An unusual children’s book just got published in Sweden. We spoke to Samuel Adler, the author of ‘Trappsteg 36’ (‘Step no. 36’), his first publication, a collection of 19 Jewish children’s short stories.
Samuel Adler is the Jewish Studies and English teacher at the Hillel School in Stockholm, and a Paideia alumnus.
How did this book come about?
SA: I've been working at the school for almost 9 years now, and I find that telling stories to the kids is the best way to teach. I love telling stories and I used every opportunity to write, so as a teacher I've been writing holiday plays and stories for our Kabbalat Shabbat. When I was on my paternity leave I was looking at the files on my computer and I thought I would love to try and put them together in order to create something. I contacted an editor whom I knew from before. She was enthusiastic about the idea and then the project really took off. After many rewrites and collaborating with my sister-in-law who is an illustrator (Karolina Ziolek) , I decided to published it myself because I didn't really see that there would be a big enough market for it.
Is there an underlying theme to the stories?
SA: Yes - Jewish short stories, for kids and young adults.
Written in Swedish?
SA: In Swedish. It's about Swedish-Jewish culture. There aren't really any books like that - [children's] stories with a Jewish theme in Swedish, and if there are, then they are usually translations from English or other languages; and that’s an entirely different cultural context.
So what are some of the topics your stories deal with?
SA: So the first story is about the Tree of Knowledge - a tree that was planted in the schoolyard on Tu B'Shvat. One day a girl who is struggling at school runs outside and finds this tree, who starts to overcome her problems with maths. The tree is consulted by all the pupils and the teachers become afraid that their jobs are in jeopardy. And one morning, the tree is just gone. The whole playground is asphalted.. But still today there is a rumour that the tree still wants to help.
Some kids feel like teachers and kids are [pitted] against each other so I have played a little bit with that problem, this idea of a teacher feeling that if they could be replaced by a tree (or a computer) then maybe they are useless as teachers. And [the story is] specific to our school (Hillel) as well, because we had this big chestnut tree in the yard which had to disappear one day.
Other stories are about school days, holidays, moral and ethics.
telling stories to the kids is the best way to teach.
What is it that you hope kids get from reading the stories?
SA: I think that first of all I want to give them good stories that have Jewish knowledge in them - there is also a glossary at the end of the book - so I just think it's a fun way of learning things.
You mentioned that telling stories is the best way to teach. Why is that?
SA: That’s because everyone listens to a good story. If someone starts speaking and they are a good storyteller, you will listen to them basically regardless of what it is that they are saying. You will be interested in finding out what this person is going to say next. The same goes for teaching, I think, if you can tell a good story, it’s a great way to convey a message. And you can get all the kids focused even the ones who don't usually want to sit down and listen to what you're supposed to tell them. If you pause mid-story you can suddenly see them listening. You will feel their presence, [you will feel] and that something is going on. Many of our [Jewish] texts are stories, basically, and they are the ones that I've always been intrigued by. They're fun to tell and retell and it's fun to find more about them, through midrashim, etc. It's amazing - this textual heritage we have!
So instead of being Midrashim, Judaism is the environment rather than the main focus of the stories?
SA: Yes, exactly. And it could be small things, like [starting with] being home for Pesach... it doesn't have to be more than that.
What are your sources of inspiration?
SA: The inspiration always comes from the kids and the school situations, from the pupils' perspective. I try to write from their point of view. What do they see? I can sit over a meal with them, and they will tell me something and I'd think, 'that's crazy!'.
The name of the book is 'Step no. 36', which is the title of one of the short stories based on one kid, who just told me one day, 'Sam, did you know that everyone keeps tripping on this special step - everyone trips on the exact same step!' I said 'Really?' And he said, 'Yeah, it's always this one, and I don't know why.' I thought that's such a great place to start from. So you only need to have your eyes and ears open, and look at the kids and see their reality, because it's totally different from the teachers'. And it's fun!
To find out more about Samuel's work or to order ‘Trappsteg 36’ visit his website: www.samueladler.se (in Swedish.)
Anything else you'd like to ask Samuel? Leave your questions below ▼