The Book Rescuer

How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come

Illustrated by Stacy Innerst
LIST PRICE $10.99
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About The Book

“Stunning.”​ —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Inspired...[a] journalistic, propulsive narrative.Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The story comes alive through the bold acrylic and gouache art.” —Booklist (starred review)

From New York Times Best Illustrated Book artist Stacy Innerst and author Sue Macy comes a story of one man’s heroic effort to save the world’s Yiddish books.

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 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 collected close to 1.5 million books, and he’s finding more every day.

Told in a folkloric voice reminiscent of Patricia Polacco, this story celebrates the power of an individual to preserve history and culture, while exploring timely themes of identity and immigration.

About The Author

Duane Stork Photography

Sue Macy is the acclaimed author of many books for young readers, including Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, which was on the Amelia Bloomer List and named a CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book, among many other accolades. Sue is also the author of Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom and Basketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map. A former editor at Scholastic, she lives in Englewood, New Jersey. Learn more at SueMacy.com.

About The Illustrator

Stacy Innerst is the illustrator of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of RBG vs. Inequality, which earned the prestigious designation of New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book. He also illustrated the award-winning The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, which received four starred reviews; Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation; and Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Ideas, among others. He studied art and history at the University of New Mexico and resides in Pittsburgh. Learn more at StacyInnerst.com.

Raves and Reviews

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 candlesticks—which 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)

– Kirkus Reviews *STARRED*, July 15, 2019

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.)

– Publishers Weekly *STARRED*, August 5, 2019

MACY, Sue. The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come. illus. by Stacy Innerst. 48p. glossary. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Oct. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481472203.

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

– School Library Journal, September 2019

“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

– Horn Book, November 1, 2019

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, profundityin 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.

– Booklist *STARRED*, November 1, 2019

The Book Res­cuer is both infor­ma­tion­al and inspir­ing, explain­ing to young read­ers how one imag­i­na­tive Amer­i­can Jew named Aaron Lan­sky deter­mined that he would res­cue the Yid­dish lan­guage and make it a liv­ing tes­ta­ment to the dwin­dling cul­ture of mil­lions of Euro­pean Jews. Lansky’s com­bi­na­tion of per­sis­tence and inno­v­a­tive think­ing allowed him to car­ry the rem­nants of a cul­ture and lan­guage, from base­ments and dump­sters to an out­stand­ing research insti­tu­tion built to house them and open their pages to the world.

Macy begins her nar­ra­tive by invit­ing the read­er to ?“Kum aher. Sit down. I want to tell you a sto­ry.” At first, it may seem as if roman­ti­cized fam­i­ly mem­o­ries will pre­dom­i­nate as we learn that Lansky’s immi­grant grand­moth­er was told by her broth­er to toss her suit­case full of use­less items from the past into the Hud­son Riv­er. It soon becomes clear that this poignant anec­dote is only the begin­ning, as the woman’s grand­son retrieves the cul­ture lost in that suit­case; Macy and Innerst empha­size the ordi­nary nature of this ?“all-Amer­i­can boy” grow­ing up in a small Mass­a­chu­setts town. Although the cul­tur­al relics depict­ed in Innerst’s por­trait may be dat­ed the vision of child­hood as a time of unlim­it­ed curios­i­ty is not. Soon Aaron’s love of read­ing and sense of con­nec­tion to his family’s past becomes a con­sum­ing passion.

Chil­dren will iden­ti­fy with the obsta­cles which Lan­sky con­fronts in the form of skep­ti­cal estab­lish­ment fig­ures who have lit­tle patience for his mis­sion. When he calls on ?“the lead­ers of the biggest Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try” to warn them that Yid­dish books are being tossed in the trash by those who no longer see a use for them, the response he receives would dis­cour­age any­one less focused.

Innerst describes in an ?“Illustrator’s Note” how the influ­ence of Cha­gall helped him bring Jew­ish cul­ture to life. Some of the book’s scenes are direct homages to that artist while oth­ers rep­re­sent a sub­tle response to his vision. One incred­i­ble two-page spread shows a styl­ized mod­el of the Jew­ish world in all its mul­ti­ple set­tings, from shtetl build­ings to the palm trees of the Mid­dle East. The ?“ground” on which these fea­tures stand is a col­lage of pages filled with Yid­dish print, form­ing a foun­da­tion for the world above it. Innerst’s art­work is a com­plex inter­play of Chagall’s world and that of late twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca. He cap­tures the tran­si­tion between gen­er­a­tions, as the book collector’s tremen­dous ener­gy meets the qui­et dig­ni­ty of old­er Jews ready to pass on their tra­di­tion. One pic­ture shows two elder­ly hands giv­ing a Yid­dish book to Lansky’s youth­ful ones; the book is enti­tled sym­bol­i­cal­ly chai (life). The silence of this image is fol­lowed by a much dif­fer­ent one, fea­tur­ing the vibrant activ­i­ty in the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter where Lansky’s dream has become a reality.

The Book Res­cuer is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed not only for chil­dren but for old­er read­ers who are inspired by the revival of Yid­dish cul­ture, as well. It includes an ?“After­word” by Aaron Lan­sky, an ?“Author’s Note,” an ?“Illustrator’s Note,” a Yid­dish glos­sary, and a list of addi­tion­al sources.

– Jewish Book Council

Awards and Honors

  • Eureka Nonfiction Honor Book

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Sue Macy