One Last Bedtime Story, a television documentary series by Anat Zeltser and Modi Bar-On, is a new and fascinating TV series about children’s literature. I have only had a chance to preview the first episode, but if it is a sign of what is to come, we are in for a most compelling series.
The first episode, which offers a discussion of issues of language, opens with a wonderful reading by well-known Israeli authors of Natan Alterman’s children’s poem, “The Overcoat.” In a discussion of the early writers of children’s literature, we encounter iconic writers such as Alterman, Haim N. Bialik, Leah Goldberg, Avraham Shlonsky, Meir Shalev, and others. We learn about the butterfly, which is a “living flower” according to Bialik. Did you know that the “see saw” rhyme that we sing when our children are swinging and playing was written by Bialik?
We are shown illustrations by the early gifted illustrator who worked with Bialik, Tom Seidann-Freud, a female pioneer in the field. In addition to illustrators, we meet singers and authors such as Meir Shalev, Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret, David Grossman, and more, all discussing early writers of Hebrew-language children’s literature. We learn about Levin Kipnis who created so many children’s folk songs, and Leah Goldberg who wrote children’s poems for “Davar for Children” which was a publication of the “Davar” newspaper.
What happened to the unique ways that modern Hebrew was once spoken? The unique accents have given way to a melting pot of modern-day spoken Hebrew. Yehudit Ravitz doesn’t see any conflict in the fact that she loves to hear the songs of Umm Kulthum (a great Egyptian female singer of Eastern music) and also read Agnon. All of these elements have come together to form who we are.
There are fascinating issues discussed – the need for the “invention” of children’s literature in Hebrew where it never existed before; how to deal with the parents’ generation of immigrants who had to be taught the language; the changing pronunciation over the decades; whether to write on the level of the children, or trusting them to understand, without being patronizing or, on the other hand, too sophisticated.