The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er: A Guide To 363 Tales List­ing Sub­jects and Sources

Sharon Bar­can Elswit
  • Review
By – April 27, 2012
The book that Jew­ish librar­i­ans, teach­ers, and sto­ry­tellers have been wait­ing for has final­ly arrived, ful­fill­ing almost all of our high expec­ta­tions. Writ­ten by the head librar­i­an of Rodeph Sholom School in New York and based on her expe­ri­ence in telling sto­ries and find­ing them for cur­ric­u­lar pur­pos­es, it is a sub­ject guide to hun­dreds of Jew­ish sto­ries, giv­ing bib­li­o­graph­ic infor­ma­tion, sources, and vari­ant ver­sions. Eleven top­i­cal chap­ters orga­nize the sto­ries by cat­e­go­ry such as bib­li­cal char­ac­ters and events, rab­bis, tales of mag­ic, trick­sters and fools, etc. With­in each chap­ter, the author has select­ed sto­ries that fit the cat­e­go­ry and anno­tat­ed them, includ­ing after each anno­ta­tion a list of sub­jects and themes, oth­er books or audio-visu­al mate­ri­als where the sto­ry can also be found, and dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the sto­ry. The 363 sto­ry anno­ta­tions, num­bered con­sec­u­tive­ly, are the heart of the book, but they are aug­ment­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly by the lists of vari­ant ver­sions, a bib­li­og­ra­phy that iden­ti­fies every book anno­tat­ed or cit­ed, a sto­ry title index, and a sub­ject index.

To give an exam­ple: Chap­ter III is enti­tled Bib­li­cal Char­ac­ters and Events,” and in that chap­ter, sto­ry num­ber 38 is called Turn­ing: A Midrash of the Sun and the Moon” by Cherie Karo Schwartz, found in Penin­nah Schram’s Cho­sen Tales. Below the anno­ta­tion is a list of sub­jects and themes that the author calls Con­nec­tions:” it includes the words apolo­gies,” coex­is­tence,” com­pe­ti­tion,” cre­ation,” pun­ish­ments,” and sev­er­al oth­ers. Fol­low­ing the con­nec­tions” are short cita­tions of oth­er ver­sions of the sto­ry, includ­ing The Envi­ous Moon” from Angels, Prophets, Rab­bis and Kings from the Sto­ries of the Jew­ish Peo­ple by Jose Pat­ter­son and Sun and Moon” from When the Begin­ning Began by Julius Lester. The bib­li­og­ra­phy includes a full cita­tion for every title iden­ti­fied and the sub­ject index allows read­ers to find oth­er sto­ries with the same subjects/​themes (“con­nec­tions”) as sto­ry num­ber 38.

At this point, an alert read­er may be won­der­ing, But what about the pic­ture book, Why the Moon Only Glows by Dina Rosen­feld (Hachai, 1992)?” Is it cit­ed? No, and nei­ther are sev­er­al oth­ers that seem to be obvi­ous choic­es on the basis of both pop­u­lar­i­ty and lit­er­ary qual­i­ty, like Bagels from Ben­ny (Kids Can Press, 2003) as an alter­na­tive ver­sion of Sto­ry 4 — Chal­lahs in the Ark” for which sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ver­sions are giv­en but not Davis and Petricic’s prizewin­ning pic­ture book. Oth­er puz­zling omis­sions are the beloved Mesh­ka the Kvetch by Car­ol Chap­man (Dut­ton, 1980) with a the­mat­ic con­nec­tion to dis­con­tent;” Some­thing For Noth­ing by Anne Redisch Stam­pler (Clar­i­on, 2003) with a the­mat­ic con­nec­tion to pow­er” and ridicule” as sur­ro­gate terms for bul­lies;” The Bach­e­lor and the Bean by Shel­ley Fowles (Far­rar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003) with a con­nec­tion to thiev­ery;” and Bone But­ton Borscht (Kids Can Press, 1995) with a the­mat­ic con­nec­tion to Stone soup tales.” Note that all of them are pic­ture books and Elswit empha­sizes col­lec­tions of sto­ries over sin­gle tales. More­over, a work this far-rang­ing into the world of Jew­ish sto­ries is bound to not include every­thing that every read­er could wish for. So, as with oth­er stan­dard index­es and essen­tial find­ing tools, pen­cil in the authors and titles of those miss­ing trea­sures and add call num­bers to every title in the bib­li­og­ra­phy that you own. For not only is this a mar­velous source for find­ing sto­ries but also for devel­op­ing a sto­ry col­lec­tion. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for all libraries — home, school, syn­a­gogue, and public.
Lin­da R. Sil­ver is a spe­cial­ist in Jew­ish children’s lit­er­a­ture. She is edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries’ Jew­ish Val­ues­find­er, www​.ajl​jew​ish​val​ues​.org, and author of Best Jew­ish Books for Chil­dren and Teens: A JPS Guide (The Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety, 2010) and The Jew­ish Val­ues Find­er: A Guide to Val­ues in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture (Neal-Schu­man, 2008).

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