Using children’s books to combat antisemitism.
Can reading teachers help prevent antisemitism? Two Detroit-area children’s book authors aim to help teachers do just that.
Anita Fitch Pazner and Lisa Rose will speak at the Michigan Reading Association’s 67th annual conference, to be held March 17-20 in Grand Rapids, on combatting antisemitism using picture books for early readers and books aimed at middle-grade students and young adults.
Their presentation is designed to give teachers reading lists, study guides and other tools that use “casual diversity” to fight prejudice.
Pazner points to The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats as one of the first examples of casual diversity, a term coined by librarian Betsy Bird. It’s a story about a Black boy experiencing the first big snow of the year, but it’s not about his being Black. The story has diverse characters, but it’s not about diversity. “This is what creates empathy,” said Pazner. “Readers realize the ‘other’ character is just like them.”
She and Rose will discuss a selection of books in which readers can see that Jews are “like them.”
“We all know that antisemitic attacks have been on the rise,” she said. “Hate often occurs with the unknown. People who live in areas without Jewish populations often see Jews through a skewed lens, whether historical or propaganda-based. We have chosen books that look beyond Chanukah and the Holocaust.”
It’s important to include Jews in discussions about diversity, Rose said.
Many times, when someone says the word “diversity” it is synonymous with people of color, she said. She and Pazner believe diversity also must include diversity in religion and physical appearance, as well as neurodiversity.
Many teachers would like to include books with Jewish characters, but they simply lack the knowledge and the time to research and vet new books for their classrooms,” Rose said. “Anita and I would like to give teachers the tools so they can easily use the resources in their classrooms tomorrow. For example, Earth Day is coming up; it is the perfect time to read Anita’s book The Topsy Turvy Bus and learn about the Jewish concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
“Also, what child doesn’t like a zombie? So it is always a good time to read my book A Zombie Vacation and learn more about the Dead Sea area in Israel.”
Their list includes both fiction and nonfiction for all ages, from preschool through high school.
In addition to their own fiction books, the authors recommend Ellen Leventhal’s A Flood of Kindness, The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz and Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein.
Nonfiction suggestions include two books by Audrey Ades, The Rabbi and the Reverend, which shows how Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a refugee from Nazi Germany, stood beside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and Judah Touro Didn’t Want to be Famous, which looks at the early years of the United States and how the Jewish concepts of humility and sharing one’s wealth helped the fledgling nation.
The women, who both live in West Bloomfield, have written books that illustrate the casual diversity concept.
Pazner’s The Topsy-Turvy Bus (Kar-Ben Publishing) is about a vehicle created by Hazon, the Jewish sustainability organization (now renamed Adamah), that runs on solar power and uses vegetable oil.
Rose has written a number of books with Jewish characters in addition to A Zombie Vacation, including The Singer and the Scientist, about the friendship between Albert Einstein and Black singer Marian Anderson, and Shmulik Paints the Town, a picture book that was the first by a Jewish Detroiter to be picked up by the PJ Library, which distributes Jewish children’s books to parents without charge.
Pazner graduated from Oakland University and has a master’s of fine arts in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She waited to start her writing career until all four of her children, now aged 21 to 28, had left home for college.
Lisa Rose is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a master’s in teaching reading and language arts from Oakland University. She is not married and has a 15-year-old daughter. After teaching elementary school in Highland Park and Pontiac, she wrote a series of chapter books with African American characters set in Detroit. Several years later, she stopped teaching to concentrate on writing.
Pazner and Rose’s presentation, “Averting Religious Hate Crimes Through Jewish Casual Diversity,” is scheduled for Sunday, March 19. The conference takes place at DeVos Place and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
The women will have displays of books that demonstrate Jewish casual diversity, giving teachers an opportunity to explore them to see how they can include them in their curricula.
To help teachers browse efficiently and effectively, each book will have a summary and relevant information about how it meets objectives set by the State of Michigan.
Obtaining relevant books can be difficult, Pazner said, so they’ll also tell teachers how to get these books for their classrooms, and they’ll give some books away.
“As children’s book authors, we have unique access and knowledge of what is available, how to get these books in the hands of teachers and students, and how to incorporate these topics into lesson plans,” she said.