Celebrating Children’s Books in Honor of Jewish American History Month

(Conversations previously held on 5/17/21 via @carolinepritchardwrites)

I learned about Jewish American Heritage Month for the first time this past January and my mind, unsurprisingly, went straight to the world of children’s books. I remembered my worn copy of Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins, the one Jewish book we owned & the same one that kept me up nights convinced that goblins were hiding under my bed. I imagined Eric Kimmel in front of a blank notebook & Trina Schart Hyman pulling out her acrylic paints. What were the traditions & memories & pain & joy that wove together to inspire this story? Were they similar in some fundamental way to what inspires my own writing? Different?

I felt eager to sit in community with Jewish children’s book authors who I admire to learn about their own experiences. These upcoming talks, one every day next week, are the result. We’ll discuss how their relationship with Judaism informs their writing, the books they love, their hopes for Jewish storytelling moving forward & beyond. My personal hope is that these conversations are an opportunity to share a range of reflections on American Jewish identity, community & storytelling. It’s also a way to lift up the voices and work of these thoughtful, talented writers who I deeply respect.

I also want to name outright that this is a fraught time to be discussing Jewish identity. I wrestled hard with whether to move forward with these conversations this month, not wanting to deflect from or decenter those suffering and oppressed by the Israeli government. I realize my fear is in part rooted in my own internalized antisemitism, which I have to actively name & fight against. Ultimately, I came to understand that stories are what breathes life into our shared humanity. We need more of them, not less, to chip away at the insidious pull of dehumanization.

It’s in this spirit that I hope you receive this offering during Jewish American Heritage Month. I hope it also underscores that advocating for Palestinian lives & human rights is not somehow outside of Jewish values but firmly rooted in them. If stories combat dehumanization, then there is urgency in seeking out & believing the voices of those directly impacted by state-sanctioned violence & fear.

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