Friday, January 23, 2009

Always an Olivia--Not Your Typical Jewish Children's Book

I'm taking part in the Jewish Literature Challenge. So it was perfect when my daughters came home from Sefer Safari (the library portion of Sunday school) with Carolivia Herron's Always an Olivia.

This was such a neat story and so very unexpected. It's reportedly based on the author's own family.

It was a great way to begin broaching the subject of our ancestors being expelled from various regions. The grandmother in the story tells of how her family was forced out of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition and relocated only to be forced out again. There's even a pirate kidnapping too. I've been reluctant to try to explain forced migration to the kids because I just don't know how much they'll understand and honestly, I don't know how much of it I want them to understand. Who wants their children to carry the notion that we're different and no one wants us. This book gave us a chance to discuss history in a non-threatening way.

One family member eventually makes it to the States and, in time, their family intermarries with the descendants of West African slaves. The story does make it appear that from there, true Judaism is lost, but the family continues to light candles on shabbat. As a traditional Jew, that bothered me. My kids didn't seem to pick up on it, though. Through the generations, the family clings to two things--shabbas candles and family names including those which mean "Peace," (Shulamit becomes Olivia).

On (where the book has 5 stars), one reviewer referred to the story as "A Great, Great Story of Jews, African Americans, and Civil Rights!" I have to agree. I thought it was particularly fitting that the kids brought this one home just before not only Martin Luther King Jr. day, but also just before President Obama's inauguration. It was even more fitting given the diversity within the Obama family (did you now Michelle Obama has a cousin who's a rabbi?). I thought the story was a great way to show how we're all connected at a simple level that children can understand.

The kids and I all liked the book. It opened up all sorts of discussions from trying to pick a name for this baby, to the meanings behind our Hebrew names, to friends who come from mixed families, to our family history. I can't explain how grateful I am that they didn't come home with yet another book on Chanukah (as the vast majority of Jewish books are). This was definitely an unexpected, but very appreciated book.

1 comment:

Phyllis Sommer said...

great review - i'm going to have to check this one out.

have you read "As Good As Anybody" by Richard Michelson? Just won a Syndey Taylor Award and it's about MLK and Abraham Joshua's beautiful and great.