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Haredi Children’s Literary Characters: A Micro Material Culture Exhibit

By Dainy Bernstein

Published Oct 6, 2022

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Yossi and Laibel

Children’s lives are populated by characters in the books they read. Winnie the Pooh, Llama Llama, the Berenstain Bears, Curious George, Junie B. Jones, Horrible Harry, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Ramona Quimby, Anne Shirley – all or some of these characters may have accompanied you on your own journey through childhood. 

 

Above: The covers of the Yossi and Laibel series, each depicting a pair of brothers engaging in various activities.

Mimmy and Simmy

Children form attachments to literary characters, and these characters help socialize the children whose lives they enter, affecting children’s self-perception, social interactions, and dreams of the future. 

 

Above: The covers of the Mimmy and Simmy series, each depicting two girls along with childhood objects.

Bina, Benny, and Chaggai HaYonah

Over the past four decades, as Haredi children’s publishing flourished, Haredi parents and educators have increasingly been able to populate their children’s and students’ worlds with characters that socialize them into uniquely Haredi children. Some of these characters’ books – like the Yossi and Laibel series, the Mimmy and Simmy series, and the Bina, Benny, and Chaggai HaYonah series, all pictured here – have never gone out of print since their initial publication in the 1990s. Other characters who populate Haredi childhoods, like the family of the Baker’s Dozen series and the girls of the B.Y. Times series, are getting new life via editions with shiny new cover illustrations published over the last few years. 

 

Above: The covers of the Bina, Benny, and Chaggai HaYonah series, each depicting a brother and sister engaged in holiday activities in the bottom third of the image, the name of the holiday across the middle, and a visual representation of the holiday in the top third.

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Dainy Bernstein holds a PhD in English from the City University of New York. Eir research focuses on Haredi children's literature and material culture. Ey teaches composition and literature at Lehman College, CUNY.

Reflections

Haredi Representation 

What do you feel when looking at these images of Haredi children’s books characters? Do these characters match or challenge your perception of Haredi children or their representation in media? 

Making connections 

How similar are these Haredi characters to the literary characters who populated your own or your children’s childhoods? 

Exposure and access 

If literary characters are childhood companions, what kinds of characters would you make sure Jewish children have access to? Are there any characters you would try to keep away from a Jewish child? 

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