Guest Post: How to Support Jewish Children's Literature


by Joanne Levy

I originally wrote a post in the Jewish Kidlit Mavens Facebook group summing up my thoughts and feelings about getting the word out about Jewish kidlit. A staunch supporter of Jewish kidlit herself, Heidi invited me to expand what she called a "manifesto" for posting here.

I truly believe that to end hate, including antisemitism, which is on the rise (again/still) in the world, we need to build empathy in our kids. It’s a long game but I think the best way to be proactive is to get our kids reading widely. To normalize the varied and diverse experiences of contemporary Judaism. Being a Jew who writes books about Jewish kids, I’m always thinking about how to get more books with Jewish characters in the hands of kids. All kids—Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

Since I'm an author, by definition, this post is self-serving BUT I've been thinking a lot lately about all Jewish books and getting more of them out into the world. In particular, into mainstream places: secular libraries, book stores, school libraries and more. But also, we need to signal to publishers–the people who bring them to market and are essentially the gatekeepers–that they should publish more books with Jewish characters (and not just Holocaust books).

Sidebar: Why are there so many Holocaust books? Well, obviously, because they’re important and necessary. But also because they sell. They are a go-to for classroom libraries and have come to define the Jewish experience for a lot of people.

But I feel like I need to yell it out for the people in the back: WE ARE NOT JUST OUR TRAUMA.

Back to the subject at hand. I think I can speak for many (most? all?) authors who will tell you that marketing any book feels like screaming into the void. But here is a very simple truth: if you want more Jewish books out there, we all need to support Jewish books.

We need to signal to secular publishers that Jewish books are diverse, necessary, and, perhaps most importantly, will sell (because publishing IS a business, after all). So what does that look like and what can you do? Thank you for asking! There are so many things you can do and some of them cost nothing but a little time and effort. Not just today but on an ongoing basis.

BUY BOOKS. If you are in a position to buy books, please do. Better yet, buy them at a bricks and mortar independent bookstore. If you don’t see a book you want on the shelf, ASK bookstore staff to order it in. Please don’t walk out and order it from Amazon. I can guarantee you bookstore staff will bend over backwards to get that book in for you. Plus, it may signal them to order in more copies for their shelves. Maybe it inspires conversations about bringing in more diverse books. Amazon won’t have that conversation with you.

GIFT BOOKS. Give books for toy drives (yes, even Christmas toy drives!), Little Free Libraries, birthday gifts, Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts, and just because. Hot tip: Many authors are happy to send along signed bookplates/swag to help make your gift more special.

REVIEWS. Add your own book reviews on retailer sites - Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo. Even if you didn’t buy the book from them, some sites still allow you to review books there.

More reviews also improve the algorithms at retailers. More reviews means more people will see these books. Just to be clear - I'm not saying go in and 5-star all the Jewish books. Please be honest and thoughtful with your reviews. Also, Amazon does absolutely prioritize reviews when you've bought the book from them. I don't love Amazon but if you do buy your books there, know that your reviews count even more.

Also, review on Goodreads. Publishers really do view these and will see that Jewish books are relevant and WILL SELL. Add Jewish books to your ‘to be read’ list and other curated lists, as appropriate. ‘Like’ other people’s reviews of books you enjoyed also. Don’t be stalkery on other people’s profiles, but absolutely show your love in an honest and non-creepy way.

If you have a blog or website of your own, review books. There are also some blogs where you can do guest-posts – review books there, too.

If you don’t have a blog, shout out on social media. A one-line review about a book you loved counts! Honest! And if you did love it, tag the author because writing can be lonely and discouraging – feedback matters and will let us know that we’re putting good things out into the world. P.S. If you didn’t like a book, you are absolutely entitled to that but please, please don’t tag the author on a bad or not-great review. We already have enough self-doubt, thank you very much.

Look around and see where else you might review – your local paper, shul bulletin, family newsletter, wherever.

And here’s a great idea: If your kids/grandkids/students read and love books, ask them to review and post reviews (written or even video - so many kids want to be YouTube stars - here’s their chance!) on their behalf. What a great way to get kids thinking critically and thoughtfully about books and what they read. It’s also balm for authors’ delicate souls. For some great examples of kid reviews, check out the PJ Our Way website:

ASK YOUR LIBRARY TO PURCHASE. This counts for authors a lot and costs you nothing but a bit of time. Some library systems (like the one where I am in Canada) actually compensate authors based on their books being in their libraries. Plus, these count as sales and signal publishers that Jewish books are wanted/relevant and should be in libraries. Kids may discover a book they never would have otherwise seen because now it’s on the library shelves. Request books and then check them out (checkouts get tracked!).

BOOK CLUBS. Host a tween/teen book club with your kids/grandkids/students! Many authors create book club/discussion guides that are free to download. Many would even love to attend your book club virtually. Yes, really! Get in touch.

Another idea: If you’re in an adult book club, why not choose a kids’ book every few months? A classic from your childhood or, better yet, a new book that you’ve been hearing about. I was a guest author at an adult book club recently (because of a family connection) and the attendees, many who hadn’t read a book written for kids in decades, were surprised at how much they enjoyed a book intended for tweens.

TELL PEOPLE about books you love. Even if you’re not on social media much, you can spread the word in person. Another great way to support Jewish books without spending anything. Recommend them to friends/family/co-workers/strangers on the bus.

And remember, don’t just recommend them as 'great Jewish books' but 'great books' period.

Joanne Levy wouldn’t be doing her job as an author if she didn’t tell you about her books. She has written several containing Jewish characters that she hopes you read, enjoy, and talk about. Her most recent, SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS and her debut, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE were both named as Sydney Taylor Notable Books. In between them are THE SUN WILL COME OUT, DOUBLE TROUBLE, and FISH OUT OF WATER. Joanne lives in rural Ontario, Canada with her husband, pets, and an impressive array of books and craft supplies. 

Listen to Joanne's past appearances on The Book of Life: SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS in February 2022 and FISH OUT OF WATER in October 2020.