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A missed opportunity

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Susan Hood’s Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2018). The text is interpreted by some of my favorite illustrators, including Julie Morstad, LeUyen Pham, Melissa Sweet, and Sophie Blackall. And from the partial list of subjects in the book’s promotional material, I had high hopes that the volume would be inspirational. And it is. Reading about the accomplishments of Maya Lin, Mae Jemison, and Frida Kahlo will resonate with all readers: feminists like myself, educators excited about presenting history to kids, and fans of great picture book art.

Shaking Things Up gives parents, grandparents, and teachers a perfect opportunity to initiate many conversations with children. Why, for example, did young women of color suffer oppression and exclusion? What personal qualities and what kind of communal support were necessary for them to succeed? I have only praise for the concept, the beautiful production, and the thoughtful historical notes.

There is one aspect of the book, however, that is disappointing to me. There isn’t a single Jewish woman in the group of fourteen. Shaking Things Up includes black women, Hispanic women, Christian women, Asian women, and one Muslim woman, and their ethnic, racial, and religious identities are woven into the narratives of their courage and creativity. Susan Hood does acknowledge in an author’s note that “choosing the fourteen movers and shakers in this book was the hardest part of the project (a good problem to have), and this is by no means an all-inclusive list…” However, I think the book would benefit by including one or two world-changing Jewish women. 

I had read that one subject in the collection “braved Nazis,” and I hoped that woman would be Jewish. In fact, there are two women: sisters and outstanding journalists Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne. It is no disrespect to their incredible accomplishments to feel disappointment that, even in the existential struggle for survival of the Jewish people, Hood could not have included a Jewish woman such as Hannah Senesh. As I read Hood’s poem about these brave sisters, I noted the description of Jacqueline in her parachute as an undercover operative: “a blind drop / into nazi-occupied france of 1943.” To many of us, that image of a woman paratrooper immediately conjures the picture of Senesh parachuting, along with her follow partisans, into Nazi-occupied territory, where she would ultimately be tortured and executed, a martyr to the Jewish people. Jewish children, especially, could benefit from learning about Jews who helped save other Jews during the Holocaust, since so many Holocaust narratives focus on their victimization – much like the “white savior” narrative perpetuated about oppressed people of color, as if they themselves lacked power in their own lives.

In addition to Hannah Senesh, there are so many more influential Jewish women who could have been included in Hood’s volume. A few who come to mind (in no particular order) include: Emma Lazarus, Emma Goldman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lillian Wald, Elena Kagan, Judith Resnik, Rosalind Franklin, Shari Lewis, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Lauren Bacall, Lee Krasner, Golda Meir, Rosalyn Yalow, Rose Schneiderman, Clara Lemlich, Molly Picon, Alicia Markova, and Judy Chicago. If you don’t know who these world changers are, I encourage you to find out more. [Ed. Note: Here are a handful of recent picture books; please add others in the Comments]

Jewish readers would like to see our experiences reflected in the campaign for diverse children’s books, and non-Jewish readers are also entitled to benefit by exposure to different stories and new perspectives. Just as I know that my children and grandchildren are enriched by learning about the profound and lasting contributions of such women as Ruby Bridges, Molly Williams, and Pura Belpré, I encourage readers of all backgrounds to welcome into their homes, schools, and libraries some of the remarkable Jewish women who were not invited into Shaking Things Up.

About Emily Schneider

Dr. Emily Schneider is a writer and educator living in New York City. She blogs about children's literature at Imaginary Elevators (imaginaryelevators.blog).

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Comments

  1. A “missed opportunity” might lead to a “second chance”. Someone (even YOU) might read this post and be motivated to write a book about the very women you list here. Our movement toward more inclusion and/or diversity is not going be be perfect. Baby steps will get us where we hope to go, with a few stumbles along the way. You have shined a light on a need perhaps not quite as recognized as others at this time. A problem must be identified before a solution can be found. Thank you for sharing your awareness.

    A Not So Famous Jewish Woman

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