Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature.

Author:Harrison-Kahan, Lori
Position:Book review
 
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Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature. By Jodi Eichler-Levine. New York: New York University Press, 2013. xxvi + 226 pp.

While historians and literary critics have widely noted the Jewish influence on twentieth-century American letters, these scholars have yet to delve into the genre of children's literature. The 1960s heyday of children's book publishing produced such enduring and innovative classics as Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day (1961), Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (1963), and Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree (1965). In later decades, the Borscht Belt humor of Daniel Pinkwater, the controversial works of Leslea Newman (Heather Has Two Mommies [1989]) and Carolivia Herron (Nappy Hair [1997]), and the Caldecott Award-winning visions of Simms Taback (Joseph Had a Little Overcoat [1999]) and Mordecai Gerstein (The Man Who Walked Between the Towers [2004]) continued to redefine the possibilities of the genre. Appealing to young readers of all backgrounds, these writers infused children's literature with a Jewish sensibility whether or not the books contained explicit references to Judaism or Jewish culture. In the twenty-first century, the line between writing for children and adults has blurred. Prominent Jewish writers such as Tony Kushner (Brundibar [2003]) and Allegra Goodman (The Other Side of the Island [2009]) have tried their hand at children's and young adult books, while Adam Mansbach, author of The End of the Jews (2009), a sharp-edged saga about the legacy of a famous Jewish writer, achieved his own literary notoriety only after his satirical picture book Go the F*** to Sleep (2011) went viral.

Jodi Eichler-Levine's Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature begins to fill this lacuna in Jewish American literary scholarship by treating Jewish children's books with the seriousness they deserve. Eichler-Levine explores how Jewish writers have challenged expectations about suitable content for young readers. In their willingness to address historical suffering, authors such as Sendak, Jane Yolen, and David Wisniewski have disrupted the alignment of childhood with innocence.

Eichler-Levine's study is further enriched by its comparative approach. Drawing upon Michael Rothberg's theory of "multidirectional memory," she considers Jewish children's literature alongside African American texts that similarly...

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