Children's Literature

22nd September 1995 at 01:00
GOLDEN WINDOWS. By Adle Geras. Heinemann Pounds 9.99. - 0434 96812 9. ALWAYS ADAM. By Sheldon Oberman and Ted Lewin. Gollancz Pounds 3.99. - 0 575 05989 3.

When I was a child we used to get special Jewish children's books as prizes at religion school. They were always full of the kind of stories which adults brightly tell you are so much fun, but which you know are nothing of the sort. The illustrations were usually "artistic", that is in smudgy charcoal of idealised children with shyly appealing expressions. Food was always delicious, often featuring golden loaves rising and filling the kitchen with their aroma, mothers eternally loving and children only naughty by mistake. It all used to make me feel very rebellious.

Thirty-five years later, not much seems to have changed. In Ad le Geras's Jerusalem the Golden, despite spanning several generations of war-torn history, golden windows still offer glimpses of delicious food and maternal warmth. Is there nothing a plate of strudel cannot assuage? Adventures in the mythic city are offered as adventures in self-discovery and discovery of the Jewish past, all somehow gemuetlich and heimisch (roughly, heart-warming and homelike). A slightly more realistic view of childish spats and squabbles is occasionally interspersed with the pretty drawings, but it still makes me feel rebellious.

Always Adam, on the other hand, has the simple repetitive structure of a folk tale. It absorbs young readers as it follows a prayer shawl from pre-Revolutionary Russia to the United States of today in a moving snapshot of history. Religion schools ought to fall on it for their little boys. But the drawings are still just too gemuetlich to be true.

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