Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stories for Little Jews

When the four children of Rabbi Baruch and Sadie Rose Weilerstein were little, they had no idea that their mother’s stories would change the face of Jewish children’s literature in America. In fact, Sadie Rose herself had no intention of publishing her stories until her own mother gathered those that were written and took them to the New York Public Library, where she was directed to Bloch Publishing, which specialized in Jewish publications. A few months later, Weilerstein’s What Danny Did: Stories for the Wee Jewish Child (1928) was released and received immediate praise.

That Weilerstein ended up writing for Jewish children is, perhaps, not so surprising. Born in Rochester, New York on July 28, 1894, Weilerstein received a B.A. in literature from the University of Rochester, one of the first women to do so. She then taught high school English at The Western New York Institution for Deaf Mutes (later Rochester School for the Deaf). In 1920, she married and assumed the role of Rebbitzen (Rabbi’s wife), first in Brooklyn, and then at the Community Synagogue in Atlantic City, N.J.

An active member of the National Women’s League of the United Synagogues, Weilerstein found the perfect outlet for her work in the Leagues’ Outlook magazine. It was there that her most famous creation, K’tonton, first appeared. K’tonton was unique not just for its Tom Thumb-like miniature protagonist, but also for its non-didactic storyline. Using humor and adventure, Weilerstein created stories that Jewish children could relate to because of their melding of American public life and Jewish home life. 

Sadie Rose Weilerstein published numerous works in addition to her K'tonton series and received several notable awards. She passed away in June 1993.

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