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Too Young for Yiddish

Too Young for Yiddish

by Richard Michelson

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Young Aaron wants to learn how to speak to the chickens like his Zayde (grandfather). Zayde's stories and his many books, with their mysterious worlds and their guarded secrets, fascinate Aaron. But always Aaron is too young to learn Yiddish. Zayde thinks that Aaron, and all the new generation of American Jews, should speak English and play baseball–just like


Young Aaron wants to learn how to speak to the chickens like his Zayde (grandfather). Zayde's stories and his many books, with their mysterious worlds and their guarded secrets, fascinate Aaron. But always Aaron is too young to learn Yiddish. Zayde thinks that Aaron, and all the new generation of American Jews, should speak English and play baseball–just like all Americans do. When Zayde becomes very old and can no longer see well enough to read his precious books, Aaron decides it is time that Zayde teach him to speak to the chickens before it's too late. This poignant tale about preserving a dying language and the memories of the people who spoke it is also an eloquent tale of America. The importance of heritage and culture, and of honoring the past while building a future, is instilled in young minds through this touching story.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Michelson, best known for such witty collections of verse as Animals That Ought to Be, returns to the intergenerational themes of his Grandpa's Gamble for this nostalgic volume, handsomely illustrated by Waldman (The Golden City) in a sepia-toned palette recalling old family albums. Aaron, a baseball enthusiast who roots for the Brooklyn Dodgers, watches as his zayde (grandfather) moves in, bringing his library of Yiddish books ("Had Zayde really read them all? Each with its own ideas and mysteries. Each with its own secret world"). But Zayde declines to teach Aaron Yiddish: "[In America] Jews should speak English just like everyone else." Not until after Aaron has graduated from high school does he realize the importance of learning about Zayde's Yiddish heritage. In the end, Aaron teaches his own son Yiddish. Michelson sprinkles the text with Yiddish and the publisher has bound the book "back to front," like a Yiddish book. The story possesses both power and pathos, and its message, that Yiddish is an endangered language, is urgent. The afterword, which will hold readers' attention as well, describes Aaron's real-life counterpart, founder of the National Yiddish Book Center. Michelson's delivery, from its grown-up protagonist to its exhortation to learn a language not readily available to most children, may make the book best suited to sharing with a grandparent or parent. Ages 5-9. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Opening from the right, as Yiddish books do, this handsomely produced picture book tenderly tells the story of Aaron and his Yiddish-speaking grandfather, and in so doing, tells what happened to the Yiddish language as well. In Brooklyn of the 1950's, Zayde moves into Aaron's room and brings his many Yiddish books with him. Aaron is a bit nonplussed, but soon grows curious about the strange printing. (Yiddish is written with the Hebrew alphabet.) When Zayde tells him that in the old country, everyone in his town spoke Yiddish, even the chickens, Aaron wants to learn. But Zayde explains that in America, Jews don't need their own language; they are welcome to be part of the larger society, so they speak English like all Americans. Time passes, Aaron learns several languages, and his grandfather has to move to a nursing home. When Aaron sees Zayde's many books heaped in the trash, he rescues them and determines to learn Yiddish. The language becomes one more bond between Aaron and his grandfather, and the story ends with Aaron teaching Yiddish to his own young son. The realistic paintings in warm earth tones infuse the text with nostalgia and give the characters vivid personalities. A glossary, explanatory essay, and afterword about the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, add to the book's educational value. A touching, albeit sentimental, gloss on a language that evokes powerful emotions in the hearts of American Jews. 2002, Talewinds/Charlesbridge,
— Miriam Rinn
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-A tribute to Yiddish books and to Aaron Lansky, founder of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA, this is an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful picture book. Zayde (Grandfather) comes to live with the fictional Aaron's family, bringing along his beloved books. When the boy asks his grandfather to teach him Yiddish, the man inexplicably tells the child that he is "too young for Yiddish," and that in America, "Jews should speak English just like everyone else." As the boy grows up, the two share a love of baseball. When Aaron is an adult, Zayde, now a very old man, throws his collection in the trash, saying, "For Yiddish it is the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and no one on base." Aaron retrieves the books and learns to read them with the help of his grandfather; later, he shares them with his own son. While the subject is interesting and unusual, the point of view is adult and nostalgic. A stilted style and Waldman's static watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations keep young readers at an even greater distance. Rendered in monotonous tans and grays, they depict Jews and the Eastern-European culture in stereotypical shtetl images that distort their vitality and variety.-Linda R. Silver, Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This is a sweet story about a language that, like the Jews themselves, manages to survive despite the effects of extermination and assimilation. A boy named Aaron implores his beloved Zayde to teach him Yiddish, but Zayde maintains that Aaron is too young. Zayde has moved into a small room in his son's (Aaron's father) house, where the only place for his collection of Yiddish-language books is his dresser, with the poetry books taking pride of place in the top drawer. These books represent all that is left of a once-vibrant Yiddish culture. When Zayde finally must move to a nursing home, he piles his books on the curb to be collected with the trash. Aaron, now a college student, rescues the books and begins to learn Yiddish. Eventually, Aaron becomes a father and begins teaching his own young son the language of his Zayde, saying, "you're never too young for Yiddish." Michelson (Ten Times Better, 2000, etc.) avoids taking the already didactic text over the top by leaving the history of Yiddish and its disappearance to a note, while an afterword tells of current efforts to save Yiddish books and thereby Yiddish culture. Waldman's sensitive, if dull, illustrations capture the love between boy and elderly grandfather as well as the flavor of life in the shtetl. Too Young for Yiddish is printed so it opens on the left like a Yiddish book and the text employs many Yiddish words. There is a glossary of words used in the text. (Picture book. 6-12)
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
This book is a warm tale of a grandson, Aaron, and his beloved grandfather, Zayde, who find themselves roommates in the family's small Brooklyn apartment. Zayde's books are given a place of honor, even above his clothing. The books are mostly written in Yiddish, a language that, grandfather assures Aaron, has no place in America, where assimilated children need to speak and read in English. When the family moves to the suburbs, Zayde stays in Brooklyn with his friends who share his memories and language. Aaron makes regular visits to see his grandfather and to hear his stories. When Zayde moves into a nursing home, his books are discarded. Aaron retrieves the Yiddish tomes and asks his grandfather to teach him the lost language. The story is told nicely and the sepia illustrations add a sense of place and age to the text. A CD of Leonard Nimoy reading the book is a wonderful addition, especially since Nimoy brings authenticity to the Yiddish words sprinkled through the text. The problem will be placing this book. The picture book format seems aimed at a young audience who will not understand the setting or the importance of Yiddishkeit. The story will actually have more appeal to Baby Boomers who will remember Koufax playing baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and loving Bubbes and Zaydes who still speak the mamaloschen. The story will, perhaps, inspire discussions of childhoods spent with immigrant grandparents. An adult non-fiction book called Outwitting History, documenting the rescue of Yiddish books from the libraries and storage sheds of elderly Yiddish-speakers, loosely inspires the title. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross

Product Details

Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
File size:
9 MB
Age Range:
7 - 11 Years

Meet the Author

Richard Michelson is a prize-winning poet whose work has been praised by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel as "deeply moving." His many children's books include TEN TIMES BETTER, A BOOK OF FLIES: REAL AND OTHERWISE and ANIMALS THAT OUTGHT TO BE, both illustrated by the late Caldecott Honor artist Leonard Baskin, and GRANDPA'S GAMBLE, illustrated by American Book Award winner Barry Moser. Richard now lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two children. He is the owner of R. Michelson Galleries, which represents many of the country's most prominent children's book illustrators.

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