Academic journal article MELUS

Rivka's Way

Academic journal article MELUS

Rivka's Way

Article excerpt

Teri Kanefield. Chicago' Front Street/Cricket, 2001.137 pages. $15.95 cloth.

Dave At Night. Gail Carson Levine. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 288 pages. $15.95 cloth; $5.95 paper.

Stolen Words. Amy Goldman Koss. Middleton, WI: American Girl, 2001. 145 pages. $14.95 cloth; $5.95 paper.

Jewish children's literature is not a well-known or easily identifiable genre. Unlike African American children's literature, which includes many highly accomplished and celebrated authors, such as Virginia Hamilton, Angela Johnson, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, Mildred Taylor, and Christopher Paul Curtis, Jewish children's literature has not remained a notable form since its heyday in the 1950s through 1970s, when a handful of widely-read books, beginning with Sydney Taylor's groundbreaking All-of-A-Kind Family series, featured Jewish characters and dealt with Jewish themes. Well-known examples of such books are Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret?, and E. L. Konisburg's About the B'nai Bagels. Since the 1970s, Jane Yolen' s time-slip narrative, The Devil's Arithmetic, and Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, two novels that concern the Holocaust, have achieved canonical status. Currently, books about the Holocaust dominate Jewish children's literature. What we don't find today are many well-known books, if any, that feature the contemporary Jewish American child without also being about the Holocaust. This absence of the contemporary American Jewish child extends a pattern found in Jewish children's picture books. While African American authors not only write about African American characters but make black identity an ongoing issue in their books, contemporary American Jewish children, when represented in children's literature, would seem to have no identity issues, or perhaps no ethnic identity. One might argue that today, Jewishness is not a "problem" that needs to be represented; I would counter-argue that the lack of representation is the problem, or at least the question.

Certainly, there are many books that feature Jewish children. These cover a wide range of periods and issues, from Julius Lester's Pharoah's Daughter, which tells the story of Moses' sister, to Danielle Carmi's very contemporary Samir and Jonatan, which details the relationship between an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy, both patients in a hospital. Categorizing these books, one discovers that certain types predominate. One is the historical novel, stories that feature Jewish children and that are set before the twentieth century, such as Miriam Pressler's Shylock's Daughter, which imagines the life of Jessica. A second category is the immigrant narrative, stories that focus on children who immigrate themselves or who are the children of immigrants; often these books are set in New York City in the early twentieth century. A recent example is Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903, by Kathryn Lasky. The third category, by far the biggest, is the Holocaust narrative. Myriad books set either immediately before, during, or just after WWII have been published, including the titles by Yolen and Lowry. What we don't find is the late twentieth, early twenty-first-century American Jewish kid or teenager, experiencing both Jewish and non-Jewish issues. Where is this child?

I focus on three lesser-known novels in this review, two fitting the categories of historical narratives and immigrant narratives. The third is one of the rare books that features the contemporary American Jewish child. Although they are set far apart in time and place, these three books share interesting patterns. Teri Kanefield's Rivka's Way is set in eighteenth-century Prague, Gail Carson Levine's Dave At Night is set in New York City in the 1920s, and Amy Goldman Koss's Stolen Words is a contemporary novel set in Austria, but all three feature protagonists with strong personality traits who undergo similar experiences. …

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