Thursday, February 19, 2009

All Of A Kind Family Taught Me Everything I Know About Judaism

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


ilefkowitz said...

Thanks for pointing this column out Liz. As a Jewish parent it is difficult to find children's books that feature Jewish characters who aren't caricatures and books that are just books not lessons.

Anonymous said...

I loved these books as a little girl. The only part I remembered was the girls going to the candy store and buying candy (or chocolate?) babies, then eating the heads off while under their bed covers at night. I finally remembered what book that memory came from and I bought them all for my future children to read!

tanita✿davis said...

A really good piece -- I loved the All of a Kind family well, and read it over and over, pretty sure I wanted to be Jewish when I grew up! And for those who actually are, Jewish, I can't wait to see that kosher pig book!

Anonymous said...

YAY! for All of a Kind Family! I wanted to be Jewish too after reading them. They are so cozy, and I recommend them to kids who have finished the Little House books and want more small family slice of life stuff.

Sophie Brookover said...

Yay indeed! All of a Kind Family books are so, so wonderful -- classics that truly stand up to reading in the 21st century. My Mom is a synagogue librarian, and these books came up in conversation at dinner the other night. She says that every year, she has a new group of kids (mostly girls) excited to read them. They totally are the Jewish