Classic Jewish Children's Books

A place to kvell about Jewish Children's Literature.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Classic Jewish Children's Books
A children's literature list serve that I'm on recently asked the question: What book or books changed your life? Reading the comments has been fascinating. So I'm asking the same question here of AJL-GCC bloggers.
As a child, I was an avid reader and I remember many of the books I loved: Angelo the Naughty One, Bright April, Snow Treasure, Grimm's fairy tales but I think that the two most important books of my childhood were Little Women and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House stories. I not only read them over and over but with my friends, played them - with me always as Jo or Laura!
As an adult, it's harder to say. Isaac Bashevis Singer's novels and stories set in Eastern Europe came along at a very important time for me. Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, and Jane Austen's novels were, and are, peak reading experiences. I've read Cold Comfort Farm by Sheila Gibbons, James Thurber's stories, and Tolkien's Ring books many times with pleasure. I love witty books and Barbara Pym's very English novels about "excellent women" are among my favorites.
The more I write, the more books I remember with love. That's why an exercise like this is fun and revealing.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Patricia Polacco Censored

Following is an alarming message from Patricia Polacco that has been posted on several listservs:

Urgent Notice....

To All Educators, Librarians, and Media Specialists
Regarding the cancellation of my appearance at the IRA in Chicago for May 2 and 3, 2006:

A few months ago I was approached by The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, OH, to appear at the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. I was to be part of 5 events. Speeches, 'meet and greet' and book signings.

I was happy to accept the invitation which, I assumed, was coming from the I.R.A. and my publisher. It is always such an honor for me to speak and interact with teachers and librarians from around the country.

But, then, a very disturbing turn of events transpired. My staff started receiving phone calls and emails from this firm in Ohio requesting that I furnish them with a detailed written outline of what I intended to include in my speeches. I assumed, of course, that this was asked so that a synopsis of my content could be included in a printed brochure furnished to the conferees.

You can imagine my astonishment when I finally called this firm and learned that this was not the reason. They requested my written outline because their 'client' wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company who manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country.

It was then that I closely reviewed all of the emails (I had not up until this time because I had been doingschool visits and was not home until now). I then realized that the "client" that this firm referred to, but never names, was indeed, SRA/McGraw Hill! I also learned from the Officials of the IRA that SRA/McGrawHill was indeed sponsoring the event that I had been invited to. I was shocked!

This "firm" insisted that my speech be "upbeat, non-controversial, and non-political"...I countered with the fact that the plight of the American teacher is far from "upbeat" and they are caught in the vice grip of the most controversial and political LIE that has ever been perpetrated on the American teacher.

I was also quite mystified as to why SRA/McGraw Hill would even select ME and invite me to be a part of their program knowing how strongly I feel about this entire situation.

My speeches certainly do inspire teachers...I truly believe they are among the last hero's we have in ourcountry...but I always mention the destructive path that is laying wasted to our schools and that is the No Child Left Behind Mandate!

I did mention to them that I considered this broaching "censorship" and a violation of my freedom of speech.

Finally, after receiving numerous emails from this 'firm' that got more and more 'insistences'...I finally sent them a written refusal to alter my speeches in any way. Certainly I can moderate their length, but I refused to alter the content. I made them aware if they truly had a problem with this, then they could "un-invite" me to be part of their event.

Needless to say, SRA/McGraw Hill cancelled my programs within the hour!

My main concern here, is that I very much fear the conferees will be led to believe that it is I who cancelled this event. The cancellation was the choice of SRA/McGraw Hill and was generated by a blatant attempt to CENSOR my remarks and the content of what I say to teachers, which is a clear infringement of my constitutional right to freedom of speech. I pride myself on being an advocate for America's teachers as well as being one of the most reliable speakers at conferences in our country.

My lawyers and I have set a formal request to SRA/McGraw Hill through their representative, The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to post thefollowing signs outside of each venue at the conference where I am scheduled to speak. "DUE TO PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SRA/McGRAW HILL AND PATRICIA POLACCO, SRA/McGRAW HILL HAS CHOSEN TO CANCEL ALL OF PATRICIA POLACCO'S APPEARANCES AT THIS EVENT"

Call anyone you know that was either going to attend my events, or that did and were disappointed and tell them why this happened.

I am very disturbed by this on may levels. It seems that we Americans are losing, by leaps and bounds, our constitution "guaranteed" rights.

I am insulted and very offended not only on my own behalf, but also because of these various organizations that seek to profit from the misery for our teachers and school children. Profits and money seem to matter much more than truly making changes to our educational systems that would truly help our children. I have to admit that I have a certain amount of pride in taking this stand on your behalf.

Yours faithfully,
Patricia Polacco

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Classic Jewish Children's Books:
The PJ Library is an exciting new book-giveaway program sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. It is aimed primarily at marginally affiliated or intermarried Jewish families with young children and the intent is to imbue recipients of PJ Library materials with Yiddishkeit through high quality Jewish children's literature. Presently, the PJ Library is for families with children from birth to age five but there are plans to expand it to age eight. Those who join the PJ Library, which is free in its first year and available at a nominal cost in subsequent years, receive a book or a music CD once a month, every month of the year. Each age child in the family gets a different set of books, along with a few Jewish music CD's and a Jewish parenting book. Every family in the program also receives the PJ Library's current "signature" book: Before You Were Born by Howard Schwartz. Board books are chosen for babies and toddlers while older preschoolers get a selection of picture books. Visit for more information.
I've been on the PJ Library's book selection committee since its inception in Spring of 2005. The committee consists of librarians, early childhood educators, publishers, and Grinspoon Foundation staff. We meet once a year in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where Harold Grinspoon and his wife, Diane Troderman, live and where the Grinspoon Foundation offices are located. This year we had looooong meetings on Sunday and Monday in early May, ending with a festive dinner for authors and illustrators at the author, Richard Michelson's, art gallery in Northampton, MA. During the year, between meetings, we read, identify high quality Jewish children's books, discard some of the poorer titles, and do some preliminary selection. Face-to-face at the meetings, we debate the merits of various books and rank them in priority order, with the highest ranking chosen for inclusion among the books that are sent to families. We have many opinions but one firm standard: the books chosen must be on a par with the best secular children's books because nothing but the best will do.
This has highlighted a problem that I've been aware of for some time but never came to grips with. There are very few high quality picture books (including board books) of Jewish content. The weakness is greatest in the art: with few exceptions, the illustrations are mediocre, mundane, and unmemorable! This is especially true among the Jewish publishers, who produce the most books for the early childhood years. Kar-Ben's books are useful, they fill a niche, they introduce preschoolers to basic Jewish concepts but they tend to all look alike, with sentimental pastels and pedestrian artistic technique. Hachai's books are filled with Jewish values and concepts from an Orthodox point of view but they, too, are lacking in artistry and originality.
The PJ Library book selection committee is trying to address this problem and it may be that the Grinspoon Foundation, with Harold Grinspoon very dedicated to the project, will have some influence. As the PJ Library is marketed to funders in Jewish communities all over the country, it's possible to hope that Cleveland may one day be part of it.
Linda Silver


The Koret International Jewish Book Awards project is a program of Jewish Family and Life in partnership with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture with a grant from Koret Foundation Funds. For more information, visit
The first award given to a children's book by the Koret Foundation, before the award was re-conceptualized and teamed with JFL and NFJC, was given in 2005 to Karen Hesse for The Cats In Krasinski Square, illus. by Wendy Watson, published by Scholastic. This was a worthy choice but it was announced as a picture book when it is, instead, an illustrated story about the Holocaust, written for children who are considerably older than those for whom picture books are intended.
Following the same practice as the Jewish Book Council in its National Jewish Book Awards, the Koret Foundation did not announce the criteria for their awards, the credentials of the judges, or the selection process. Professionally creditable book awards make these things known and it is hoped that the new Koret Awards (and the Jewish Book Council) will modify its practice towards more transparency.
(Also posted on the What's New? page of the Jewish ValuesFinder by Linda Silver)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Summer Reading Lists

Classic Jewish Children's Books
If you are looking for summer reading for Jewish kids, the Ratner Media Center compiles two lists. One, which we've done for a few years, is called "Paperbacks for Campers' Backpacks" and it's been slightly updated for 2006. A brand new one is "Play Ball: Jewish Sports Books for Kids." They can be accessedat the Bibliography Bank of the AJL website,, Resources link. Soon they will appear on the JECC website,, Ratner Media Center page. I really urge schools and day school librarians to recommend JEWISH books to their students and these lists will help. I was just at a dinner in Mass. with lots of writers and illustrators of Jewish books. They bemoaned the fact that Jewish content books are not promoted. These lists - and their distibution by day school and synagogue librarians - will help to solve that problem if Judaica librarians across the country make it a priority.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Check out Heidi Estrin's blog to listen to her latest podcast, which includes an interview with Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief. She also interviews the executive editor at Scholastic about Jewish books that Scholastic has published. You can listen to the podcast on your computer. The link to Heidi's blog, The Book of Life, is on the right hand side of this blog under the heading Links. I am very impressed with Heidi's foray into the new technology of podcasting!


Saturday, April 29, 2006

Great Gadget

Here's a great idea!
Check out this link:


Friday, April 28, 2006

Favorite Books about Israel

Yom Ha'atzmaut is just around the corner! What are some of your favorite books about Israel? Two books that immediately come to my mind are : And Shire Imagined by Giora Carmi and Chicken Man by Michelle Edwards. And Shira Imagined follows a young girl through Israel visiting various landmarks. Chicken Man is a funny look at life on a Kibbutz. If I am not mistaken, both of these books made it to our Classics List. Another that just popped in my head is Snow in Jerusalem by Deborah De Costa, about two boys, one from the Jewish quarter the other from the Muslim quarter, who both look over the same stray cat. Do you have any creative ways for celebrating this holiday in your libraries or schools?