Sunday, February 11, 2024

Life IS Like a Library

 Our blog gets its title from the quote by Harry Emerson Fosdick, and especially in these turbulent times, it is obvious that most books were written and are being written for us, and we have no control over anything that is happening. 

For those of us who have had the privilege or working in or using a great library, we know it is a magical place, full of books and other materials just waiting to be discovered. As collectors of quotes, these came to mind:

A truly great library has something to offend everyone. - Jo Godwin (librarian)

A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants. - Doris Lessing

The libraries of America are and must ever remain the home of free and inquiring minds. To them, our citizens - of all ages and races, of all creeds and persuasions - must be able to turn with clear confidence that there they can freely seek the whole truth, unvarnished by fashion and uncompromised by expediency. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

We often participate in projects where book lists are compiled and created. Sometimes it's really fun to think of books on a particular subject or by certain authors. Other times, it's a little more challenging. There may be a book on the subject or by the author, but it may not be suitable for the intended age group or be the strongest book on the subject or by the author. Talking about books is something librarians LOVE to do, so while there can be a lot of back and forth about what books to include, the resulting list is usually created with care and purpose.

In the current "matsav" (situation) - after October 7th, we need books that educate and enlighten. As Rudine Sims Bishop so eloquently observed in her famous piece on "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors:"

Those of us who are children's literature enthusiasts tend to be somewhat idealistic, believing that some book, some story, some poem can speak to each individual child, and that if we have the time and the resources, we can find that book and help to change the child's life. If only for a brief time, and only for a tiny bit. On the other hand, we are realistic enough to know that literature, no matter how powerful, has its limits. It won't take the homeless of our streets; it won't feed the starving of the world; it won't stop people from attacking each other because of our racial differences; it won't stamp out the scrouge of drugs. It could, however, help us to understand each other better by helping change our attitudes toward difference. When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and similarities, because together they are what make us all human. 

With this in mind, we sought out books that could be "windows" into a culture with which we are unfamiliar. We hoped to find books with no agenda, no politics, no framing - just good stories and/or factual information. To say we went out of our comfort zone is an understatement. We walked into a neighborhood where we stuck out like huge, flashing sore thumbs, and we had to wade through books that were popular, but did have agendas, politics, etc.

Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale

Retold by Margaret Read MacDonald
Collected by Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana
Illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian
©2012 Two Lions

A charming story about a little pot who steals things and then gets her "just reward." Love, love, love the vibrant illustrations: the characters with big eyes, the geometric borders around the pictures, and the feisty little red pot.

The Magical Hands of Zalatimo

By Salam Akram Zalatimo
Illustrated by Margarita Fomenko
©2018 Create Space

An adorable rhyming book about a baker who makes the best mutabak (a treat made with sheets of dough, cheese curds, and sugar syrup). Based on a true family history (read more here), the delicious pastries (see how they are made here) put a smile on everyone's face.

While the original shop, opened in 1860, is still in Jerusalem's Old City, Momo's descendants have opened shops (and factories) all over the world.

Arab Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook

Tales by Karim Alrawi
Illustrations by Nahid Kazemi
Recipes by Sobhi al-Zobaidi & Tamam Qanembou-Zobaidi and Karim Alrawi
©2021 Crocodile Books

Part of a series that includes Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts (2014) and Fairy Tale Feasts (2006), these "literary cookbooks" combine short tales with classic characters and classic recipes. This volume includes "Fish Soup in Gaza," accompanied by a recipe for fish soup. The notes include explanations of these characters like Goha (Joha), the wise fool, descriptions of the items in the recipes, and etymology of many of the Arabic words used in the stories and recipes. Colorful illustrations show the foods and compliment the text, like a picture of a winking girl who has outsmarted the teller of the "big fish tale." All the recipes are relative simple, although some of the ingredients are exotic.

We were saddened by the "coulda, shoulda, woulda" of so many books, and that out of nine books, only three fit the criteria. Some had incredible artwork, some showed beautiful examples of community caring and sharing, the richness of the culture, and some had a cute story. But the politics and the agenda overshadowed all these merits.

Real Cats of Israel

As for the Real Cats, this is about as real as it gets. We saw this crew outside when we went to pay a condolence to the family of 24-year-old Amichai Oster, who was killed in Gaza. Seeing this clowder of cats gave me a smile after a very sad visit.

Besorot tovot - May we hear good news soon!
Happy Reading!

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