How do librarians decide what to add to a library? They do it through a process called Collection Development. When developing a collection for the children’s section of a local library, youth librarians think about lots of factors including: the age range for the section, local interests and needs, populations that should be reflected in the collection and, most importantly, diversity. Diversity in public library collections is something that’s been on the upswing over the past many years spearheaded in 2014 by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag that was first tweeted by Aisha Saeed in April of 2014.
Librarians often refer to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights that states that “a diverse collection should contain content by and about a wide array of people and cultures to authentically reflect a variety of ideas, information, stories, and experiences.” Those stories and experiences should be about people of different races, genders, abilities, languages, and religions. Indiana author Sandy Sasso has long been a staple of Jewish stories for children, and two of her most recent books certainly fit the bill to add diversity and nuance to any library for children, whether it be at a home or in a public library.
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso is uniquely qualified to tell these types of stories. She is Rabbi Emerita of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis where she served for many years. She was the second woman ever to become a rabbi, which must have influenced her when she wrote the picture book JUDY LED THE WAY, a sweet and gentle account of the first girl to have a bat mitzvah ceremony in the United States in 1922 not long after women got the vote in 1920.
Judy always had a question. Why does she have so many chores? Why does she have to practice her music scales? Why isn’t there a bat mitzvah ceremony for girls? In real life, Judy was the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. In the picture book, Judy has two disapproving grandmothers, but with the support of her father, mother, and sisters, she makes history by reading from the Torah and starting the new tradition of bat mitzvah in the synagogue. Even her grandmothers seemed to approve. The illustrations pair with the text perfectly, with some of Judy’s thoughts written out on the page. All libraries need more stories about women’s achievements, and this unique book fits the bill perfectly.
Sasso’s other recent book for children is a collection of stories from the bible titled THE RAVEN AND THE DOVE, THE BIG FISH, AND THE STUBBORN DONKEY. The cute hook here is that the three stories are each told from the animal’s perspective, and they are funny. Dove talks to Raven “bird to bird.” The whale got “a mighty case of indigestion” when he swallowed Jonah. Balaam’s Donkey “would have appreciated it if Balaam had lost a few pounds.” Told with humor, these stories will be a welcome addition to any library that collects bible stories.
Suzanne Walker received her Masters of Library Science from Indiana University. She is currently the Indiana Young Readers Center Librarian and Director of the Indiana Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Library of Congress. She coordinates Indiana’s Letters About Literature competition annually. Suzanne judged the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards in 2013 and 2014 and the Indiana Poetry Out Loud competition in 2017. Most recently she was a judge for the 2020 Indiana Authors Awards and the 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. She has presented numerous times at Indiana Library Federation’s District conferences, annual conferences, and youth conferences.
Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.