We Came to North America

The Jews coverWe Came to North America: The Jews

Submitter: Perhaps the most surprising thing of all about this book is that, despite being published in the year 2000, the author and editors decided that it was okay to name the book “The Jews”. My birthday is Pearl Harbor Day, and at the age of 5, my mom took me aside to talk about why my granddad saying that it was the day the “Japs bombed Pearl Harbor” was not okay for me to repeat when talking about my birthday’s significance. If a 5-year-old can comprehend that certain terms are racist, why is it so hard for this book publisher, author, and editors to comprehend it? Even more so, if the nonfiction section in my library was weeded semi-recently, why was this book not weeded earlier, or, even better, why was it bought in the first place? Perhaps additionally horrifying is that this book is also part of a series:

“The Jews”
“The Chinese”
“The Hispanics”

Fortunately, “The Japs” was not part of that series, although “The Africans” is. While the content of the books may be marginally okay, the titles demand immediate weeding. I’m horrified that this book was sitting in my library collection for almost a year before I discovered it.

Holly: This article from the New York Times has an interesting take on “The Jews” vs. “Jewish people.” This article from Business Insider talks about how using the article “the” in front of a group sets the group aside, excluded or called out from everyone else. It also implies that everyone in the group thinks and acts alike. In collection management, we have to make sure that our materials are sensitive to cultural terminology. These are children’s books, and children don’t know any better – and they’re not going to read the New York Times or Business Insider to learn about these terms.

Side note: the font choices for the covers are…interesting…

I know our dear readers will have strong feelings about this one way or the other. Please use your library voices and be respectful.

Jews in WWII

Here to Stay

Immigrant Jews

The Chinese cover

The Hispanics


  1. I’m 72. I’m a retired librarian but I have to wonder if younger people are getting a bit too touchy about terminology. Perhaps it’s because of the snide way our current President refers to groups of people. When he says ‘The’ before a racial, religious or ethnic group it usually means something not very nice is going to follow. People bridle at that and want to push back. They may be pushing back too much.

    My husband is Chinese and has no problem with a book called ‘The
    Chinese’ in a series for children about immigration and diversity.

    Former Mayor of NYC Ed Koch often said that, ’I am a Jew and I am proud to be a Jew’.

    Certainly, there are great differences among individuals in any ethnic or religious group. If the sample we have from the book on ‘The Jews’ is anything to go by, the series is intended to give accurate information to children who may not encounter people of these groups in their everyday lives. In my opinion, that is a good thing and the sample shows that the books are quite thoughtful and attractively produced.

    1. My husband is Chinese and has no problem with a book called ‘The Chinese’ in a series for children about immigration and diversity.

      I would push back on that a bit, just because your husband has no problem with it doesn’t mean other Chinese & Chinese-Americans won’t – esp. considering how it lumps 56+ ethnicities (likely more, as these are the ones that the Chinese government recognizes) as one group of people…

  2. I am Jewish and have had this conversation with a teacher’s assistant who had commented on an assignment that the term “Jews” was politically incorrect. I told her that I see no problem in the term Jew as long as it is not being used maliciously and that a person shouldn’t be chided for using a term to identify herself. Is “The Jews” the best title choice for this book? Maybe not. But I’m not offended either.

  3. I had the impression “Yid” was insulting and akin to “nigger”. Last summer I was reading a weekly produced in/for the local Orthodox community and read contributors – including the editor! – calling themselves, others, and their community “Yid” or “Yids”. Similarly, “Jew” depends alot on intention and intonation. If you’ve most of your life heard “The Jews [insert canard here]”, then it will certainly sound like a terrible name of a book.

    I do say that the choice of fonts for the cover titles are terrible.

  4. I have these titles in my school’s library: The Jews, The Africans, The Hispanics, The Italians, and The French. The French and Italians don’t have quite the same negative connotations – although the cover of “The French” has an image of an extremely obese man holding a roasted chicken!

  5. The books (at least the ones here) seem to have music-based covers (even The Hispanics has dancing which could be to music).

  6. As a long-time student of fascism, I’m fascinated by the image of “Canadian fascists” prominently using the swastika ostensibly during the period 1939-1945 (though I suspect they’re being loose with the periodization). I’m familiar with some Canadian fascist organizations modeled largely after Mussolini and sometimes adopting more overtly racist tropes, but so far as I know there was no Canadian equivalent of the German-American Bund. Does anyone know the name of this organization or have any information about it?

    1. I’ve not seen this particular picture before, but based on a photo on p.134 of the book ‘Le Québec et la guerre 1860-1954( by Jean-Marie Fallu, ed . les Publications du Québec, ISBN 2-551-19629-9),the man on the left could be Adrien Arcand. To quote the book in translation: he was the founder in 1934 of the Parti national socialiste chrétien and in 1938 , members of the ‘blueshirt’ party were evaluated to number around 1800. Arcand was arrested by the Gendarmerie royale du Canada in June 1940, after Parliament had declared several organizations threatening the security of the country to be illegal.He was interned in Fredericton camp until the end of the war.

  7. Elio: Aside from my family, you’re probably the only Jew to set foot in this town.
    Oliver: I’m from a small town in New England, I know what it’s like to be the odd Jew out.

    – from Call Me By Your Name

    In my personal (gentile) experience, it’s only ever gentiles who get upset about “Jew” in a non-derogatory context. The campus head of Hillel when I was in college – she’s now a rabbi – used to make announcements like, “Hillel is having a get-together, so come party with the Jews!”

  8. I agree that putting “the” in front of the name of an ethnic or demographic group makes it seem as though all members of the group are monolithic in their beliefs, opinions, actions etc. That said, whoever wrote, at least the Jews book (there weren’t any excerpts from the Chinese or Hispanic books) did their homework. I challenge them to do a book on The North American Indians (or since it appears that the books originated in Canada they’d probably call it The First Nations) since there are so many tribes and cultures to deal with. (What’s so particularly Jewish about the band on the cover of the Jews book?)

  9. I am Jewish, and while I agree that using “the” signifies both otherness and group conformity, there is nothing inherently offensive to me about the term “the Jews”. A better choice might have been “The Jewish People”, but I wouldn’t weed this based only on the title.

    1. I agree. Also, I think a lot depends on context, and this context seems fairly innocuous.

  10. I can’t stop staring at that massive building that looks like a bunch of boxes stuck together. How do you not get lost in that thing every day?

    1. That style of alleged architecture – Brutalism – had a typophobic triggering substyle that is responsible for crap like Orange County (New York) Government Center that wicked and lazy building superintendents are banished to for 1000 years when they die before being admitted to some clean place.

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