Complexities in Children’s Literature
Israeli children’s literature has undergone an evolution since Israel’s founding. As a nation was becoming established, most Hebrew children’s books emphasized the values of pioneering, struggle, and achievement, emphasizing the role of the individual in the building of the state.
Since then, children’s literature has shifted to age-specific subjects such as death, divorce, handicaps, adolescence, and the struggle for belonging. Imaginative children’s books and stories were also written, providing pure fantasy, amusement, and escapism to young readers.
With these content changes, we are seeing many more current books which aim to show the diverse narratives of the people who live in Israel, to negate stereotypes, and to address the immigration of Jews from around the world.
In this exploration of complexities, we suggest two books that take a playful look at the diversity of people living side-by-side in Israeli neighborhoods. For more general ideas, check out our full Israeli children’s literature resource.
AS YOU READ THESE BOOKS, CONSIDER:
- How are the books similar? How are they different?
- What do you imagine it would be like to live in one of these buildings in Israel?
- What can we learn about life in Israel from these stories?
- Do these books remind you of others that you have read? Discuss the similarities,
- How are the neighbors in these books similar and how are they different?
ROOM FOR RENT by Leah Goldberg
This Israeli children’s classic written by Leah Goldberg is a great metaphor for how neighborhoods in Israel are filled with all sorts of interesting characters, as well as the challenges that arise when different people live together.
In the book, when Sir Reginald Mouse disappears from his apartment, the neighbors in the building advertise his room for rent. One prospective renter after another comes to see the apartment but finds fault with one or another of the neighbors. The hardworking Ant finds the Hen lazy, the Rabbit criticizes the Cuckoo for abandoning her young, the Pig finds the Cat beneath him because of her color (and is roundly chased out by the neighbors for his racism), and the Nightingale thinks the Squirrel is just a noisemaker. At last the Dove arrives, bringing with her an eye for the good and restoring an atmosphere of peace.
To see a full write up of this book and how you might use it with your learners, see this packet full of materials.
The Israel Story podcast features stories about ordinary Israelis. In the episode entitled, “No Place Like Home,” the first segment features Room for Rent by Leah Goldberg. While we chose to include this book in our collection about “Complexities”, Israel Story frames it as a story of “Belonging”, or finding a home. Listen to this episode for more insight into the book and its importance in Israeli homes, as well as the second featured story about a Sudanese asylum seeker who was also on a search for a home in Israel.
THE NEIGHBORS by Einat Tsarfati
As a young girl climbs the seven stories to her own (very boring!) apartment, she imagines what’s behind each of the doors she passes. Does the door with all the locks belong to a family of thieves? Might the doorway with muddy footprints conceal a pet tiger? Each spread reveals—in lush detail—the wilds of the girl’s imagination, from a high-flying circus to an underwater world and everything in between. When the girl finally reaches her own apartment, she is greeted by her parents, who might have a secret even wilder than anything she could have imagined!