I may exaggerate slightly, but I went to Catholic school.
All-of-a-kind Family taught me about turn of the century New York, and Mama hiding buttons to get the girls to dust, and changing the color of a white dress by steeping it in tea. It also taught me about Purim. They were wonderful books about the story of five girls (and later, one brother) growing up in New York City. I learned things because the story was great; Sydney Taylor didn't set out to educate kids like me.
Laurel Snyder has a must-read article about Jewish children's literature, Where the Wild Things Aren’t, at Nextbook. Snyder writes about what Jewish children's books are -- and are not.
If you're reading a picture book, and religion isn't mentioned, what religion are the main characters? An illustrator for one of Snyder's books decided that the default religion is Christian and included Santa Claus in an illustration: "Of course I was bothered. I don’t, as a rule, keep books with Christian elements in my own home, and yet here, in my book, was Father Christmas himself. Still, I couldn’t fault the artist, since there was nothing in the text to indicate what I had assumed people would know—that the book was Jewish because it was written by a Jewish author. "
Snyder's article is an excellent look at Jewish publishing today; as well as an examination of when the need to tell a good story collides with the belief books should be educational, with messages. Snyder links to some great stuff, so while you're reading it, be sure to click the links.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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