Jewish Children's Literature

Classic books continue to inspire new generations.

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Molly's Pilgrim has a sadder tone as its main character is a Jewish immigrant child who is picked on at school for being different. Two strong women in the story, an understanding teacher and a loving mother, are pivotal characters who, each in her own way, convince Molly's classmates that Jewish immigrants are not so different from the American Pilgrims they study and admire.

All-of-a-Kind Reading

Yet, the best known and most widely read of Jewish children's classics focus on family--Sydney Taylor's five All-of-a-Kind Family books (1951-1978). The author based them on her own experiences growing up in a large Jewish family in the early 20th century. In the series, Mama and Papa are hard working immigrants and parents to six lively children.

As newcomers, the kids and their parents work to adjust to American society while remaining faithful to their Jewish heritage. In All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown, for example, the sisters reach out to Guido, a poor Italian boy struggling to care for his sick mother, by inviting him to join in decorating their Sukkah on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Throughout the five books, the family grows and changes while retaining the strong bonds that love and shared traditions create. The All-of-a-Kind Family books were the first Jewish children's books to cross over into mainstream literature. Taylor legacy's has been honored with the creation of the Association of Jewish Libraries' Sydney Taylor Book Award, which recognizes outstanding Jewish children's literature annually.

Holocaust Literature

Just as the Holocaust shaped modern Jewish history, its impact runs deep in the literary world. Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl (1952) marked the beginning of an outpouring of Holocaust memoirs, fiction, biographies, and non-fiction accounts--many of which were written for children and young adults.

A classic of that genre is Esther Hautzig's memoir of her childhood in Siberia, The Endless Steppe (1968), as well as Lois Lowry's Number the Stars (1989), a novel about the rescue of Danish Jews. Both books achieve a balance between depicting the horror of the Holocaust and portraying the hope that gives humans the power to endure.

Holocaust stories also have been written specifically for the youngest of readers. Terrible Things (1980), an allegory for young children by Eve Bunting, is often used as a child's first introduction to the Holocaust. Using animal characters and softly colored illustrations, Bunting tells the story of the "Terrible Things" that come to the forest, first hunting every creature with feathers on its back. Everyone except the birds remark that they don't have feathers; maybe the forest is better without the birds. But then the Terrible Things begin singling out all of the other groups of animals, until none is left. Bunting takes her text from the famous words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:

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Linda R. Silver is the editor of The Jewish Valuesfinder, an online guide to over 1,200 recommended books of Jewish content for children and teens. She is also the author of Jewish Classics for Kids and The Jewish Values Finder: A Guide to Values in Jewish Children's Books.