I would be remiss if I didn’t cover my own heritage during Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature. A big reason that I like seeing multicultural books is because all children should have the opportunity to see someone like themselves in the books that they read. If you never see characters that you can relate to, then what is there to encourage you to read? Also, picture books with a variety of cultures encourage children of all backgrounds to that the world is more colorful and diverse than just their own culture. Hopefully, seeing the rainbow will help encourage brotherhood and tolerance.
There are a wealth of wonderful Jewish folktales and other texts that are not overtly religious. Many of these folktales do tend to showcase a more out-dated, “old country,”depiction of Jews, but that is still a part of who we are and where we come from. My children will never get to meet my amazing Bubby, but I can sort of show them what she was like through these stories. Here are some of the less religious, stellar standouts that we have read over the years.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback – Taback tells the same story in a more traditional way but with awesome cut-outs that and illustrations that capture children’s attention. The great thing about this and Something From Nothing is that they teach a lesson of reutilizing things rather than just throwing them away and there are also a ton of really good craft projects to go along with them – we recently decorated paper bag vests after hearing this told at a children’s museum.
Snow in Jerusalem by Deborah De Costa – I also reviewed this book in August, but what makes it even more striking when thinking about multicultural texts is that the whole premise is conflict between Jews and Palestinians in Israel. On a journey of trying to care for a stray cat that has attached herself to both of them, they realize that working together in peace and friendship is the best way to move forward.
How Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box by Linda Heller – Most Jewish children are familiar with the little blue boxes that are used to collect coins for tzedakah. The act of giving to those in need is a common theme across religions. In this story, young Dalia is learning about tzedakah in school and makes her own tzedakah box and starts putting money in it daily. Her brother questions what the box is and she tells him that it is a big yellow comforter, which of course confounds him. The reason is that her class is raising money to make a yellow comforter, a butterfly bush and a banana cream pie to give to an elderly woman who needed some love. The children learn a variety of important lessons – raising money for others is a wonderful thing, but giving of yourself and spending time with people in need is tantamount.
The Magic Pomegranate by Peninnah Schram – This is a classic Jewish folktale about generosity of spirit, not just deed. Three brothers travel to different countries to find the most unusual gift – a magic glass through which he could see the distant corners of the kingdom, a magic flying carpet, and a magic pomegranate. When they reunite 10 years later to show each other their treasures the see an ailing princess in the magic glass, fly to her on the carpet, and save her life through the magic pomegranate. Their reward for saving her is her hand in marriage and when they argue over who truly saved her she asks them about their magic objects and states “I will marry the youngest brother because he performed the greatest good deed—because he gave up something of his own.” This is an important lesson and perhaps a reminder to us adults that just giving money isn’t as meaningful as giving of our time and energy.
God’s Paintbrush by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso – This simple, beautiful book helps parents and children explore spirituality together by inviting children of all faiths and backgrounds to encounter God through everyday experience and the imagination. They show people of various ethnic backgrounds and ages in a variety of situations.
The Tale of Meshka the Kvetch by Carol Chapman – This is an old book that might be hard to find, but I have really wonderful memories of it from my childhood. A Kvetch is someone who complains all of the time, something like a curmudgeon. Meshka was someone who saw the proverbial glass as always less than half-full. One day, all of the things that she has been complaining about come true – she had said her son was as useless as a bump on a pickle and he becomes a pickle; her feet feel as swollen as melons and then they actually become melons! When she goes to her rabbi to ask what can be done, he tells her that if she can talk more about positive things and dwell less on the negative, she will be able to live in peace. Meshka learns the important lessons about the power of words, the effects of exaggeration, and the importance of gratitude for life’s blessings.
For more information about Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature, please check out Jump Into a Book and Pragmatic Mom. The mission of this event is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. The event itself is sponsored by Wisdom Tales Press, Lee & Low Books, Chronicle Books, and Susan Daniel Fayad: Author of My Grandfather’s Masbaha.