Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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MILLER/AMERICAN JEWISH CHILDREN S LITERATURE
95
Although a few titles bridged more than one category, they
were placed in the one that most closely defined the content. The
designation other (49 volumes) included all fictional stories about
Jews throughout the world, from Russia to Robin Hood’s
England, books on comparative religion, and those that fell be­
tween the cracks. O f the thirty to seventy Jewish Children’s books
published each year (70 in 1982-83) the range of topics is
predictable, denying heterogeneity, often reinforcing stereo­
types, reflecting both a market driven and a political society. An
examination of the statistics and trends during the past twenty-
five years leads to some interesting questions, and some conjec­
tures. I will not comment upon the History, or Geography non­
fiction that are mainly text or reference books, although they
play a significant role in modern Jewish religious education. I will
discuss each of the remaning content areas in the context of the
statistics.
HOLIDAYS AND CUSTOMS
Twenty-five percent of all Jewish Children’s Books published
each year concern holidays, prayers, ceremonies, and customs.
Most come from Jewish and religious presses, to be sold in reli­
gious institutions and gift shops. They are peripheral in nature,
giving simplistic explanations, devoid of the substance and
beauty of many adult volumes on the same subjects. When tradi­
tional American publishers of juvenile books choose to focus on
Jewish holidays, the emphasis changes from the event to human
interactions and universal problems of childhood. During the
sixties and the early seventies the numbers of books about holi­
days and customs declined (Figure 1), reaching lows of two and
three in 1963 and 1964, and of five in 1973. These years were
difficult ones for many Jewish families, with children choosing to
abandon Judaism and pursue alternative life styles and religious
experiences. New publications coming from the Jewish presses
for families and religious institutions reflected the downward
trend. Since 1972, however, the numbers have risen steadily,
reaching a high of twenty-five in 1983. Despite intermarriage
and declining birth rates, particularly among Jews, a resurgence
of publication specifically designed for Jewish children is upon
lis. Although the number of volumes is increasing each year, little
attention is given to other than strict traditional observance. Chil­
dren brought up as Reform Jews could not identify with