Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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MILLER/AMERICAN JEWISH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
103
geneous population, of youngsters with growing up problems in
a different culture, with shared customs and strong differences.
NOSTALGIC WRITINGS
Just as adult fiction holds on to its love of nostalgia, so are there
a small regular number of children’s books, set in New York City
in the early part of the century, or in the years 1920-1940 — the
eras of the great waves of immigration. In 1980 a book of photo­
graphs appeared,
Immigrant kids
(Freedman, 1980) portraying
the beginnings of life in New York at the turn of the century.
Though stories of this genre are among the most well regarded
by critics of all the books for children about Jews, there is a con­
sistency in approach, an overwhelming “goodness” in characteri­
zation, a concentration on overcoming hardship, and preserving
the faith through the many obstacles of poverty, misunderstand­
ing, and hostility against Jews. The predictability of each ending
assured, some wonderful human drama and fine writing is con­
tained within these pages.
Few can forget the
All-of-a-kind family,
traditional, loving, en­
during. New volumes are still appearing which depict the whole­
some travails of Jewish family life. In the same vein, Miriam
Chaikin and Barbara Cohen extol their personal family
rememberences. Half of the titles about American Jews are set in
New York City, giving youngsters a strongly distorted picture of
immigration and Judaism as a way of life in America.
Molly felt guilty. It made no difference what she ate. The
restaurant wasn’t kosher.
Mrs. Riness put down the menu she had been studying.
“I ’ll have sweet and sour pork,” she said to the waiter.
Molly was flabbergasted. Pork? Mrs. Riness was an
immigrant, like Mama. Her Jewish accent was even worse
than Mama’s. How could she sit there and order pork, like
the goyim? (Chaikin, 1982, p. 76)
This graphic, involving description, that brings to life a clash of
cultures withing the Jewish community, makes value judgements
through the eyes of a small child, that have a profound effect
upon the juvenile reader.