History buffs with a background in early American Jewish history are familiar with the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, America’s oldest synagogue. However, fewer can recall the background of Reverend Isaac Touro, the man who helped build the synagogue or his second son Judah.
In her debut picture book, Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous, Audrey Ades connects young readers to Judah Touro, a successful merchant, and remarkable philanthropist. He was born at the start of the American Revolutionary War and died before the Civil War began.
Orphaned at a young age, Judah was raised by his uncle. Moses Michael Hays in Boston. Readers are introduced to the main character while he is traveling solo aboard a ship heading to New Orleans. Judah establishes himself as a successful merchant. Ades effectively weaves elements of history—the War of 1812, the migration of immigrants and the issues associated with a growing 19th-century American city, the New Orleans Jewish community, and slavery prior to the Civil War—into the concise story. Without diaries or an abundance of historical records, Ades uses her creative skills to capture the essence of a man who chose to donate his abundant wealth to Jewish and secular institutions in New Orleans and other places around the world.
A picture book showcasing the philanthropy of an American Jewish personality is a welcome addition to a home or public library. The modern-day interpretation of the concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world through charitable giving (tzedakah) and acts of kindness (gemilut hasidim) permeates this story. If the beneficiaries of Judah’s generosity were still alive, they would undoubtedly attest to how Judah made the world a better place. His monetary contributions helped to establish schools, hospitals, synagogues, orphanages, and other public facilities.
References to God
A handful of references to Judah’s belief in God may cause some secular educators or librarians to avoid reading this insightful and heartwarming book aloud to children. These individuals may automatically exclude the subject of God in a non-religious setting.
Judah looks to God for reassurance aboard the ship. “His father and grandfather had also sailed the seas. They left their homes to practice Judaism in peace and freedom. God had taken care of them. Judah knew God had a plan for him, too.” After becoming successful, Judah wondered “Had God planned for him to be a businessman.” When Judah was recovering from his near-fatal war injuries, he once again reflected on his relationship with God. “While he lay in bed, he had plenty of time to think about why God had spared his life.” Judah’s strong opinions regarding slavery were rooted in his Jewish identity. “From the time he was a boy, Judah had been taught that all people were equal in God’s eyes.”
Vivien Mildenberger’s muted drawings help young readers unfamiliar with early 19th century New Orleans to see the lifestyle of people who lived in earlier times. Children who have yet to master reading a simple text can easily use these illustrations as picture clues to follow the chronology of the story. These soft, subdued images go hand-in-hand with the concept of a modest man who was not pretentious.
Importance of Historical Fiction
Primary students can be introduced to people who made a difference by reading history-based picture books. Reading this book, as well as other stories in this genre, can open the door to learning about other remarkable individuals and important time periods.
Do you have a favorite historical fiction picture book? Please share in the comment section below.
Parents and teachers— Ades is reaching out to kids of all ages and needs your help. To be eligible for the Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous book giveaway, please assist children in sending an email to Ades’ website by June 1, 2020.
The email should include a description of the child’s good deed. Ades will randomly choose one email and send the winner a free copy of Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous. Ades will send a copy of her next book when it comes out in 2021 to individuals who already have a copy.
LET ME INTRODUCE YOU TO SOME MORE PICTURE BOOKS:
Historical Fiction Picture Book: Ethiopia to Israel
Historical Picture Book-Discovering Jewish and African Roots
Picture Book Captures Life on Oregon Trail
Kar-Ben Publishers sent a complimentary copy of Judah Touro Didn’t Want to Be Famous.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She was a licensed Colorado teacher who taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad. Sandra also taught college-level courses at Front Range Community College and the University of Colorado-Boulder. In addition to reviewing books and interviewing authors, Sandra is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer. Many of Sandra’s stories appear on the For Readers page. Additional stories can be read on TheTravelingBornsteins website.
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