Page 221 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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ties, intellectual and moral, to write a good book for children.”*
In writing for children one has to be able to supply a frame of
reference from a ch ild’s lim ited store of knowledge. One must
also be able to provide insights to new information on the level
that children can understand. Th is does not mean talking down.
It means that a good children’s author has to have the ability
to strip down the adult’s accumulated mass o f facts to clear essen-
tials. Fortunately many modern authors who write books of Jew-
ish interest for children recognize the importance of these
principles. As a matter of fact progress has, and is being made on
many fronts. N ot only is the writing more creative and imagina-
tive, reflecting a growing understanding o f the interests and
nature of Jewish children in the American environment, but the
subject range is broader and more profound. And books are more
attractive, embellished by fine illustrations. Children’s books have
indeed come a long way toward fulfilling their purpose.
But the progress is not good enough for the People of the
Book, certainly inadequate in a land where Jewish life is at its
most affluent and when interest in Jewish learning is high. For
the most part our authors are well-intentioned but they are pro-
ducing far too many mediocre, pedestrian books. T oo few of the
skilled, master writers apparently feel the inspiration to write
fine Jewish books. One would hope, as we enter the next
25 years, that Jewish themes will attract more writers capable of
writing for children.
T he picture book list is still very sparse. In spite of almost
limitless subject possibilities, Noah and his ark have been worked
to death. Many Jews who are prize w inning illustrators in the
general field, for the most part shun Jewish themes; or, what is
probably truer and therefore much more tragic, they seem to
be unaware of the richness of Jewish life and thus overlook a mine
of material begging for expression.
Charm and fantasy have not been overabundant in Jewish
juvenile literature. The imaginative K’tonton and the Pitzels
would not be daunted by equally good company.
Jewish folk tales and hero tales have been helped along by
Simon’s Chelm stories, but much more could be done. More
recently, Isaac Bashevis Singer has shown what can be done in
Z la teh the G oa t
(New York, Harper 8c Row, 1966). The success
of this lovely book, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, may hope-
fully inspire others to mine the rich lodes of Jewish folk lore.
The fiction list is, alas, far too slim. Biblical themes, Israel, the
holocaust, modern American life, have made only a small dent
— A
mer ican
ew ish
uven ile
* Henry Steele Commager, in the introduction to
A Critical H istory of
Ch ildren’s L i tera tu re ,
edited by Cornelia Meigs.