Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Remembering a Book about Memory

I've been away from this blog for a while, due to circumstance.  I have neglected but not forgotten my project of taking a fresh look at Jewish-themed children's books.  So many of these books are historical fiction.  Jews prize memory, though memory and history are not one-in-the-same (an argument made by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in his book Zakhor).  Writers of Jewish-themed books for children, I think, are working at both the projects of history and memory.  And what better way to embed Jewish historical memory in people's minds than to make it their own memory, the memory of books read, pondered, shared, and loved.

One series of books that has been keeping Jewish memory alive for going on three generations now, is the All-of-a-Kind Family saga by Sydney Taylor.  These books burn so brightly for people that a prestigious children's book award has been named for their author.  And the books have not only been important to Jewish readers, they've been, I've heard tell, the means by which children who knew no Jews learned about Jews and Jewish life.  And what better books to do that than tales of a warm family who love each other, love Jewish life, and love books.  I have a second project -- reread all of these books and report back with an adult writer's eye.  And to imagine how writers can bring more of this kind of reading experience into the lives of children, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.  We have so many important books about the sad, horrific, terrifying events of Jewish history and memory.  I needed those books as a child, but I also needed the ones that reflected the joy I felt in family and Jewish life.  And I hungered for contemporary stories like this, ones that featured children like me.  Can this be done?  What do you think?  What's already out there?  I'll be featuring more recent books in the weeks to come.

I reread another beloved childhood book recently, one which is all about memory and which brought to mind my interest in Jewish memory:

Tom's Midnight GardenTom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was not, as a rule, a huge fan of sad book when I was a child, but I remember both loving Tom's Midnight Garden and finding it heartbreaking.  Sometimes I'm reluctant to reread something that gave me so much pleasure as a child, because I want to hold on to that initial experience.  But the rereading was well worth it.  It is a story about the power of memory, the relentless passage of time, and the fleeting but intense beauty of the world and childhood.  One might think that these are not themes that would resonate for a child the way they do for an adult, but I found the story more mysterious and sadder as a child than I do now, while finding it just as compelling.  Now I appreciate the story in a more articulate way, while having the added pleasure and poignancy of being able to remember the experience of being a child reading the book for the first time.

I think this book would work well read alongside Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit.

View all my reviews


  1. Arrived here via the Jewish Book Carnival. Really appreciated this post. I am intrigued by the title of "Estie the Mensch." Going to look for more info about it now!

  2. I'm so pleased, Erika. I'm heading over to your blog right now.