Page 117 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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MILLER/ AMERICAN JEWISH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
105
(Summer of my German soldier,
Greene, 1973). In each, however, it
is the human element that touches a responsive chord in the
reader. The pitifully small numbers in this category tell their own
story of insularity and lack of vision.
These eleven hundred books, representing a quarter century
of publishing contain outstanding writing by and about Jews, im­
aginative illustrations, the finest in humor, and the tragic story of
a people under constant threat of extermination. They demon­
strate an attempt to hold tightly to customs and ceremonies, tra­
ditional observance, and a heritage that spans thousands of years.
Many of these stories persist in an effort to indoctrinate and in­
culcate future generations of Jewish children. At the same time,
the quality of this literature has been a part of the literary herit­
age of the greater American society.
It is not unusual, then, to find that the literature has gaps and
weaknesses, that there is a hesitancy in exposing fault, that there
is a tendency to be rigid and stereotypic. Many countries and peo­
ples rewrite their history, unable to confront today’s perceptions
of reality, which may also lack perspective.
This body of writing does not unveil fully the heterogeneity
and complexity of American Jewish life. It leaves a picture that is
stilted and unrealistic, despite its charm. It gives Jewish children
a sense of inadequacy, if the persistent image is different from
the customs and ceremonies that the child knows. Boring,
simplistic, and didactic representations of life crowd the pages.
Little of the world of Jews outside the country’s borders are ever
explored. Few personalities jump from print as heroic models for
tomorrow’s leadership. Yet, it is a body of writing to regard with
pride and a profound sense of ownership.
What makes for excellence in Children’s Literature? The
beauty and variety of language, visuals that constitute fine art
and delight the eye, stories that profoundly affect our vision of
self and our own place in the universe, meaning that rubs the psy­
che and brings understanding to a new place. Despite narrow
perspectives and mixed messages, the past twenty-five years of
American Jewish Children’s Books are an impressive heritage.