Welcome to the second installment of the Jewish Book Council’s Eight Nights of Stories series! Missed yesterday’s reading list on Hanukkah magic? Catch up here.
What’s Eight Nights of Stories all about? Read Nat’s explanatory blog post!
Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
There can’t possibly be a better book, for readers of any age, for the intersection of Chanukah and Thanksgiving. My mother (she who recognized the potential for Harry Potter well before its popularity soared in North America, remember) has always averred that Molly’s Pilgrim is one of the best children’s books ever written, period. Barbara Cohen masterfully unravels the complex subject of American identity for young readers through the simple story of a Jewish Russian immigrant girl’s Thanksgiving school assignment. The narrative is timeless, and speaks to universal experiences of otherness, heritage, and childhood. It’s a book to be read every autumn, year after year.
Does your teen need an update to this story? YA novel Losers by Matthue Roth also focuses on the Russian immigrant experience in the American classroom, similarly addressing questions of identity and belonging, but with an edgier, older twist.
If Molly’s Pilgrim sparks an interest in the experience of Russian Jews, it’s shared with Emma Lazarus, the Jewish American poet best known for composing the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Libert by Linda Glaser and illustrated by Claire A Nivola detail Lazarus’ young mentorship under Ralph Waldo Emerson, blossoming career of poetry and political activism, and her commission for “The New Colossus”.
Nadia Kalman was 2010 Sami Rohr Prize finalist for her debut work of fiction, The Cosmopolitans. The novel follows the stories of an aging Russian immigrant couple in suburban Massachusetts and their three adult daughters, each family member facing challenges of identity and human interaction. The Cosmopolitans is blunt: it doesn’t crow the feel-good, inspiring ending of Molly’s Pilgrim, but it is darkly humorous, delivering a very real taste of the modern Russian American family.