Page 104 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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American Jewish Children’s
Literature: Narrow Perspectives
and Mixed Messages
Once there was a little village where people were neither rich
nor poor, good nor bad, wise nor foolish, except for the Rabbi who
was very .wise. In this little village children went to school, cows
gave milk, and grown-ups worked. It was a very normal village ex­
cept that under a nearby hill, in a deep-dark cave, there lived
twenty-nine o f the meanest, scariest, ugliest, wickedest witches that
ever were. (Hirsch, 1976)
it h
t h e s e
d r a m a t ic a l l y
vivid words Marilyn Hirsh begins her
retelling of the talmudic legend,
The Rabbi and the twenty-nine
It is told with the rich flair of a fine storyteller, to be
heard as well as read, full of expressive language, delightful
illustration, humor and trickery. The story is intrinsically Jewish,
created from the vast storehouse of Jewish legend, and brought
to life by a modern American Jew. It is part of a small but impor­
tant collection of books, loosely and generically identified by the
Jewish Book Annual
as American Jewish Juvenile Books.
What makes an American-Jewish Children’s book? Is it author­
ship? Many Jewish authors who write for children have let their
imaginations play over the entire panoply of fantasy and reality,
without focusing on topics relating to Judaism, to custom,
legend, or leading a Jewish life in the Diaspora. Unlike children’s
literature in Israel, where each story and publication becomes
one skein in the tapestry of a national collection, Jewish literature
of any other country can not be identified by authorship. Many
non-Jewish writers have chosen to publish Bible tales, hand­
somely illustrated, that are embraced as part of Jewish literature.
The identity of the publishing house is not the essential criteria.
Although there are publishers that self-identify as being essen-