Feb 10 2014
I recently interviewed author, journalist, and academic director of the Yiddish Book Center, Josh Lambert. Lambert is a pioneer of The Great Jewish Books Summer Program, a week-long exploration of literature & culture for high school students. Lambert is a father of one son and currently resides in Connecticut with his wife.
I spoke with Lambert about the exciting student literary program, what Jewish books he prefers to read with his students, and the five Jewish books that all parents should read.
1. What three books do you always make sure to teach at the Yiddish Book Center?
Well, despite the name, we don’t teach many whole books in Great Jewish Books–because students are only with us for a week, and there’s only so much they can read every day. But I always tend to start the course with Kafka’s Before the Law–to get us talking about what is and what isn’t Jewish literature, and the history of interpretation in Jewish culture, from the haggadah and midrash to literary modernism. I can’t imagine not teaching Philip Roth’s story “Defender of the Faith” or Avrom Sutzkever’s geto lider (ghetto poems)–these are startling, perfect literary pieces that get at some of the biggest themes treated by Jewish literature: community, continuity, and response to adversity.
2. How have kids reacted to Portnoy’s Complaint and other Roth books that are wrought with awkward sexual confessions?
I’ve never given Portnoy to the Great Jewish Books participants. Not because I don’t think they can handle it, but because (again) there’s not enough time. But in general I’ve found that 16-year-olds are able to handle challenging material with aplomb. I’ve noticed that when the Great Jewish Books students pick examples of literature to read at the reading/talent show we have at the end of the program, they often choose very intense and fascinating work–I recall one very memorable reading of Eve Ensler’s poetry, for example, that wasn’t exactly G-rated. These are people growing up in a world of almost limitless access to so-called adult materials. The ones I meet are thoughtful about what’s appropriate or not for various situations and what they can learn from the difficult stuff. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 22 2013
Last night, very suddenly, my 5-year-old told me that he was worried about the 14-year- old boy who was missing in the subways. My heart stopped. I asked him how he had heard about that and he replied that he had seen a sign posted in the subway.
My son started reading by himself at age 3. He’ll read anything: storybooks, chapter books, his younger sister’s books, cookbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. We’re ecstatic that he is such an avid reader. We simultaneously celebrate it and find it challenging. He can read grocery lists to us when we go to the store, bedtime stories to his sister, and can amuse himself for an hour and a half during rest time. However, as exemplified by last night’s conversation, we long ago learned that just because he can read everything doesn’t mean he should read everything.
Even starting at 3, he would suddenly say strange quotes (“Blistering barnacles!” from The Adventures of Tintin) and ask questions about books that were not age-appropriate that we didn’t know were in his room. When he started asking about mummies, ghosts, and pirates (though he pronounced it pi-rayts), we discovered that he had happened upon the first four Magic Treehouse books. There are no parental control passwords or buttons on what he can read, only what is in his environment (and sometimes, not even then). Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 9 2013
Attention all you new mommies-to-be (and friends of new mommies-to-be who like to give gifts)! Browsing through the parenting section in the bookstore can be pretty overwhelming, but we’ve got six great books that are perfect for a new mom. These books cover all your novice parenting needs, ranging from breastfeeding, to yoga, to the ultimate guide for being a hot Mamaleh. And even better, we’re giving them away for free to one lucky winner.
So what does the winner get? The new mom book package includes: Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 23 2013
My 4-year-old is absolutely obsessed with books. Mainly books about trucks–especially fire trucks. He wants me to read to him all day long. He also loves Little Bunny Foo Foo.
“Mom, can you just read it four more times before bed? Pullleeeaassse?
It does this mama’s heart proud to see her kids enjoy a book. Even if it is Little Bunny Foo Foo.
My eldest son also loves a good book, but now at 13 years old, the days where he crawls up into my lap and asks for me to read to him are long gone. I no longer pull his head close to me and breath his boyish smell of sweat and dirt and play dough. He doesn’t need my help brushing his teeth, getting dressed, or lacing up his shoes. He hates most of the clothes I pick out for him (even though I’m certain I have better taste than he does). He shrugs and feigns pulling away if I try to give him a hug, even though he has a smile on his face. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 22 2013
In her beautiful post about her sons’ Jewish identities, Tamara mentioned getting her first Rosh Hashanah book from PJ Library, and then pulling several more off the shelf.
That’s right, folks. It’s time to start thinking about the High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah starts on SEPTEMBER 4th. Once you’re done freaking out, you might want to think about getting some books of your own to read with the kiddos. Here are some of my favorites, courtesy of PJ Library and my local library:
1. Classic Symbols & Themes
If you’re looking for books specifically about the symbols and themes of Rosh Hashanah, you might want to check out Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen or Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Cathy Goldberg Fishman. The first book is a fun story about a conductor taking his train on its first trip across Israel during Rosh Hashanah, and the second one explores the traditions of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through the eyes of a young girl. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 11 2013
There has been a lot on Kveller about books for Jewish children but I have not seen any mention of my own favorites. So, after decades of reading to my children and grandchildren, here are my own top 10 picks for you to share with the children you love (between the ages of 3-8, all available on Amazon):
1. Yussel’s Prayer retold by Barbara Cohen: The story of a young cowherd and his simple Yom Kippur prayer. When my children were small, we read this every year on Yom Kippur night.
2. The Magician by Uri Shulevitz: Elijah the Prophet works his magic for an impoverished couple on Passover.
3. The Tale of Meshka the Kvetch by Carol Chapman: Need a laugh with a life lesson? This might be just the book for adults, too. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 27 2013
Welcome to the Second Annual Jordana Horn Summer Reading List, in which I recommend books for your summer reading pleasure. Some are new releases; some you may have missed because you were “working” or “taking care of children” or some other time-consuming endeavor. If you do get a few peaceful moments this summer, though, any one of these reads would be worth your while. My list last year was deemed “too intellectual,” so I’ve thrown in a few suggestions of lighter fare as well. Please feel free to add recommendations in the comments as I am always reading and always excited to find new books!
1. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
I read a review before reading this book. While I wouldn’t say the review “ruined” the book for me, it was definitely a spoiler. This book hinges on one key fact which I would think would work better as a surprise, so I will leave you in suspense. Suffice it to say that this book rocked my world: my perception of family interactions, and what a fiction book can accomplish were changed by it. I am so glad I read it, and think you will be, too.
2. Schroder, by Amity Gaige
Beautifully written story of what happens when an East German-born man who has appropriated a new American, Kennedy-esque identity decides to make a post-separation run for the Canadian border with his young daughter. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 15 2013
One of the most unique Passover children’s books we’ve seen yet is the new picture book from Laurel Snyder, The Longest Night. Like many books of the sort, it retells the story of Exodus, but it’s told from the perspective of a young Jewish girl. And where other kids books may skip or doll up some of the more violent/sad parts of the Passover story, Snyder stays pretty true to the script. It makes for a compelling read, and we were lucky enough to sit down with Laurel and ask her a few questions.
**The Longest Night is a PJ Library book, as well as Snyder’s previous children’s book, Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher. To get great Jewish books like these for free every month, sign up for PJ Library. If you’re in the New York metro area, sign up through Kveller here. If you live elsewhere, check out this map to find your local PJ community.**
It seems like the plagues get a lot of attention when it comes to celebrating Passover with kids, but they’re usually cutesied up–plague finger puppets, plague masks, plague bowling set, etc. The plagues in your book are decidedly not cute (no offense). Why did you choose to present a more realistic view of the plagues, and do those cutesy products mentioned above bother you?
Honestly, there’s something fascinating about taking the gruesome and making it playful. I’m not offended at all. But we should ask what we’re trying to accomplish when we do that. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 21 2013
Purim was never my favorite holiday for many of the same reasons that I never liked Halloween. I was embarrassed to dress up. I worried that other kids would laugh at me. I never liked my home-made costumes. And having to do this twice a year instead of just on Halloween made it all the more painful. My husband felt exactly the same way growing up in Israel, though he was spared the extra torture of Halloween.
And I can tell that my kids share some of that Purim apprehension. Especially now that we’re living in Israel and it’s not just one evening when you put on your costume and go to shul. It’s a week of Black & White Day and Face Paint Day and Wear an Accessory Day (I’m sorry, huh?) and Polka Dot Day and Pajama Day. And finally, Wear Your Costume to School Day. That’s right. Six days of chaotic mornings deciding whether or not to participate in the Purim revelry du jour. It’s too much for this mama. Although at this point my oldest, who is 8, knows his tolerance for teasing and what he’s willing to endure in the name of self expression. He learned that lesson two Purims ago while we were still living in the States. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 17 2013
Yesterday, we announced the launch of The Purim Superhero, the first LGBT-inclusive Jewish children’s book in English. Today, one mother reflects on initial reactions to the book.
The other day, Kveller’s partner site MyJewishLearning.com posted on their Facebook page about a new children’s book coming out that focuses on Purim. According to the write-up, Elisabeth Kushner’s The Purim Superhero is “the sweet story of a boy named Nate who has a Purim dilemma: he loves aliens and really wants to wear an alien costume for Purim, but his friends are all dressing as superheroes, and he wants to fit in. With the help of his two dads, he makes a surprising decision.” Read the rest of this entry →