10.19.2011

Storyteller's City: The Castle on Hester Street


In my series on immigrant-themed picture books we are returning again to the Russian-Jewish experience. I haven't yet determined if it is just my particular knack for finding these books, or if there is indeed an abundance of books about Russian Jewish immigrants. What do you think?

In any case, Linda Heller's The Castle on Hester Street is a clear winner. When it was first published in 1982 it won the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and for its reissue 25 years later, Boris Kulikov added his terrific and vibrant illustrations (Heller did the original illustrations).

Julie's grandfather is a weaver of tales. On day he tells her how he came to America. It is an extraordinary tale indeed, Moishe the goat carried him all the way from Russia in a golden wagon, he was met at the docks by Theodore Roosevelt himself, and he made his living selling jewel encrusted buttons.

Or did he?

While he tells Julie his tale, her grandmother sets the record straight with a more accurate rendition of events. Both versions, however are full of love for their adopted country, for each other and life itself.

Heller's text is vibrant, lively and grandfather's tale pulls us in immediately.  Her witty take on the immigrant story -- placing side by side a dream-like, fanciful version and a realistic one, is not unlike the immigrant experience itself. After all, in many ways America idealizes the immigrant experience, which is always one of a new life, filled with hardships as well as dream-fulfillment of some kind. And that's also the story of the City, especially New York City: a place where you go "to make it" and find your way, but also a place of challenges to the body and the mind.

Reading this book as an adult begs the question: how will you tell your tale to your children? But whatever you chose, make sure you read this book to them.

Want More?
Read about the illustrator and see more great artwork at Seven Impossible Things.
Visit the illustrator's website.

Big Kid says: Why was the grandfather making that stuff up?

3 comments:

Even in Australia said...

I think there are a lot of books about the Jewish immigrant experience, for both children and adults!

Raising a Happy Child said...

We definitely need to get this one - I am sure Anna will love it. She is enjoying Dollhouse book. I admit I couldn't quite get into it, so I just gave it up to her :)

MaryAnne said...

There are a lot of books, possibly in part due to a strong literary tradition among both Russians and Jews?

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