The book rescuer How a mensch from Massachusetts saved Yiddish literature for generations to come

Sue Macy

Book - 2019

Over the last forty years, Aaron Lansky has jumped into dumpsters, rummaged around musty basements, and crawled through cramped attics. He did all of this in pursuit of a particular kind of treasure, and he's found plenty. Lansky's treasure was any book written in Yiddish, the language of generations of European Jews. When he started looking for Yiddish books, experts estimated there might be about 70,000 still in existence. Since then, the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient has collecte...d close to 1.5 million books, and he's finding more every day.

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Picture books
New York : Simon & Schuster [2019]
First edition
Physical Description
48 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 29 cm
Ages 4-8.
Grade K to 3.
Includes bibliographical references (page 47).
Main Author
Sue Macy (author)
Other Authors
Stacy Innerst (illustrator)
Review by Booklist Review

Yiddish was a dying language (it's still not robust) when a young man, Aaron Lansky, decided to save it. Macy begins the story several generations back, with Lansky's grandmother arriving in America: her suitcase was thrown in the ocean by her brother out with the old, in with the new. Flash-forward to the 1970s, and Aaron is in college, studying Jewish history, and he wants to read books in the common language of European Jews in past centuries, Yiddish. But after the Holocaust and the diaspora of European Jewry, the number of people speaking Yiddish plummeted. Yiddish books were also disappearing, so Lansky decided to make it his mission to rescue them and his ancestors' heritage. Macy's text details how Lansky's pursuit took him out in all kinds of weather, to all kinds of places, where elderly Jews gave him an education in their lives and the importance of their books. An afterword by Lansky tells readers about the Yiddish Book Center, a vibrant organization that, among many other things, fosters learning the language. The story comes alive through the bold acrylic and gouache art, which illustrator Innerst says was inspired by the ""exuberant motifs"" of Marc Chagall. He finds drama in faces, profundity in the weight and number of books. The most outstanding spread places a shtetl on Yiddish pages that resemble matzo. Yiddish appears throughout the text; a glossary explains the words.--Ilene Cooper Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This inspired pairing of two top picture book biographers tells the story of Aaron Lansky, an "all-American boy" (a Star Trek poster decorates his bedroom) who in college became convinced that Yiddish books represented the "portable homeland" of the Jewish people. With Yiddish dying out after the Holocaust and little mainstream support ("Yiddish was a language whose time had passed"), Lansky learned the language, then began saving Yiddish books any way he could. He pulled nearly 5,000 out of a dumpster and accepted "one book at a time" from elderly owners ("We didn't eat much," one book donor tearfully tells him, "but we always bought a book. It was a necessity of life"). Founded in 1980, Lansky's Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., is today home to 1.5 million rescued books and is a hub of Yiddish studies. Innerst (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), who notes in an afterword that his illustrations were inspired by Chagall, contributes dramatic, textural acrylic and gouache images, with sculptural figures, expressionistic settings, and the deep, rich tones of vintage book bindings. Evoking both a lost past and an urgent present, they're a marvelous complement to the journalistic, propulsive narrative by Macy (Motor Girls). Ages 5--8. (Oct.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 1--4--Aaron Lansky could not forget what his grandmother told him as a child. At the age of 16, she immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. In his twenties, Lansky decided to find out more about his grandmother's stories, which set him on a journey to learn how to speak and read Yiddish and to also locate Yiddish books. The result is the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA. Lansky's story is a fascinating one, filled with book rescues and meeting older people who not only treasure books but what they represent. His disappointments and rewards in pursuing this passion are well portrayed. The narrative is both informative and engaging and includes Yiddish words, many of which have been incorporated into English. All appear in a glossary. An afterword by Lansky himself brings the Center and his work up to date. Illustrations intentionally call to mind the bold line and semi-abstraction of Russian-born artist Marc Chagall. VERDICT A potentially valuable addition to both school and public libraries as well as Jewish schools. Echoing Carole Boston Weatherford's Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, the book's narrative shows that pursuing interests can lead to meaningful and long-lasting results.--Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Horn Book Review

"Kum aher. Sit down. I want to tell you a story." With a storyteller's cadence, Macy (Miss Mary Reporting, rev. 1/16; Trudy's Big Swim, rev. 7/17) explains how Aaron Lansky came to collect the thousands of books now housed in the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. Through an anecdote from Lansky's family history as well as a brief historical overview of why the number of Yiddish speakers has dwindled, Macy gives context to Lansky's difficulty in finding Yiddish novels for his college studies. That difficulty led him to collect books first for his own purposes, then for the Center (which he founded) starting in 1980. Stories of how he obtained them-meetings "over tea and cake and lokshn kugl" with older Jews; a late-night dash to a dumpster-lend both human interest and a sense of urgency to the mission. Innerst's (The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny), rev. 5/13) painterly illustrations (in acrylic and gouache, with fabric textures rendered digitally, and, according to an illustrator's note, inspired by Marc Chagall), give readers plenty to peruse, with sprinkled Yiddish words and visual references to Jewish history and culture. Detailed back matter also includes notes from Lansky and Macy, a glossary, further resources, and source notes. Shoshana Flax November/December 2019 p.116(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

One young man seeks out a unique collection of Yiddish books to preserve them and their lost world.Growing up, Aaron Lansky remembered the story of his grandmother's immigration to America. She had just one worn suitcase, filled with books in Yiddish and Sabbath candlestickswhich her brother tossed into the water upon greeting her. It was of the Old World, and she was in the New World. Lansky loved reading but realized that to pursue his interest in Jewish literature he would have to study Yiddish, his grandmother's language. His search for books in Yiddish led to one rabbi about to bury a pile, which led to years of rescuing books from dumpsters and then building a depository for them and for the thousands of subsequent donations. Lansky visited many of the donors and heard their emotional stories. Now a well-established resource in Amherst, Massachusetts, his Yiddish Book Center is digitized, with free downloads, and conducts educational programs. Macy's text beautifully and dramatically tells this story while noting the powerful influence of Yiddish writing in the lives of Jews. Innerst's acrylic and gouache artwork, with the addition of digitized fabric textures, is stunning in its homage to Marc Chagall and its evocation of an Eastern European world that has physically vanished but is alive in these pages of beautifully realized imagery.For lovers of books and libraries. (afterword by Lansky, author's note, illustrator's note, Yiddish glossary, further resources, source notes, photographs) (Picture book/biography. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.