Everyone Loved It But Me - Book Bits: Jewish Joy
12:13AM Mar 31, 2022
Welcome to Everyone Loved It But Me. My name is Lisa Hedger. I'm your host. This is a podcast where we offer unique opinions on beloved books. Today's episode is a Book Bits episode and we're going to talk about those books with Jewish joy. So last week I spoke with Jewish librarian, Heidi Rabinowitz, about the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. That's a Holocaust middle grade book. If you haven't listened to that episode, yet, I urge you to check it out. But this episode stands independently on its own, you can certainly listen to this one first and go back to the other episode at your leisure. However, as we were discussing the book, we started really talking and Heidi shared that she feels a lot of kind of joyful Jewish books don't get quite the same amount of attention as those Holocaust books; I decided to break out our conversation about Jewish joy into this Book Bits episode. And I really do hope to have Heidi on in the future where we can really talk more in depth. But what we touched on and what she provides in this episode is some resources that you can use to really start adding to your collection. And I think it's really helpful. And I'm going to include those links in the show notes, please check them out. And also stay tuned, because I was utilizing some of the resources that Heidi passed on, and my family and I are, we just have about an hour left in a newly released middle grade Jewish book. I'm going to talk about that book at the end, and give you some of my thoughts and it's another book I think, that you guys should all consider. So now on to the show.
I am so excited to have Heidi Rabinowitz on the show today; she runs the Book of Life podcast, it's an interview format podcast about Jewish kidlit with occasional coverage of YA and adult books, that she established in December 2005. She has been a director of the Feldman Children's Library, Congregation B'nai Israel, in Boca Raton, Florida since 1998. She also is responsible for the Sydney Taylor Shmooze blog, and you can find many Jewish children's book reviews there as well. Welcome to the show, Heidi, it's so great to have you.
Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
Yeah. And I will include some some links to to those sites as well that we had just talked about. We should just jump in like I was telling you, we do some of these kind of like Book Bits episodes where we talk about... that was one question I have for you is what you've mentioned, as well, which is this whole issue about it feels like a lot of the Jewish literature is just Holocaust, right? But it just feels like when I look at the literature, just anecdotally, it seems like we just don't have as much of the joyful Jewish Joy books, as you said, I mean, and that's just a long standing problem, right? It's for years.
It is a very long standing problem. So it makes sense, because, you know, the Holocaust is very dramatic, very impactful, very emotional, and compelling. So it makes sense that people want to read about it. And it makes sense that, you know, people were trying to share their stories quickly, you know, before the survivors are all gone. We want to share their stories. So, so it makes sense. But it then becomes this sort of vicious cycle that a Holocaust book gets a lot of attention from the publisher. So it's very well produced, well sorted, well illustrated, well put together. And then they they put a lot of muscle behind it and it sells well. Then they say, Oh, look, it sold well, let's do that again. And so then they do more Holocaust books. So it's this endless cycle. I don't have hard statistics, but anecdotally, I can tell you that nearly half of the Jewish, the books of Jewish content that come out in any year for young people have a Holocaust connection, whether that's set in the Holocaust or some other connection, this is both fiction and nonfiction. So that's a lot. That's, and you know, yes, we should never forget, but at the same time, could we also think about something else sometimes? It's the same way, it's the same way that African Americans don't always want to read about slavery. You know, we don't, we don't always want to think about our worst times, we are more than that. And then if it's not the Holocaust, maybe it's the Inquisition, maybe it's the pogroms in Russia, you know, it's like there's a lot of different trauma to read about. And you know, so it's great to to be able to focus on some Jewish joy instead. And we luckily have been seeing more books that just celebrate the experience of Jewish life without going into all of the trauma. You mentioned a book that you --you mentioned an episode of my podcast, you had listened to about Whistle, which is a superhero story with a Jewish superhero. A brand new superhero was invented by E. Lockhart for Gotham City. So Batman's hometown now has a Jewish neighborhood in it, with a Jewish superhero!
That's really good. And I'm wondering, I'm hoping that's just the first step because that really read like, you know, the origin story. You know, that's why I was telling my 12 year old.
It was totally an origin story. So I hope it will go on for a long time. So I do want to share with you a, I'll give you a link that you could put in your show notes of a list that I did as 2021 was ending, I put together a list of what I had been predicting would win the Sydney Taylor Book Award that I just thought was deserving of attention. So this list is actually a little bit longer than the list of books that won. So you know, I'd love you to look at the Sydney Taylor Book Award. But this list actually has a few extras for you. So I'll send that to you. Because most of those are books that celebrate things beyond trauma. And I also want to recommend another graphic novel that I'm about to do a podcast on, which is The Unfinished Corner by Dani Colman which is a sort of a fantasy quest based on Jewish folklore and legends. And it's brand new and delightful graphic novel that I think everyone will enjoy. So yeah, I would love to give you plenty of links that you can share with people so that they can find easily well, some better Holocaust books to read and some others to read. I can also give you a link to the Holocaust books that have won recognition from the Sydney Taylor. So let me just tell you for a moment about the Sydney Taylor. So the Association of Jewish Libraries is a professional organization for librarians like me who work with Jewish collections. And I've been very involved in the organization for a long time. They oversee this award, the Sydney Taylor Book Award for the best Jewish children's books. It's kind of like the Jewish Newbery and Caldecott. Sydney Taylor was the author of the All-of-a-Kind Family series, which came out in the '50s. People may remember because it's still popular. It's a sweet story about five little sisters, five sisters who live on the Lower East Side, and just their daily adventures growing up as immigrants in early 1900s New York City. The Sydney Taylor Book Award recognizes the best in Jewish children's literature each year. And in terms of Holocaust books, they frequently do win recognition, because as we were talking about, they're very well produced. So sometimes they do rise to the top, even though we would like to see other topics, you can't deny if a book was really well done. So I do have a bibliography, I can give you of both a selected bibliography of a sort of reasonable number of books that have gotten Sydney Taylor recognition. And then there's another list with like, over the years since 1968, when the award started being given, there's like over 200 titles of Holocaust related books that have gotten recognition, so I can give you both of those; people will have plenty to choose from.
I'm wondering why, you know... I'm sure there are many teachers out there who are using this as a resource.
Right, so I hope people will use these resources, you know, to figure out what they would like to use in school, at home, wherever, because that's, that's why we make these lists. That's why we give these awards is so that you don't have to read all the books, we do it for you.
Yes, yes, yes, absolutely.
Thank you for sharing this.
All right. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Okay, now I want to tell you about the recent Jewish kidlit book that I've been listening to with with my family during the spring break road trips. So this one is called Aviva versus the Dybbuk written by Mari Lowe. This was just released in 2022. I actually discovered this book on one of the blogs that Heidi shared with me. It's called the Sydney Taylor Shmooze mock award blog, that she's involved with, it is a wonderful site. It provides reviews of Jewish kidlit. So the books mentioned on this blog may not necessarily win this, the Sydney Taylor Award that Heidi talked about. But these are books to keep in mind: the Sydney Taylor Shmooze. It's the mock award blog created to encourage discussion of books eligible for the Sydney Taylor Book Award over the course of the year. And basically the purpose is to grow awareness of criteria for the award and to help readers consider Jewish literature for youth. So this, I think it's fair to say, would be a contender. And anyone who listens to the show knows one of my missions while offering constructive comments on those super popular books is also to shine a light on those books that aren't quite as popular. And this book fits in perfectly. Like I said, it's brand new. And when I look on Goodreads, it only has 31 ratings. So Aviva versus the Dybbuk. This is a debut novel. And when I went to the author's website, I will also share that in the show notes, I really like this, she describes why she wanted to write this book. And she explains that she really wanted to depict the world where she grew up, she writes, "as a middle schooler, I rarely read Jewish books, because few of them felt as though I was reading about myself. And today, I find that most mainstream children's fiction about Orthodox Jews, is historical fiction that takes place during the Holocaust," which is exactly what Heidi just said. So this world with Aviva has nothing to do with the Holocaust, you guys, this is our sixth grade Aviva. And from the second you open this book, you are immersed into Jewish culture. Like I said, I'm kind of recording this as I've been listening to it with my kids. And we're down to, as I said, the final hour. And I will tell you that my family isn't Jewish. And because this book just really does immerse you into the Jewish setting today. It's the perfect opportunity to you know, you hear a phrase, one of the kids says, what's that phrase? What's a dybbuk? Right, so of course, she explains what a dybbuk is in the book, but we didn't know that phrase. So certainly, we're Googling it and trying to figure it out. When you Google it, you know, the Google monster, if you will, tells you that dybbuk is Jewish folklore, and mythology believes that dybbuk is a malicious spirit believed to be a dislocated soul of a dead person. So here, Aviva's dybbuk, we're not sure not maybe not quite as malicious, but very, very mischievous, big time prankster, causing lots of problems. So Aviva lives with her mom in an apartment above the town's mikvah, which my family, which we learned is a ritual bath. And there's a lot of really interesting information about that, again, that I, we found really interesting and fascinating and began again researching that. But what happens is you realize right away that Aviva and her mom have lost their dad, he has died, the mom is in a very deep depression. And Aviva is is missing her dad, of course, as well, she's struggling without him, she's struggling to meet friends, and all of those big time challenges that we face as middle schoolers. And then in the midst of this, there's this horrific vandalism, antisemitic vandalism that occurs, and you get to see the community's reaction, we're getting to see kind of what what's happening. And one thing that I really found interesting and as I also went to Mari's website, is that a lot of this book centers on women, right, this is really focused on female relationships she wrote, "you'll notice of Aviva's world is almost entirely female and Jewish. That's not uncommon for girls growing up in my sect of Orthodox Judaism, I went to an all girls school and camp, and I rarely spent time with any boys. The only exceptions were my brother's friends, and my friend's brothers and we had little interest in each other." It is worth noting that the dybbuk is believed to be a mischievous boy, this is one that I find to be really fascinating, entertaining, it's multi layered, you guys multi level leveled, we have characters that are again multi dimensional, and, and you've got that kind of mystical with the dybbuk. That's really fascinating getting into almost like, not quite fantasy, but feels like that which I know kids really enjoy. And, and then the challenge of grief and the challenge of middle school. So this is one that you should definitely check out and I will include this one in the show notes. I want to thank all of you for listening. I want to especially thank Heidi, for coming on the show last week talking about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, being willing to stay on the recording with me a little longer and talking about Jewish joy just so we can just talk a little bit about it and this is something that I hope that we'll delve into further and if you do have that Everyone Loved It But Me book that you would like to see me discuss on the show, please reach out to me. My website, www.everyoneloveditbutme.com. And as always, please consider passing on my podcast your friends or relatives if you enjoy hearing differing opinions on books, chances are they do as well. I want to thank you all again for your time. I hope you have a lovely day and most importantly, I hope you get time to read today.