Saturday, March 6, 2021

Love Your Neighbor: AJL Recommends Children’s Books for Turbulent Times

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List No. 1: Standing Up for One Another
In response to the mass shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh and to rising anti-Semitism in the United States, librarians and experts on children’s literature from the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) are offering a series of “Love Your Neighbor” book lists for young readers. The compilers say their intention is to target a non-Jewish audience of children and teens.

Heidi Rabinowitz, a children’s librarian from Florida and a past president of AJL, spearheaded the project, writing that “Books read in youth impact future outlooks, and it is our hope that meeting Jews on the page will inspire friendship when readers meet Jews in real life.” This first list focuses on books that hopefully will build empathy and understanding of the Jewish experience. It features stories of Jews and non-Jews standing up for one another, working out differences, and confronting prejudice. Further lists will include books about Jewish diversity, synagogues and clergy, and cross-cultural friendship.

The AJL website offers the list in printable PDF format. Future lists will be printed soon and should prove useful to teachers and librarians across the country, particularly those who are unfamiliar with Jewish resources. Rabinowitz said, “There’s no knowing whether books like these would have made a difference if read during the childhood of the Pittsburgh shooter, and we can’t guarantee that reading them to today’s kids will prevent future tragedy. But as ‘Pirkei Avot,’ (Ethics of the Fathers), tells us, we are not obligated to complete the work of combatting anti-Semitism, but neither are we free to desist from it. We’ve got to do what we can. As librarians, we know that the right book can make a difference, especially when read during the formative years of childhood.” 

Picture books

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper, art by Gabi Swiatkowska, ages 4-8 (Abrams Books)
This book is a gentle reminder of a timeless rule for parent and child: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A boy and his grandfather discuss the rule’s universality and how to put it into practice.

Hannah’s Way by Linda Glaser,” art by Adam Gustavson, ages 4-8 (Kar-Ben)
After Papa loses his job during the Depression, Hannah’s family moves to rural Minnesota, where she is the only Jewish child in her class. When her teacher tries to arrange carpools for a Saturday class picnic, Hannah is upset. Her Jewish family is observant, and she knows she cannot ride on the Sabbath. What will she do? A lovely story of friendship and community.

Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty” by Linda Glaser, art by Claire A. Nivola, ages 4-8 (Houghton Mifflin)
In 1883, Emma Lazarus, a Jew deeply moved by an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, wrote a sonnet that gave a voice to the Statue of Liberty. The statue, thanks to Emma’s poem, came to define us as a nation that welcomes immigrants. A true story.

Never Say a Mean Word Again: A Tale From Medieval Spain” by Jacqueline Jules, art by Durga Yael Bernhard, ages 4-8 (Wisdom Tales Press)
Inspired by a powerful legend of conflict resolution, “Never Say a Mean Word Again” is the compelling story of a boy who is given permission to punish an enemy. A surprising twist shows how an enemy can become a friend.

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr.” and “Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom” by Richard Michelson, art by Raul Colon, ages 6-9 (Knopf)
Here is the story of two icons for social justice, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel, how they formed a remarkable friendship and turned their personal experiences of discrimination into a message of love and equality for all.

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, art by Fabio Santomauro, ages 7-11 (Kar-Ben)
This is the dramatic story of neighbors in a small Danish fishing village who, during the Holocaust, shelter a Jewish family waiting to be ferried to safety in Sweden. Worried about the family’s safety, friends devise a clever and unusual plan for their safe passage to the harbor. Based on a true story.

Chapter books

The Inquisitor’s Tale, or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” by Adam Gidwitz, art by Hatem Aly, ages 9-15 (Dutton)
France, 1242. A Christian peasant girl, a Moorish boy raised as a monk, and a Jewish boy, on the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, embark on a quest that drives them forward to a final showdown.

Refugee” by Alan Gratz, ages 9-13 (Scholastic)
A Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany, a Cuban girl in 1994, a Syrian boy in
2015 — all three go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. This action-packed novel tackles topics both timely and
timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home.

Vive La Paris” by Esme Raji Codell, ages 9-12 (Hyperion)
Paris has come for piano lessons, not chopped-liver sandwiches or French lessons or free advice. But when old Mrs. Rosen, who is Jewish, gives her a little bit more than she can handle, it might be just what Paris needs to understand the bully in her brother’s life … and the bullies of the world.

The Hired Girl” by Laura Amy Schlitz, ages 10-14 (Candlewick)
Fourteen-year-old Joan’s 1911 journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a Jewish society household in Baltimore takes readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats and bunions.

Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust” by Leanne Lieberman, ages 13-18 (Orca)
Jewish teen Lauren is sick of Holocaust memorials. But when she sees some of her friends — including Jesse, a cute boy she likes — playing Nazi war games, she is faced with a terrible choice: betray her friends or betray her heritage.

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba” by Margarita Engle, ages 12 to adult (Henry Holt)
Daniel has escaped Nazi Germany with nothing but a desperate dream that he might one day find his parents again. But that golden land called New York has turned away the ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba. The young refugee befriends a local girl with some painful secrets of her own. Yet even in Cuba, the Nazi darkness is never far away.

The Love Your Neighbor series of book lists was created by the Association of Jewish Libraries to grow readers’ understanding of the Jewish religion and its people. Visit jewishlibraries.org for forthcoming book lists in the series. 

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