Laurel Snyder, an author friend of mine, has written a very interesting article for Nextbook.org called "Where the Wild Things Aren't." In this article, she critiques the current state of Jewish children's literature as being too tame. I was honored to have the chance to talk with her about this article before it was finalized, and I took the opportunity to point out to her the advances that have been made in the genre, which I discussed in my earlier article, "Contemporary Jewish Youth Literature" for MyJewishLearning.com. Whether you agree that we've made great strides or that we have a lot further to go, I urge you to read Laurel's article (and mine if you wish) and to join the conversation by posting your own comments. As some previous commenters at Nextbook have stated, Jewish authors have created a rich and complex literature for adults, yet somehow our books for children often end up back in the shtetl. What's blocking us?
In my personal opinion, one of the difficulties in the way of creating good contemporary Jewish kidlit is the fact that Jewish characters can "pass." If the characters are not Orthodox, there are no visual cues that they are Jewish. So how does the author signal their ethnicity? The easiest and most frequent solution is to have them celebrate Jewish holidays or use Jewish (usually Yiddish) vocabulary. It's especially difficult in the picture book arena, where subtle cues used in chapter books (like Jewish last names) may go over the heads of the target audience. So this is the challenge: how do you create identifiably Jewish yet culturally assimilated characters for a Jewish yet culturally assimilated audience?