Micol Ostow, author of So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), is guest-blogging all week with MyJewishLearning and Jewish Book Council.
It occurs to me that after the somewhat irreverent tone of my last post, I may have given the impression that I’ve taken a very “out with the old, in with the new” attitude toward Jewish children’s literature. And while I do (clearly) appreciate authors who are incorporating religious and spiritual themes into fresh, modern narratives, obviously I didn’t become a young adult author myself within a vacuum. Every aspect of both my writing, and my vision of the kid-lit landscape is shaped by the books that influenced me when I was young.
As a child, I was a voracious reader. Truly, the printed word was practically a compulsion for me, almost a vice of sorts. In my darkest hours, it built to the point where my parents would literally beg me, in the summertime, to go outside, for the love of Hashem, and expose my sad, pallid skin to some fresh air and a little bit of Vitamin D. (I ignored them, of course.)
When left to my own devices, I gravitated, like so many girls, to the Little House series of books, or to Noël Streatfield’s “shoes” stories. It’s hard to get between a middle grade reader and her ballet, or her bonnets, after all. Later came what was almost a foregone conclusion: Judy Blume, and later still, Francine Pascal, whose Sweet Valley series set the tone for my own summer-camp romance fantasies.
For the record, my love life was never as juicy as the Wakefield twins’. Still, I was, after all, a Solomon Schechter student, and no matter how all-American my extracurricular reading aspired to be, Jewish literature permeated. I gained perspective on the Lower East Side tenement lifestyle (history, religion, and culture, all wrapped up in one!) from the five mischievous sisters of Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family. I reconsidered my grandmother’s gefilte fish, a time-worn recipe passed down through many generations, after reading The Carp in the Bathtub (Barbara Cohen and Joan Halpern). (Don’t worry; my squeamishness was short-lived. The fact that we’ve resorted to store-bought now that my grandmother is no longer with us is one of the great disappointments of my adult life.) Judy Blume‘s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was my first realization that the Holocaust was indeed a tragedy that reached beyond the academic, antiseptic environs of a school assembly.
The fantastic thing about being someone who reads a lot is that it often goes hand-in-hand with reading widely. And while of course I have my own proclivities and preferences, I’ve learned that you can’t take the Shalom Aleichem out of the girl.
Not completely, anyway. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m getting married soon, to a man who was raised with very similar religious values as my own. We recently sat down with our rabbi to discuss our vision for the Jewish household we plan to build together.
I immediately thought back to book fairs, library visits, and nights listening to my mother or father read to my brother and me. Certain practices, habits, and decisions are easy; you can bet that my contribution to our home will include a healthy dose of K’ton Ton. And then some.