Emily Sigalow, in Tablet this week, published an article entitled “Do Jewish Children’s Books Have a Problem with Gender?”
While she does make one point I agree with, that awards committee’s tend to favor Jewish picture books with male lead characters and that the females tend to be engaged in traditional roles, she seems to learn from that that Jewish children’s books as a whole have a problem.
I have to disagree with the overall picture Sigalow paints, though.
You can see my comments on the article if you visit Tablet (scroll to the bottom of the page), but I’d like to make a few more thoughts.
Jewish children’s books do have problems. Actually, many secular books have the same problems. One of them is that girls are either being taught to be feminine/tied to traditional roles OR abandon these goals and be aggressively masculine (in the traditional sense).
Currently, my girls are really into Fancy Nancy, a secular book series. Why? Because Nancy is a 21st century girl who wants to be “girly” and feminine and yet also is interested (in the easy reader volumes) in science and intellectual pursuits (and developing admirable personality traits along the way). She’s never forced to be one OR the other. I’d like to see more Jewish and more mainstream books like this.
Another thing: the secular presses and Jewish book awards committees tend to ignore Chareidi and even mainstream Orthodox writers. If their stories are told, they’re set back in Der Heim, where women were more closely tied to the home, etc. Guess who writes about girls who are clearly Jewish and yet modern? Orthodox writers.
As one of the other commenters on the article pointed out, Sigalow also forgot to mention PJ library. That’s one of the major exposure American Jews have to Jewish picture books, and it totally lacks the seeming bias of past Sydney Taylor award committees.
Finally, as parenting styles diverge among various sections of the Jewish community, we will see more different types of books, endorsing different goals people have for their children: and that’s okay. I think it’s fine that someone else publishes a book about a woman sitting on beis din or being counted in a minyan (just random non-Orthodox activities)…but it’s also fine for me not to buy that book or share it with my kids.