The Jew­ish Val­ues Find­er: A Guide to Val­ues in Jew­ish Chil­dren’s Literature

Lin­da R. Sil­ver, for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries
  • Review
By – February 13, 2012

In The Children’s Book of Virtue, William Ben­nett frankly admits aim­ing at the moral edu­ca­tion of the young.” Ben­nett sets forth, through most­ly pedes­tri­an lit­er­ary selec­tions, rules and pre­cepts cho­sen specif­i­cal­ly to lead to what he terms moral literacy.” 

Jews, too, desire that chil­dren grow into moral aware­ness. To make a men­sch is our ulti­mate goal. But don’t expect Lin­da R. Sil­ver to com­pro­mise her well-honed lit­er­ary and crit­i­cal judg­ment; she’s not about to wel­come heavy-hand­ed pap as an accept­able means to that end. On behalf of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and for the greater ben­e­fit of Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish librar­i­ans, teach­ers and par­ents world­wide, she answers to a high­er authority. 

Sil­ver encour­ages us to set as high a lit­er­ary stan­dard as a moral one for the books that shape our chil­dren. In over 1,000 entries, her anno­ta­tions in The Jew­ish Val­ues Find­er address the qual­i­ty of the giv­en work, whether just accept­able or tru­ly exem­plary, whether mes­sage dri­ven or just for fun. Her years of work in pub­lic and spe­cial libraries, wide-rang­ing exper­tise in the field of children’s lit­er­a­ture and piv­otal role as edi­tor of the AJL online Jew­ish Val­ues­find­er (www​.ajl​jew​ish​val​ues​.org) made her the per­fect per­son to pro­vide this much need­ed pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al tool. And with this print­ed work, she has also brought us full cir­cle by ded­i­cat­ing the book to Dr. Mar­cia Pos­ner whose print guide Juve­nile Judaica” was the pre­cur­sor for the out­stand­ing AJL online resource Sil­ver so ably maintains. 

Posner’s doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion, A Search for Jew­ish Con­tent in Amer­i­can Children’s Fic­tion” (Uni­ver­si­ty Micro­film, 1980), was, to my knowl­edge, the first ambi­tious attempt to estab­lish mea­sur­able guide­lines for Juda­ic con­tent. The fol­low­ing year, North­ern Cal­i­for­nia librar­i­an Enid Davis, exam­ined over 450 books in A Com­pre­hen­sive Guide to Children’s Lit­er­a­ture with a Jew­ish Theme (Schock­en Books, 1981). Both these pub­li­ca­tions were indexed by sub­ject, as well as author/​title; both were divid­ed into major chap­ter top­ics. Since then, how­ev­er, only indi­vid­ual bib­li­ogra­phies and a small, text-linked but unan­no­tat­ed AJL pub­li­ca­tion, Lit­er­a­ture as a Means of Teach­ing Val­ues to Chil­dren” (Karp and Frisch­er, 1999) were avail­able until 2002. In that year, Lin­da Sil­ver pub­lished an excel­lent arti­cle on Jew­ish children’s books (“A Librar­i­an Offers Tips for Eval­u­at­ing Books of Jew­ish Con­tent,” School Library Jour­nal, Jan­u­ary 2002). Then, encour­aged by Mar­cia Pos­ner, she went online with the con­tin­u­al­ly updat­ed AJL Val­ues­find­er site, which served as the foun­da­tion for this work. 

The Jew­ish Val­ues Find­er (the book) does not break down into as many dis­tinct val­ues as the online resource, using 18 instead of over 100. How­ev­er, it enhances its entries by pro­vid­ing an open­ing chap­ter defin­ing and giv­ing a his­tor­i­cal overview of Jew­ish children’s lit­er­a­ture in the U.S. The fol­low­ing chap­ters, 2 through 18, are orga­nized by par­tic­u­lar val­ues, while Chap­ter 19 con­tains short sto­ry col­lec­tions which nat­u­ral­ly cov­er numer­ous dif­fer­ent val­ues. Val­ues include Decen­cy and Eth­i­cal Con­duct,” Hon­or and Respect”, Lov­ingkind­ness” and Repair­ing the World”, among many oth­ers. Sil­ver has arranged each chap­ter for max­i­mum help­ful­ness: titles are list­ed by grade lev­el: pre-school, ele­men­tary, mid­dle school and high school with the most high­ly rec­om­mend­ed titles set off by shad­ed box­es. Entries con­tain author, title and pub­lish­ing infor­ma­tion but not ISBN num­bers. Each entry is anno­tat­ed and Sil­ver care­ful­ly notes devi­a­tions that may dis­qual­i­fy a book for cer­tain read­er­ships (e.g. Julius Lester’s The Pharaoh’s Daugh­ter as opposed to a more tra­di­tion­al ver­sion, Miri­am by Ber­nice Gorm­ley). Occa­sion­al­ly I found the notes some­what vague; e.g., the entry on Pamela Melnikoff’s Pris­on­er in Time gave a plot sum­ma­ry but no inkling of whether the sto­ry works” or not.

Some­times Silver’s com­ments are oblique, as when she chides Chelsea House for anti-Israel bias by prais­ing one recent, more pos­i­tive work as a wel­come excep­tion” to its usu­al approach. Some chap­ter top­ics offer large umbrel­las: For exam­ple, Remem­brance” cov­ers mourn­ing, per­son­al rem­i­nis­cences, nos­tal­gia, his­to­ry, and Holo­caust. Repen­tance and For­give­ness” includes sto­ries of Jon­ah and a care­ful crit­i­cism of The Hard­est Word, point­ing up the slight­ness of its link to Yom Kip­pur and the incon­sis­ten­cy of its illus­tra­tions. Grandpa’s Gam­ble also gets some con­struc­tive crit­i­cism as Sil­ver points out the mis­match of for­mat (sim­ple) and ideas (com­plex and con­trived). Through­out, Sil­ver offers selec­tion guid­ance by being gen­er­ous with earned praise but unafraid to nit­pick when deserved.

In addi­tion, Sil­ver has pro­vid­ed all the add-ons that libraries find essen­tial and more casu­al users find help­ful. Besides the chap­ter defin­ing Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, set­ting stan­dards and pro­vid­ing his­tor­i­cal con­text, you’ll find the fol­low­ing appen­dices and indices: Glos­sary; Jew­ish Holy Days and Fes­ti­vals; Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards (win­ners and hon­or books by year); Jew­ish Pub­lish­ers (with con­tact infor­ma­tion); Author/​Illustrator Index; Title Index; and Sub­ject Index. 

This is an out­stand­ing work, ben­e­fi­cial to libraries and also use­ful as a resource for fam­i­lies. You’ll won­der how you got along with­out it.

Rita Berman Frisch­er was direc­tor of Sinai Tem­ple Blu­men­thal Library for twen­ty years. She has served as a judge for chil­dren’s books awards, writ­ten chap­ters on chil­dren’s book for var­i­ous bib­li­o­graph­ic works and is a fre­quent review­er for Jew­ish peri­od­i­cals and newspapers.

Discussion Questions