban Long Island, the outskirts of Philadelphia, or any other American shtetl, you knew you could identify with one of the sisters, all richly drawn personalities, and yet so generic and lasting that the family did not have a last name. 

The four sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women have also imprinted themselves on the consciousness of American girls since they first appeared in 1868.  This novel, with its idealized representation of New England family life during the Civil War, became a model for girls beginning to think about appropriate roles for women in a changing America.  Jo has literary ambitions and she can never quite conform to society’s expectations.  Eventually, she marries the highly educated if awkward German immigrant, Professor Bhaer, and establishes a progressive school for boys with her husband.  Little Women  teaches its female readers how to adapt to the challenges of their time: disease, death, the Civil War, an absent father, and genteel poverty.  Almost a century, later Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family series became a kind of response to Alcott’s novel. While it is unlikely that Taylor purposively designed her stories as a Jewish alternative to Little Women, Alcott’s novel was standard reading for girls growing up in Taylor’s era and the parallels between the books are obvious. All-of-a-Kind features five girls, not four, but the journeys of both sets of characters have points in common.  Just as the March sisters in Little Women are guided as Christians through identification with Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress, the five sisters of Sydney Taylor’s books also must “march” forward, yet they are outsiders.  Many of their family members speak a mixture of Yiddish and imperfect English, they do not share the experience of Christmas, and they live initially in a highly ghettoized Lower East Side of New York City.  Their food is Jewish, their religious ceremonies and celebrations are Jewish, and their future will clearly be Jewish as well. Yet they are Americans, and each ethnically inflected episode also reflects their family’s commitment to that promising new identity. As a child reading Taylor, I knew that these girls were somehow closer to my own experience than were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, but the ties between the two sets of girls affirmed that I, too, could be both. Do girls today still see themselves reflected in Taylor’s characters, or are Ella and Sarah as remote and distant from them as Jo and Beth March? 

The All-of-a-Kind books were published between 1951 and 1978, a span of years during which American Jewish life changed radically.  The first book corresponded to the postwar years of new prosperity and  limited assimilation. Jews still lived in relatively segregated communities, rarely intermarried, and generally conformed to some standard level of at least minimal religious observance.  By the last book in the series, Ella of All-of-a Kind Family, the civil rights and feminist movements had successfully challenged many barriers in American life. Taylor’s first readers mainly lived in stable circumstances, more affluent and less threatened than the Lower East Side Jews of the pre-World War I era which is the setting for the first books.  If Little Women still held relevance to girls of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, particularly as a book where girls assert their individuality and seek a place in a changing world, Jewish readers could find a complementary reality in Taylor’s work.

We all remember the famous first lines of Alcott’s book: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” What if your family did not celebrate Christmas?  These New England girls somehow seemed privileged to me even as they kvetched about their poverty. Their first collective action in the book is to deprive themselves and pool their money to buy Marmee a modest gift, one stamped with each sister’s individual personality. Meg’s pretty hands lead her to decide on warm gloves, while Jo, determined to reject traditional femininity, chooses army shoes.  Vain Amy envisions “a little bottle of Cologne,” with the emphasis on the bottle’s small size, which will leave her enough money to purchase a gift for herself.  Beth is practical in her choice of a handkerchief.   Sydney Taylor adapts this episode for second-generation Jewish immigrants.  In the first book of the series, the sisters resolve to buy Papa a birthday gift. Unlike Mr. March, away fighting in the Civil War, he is an everyday presence in the girls’ lives. They love him, but fear is also part of their relationship with a parent who will punish them if they cross the line.

The girls enter “Mr. Pincus’s bargain store,” where the owner tries to communicate with them in broken English.  In all likelihood, these girls would have understood Yiddish, but would be strongly encouraged at home and in public school to speak the language of America.  Taylor’s readers may still have heard Yiddish from their grandparents, but were far less likely to understand it.  Having rejected Mr. Pincus’s suggestion of “a nize ledder pocketbook” or a handy knife, in addition to the beautiful shirt that would be far too expensive, they are ready to give up their search, when Mr. Pincus offers them an elaborately decorated china cup and saucer. The cup includes a ledge for Father’s mustache, and is labeled with his most important role, “Father.” When he receives this item he is disturbed that they  have spent money on a gift for him. In fact, this American custom of children presenting their parent with a gift has to be “translated” for him. He accepts it with ambivalence, but expresses joy.  The girls choose one gift together, because their individual traits are less important than pleasing their father. This made perfect sense to me as a child in a Jewish family, where father did certainly still know best.  (My own father won an almost identical cup playing Skee-Ball at the Far Rockaway boardwalk.  He did not have a mustache, because by the 1960s most American Jewish men were clean-shaven).

Like the March girls, especially Jo, the All-of-a-Kind sisters are bookish.  The public library plays an ongoing role in their lives, as the purchase of books would be an almost unthinkable expense. Like most turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants, they attend public school and supplement that education in the public library, an unbelievable gift for upwardly mobile refugees from eastern Europe.  When Sarah is panicked at having misplaced a book, the understanding gentile librarian allows her to pay for it in installments.  Jo March, on the other hand, is granted access to the immense private book collections of friend Laurie, and her wealthy Aunt March.  Both books emphasize literacy as a path to self-improvement, but Taylor’s readers could recognize themselves in Sarah’s dilemma of an overdue library book much more easily.  In one chapter of their saga, Taylor’s characters receive a “rainy day surprise,” when a group of peddlers who collect metal, rags, and paper for Papa’s warehouse come across a pile of used books. The girls inherit a complete set of Dickens, the author who gave a name to the March sisters’ Pickwick Club.  So much of this episode is now absent from Jewish American children’s lives, for whom access to reading material in any form they choose is no longer a privilege. Yet to many American immigrants, the public library is still a resource and a haven.

Then there is religious observance, another sector of Jewish American life which has dramatically changed.  The March sisters are Protestant, as far from the emotive and physical religious life of Taylor’s characters as could be. Their faith is centered around the values of the New Testament; we see very little ritual and few life-cycle events in their story. (Amy is attracted by their Catholic maid’s rosary beads, but reluctantly concedes that they are inappropriate for Protestant prayer.)  In contrast, the girls of All-of-a-Kind-Family constantly incorporate physical objects into their spiritual lives:  menorahs, Sabbath candles, Chanukah dreidels, and booths for the Festival of Sukkot. This celebratory part of Jewish life in America has actually changed less than other elements of Taylor’s books.  Each holiday observance is carefully explained and incorporated into the family saga. An interesting choice is Aunt Lena and Uncle Hyman’s participation in the P’Idyon Ha-Ben ceremony for their first-born son.  This observance had already become less common by the 1950s among non-Orthodox Jews, while brit milah, ritual circumcision, remained the norm.  Taylor must have assumed that describing the latter would have presented difficulties in a children’s book.  Today, when redemption of the first born is not commonly practiced outside of Orthodox communities, the charming description of the ceremony might seem as foreign as the March girls’ devotion to Pilgrim’s Progress.

One dramatic contrast between Alcott’s and Taylor’s stories is the attitude towards disease and mortality.  This largely reflects the development of vaccines and antibiotics, which greatly reduced the incidence of childhood death and the terror it induced in parents.  However, there is also a Jewish element in Taylor’s representation of sickness and disability.  Her characters are survivors, equipped and determined to succeed in the here and now.   Most of us remember Beth’s early death as a traumatic part of reading Little Women. It was foreshadowed by her exposure to a sick infant, but also made to seem inevitable because Beth was somehow too good a Christian for this world. In All-of-Kind Family the children contract scarlet fever without long-term consequences, while in More All-of-a-Kind Family Aunt Lena falls victim to polio.  Lena at first suffers from what today we would recognize as clinical depression as a result of her disability, but Mother jars her into recognition of how “selfish” this response really is. While Beth’s frailty, along with her moral perfection, make her death seem sad but acceptable, the girls’ Aunt Lena is impacted, but not destroyed, by her illness. Mother asserts that Lena’s disability only makes her more suited to be Hyman’s wife: “Don’t you know Hyman would rather have you with a bad leg than anyone else in the whole world?” She becomes a symbol of resilience, an immigrant polio survivor who proudly walks up the aisle to the chuppah with her leg dragging in a brace, and no parents to accompany her. 

Forty years after Taylor’s death, American children, fortunately, have a much wider range of books about the immigrant experience. There are fewer Jewish immigrants and most come from parts of the world other than Eastern Europe. Taylor’s Bronx and Lower East Side of settlement houses and penny candy stores are now scenes from a  sentimentalized past. Yet For American Jews, Taylor’s works preserve an era when we could both fit in and stand out. The apparent security we now enjoy in America should make the All-of-a-Kind books more relevant, not less so.  Just as their original readers benefited from Taylor’s creative engagement with Little Women, Jewish children and educators today can connect with her characters and reinvent her legacy for the future.


AN INTERVIEW WITH GUEST POSTER EMILY SCHNEIDER

LITTLE WOMEN

Probably today many more people have heard of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women than have ever read it.  Yet when it was published in 1868, it become a phenomenal success, famously gaining Alcott some of the financial independence which she and her family needed.  It remained a best seller well into the twentieth century. This book spoke to generations of readers about what it meant to be an American girl (before there were historical dolls and books to fill that niche!)  Initially, there were historical, social, and religious themes that resonated with readers: the incomprehensible tragedy of the recent Civil War, the devout Protestantism of many Americans of the time. But there was also the utterly fascinating construction of a female-centered universe headed by a strong matriarch, Marmee, and centered on the trials and the distinctive personalities of four very different “little women.”  Jo, in particular, became a kind of symbol of girls who don’t fit the mold, who have ambitions that society might not consider legitimate.  She is dramatic and literary, and she even chooses to marry Professor Bhaer, an older immigrant professor who shares her values.   Then, by the 20th century, things gradually began to change.  Beverly Lyon Clark does a terrific analysis of this change in her book, The Afterlife of Little Women, in which she explains how the book transitioned from being one which everyone read, to one which was much less popular, yet continued to have a long-lasting cultural impact.   There have been movies, plays, illustrated books, an opera, TV series, and dolls based on Little Women. In fact, until only a few years ago the Madame Alexander doll company, founded by Jewish entrepreneur Beatrice Alexander Behrman, produced a different collection of Little Women dolls each year, so someone was continuing to buy them.

ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY
The All-of-a-Kind Family series could never have achieved that level of popularity or influence, but to me, and to my sisters, my friends, and later, my daughters, Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie were as relevant as the March sisters, maybe more so.  They were Jewish. They came from an immigrant family. They celebrated Jewish holidays and Jewish life-cycle events. Their home was imbued with Jewish values. Yet they were also sometimes conflicted, mildly rebellious, and briefly disappointing to their parents, even though all problems were ultimately resolved.  They were also, like the March girls, bookish. Reading, visiting the public library, almost earning a history prize in school, were key themes and episodes in the books.  The pictures, interestingly by four different illustrators, were an integral part of the nostalgic world of the books, nostalgic because even the original readers had probably not grown up on the Lower East Side, but often in more assimilated and possibly affluent surroundings.  The girls of All-of-a-Kind Family­ had been their parents or grandparents.  Now, this past is much more remote. I love the reader’s guide to the series produced by the Association of Jewish Libraries. I hope we can continue to think about ways to ensure that these stories continue to have a life, as well as an afterlife.

CONNECTIONS

I actually can’t remember when I started thinking about the parallels between the two books. I’m sure that I noticed them as soon as I read Little Women, which would have been at an older age than when I first read All-of-a-Kind Family. I certainly identified with both the adventures and the inner lives of the characters in both books, particularly those concerning family relationships and a love of reading.  I was also always acutely aware of the differences.  I may have been as obsessed with reading and becoming a writer as Jo, but her New England yichus set her at a remove.  While I had not grown up in the same setting as Taylor’s characters, my parents and grandparents had.  Many experiences in Jewish American life had changed, but the holidays, rituals, and obsession with education had not. Even the addition of a male child to the family in All-of-a-Kind made it more recognizable.  Papa, who had given up on having a boy to continue his name and pray with him, cries at this fulfillment of an undeniable part of Judaism at that time: patriarchy.  There was also still a real sense of difference between Jews and gentiles when I was a child, one which, at least for most American Jews, has now dissipated.  At some point I began to connect and compare specific aspects of the two authors’ work through this lens.  I hope that other readers who love both authors’ work as much as I do might also, not only reread but relive these books, and discuss what parents and professionals can do to continue to keep classics relevant.  These books have value in their own right, but, just as Alcott influenced Taylor, it’s exciting to think about how contemporary books for kids can continue this “conversation” with the past.  Certainly, for Jewish parents and educators, the obligation to make the past come to life is a creative challenge as well as a mitzvah.


ABOUT EMILY SCHNEIDER

I have contributed to several different Jewish publications and I enjoy writing for them.  My blog fills a somewhat different role.  First, on Imaginary Elevators, I don’t write exclusively about Jewish books, but I have the freedom to include them as often as I like.  There is a limited intersection between Jewish and general interest publications which cover kid lit. (Marjorie Ingall’s articles on Tablet are among my favorites.) Understandably, publications devoted exclusively to children’s books, including The Horn Book and School Library Journal have hundreds of great new books to evaluate each year. While they do review many with Jewish themes, and have long form articles about both new and classic works, there is inevitably a complementary role for people who love books to share their perspectives on blogs. My kids, who have supported my obsession with children’s books for a long time, kept nudging me to start a blog and I finally listened to them. While I have a doctorate in literature, my real entry into children’s literature was as a bookish kid, a mother, and now a grandmother.  I try on my blog to feature the kinds of connections between past and present which I have done with Alcott and Taylor. I like to rave about authors and illustrators whose work appeals to me.  I also have the opportunity to bring up issues in children’s literature that are not exclusive to particular books.  When I choose any topic for a blog entry I hope that it gets people thinking and going off on their own tangents. Here I am going to sound like Kathleen Kelly in the late Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, but if you are reading a blog about children’s books, then you understand that they had a formative role in who you have become.