Children’s author nurtures diversity within Jewish children’s literature

Discover a children's book author writing diverse Jewish children's books to reflect modern Jewry.

avivabrown image
Aviva Brown reading her book to her youngest.

While speaking to author Aviva Brown on the phone from her Greensboro, N.C., home one sunny Sukkot day, I learn a valuable lesson about children's literature, as she describes how stories can be mirrors or windows. 

"A mirror is where you are reading about someone who has a lived experience that's similar to yours, and a window is where you are looking into the lived experience of someone else." 

Brown and I are discussing her debut children's book Ezra's BIG Shabbat Question . It tells the story about a little boy who becomes fixated on whether you can tie a knot on Shabbat. Her 10-year-old son, Evan, inspired the main character, Ezra, who, Brown says is actually "focused on a very minute question." 

Even if the question is minute, it propels the bigger story about Ezra and his biracial, Jewish family, which mirrors Brown's own. A strong advocate for nurturing diversity within Jewish children's literature, Brown wrote her first book after discovering a lack of characters reflecting her own household.  

Like many book-loving Jewish parents, Brown is an avid subscriber to PJ Library, JUF's program, which provides free Jewish children's books to families. Brown says she loves PJ Library, calling it a "Godsend." 

"It wound up being wonderful, not just for (my kids), but for me also because I could learn about Jewish holidays and all these Jewish stories while I'm reading books to them." 

Brown and her three oldest children converted to Judaism in 2017. Soon after the birth of her fourth child two years ago, her husband decided to convert as well. 

Around that same time, Brown tripped over a big pile of PJ Library books on her girls' bedroom floor, prompting her to flip through their pages as she put them back on the shelf. Brown says she enjoyed perusing the books, but she noticed none of them contained characters who looked like her offspring. 

So, she decided to do something about it. 

"If I'm not seeing books that have children of color in them that are Jewish, I'm going to just write them," Brown said.


Ezra's BIG Shabbat Question
came out last year, and is already sold out on Brown's website, with a paperback version forthcoming. She's also written, Not Now Mara , a story about a toddler getting into things while her parents get ready for Shabbat. 

This month, Brown releases her newest book, co-written with Rivka Badik-Schultz, titled, I Looked into Your Eyes: A Poem for New Families , which she calls a "celebration of Jewish diversity." 

Brown credits PJ Library with providing books about diverse families, such as Fridays Are Special by Chris Barash. Other books featuring Jews of color, like Yuvi's Candy Tree by Lesley Simpson, are historical in their context, and Brown wanted to provide her readers with a more modern backdrop.

"I set out to write a contemporary children's book that features Jews of color, but it was really important to me that the story could be about any Jewish family, and it just so happened that these Jews have darker skin," Brown explained.

Since publishing Ezra's BIG Shabbat Question , Brown noticed both Jews of color and Jews who identify as white buying her book. She says she received many comments from parents thanking her for helping them show their children diversity within the Jewish world. That feedback led to Brown's epiphany: She intended to write a book that was a mirror, but wound up creating a window, too. 

"It never occurred to me that while it is important for my kids to see kids who look like them in a book, it's also important for white Jews to see kids who don't look like them in books," Brown said. "It was really awe-inspiring for me to have that realization that my book wasn't just important for kids like mine, but for all Jewish kids." 

If you'd like to learn more about Aviva Brown or purchase one of her books, check out her website: avivabrown.com

 



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