Reconciling the Orthodox Community and a Book With a Strong Female Protagonist

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Dear Miriam,

I’m writing a children’s book with an egalitarian Jewish theme and strong female protagonist. I’m concerned about how Orthodox communities might view my book. Is there anything I should do in my writing or publicity to address the potential concerns of that community?

Signed,

Egalitarian Author

Dear Egalitarian,

You are writing a book with a well-defined perspective and an eye on Jewish content, so I can assure you that it already has many advantages over a great number of Jewish children’s books currently in circulation. I say this both as a children’s book reviewer and as a parent who has spent untold hours reading my kids subpar stories about making challah with grandparents or a variety of animals celebrating Jewish holidays.

For some perspective on the potential for criticism of this genre, I highly recommend this article, which explains the problem with many Jewish children’s books by saying, “Imagine a Goodnight, Moon in which Margaret Wise Brown was obliged to devote pages to explaining what a moon is.” That is, if you want a book to appeal to a lot of people, then a lot of people have to understand the subject. By extension, then, if you want a book to have a a clear focus on Jewish content, you may not get as many readers.

In your case, you recognize that by its very premise, your book is unlikely to appeal to Jewish communities that are not egalitarian, thereby further limiting your audience. If your goal is to create a bestseller, Jewish children’s books may not be the way to go. If your goal, though, is to create a book that will be impactful to a smallish slice of your own community, then you should write the best, most incredibly inspiring book possible about a girl finding a way to make Judaism meaningful to her.

You owe no one any apologies or explanations for the subject matter of your book. If you are actually concerned that the content may come across as hostile to non-egalitarian Jews, perhaps you want to reconsider some of your wording. Children’s books can succeed by modeling respect and diversity even when they show difference and disagreement. As long as your book is respectful of other Jews, they don’t have to agree with the theology you’re presenting.

If your marketing materials effectively convey what the book is about, Orthodox Jews who want to avoid egalitarian content will know enough to decide if they want to read it to their children. You’ll do best in attracting the kind of audience who will get the most of our your book if you are transparent about what your book has to offer. If you write other books in the future that may be more appealing to Orthodox readers, you can consider specific outreach to that market at that time.

Finally, while most of my questions are intentionally anonymous, this one is specifically about an actual children’s book, Almost a Minyan, coming out in April. If you’re intrigued by the content and how it will appeal to Jews of differing practices, I’m happy to be able to link to the book’s website if you want to learn more. I’m also honored that the book’s publisher reached out to me to weigh in on the subject, and I hope that through this column, some of my readers will be inspired to reach for books they might not otherwise have considered for themselves or for their children.

Be well,

Miriam

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