The Whole Megillah is proud to feature monthly interviews with members of the Association of Jewish Libraries in our Librarian’s Notebook. Any writer of Jewish-themed children’s books needs to become familiar with this organization and its librarians. For May 2010, we’re proud to post an interview with Barbara Bietz, incoming chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee and author of the blog, Jewish Books for Children.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What do you see as the role of Jewish-themed literature in the lives of children, both Jewish and non-Jewish?
BB: I believe in the power of books to educate, enlighten and entertain. Children seek stories that help them make sense of the world around them. For Jewish children, it is important to have books about the holidays they celebrate and the values they learn in their own families. The gift of reading allows children to celebrate their own background, and also learn about others whose religion or culture differs from their own. A positive Jewish book can offer non-Jewish children an introduction to Judaism and Jewish life. Through stories, children gain a better understanding of themselves and others. Books can build bridges.
TWM: Which books do you think have made the most significant contribution to Jewish-themed literature, and why?
BB: In my opinion, the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor set the standard for Jewish children’s literature. There is no doubt that reading about this Jewish family on the Lower East Side helped to shape my Jewish identity as a child. These books are also read and loved by non-Jewish children. Like all classics, the All-of-a-Kind Family books stand the test of time and are as relevant today as they were decades ago.
TWM: How has the audience for Jewish-themed literature changed in the last ten years?
BB: I don’t have any specific data here, but my instincts tell me that with the growing number of Jewish books available, readers have become more diverse. There is also a broader range of books available—from specifically Jewish books about holidays and Jewish life to novels with Jewish main characters. A good story will appeal to children of all backgrounds.
TWM: What do you see as the greatest opportunities for writers of Jewish-themed fiction and nonfiction for young readers?
BB: It is nearly impossible to pinpoint what trends there may be in children’s publishing. As a reviewer, I am drawn to books that elicit a visceral response. My advice would be to write the story that compels you—that speaks to your heart. Do your homework. There is no substitute for impeccable research, interesting characters, and well-crafted stories. For new writers, join a critique group and make sure your manuscript is well edited.
Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your views with The Whole Megillah readers. We look forward to hearing from you again later this year about the Sydney Taylor Book Awards.