Page 111 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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MILLER / AMERICAN JEWISH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
99
Friedrich, Summer o f my German soldier,
are important pieces in the
literature of memories. Here storytelling balances cruelty with
kindness, hope with despair, and brings out the characteristics
and twists of fortune that resulted in survival.
BIOGRAPHIES
A consistent stream of biographies have appeared throughout
the past twenty-five years. As is characteristic of most biographies
for children, the personalities are largely overdrawn, idealized,
and have little relation to the reality of the person or the life
events. Jewish biographies cover a range of traditional and mod­
ern individuals, without regard to the influence or importance of
Judaism in the fabric of a life. Moses Maimonides and Sandy
Koufax assume equal importance; Golda Meir and Helena
Rubenstein are treated with similar vacuity. The tendency to be
less than honest with children typifies all biographical writing. If
we are loathe to expose the child to difficult issues (and that has
changed radically with the passing years), we are still unable to
face human inadequacies in historic or public figures. Children
certainly need role models, but they can not be such paragons as
to remove them from reality. The range of personalities would
have made an extraordinary contribution to understanding Jew­
ish history and talent, if their unique lives were given more than
cursory attention. Acceding to a national trend, in recent years
there have been many female biographies — Golda Meir,
Henrietta Szold, Bella Abzug among others. Here is a great tend­
ency towards extolling or excusing strong women, rarely treating
them as humans with ordinary strengths and weaknesses.
LEGEND AND FOLKLORE
Beginning in the mid 1960s the rich vein of Jewish legend and
folklore began to be regularly represented in the list of annual
juvenile publications. Prominent among them have been transla­
tions from Yiddish, or talmudic adaptations that explore a fan­
tasy world of goblins, of ogres, dybbuks, and supernatural
events. T h roughou t this literature runs a palpable vein of
humor, of laughing at self. Isaac Bashevis Singer has tapped the
mother lode of East European folklore touching the hearts of
children and their parents. The translations of his stories from
Yiddish have combined the great wit and traditional sagacity of a