Sunday, December 02, 2018

Hanukkah and the Holocaust: What stories are we telling our Jewish kids?

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If, as Jewish parents, we care so much about sharing Judaism with our kids, why aren’t we doing it through the books we read them???

Only slightly frustrated by a flood of Chanukah books coming at me from all sides, I decided to go to my friendly local online library (in Toronto) and search for various keywords of Jewish life, just to rank which categories were most important to us, as parents and readers, based on how many kids’ books turned up in each category.

So it turns out we’re telling our kids a whole lot – about Hanukkah and the Holocaust. And not much else.

I want to point out up front that this search was never going to turn up as many books as an Amazon search would. Amazon turns up anything and everything, you know that already.  Big and small; garbage and classics. But my thought was that a library search is somewhat curated – someone’s actually making decisions about what turns up here.  So this search is more likely to turn up the books that librarians actually order for our libraries to share with kids of all kinds.

One more catch: This is the online library, not the physical library, so these are all ebooks. Picture books and others that aren’t available as ebooks will not turn up in this search. But still – it’s 2018. There should (spoiler alert!) be more variety than this.

Here’s how many books came up in a search for “Juvenile” books with the following keywords…

Jewish

67

Most of these books are included in other categories below: Hanukkah, Holocaust, or, heck, one called Who Was Jesus? Which you just know has got to be all about Judaism.

Holocaust

60

Nothing really to say here.  For the very oldest to the very youngest, there are enough Holocaust books to read more than one a week – and by next year, I’m sure there will be more if you’d care to start over.

Hanukkah

44

Judaism

11

Most books in this category are Hanukkah-related or Holocaust related. There’s also Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, by Maya Angelou, billed as being “for all faiths,” along with a book called Girl Made of Dust about someone growing up in Lebanon. Close, but no cigar.  (Ah, a quick check shows that Israel invaded Lebanon, starting a war which is destroying this young girl’s life.  So kind of relevant, yes.)

Chanukah

8

Noah’s Ark

8

Not specifically Jewish, but worth including.

Jewish Life

7

This category also includes Who Was Jesus? and the All-of-a-Kind Family

Jew

5

All books in this category are also Holocaust books.

Rosh Hashanah

5

Torah

4

Sukkot

3

Exodus

2

Israel

2

Jewish Faith

2

Mitzvah

2

Moses

2

If you count The Story of Passover and What Are the Ten Commandments? Nothing specifically about him.

Shabbat

2

Bar Mitzvah

1

King David

1

From a series of Christian Bible books.

Purim

1

Rabbi

1

Abraham

0

Lots of Abrahams, actually, but all were Lincoln.

Bishvat, Shvat

0

Challah

0

Conversos

0

(I didn’t really think there would be anything… but I wanted to try!)

Hebrew

0

Israeli

0

Jerusalem

0

Kosher

0

Shabbos

0

Shavuot

0

Sukkos

0

Synagogue

0

A few typical searches:

1 result for “Rabbi”:

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5 results for “Jew”:

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(ah, yes… all the faces of Holocaust-displaced or killed Jews…)

4 results for “Torah”:

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The first 4 of 60 results for “Holocaust”:

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And 3 for Sukkot:

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After I had satisfied my curiosity and made the table above, I also checked up on some of the top Jewish children’s authors today… as determined by a very unscientific survey of which writers pop up on my own Amazon author page.  Here are some stats for the leading lights of Jewish kidlit:

  • Jane Yolen 31 (but most aren’t Jewish)
  • Eric Kimmel 13
  • Laurel Snyder 11 (but most, maybe all, aren’t Jewish)
  • Lesléa Newman 3
  • Tilda Balsley 2
  • Allison Ofanansky 2
  • Tami Lehman-Wilzig 2
  • Anna Levine 2
  • Sylvia Rouss 2
  • Amalia Hoffman 1
  • Jacqueline Jules 1
  • Pamela Mayer 1
  • Tzivia MacLeod 0 – well, I had to check, right? ;-)

Of course, this is just one public library system, and not a very scientific sampling.  Although it happens to be the public library in Canada’s biggest Jewish community, with 188,000 Jews, putting it slightly ahead of Beer Sheva, according to Wikipedia.

But what really surprised me – I honestly wasn’t expecting to see this at all –is that most Jewish authors seemed to be one-hit-wonders. I wonder why that is. Why don’t we trust the same people to keep telling our kids Jewish stories?

Or is it that publishers are so focused on telling our kids the same stories over and over again – the Holocaust, Hanukkah, the Holocaust, Hanukkah – that we as writers get frustrated trying to get a word in edgewise? That we give up writing Jewish books and head off to greener pastures elsewhere, where we’re free to write whatever we want?

It’s just a thought. I don’t know what the answer is.  Maybe some have written prolifically for years, but haven’t had their back catalogue released as ebooks.  That’s entirely possible.

(It’s also possible that most children’s authors are one-hit wonders, period. I’m open to that possibility as well. Honestly, let me know what you think in the Comments.)

Also: If you know of any other great Jewish authors for kids… or any keywords to search for Jewish books that I’ve left out (especially any categories that might have as many books as Hanukkah and the Holocaust)… please let me know and I’ll happily search and update this post!

Meanwhile, as a children’s writer, if I could ask one thing… a Chanukah present, if you will… go out and buy your kids a book this Chanukah about anything other than Chanukah. Anything other than the Holocaust. Anything other than Noah’s Ark. There is so much out there.

Oh, yeah – and let me know what your favourites are as well! What’s truly great out there in Jewish kids’ books????

In the meantime – Happy Chanukah… and Happy the rest of your awesome Jewish life, even if there are no decent kids’ books about it!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה