Miriam Chaikin (1924-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1924, in Jerusalem; immigrated to United States, 1925; Education: Attended high school
in Brooklyn, NY. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, study, walking, looking, listening, good company, good food, pottery.
Agent—Regina Ryan, 1 West 85th Street, New York, NY 10024.
Worked for U.S. arm of Irgun (Jewish underground), New York, NY, c. 1940; worked for eight years in Washington, DC, first for Iowa Senator Guy M. Gillette, then for New York Senator Herbert H. Lehman; Anna M. Rosenberg Associates, New York, NY, public relations associate, 1957-60; World Publishing Co., Cleveland, OH, subsidiary rights director, 1961-66; Walker Publishing Co., New York, NY, subsidiary rights director and children's book editor, 1966-67; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., New York, NY, editorial director of books for young readers, 1969-73; Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, Inc., New York, NY, editorial director of books for young readers.
PEN, Authors League of America, Poetry Society of America.
Sydney Taylor Award for body of work, Association of Jewish Libraries, 1985; Notable Book designation, American Library Association, 1987, for A Nightmare in History: The Holocaust, 1933-1945; National Jewish Book Award for illustrated children's book, 1988, for Exodus.
Ittki Pittki, illustrated by Harold Berson, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1971.
The Happy Pairr and Other Love Stories, illustrated by Gustave Nebel, Putnam (New York, NY), 1972.
Hardlucky, illustrated by Fernando Krahn, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1973.
I Should Worry, I Should Care, illustrated by Richard Egielski, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
The Seventh Day: The Story of the Jewish Sabbath, woodcuts by David Frampton, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
Finders Weepers, illustrated by Richard Egielski, Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
Light Another Candle: The Story and Meaning of Hanukkah, illustrated by Demi, Clarion (New York, NY), 1981.
(Reteller) Joshua in the Promised Land, woodcuts by David Frampton, Clarion (New York, NY), 1982.
Getting Even, illustrated by Richard Egielski, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Make Noise, Make Merry: The Story and Meaning of Purim, illustrated by Demi, Clarion (New York, NY), 1983.
How Yossi Beat the Evil Urge, illustrated by Petra Mathers, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
Lower! Higher! You're a Liar!, illustrated by Richard Egielski, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
Shake a Palm Branch: The Story and Meaning of Sukkot, illustrated by Marvin Friedman, Clarion (New York, NY), 1984.
Yossi Asks the Angels for Help, illustrated by Petra Mathers, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
Ask Another Question: The Story and Meaning of Passover, illustrated by Marvin Friedman, Clarion (New York, NY), 1985.
Aviva's Piano, illustrated by Yossi Abolafia, Clarion (New York, NY), 1986.
Sound the Shofar: The Story and Meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, illustrated by Erika Weihs, Clarion (New York, NY), 1986.
Yossi Tries to Help God, illustrated by Denise Saldutti, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
(Reteller) Esther, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Jewish Publication Society, 1987.
(Adaptor) Exodus, illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak, Holiday House, 1987.
Hinkl and Other Shlemiel Stories, illustrated by Marcia Posner, Shapolsky Publishers, 1987.
A Nightmare in History: The Holocaust, 1933-1945, Clarion (New York, NY), 1987.
Friends Forever, illustrated by Richard Egielski, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.
Feathers in the Wind, illustrated by Denise Saldutti, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
Hanukkah, illustrated by Ellen Weiss, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1990.
Menorahs, Mezuzas, and Other Jewish Symbols, illustrated by Erika Weihs, Clarion (New York, NY), 1990.
(Reteller) Children's Bible Stories from Genesis to Daniel, illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.
(Reteller) Clouds of Glory: Legends and Stories about Bible Times, illustrated by David Frampton, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.
Don't Step on the Sky: A Handful of Haiku, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
Angels Sweep the Desert Floor: Bible Legends about Moses in the Wilderness, illustrated by Alexander Koshkin, Clarion (New York, NY), 2002.
Alexandra's Scroll: The Story of the First Hanukkah, illustrated by Stephen Fieser, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
Author of book of adult poetry, No Moon … but Fire-flies, Linear Arts. Contributor of poems and stories to periodicals, including Good Housekeeping, Women's Day, Midstream, Story, Neovictorian, Cochlea, and Salonika.
Work in Progress
Angel Stories, a fiction collection based on Jewish teachings.
Award-winning author Miriam Chaikin focuses on Jewish themes in her writing for children. Among her most praised works are Exodus, an adaptation of the Bible book, and A Nightmare in History, a study of the Holocaust. Chaikin's many books on Jewish traditions have been praised by reviewers not only for their compilation of historical facts, but also for the author's ability to thread contemporary traditions into her narrative. Each of these books includes a glossary, bibliography, and index. As a Kirkus Reviews critic noted in a review of Sound the Shofar, "Chaikin presents a great deal of information clearly and effectively, uniting the theology of Judaism with its expression through history and custom." Chaikin also publishes poetry and novels for older readers.
Born in Jerusalem in 1924 and brought by her parents to the United States a year later, Chaikin began writing poems and stories as a child. Although she continued writing into adulthood, it was primarily a hobby; she published several humorous poems in national magazines and children's poetry in anthologies, but worked in politics and public relations for several years before moving into the publishing field in 1961. Despite her move into juvenile novels and nonfiction, Chaikin has continued to craft poetry, and in 2002 published Don't
Step on the Sky: A Handful of Haiku for young listeners. A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised Chaikin's mastery of the highly stylized verse form, noting that her "mostly vivid and utterly accessible haiku are full of images young people will recognize."
While working as an editor at Bobbs-Merrill, Chaikin published the picture books Ittki Pittki, The Happy Pairr, and Hardlucky, all of which use a folk-tale format. Hardlucky tells of an accident-prone fellow who believes he is cursed until told by a wise man that he simply needs to pay attention to his surroundings. Zena Sutherland noted in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that Chaikin's "writing has pace and color" and her "plot is fresh and imaginative … and the story is sparked with humor."
In the early 1970s a publishing colleague suggested to Chaikin that she write a book about her experiences growing up Jewish. Although she at first rejected the suggestion, Chaikin gradually warmed to the idea and set to work. I Should Worry, I Should Care is the first book in a series of novels that follow a Jewish girl named Molly as she grows up in Brooklyn during the 1940s. Praising the book for "lovingly recreate[ing] … the lifestyle of a Jewish family just before World War II," Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns concluded that the novel reaffirmed "belief in old-fashioned values and the simple joys of childhood." Chaikin has expanded the series with Molly's adventures growing up during the war years. Finders Weepers involves a ring Molly finds in the street and the guilt she feels after discovering it belongs to a Jewish refugee. Ann A. Flowers maintained in a Horn Book review of Finders Weepers that Chaikin's "descriptions of cozy family life with simple recreations and holiday parties are refreshing to read in our more sophisticated and complicated times." A Kirkus Reviews critic concluded that "Chaikin gets inside the child's thought processes, the warm family, the neighborhood, and the times, projecting them with genuine flavor and feeling." Other "Molly" titles include Getting Even, Friends Forever, and Lower! Higher! You're a Liar!
Chaikin introduces another popular series character, Yossi, in How Yossi Beat the Evil Urge. In this tale, the young Hasidic boy battles sloth and emotional weakness. Chided by his father and rabbi, Yossi determines that his Good Urge will prevail in a story School Library Journal contributor Gerda Haas praised as "well-written, well-integrated," and "full of meaning and moral guidance." The power of prayer and personal responsibility are examined in Yossi Asks the Angels for Help, a "sweet, simple story" with "a message that extends beyond the milieu it portrays," according to Booklist's Ilene Cooper. Other titles in the "Yossi" series include Yossi Tries to Help God and Feathers in the Wind.
In a more recent fictional story focusing on a child protagonist, Chaikin's Alexandra's Scroll: The Story of the First Hanukkah transports readers back to Jerusalem over a century before the birth of Jesus. Alexandra, a budding writer, and her friend Rachel, both Jews, become aware of the prejudicial treatment accorded their people by the ruling Greek King Antioch. As tensions increase, Alexandra and her mother flee the city while her father joins the Jewish rebel group the Macabees. Finally the Macabees achieve religious freedom and all return to witness the miracle of the oil and the rebuilding of the city's Jewish temple. Praising Alexandra's Scroll as a "fine piece of historical fiction," School Library Journal contributor Mara Alpert added that Chaikin fills her Hanukkah tale "with humor and fascinating detail."
Chaikin retells biblical stories in several books, among them Exodus, which was called "a treasure for all ages and religions" by School Library Journal contributor Micki S. Nevett. Her Children's Bible Stories from Genesis to Daniel are simple, straightforward retellings, while Clouds of Glory: Legends and Stories about Bible Times and Angels Sweep the Desert Floor: Bible Legends about Moses in the Wilderness introduce young readers to midrashim—stories written to answer questions raised by the Bible. Reviewing Clouds of Glory
for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Janice M. Del Negro commended Chaikin's "intriguing approach," asserting: "Rather than concentrating on retelling the plots of familiar Bible stories, Chaikin spends more time on the Holy One, on the personality and motivations of God himself." Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns hailed the book's "felicitous blending" of content and design, calling the result "handsomely produced, dramatically illustrated, appropriately documented, and stylishly narrated." In Publishers Weekly a reviewer asserted of Clouds of Glory: "Readers who go along on Chaikin's fascinating journey will not be disappointed." Several contributors noted that Angels Sweep the Desert Floor is even more effective than Clouds of Glory; as Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper wrote, Chaikin clarifies the concept of midrashim and "does a good job of mixing religious history with tenets of Judaism and framing everything as folklore, right at a child's level."
Moving into modern history, Chaikin penned A Nightmare in History: The Holocaust, 1933-1945 about the Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jewish race during World War II. Betsy Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, called A Nightmare in History "clear, well organized, and blunt" in its recounting of the attempted destruction of European Jews. In Kirkus Reviews a contributor noted that the "unfathomable events of the Holocaust are presented quietly and with restraint" by Chaikin and concluded: "This careful and thorough book is essential and superb."
"Returning to my roots has not only educated me," Chaikin once commented in an essay for Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, "it has awakened me to the riches of my heritage, and nourished me." Her considerable contribution to children's literature has awakened and nourished her readers, as well.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Holtze, Sally Holmes, editor, Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1989.
Booklist, June 15, 1983, p. 1336; June 1, 1985, Ilene Cooper, review of Yossi Asks the Angels for Help, p. 1398; December 15, 1987, p. 703; October 1, 1990, pp. 334-335; February 15, 1993, p. 1058; April, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Clouds of Glory, p. 1318; September 1, 2002, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Alexandra's Scroll: The Story of the First Hanukkah, p. 138; October 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Angels Sweep the Desert Floor: Bible Legends about Moses in the Wilderness, p. 340.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1973, Zena Sutherland, review of Hardlucky, p. 167; December, 1981, p. 65; July, 1983, p. 205; January, 1988, Betsy Hearne, review of A Nightmare in History, p. 84; May, 1998, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Clouds of Glory, pp. 309-310.
Horn Book, August, 1979, Mary M. Burns, review of I Should Worry, I Should Care, pp. 411-412; February, 1981, Ann A. Flowers, review of Finders Weepers, p. 49; December, 1981, pp. 652-53; January, 1987, pp. 68-69; May, 1991, p. 351; July-August, 1998, Mary M. Burns, review of Clouds of Glory, pp. 510-511; September-October, 2002, Susan P. Bloom, review of Alexandra's Scroll, p. 568; November-December, 2002, Susan P. Bloom, review of Angels Sweep the Desert Floor, p. 766.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1980, review of Finders Weepers, p. 1570; September 1, 1986, review of Sound the Shofar, p. 1375; November 14, 1987, review of A Nightmare in History, p. 1625; December 15, 1992, p. 1569; February 15, 1998, p. 264; March 15, 2002, review of Don't Step on the Sky, p. 408; November 1, 2002, review of Alexandra's Scroll, p. 1617.
New York Times Book Review, July 19, 1998, p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1987, review of Exodus, p. 93; February 23, 1998, review of Clouds of Glory, p. 67; March 11, 2002, review of Don't Step on the Sky, p. 70.
School Library Journal, March, 1981, p. 154; August, 1983, Gerda Haas, review of How Yossi Beat the Evil Urge, p. 62; August, 1985, p. 62; June-July, 1987, Micki S. Nevett, review of Exodus, p. 79; January, 1991, p. 99; January, 1993, p. 109; April, 1998, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of Clouds of Glory, p. 142; September, 2002, Linda R. Silver, review of Angels Sweep the Desert Floor, p. 242; October, 2002, Mara Alpert, review of Alexandra's Scroll, p. 58.
Miriam Chaikin Home Page, http://www.miriamchaikin.com/ (February 5, 2004).