Jewish Kidlit Action Checklist

In 2020, I received the Groner-Wikler Award, sponsored by Kar-Ben Publishing and conferred by the Association of Jewish Libraries, for my advocacy for Jewish children's literature. The award includes a scholarship for conference attendance, and because of the pandemic, I was unable to use it until 2022. At #AJLcon22, I gave a brief speech during the membership meeting, the text of which can be seen below, and will eventually appear in the AJL Conference Proceedings. I hope my speech and the accompanying handout above will inspire you to help me take action to change the world.

Heidi Rabinowitz & Sean Boyle

Acceptance Speech, Kar-Ben Publishing Groner-Wikler Scholarship
Association of Jewish Libraries Conference, Philadelphia, PA
June 28, 2022

When I got the email from Emily Bergman telling me I’d been awarded the Kar-Ben Publishing Groner-Wikler Scholarship, she explained that the committee was pleased to see all my work “not only on behalf of children's literature in AJL, but spreading the word about Jewish kidlit far and wide using many different venues and formats.”

Anybody who knows me, knows that I rarely shut up about Jewish kidlit. By myself or with some of you here, I am always finding new ways to talk about Jewish books for kids and teens.

For example…

  • Through The Book of Life, the podcast that I’ve been hosting for an unbelievable 17 years;
  • Through the Jewish Kidlit Mavens group on Facebook, where we now have more than 1100 members who also can’t shut up about Jewish kidlit;
  • Back in the day, through chairing the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee, and more recently by helping to run The Sydney Taylor Shmooze mock award blog;
  • By coordinating the AJL Holiday Highlights committee that promotes the best Jewish children’s holiday books each spring and fall;
  • And in “the outside world” by horning in anywhere that’ll have me, like joining the Diverse Books Advisory Group for Little Free Libraries and giving presentations (with some of you) to groups like the Children’s Book Council.

But WHY is it so important to me to share Jewish kidlit with the world? After all, I started my career as a public children’s librarian, and I am not what you’d call a super observant Jew. I do all this because I believe kidlit can change the world. The books we read in childhood make a deep impression on us, they shape our thinking and our beliefs. They exercise our imaginations and our abilities to think outside the box. They build empathy. Mirror books make us feel seen and window books help us understand what life is like for people who are different from us.

But how is this “good for the Jews”? It’s good for us, and for any marginalized group, because those magical effects of reading can be used to convey information about our community. Jewish mirror books validate our kids’ experiences and give them confidence about their place in the world. Jewish window books (sometimes the same book, depending who’s reading it) demystify Jews and plant seeds of understanding in readers of other backgrounds.

Good Jewish kidlit is a bulwark against prejudice. Empathizing with Jewish characters might just inoculate non-Jewish readers against antisemitism. Reading about Sephardic Jews or Jews of color or queer Jews or Jews who observe differently from you, can help expand the horizons of the dominant group (of which I am a member), of white Ashkenazim, and perhaps break down the kinds of assumptions about “what Jewish looks like” that can lead to microaggressions within our own community.

So yes, kidlit can change the world, and Jewish kidlit can make the world a better, more welcoming place to be Jewish. If I’ve convinced you, I hope you will join me in this quest to change the world. Every little bit helps, and the more people that promote Jewish kidlit, the more change we can create. I’ve got a handy checklist for you and I hope everybody here will pledge to do at least one (if not more) of these things to help promote Jewish books for kids and teens.

  1. Listen to and share at least one episode of The Book of Life podcast. FYI, if you’d rather read than listen, I’ve got you covered. I provide a transcript for each episode.
  2. Read and share at least one book review from The Sydney Taylor Shmooze. At the end of the year, don’t forget to vote for your favorites. If you want to level up, join our team of book reviewers.
  3. If you are a kidlit person, join the Jewish Kidlit Mavens group on Facebook. If you are not, tell a friend who is. If you are already a member, take an active part in the group discussions. Don’t just lurk, at least not all the time.
  4. Choose at least one person who you plan to tell about the Holiday Highlights lists when they are published in the spring and fall.
  5. Read the guest post by my friend Joanne Levy on The Book of Life website about how to support Jewish children’s literature by buying books, gifting books, reviewing books, requesting your public library to buy them, hosting a book club, and just plain telling people about books. Read it, and then choose one thing from her list and do it.

In this time when a small group of very loud extremists is trying to impose homogeneity on our society by censoring books that represent minorities, it is more important than ever that we make our diverse voices heard, that we stand up for Jewish books. We know that nobody will do this for us, which is a whole ‘nother conversation. To push back against censorship, to claim our place at the table, and to impress our very humanity upon readers before it’s too late, before they grow up with closed minds, it is so important that we share Jewish books with the children of the world and the adults who love them.

I hope you will join me. Thank you.


Doreen Robinson said…
Mazel Tov and Yasher Koach Heidi, on being awarded the scholarship and Todah Rabah for all your work and everything you do for the Jewish (and secular) KidLit community!