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Literary Criticism Children's Literature

My Mother's Voice

Children, Literature, and the Holocaust

by (author) Adrienne Kertzer

Broadview Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2001
Children's Literature
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2001
    List Price

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Named Honor Book of the Year by the Children’s Literature Association

Winner: 2003 Canadian Jewish Book Award for scholarship on a Jewish subject

Finalist: 2003 Alberta Book Awards Scholarly Book of the Year

How do children’s books represent the Holocaust? How do such books negotiate the tension between the desire to protect children, and the commitment to tell children the truth about the world? If Holocaust representations in children’s books respect the narrative conventions of hope and happy endings, how do they differ, if at all, from popular representations intended for adult audiences? And where does innocence lie, if the children’s fable of Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful is marketed for adults, and far more troubling survivor memoirs such as Anita Lobel’s No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War are marketed for children? How should Holocaust Studies integrate discourse about children’s literature into its discussions? In approaching these and other questions, Kertzer uses the lens of children’s literature to problematize the ways in which various adult discourses represent the Holocaust, and continually challenges the conventional belief that children’s literature is the place for easy answers and optimistic lessons.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Adrienne Kertzer is Professor and former Chair of the Department of English at The University of Calgary.

Editorial Reviews

“Adrienne Kertzer’s My Mother’s Voice is, as its title suggests, a book inspired and informed by personal experience, but the questions it raises have never been more vital for all of us: how do we represent to children an evil that defies our powers of imagination, let alone our comprehension? How do we convey, in addition to historical facts, the enormity and inexorability of the crime while continuing to encourage hope and a sense that individual choice can make a difference? Kertzer provides no easy or definitive answers to such questions; rather, through detailed analysis of a wide range of texts, from The Diary of Anne Frank to Daniel’s Story (commissioned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) to Stephen King’s Apt Pupil, she convincingly demonstrates just how difficult the questions are and how simplistic, disingenuous, tortuous, or counterproductive many of our efforts to enlighten and inspire the young have been. For scholars and theorists of children’s literature, her book is especially fascinating, for, in dealing with the subject of Holocaust representation, Kertzer reintroduces questions that have long challenged us: does children’s literature constitute a distinct genre and, if so, what are its distinguishing characteristics? How does literature for adults, especially literature that features a child’s voice or perspective, differ from that written expressly for children? This profound and thought-provoking book should be read by everyone who is interested in children’s literature, the history of childhood, the education of children, or representations of the Holocaust (or, for that matter, of any evil that leaves us at a loss for words).” — Elizabeth Lennox Keyser, Professor of English, Hollins University, and Editor, Children’s Literature

Other titles by Adrienne Kertzer