Thursday, 1 March 2012

If You Need a Good Laugh . . . Or Cry

"The Kosher Booklist: An Assessment of Children's Books for Parents and Teachers" is hysterical.  This is a 126 page document that classifies over 2000 "secular children's and young adult books" with the objective of assisting parents and teachers with the provision of appropriate books for elementary to high school students. There is an introduction, a cover letter, cover page,and then an extensive table that lists books according to the following categories: Author, Title, Intended Grade Level, Appropriateness Rating, and Comments.

Anyway, in case you don't have the kinda time I apparently do, I'll present some of the highlights.

First. in the introduction the authors present three instructions. One of them is: "Make sure to only give out to students the approved book list without the comments". This sentiment is then reiterated in the cover letter.

The three page cover letter to teachers/parents explains the rationale for the list. The authors express that the list was created by concerned mothers who understand that: "the words a child (or adult!) reads can leave a permanent impression on his or her neshama" [soul]. So kind of these moms to take one for the team, and soil their own neshamas so that their children's neshamas can remain pristine. Anyway, standard religious bla bla bla - moving on.

Here are the ratings they have designated for books:

OK - acceptable
OK? -  generally acceptable; parent should read comments to decide if appropriate
- not acceptable
N? - significantly problematic but may be acceptable in certain situations as determined by parent
C -  Classic. Generally would not be read as independent reading.

So, I'm not going tell you what's kosher. A)That's boring, and B) Most literate non-fundamentalist people would consider all of 2000 the books on the list fine, i.e. "kosher". However, it's interesting and - for me, at least - entertaining to see what the Bible Belt (in this case the Jewish one) might consider out of bounds, and why. There are a ton of "N's" on the list. I'm going to stick to the highlights.

1. Louisa May Alcott's "Little Men". For grades 6-8. Gets an N? because it has "minor religion scattered throughout". But don't wory! The list authors let you know that  "2 pages of J-- - can be torn out." They also object to:  "Minor women's liberation", and a "Minor push for co-ed education".  Jennifer Armostrong's "Steal Away… To Freedom" (rated: N) about a white girl and slave girl who run away together is also ousted for - among other things, discussing women's rights and emancipation.

2. Andrew Clements' Things Not Seen is rated N for, among other things:  Mild chutzpah.

3. Frank Asch's, Pearl's promise about a white mouse who "rescues his brother from a snake tank in a pet store" is cited as having "Minor romantic mouse 'negiah', some mouse 'boy/girl'. On a similar note,  Lynne Reid Banks', I, Houdini got an N  for the "Horrible chapter of hamster's attraction to female hamster".

4. J.M. Barrie's  Peter Pan!!!!! Frontal topless mermaids, undressed lost boys. I don't know what can be done for the poor souls of those children already contaminated by Disney's The Little Mermaid. Thankfully at least she wasn't topless.

5. Ian Beck'sThe Secret History of Tom True Heart gets an N? for "Many tongue in cheek references to famous fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunsel, Sleeping Beauty, etc."  Lots of fairy tale type romance - instantly falling in love and asking for hand in marriage. I'm confused. Now marriage is bad? Oh, no! Just falling in love.

6. Berenstain, Stan and Jan Berenstain Bears and the Nerdy Nephew: N. The only reason cited: "Cool tough-guy's girlfriend is attracted to nerdy intellectual." OK . . every Yeshiva boy's dream. Objectionable because . . .???

7. Seven out of Nine Judy Blume Books got N's (including "It's Not the End of the World for "Messy Divorce". No other reason.) Interestingly, "Are you there God? It's  Me, Margaret", wasn't even listed. That must mean it's OK ;).

8. Susan Bonners The Silver Balloon was described as "Wonderful till end" where there's the unfortunate "
page long lecture on dinosaurs."  Adult guidance was recommended for that page. I'm surprised they didn't just recommend ripping it out.

9. Walter K. Brooks's Freddy Goes to the North Pole N? for:  Plot about visiting Santa at the North Pole.  Lots of presents, goodwill, reindeer and sleighs.  No real religion

10. Mark Brown's There's no Place Like Home is a "Picture book about different homes.  Page 2 - Illustration of family with x-mas tree and menorah together". OMG - a page about religious tolerance! Sacrilege. Malka Drucker's, picture book: A Jewish Holiday ABC also gets an because "Girls wear yarmulkas for Yom Kippur".

Have you noticed that I haven't even gotten past authors whose last names begin with B yet????

Other comments on the list of note:

Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451: "I wouldn't give it to a teenager as independent reading."

Jeff Brown's Invisible Stanley": gets an OK? but notes:  One scene where helps a shy couple get engaged
and they kiss.  Easy to tear out page". Several books with the Ok? got the comment: "But do kids this age need it?"

Sid Fleischman's The 13th floor - A Ghost Story gets an N?  for : "nothing really horrible, just overall tone"

The abridged versions of Dickens' Great Expectations and Oliver twist,  and an N? for The Count of Monte Cristoe

And finally, Anne Frank's The Diary of A Young Girl also gets and N. Anne Frank!!!!!!!!! You know who else censors Anne Frank? Neo Nazis and Holocaust Deniers.

Ok. Now this has stopped being funny.


  1. This is sickening. By the way, my kids read everything.

    r"l = rachmana litzlan = God forbid (similarly "chas veshalom")

    1. Not that I am a supporter of a kosher reading list, but you really let your kids read everything? One of the books there is about a boy that was molested by some pedophile. Why wouldn't I want to know about a book like that and I would I want my young child read that?

    2. Not literally everything, but it depends on age, maturity, interest ... obviously.

      If they do end up reading something with questionable messages, I may discuss it with them... again, depending on age etc.

      I have an 18 year old... I'm certainly not censoring her (how could I?)

      Plus, even kids who are censored read behind their parents' backs... I'd rather know what's going on.

    3. Fair enough. The list was for elementary kids.

  2. A good laugh? I'm ready for a good cry, for the children who are deprived of normal literature because of lists like this. But does anyone really use them? I go to a library that's always full of frum families and children, and I have to say I don't recall seeing anyone referring to this nasty list.

    By the way, "frummy" books, as my kids refer to them, are usually of poor literary quality and universally have sappy plot lines.

    1. Agreed tesyaa . . . and I meant "hysterical" in both the funny and crazy sense. It's only funny to me in it's ridiculousness. I wholeheartedly agree the children are victims of the book police here.

    2. > By the way, "frummy" books, as my kids refer to them, are usually of poor literary quality and universally have sappy plot lines.

      I think that’s a talent pool issue, just like Jewish music. Suppose, on average, that one in a million people is a truly great writer, and, say, one in a hundred thousand is a decent writer. There would be 350 great writers and 3,500 decent writers in the US alone, but only two great writers and twenty descent writers in the entire world-wide frun population. Of those, only half would live in English-speaking countries, and maybe half of those would speak decent English. Of those, those who are MO would be just as if not more likely to write for a regular publisher and a general audience as for a frum audience. So what’s left? Maybe one decent English writer in the entire frum world? No wonder most frum literature is awful.

    3. > So what’s left? Maybe one decent English writer in the entire frum world?

      Not to mention that if this great writer were encouraged to write anything, it's unlikely to be fiction for children.

    4. I agree about the talent pool - the frum world is quite small.

    5. >just like Jewish music.

      ECH!!!! Don't get me started. I think the anglo-religious world of music is almost bankrupt in quality, talent and creativity. I see much more hope coming from the Israeli sector.

  3. >By the way, my kids read everything.

    tesyaa . . . That's not surprise - I have NEVER taken you for a fundamentalist!

  4. >But does anyone really use them?

    Schools. Teachers when selecting books.

  5. tesya - thanks for the comments . . I switched around the content of two posts a bit, and i think it reads better now.

  6. Anne Frank? OMFG! (Oh My Fictitious God)

    1. And "Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingalls Wilder is on the N? list ... too much Christianity.

      "Little House" - be still my heart.

      (And it's also considered problematic because animal slaughter is described in detail - ironically, these kids are taught to pray for the return of animal sacrifice in the Temple, and are probably eating meat for dinner every night).

      "Calvin & Hobbes" is mostly given a pass, though. I'm surprised - Calvin's middos are actually horrible.

    2. And "Calvin” and “Hobbes” were both prominent Christian reformers. But the kids wouldn’t know that, so I guess it’s okay.

    3. lol .. do you think even the ladies who made the list knew that?

    4. No, but I was trying to be kind. :)

  7. > J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan!!!!! Frontal topless mermaids, undressed lost boys. I don't know what can be done for the poor souls of those children already contaminated by Disney's The Little Mermaid. Thankfully at least she wasn't topless.

    Most parents who would use the guide also wouldn’t allow their kids to watch movies.

    > Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451: "I wouldn't give it to a teenager as independent reading."

    How do you think they would feel about another sci-fi classic, “Stranger in a Strange Land?”

    > And finally, Anne Frank's The Diary of A Young Girl also gets and N.

    Well, it has violence and a sort-of romance. Besides, kids should learn about the Holocaust from books from frum publishing houses that teach them about all the amazing miracles Hashem performed on our behalf, not from books that might chas v’shalom cause them to wonder how He could have allowed something so terrible to happen. I wish I were joking, but in some communities, that’s official policy.

    I skimmed through the first few pages, and this jumped out at me:

    “Books that bring up hashkafik issues (eg, evolution, age of the world, etc.) will be
    noted in the comments section with a suggestion for parental (or teacher) guidance in
    discussing these topics with the child before he reads the book. Detailed hashkafik issues
    in a book will often render it “N”.”

    That’s what’s wrong with these women’s (and their community’s) way of thinking in a nutshell. They think that empirical questions such as the validity of evolution and the age of the universe are hashkafik (philosophical/theological) questions.


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