Kid Lit to Celebrate Award-winning Yiddish Book Center

The Yiddish Book Center was meant to accept the 2020 Literary Translation Initiative Award at this year’s London Book Fair.

The fair was cancelled, so instead we’re taking the celebration online.

This is a particularly opportune moment to celebrate Yiddish children’s literature. Miriam Udel’s Honey on the Page: An Anthology of Yiddish Children’s Literature is slated to appear in October 2020 from New York University Press. If not for the spread of COVID-19, Udel would have been giving a talk next month in New York City on “How Children’s Literature Made Yiddish Modern.”

In a prepared statement in response to the Literary Translation Initiative Award, Aaron Lansky, the founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, said:

The tens of thousands of novels, plays, memoirs, short stories, poetry, and other titles written in Yiddish over the past 150 years tell a rich and complex story of Jewish life in the modern world, and making these works accessible to English readers has become one of our highest priorities. We’re thrilled to accept this award as a recognition of the Yiddish Book Center and, more importantly, of Yiddish literature itself.

That certainly includes Yiddish children’s literature!

The Yiddish Book Center has an extensive list of Yiddish children’s literature — some in translation and some not — suited to a wide variety of ages and interests. They also offer grants to publishers to support new works of Yiddish in translation.

Three books to start with:

In the Land of Happy Tears: Yiddish Tales for Modern Timesedited and translated by David Stromberg. Penguin Random House, 2018.

This is an anthology of eighteen short stories for children, by various authors, collected and edited by David Stromberg.

The publisher writes:

In this collection you’ll meet a king who loves honey so much that instead of ruling over his people, he licks honey all day. You’ll ponder the conundrum of the moon, who longs for a playmate—but where to find a child who isn’t fast asleep at night? You’ll enter a forest in which the king of mushrooms and the queen of ants coexist autonomously but face the same threat: the little hands and trampling feet of children at play. And you’ll learn how flavoring food with the salt from tears can pose a challenging dilemma.

Yiddish Folktales (The Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library)edited and translated by Beatrice Weinreich. Pantheon. 1997

From the publisher:

Filled with princesses and witches, dybbuks and wonder-working rebbes, the two hundred tales that make up this delightful compendium were gathered during the 1920s and 1930s by ethnographers in the small towns and villages of Eastern Europe. Collected from people of all walks of life, they include parables and allegories about life, luck, and wisdom; tales of magic and wonder; poignant encounters between rabbis and their disciples; and stories whose only purpose is to entertain. Long after the culture that produced them tragically disappeared, these enchanting Yiddish folktales continue to work their magic today.

Yiddish Stories for Young People, compiled and translated by Itche Goldberg. Kinderbuch Publishers. 1987.

According to Jewish Currents, this “probably remains the best collection of translated Yiddish short stories for children.”

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