Oppenheim, Shulamith Levey 1928-
Oppenheim, Shulamith Levey 1928-
Born September 2, 1928, in Shaker Heights, OH; daughter of Irving M. (a rabbi and professor) and Sarah (a teacher) Levey; married Felix Errera Oppenheim (a professor of political science), May 29, 1949; children: Daniel, Claire, Paul. Education: Attended Radcliffe College, 1947-49; University of Delaware, B.A., 1953. Hobbies and other interests: Classical music, travel, gardening, playing the piano, swimming, power walking.
Writer. Presented freelance literary programs on public radio, 1961-70; freelance writer, beginning 1970. Volunteer nurses' aide.
Society of Children's Book Writers, Jane Austen Society, Folklore Society of England.
American Library Association Notable Book designation, 1994, for Iblis.
A Trio for Grandpapa, illustrated by Gioia Fiammenghi, Thomas Crowell (New York, NY), 1974.
The Selchie's Seed, illustrated by Dianne Goode, Bradbury (Scarsdale, NY), 1975.
Waiting for Noah, illustrated by Lillian Hoban, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1990.
Appleblossom, illustrated by Joanna Yardley, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.
The Lily Cupboard: A Story of the Holocaust, illustrated by Ronald Himler, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Fireflies for Nathan, illustrated by John Ward, Tambourine Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Iblis, illustrated by Ed Young, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1994.
The Hundredth Time, illustrated by Michael Hays, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1995.
I Love You, Bunny Rabbit, illustrated by Cyd Moore, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1995.
And the Earth Trembled: The Creation of Adam and Eve, illustrated by Neil Waldman, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1996.
What Is the Full Moon Full Of?, illustrated by Cyd Moore, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.
Yanni Rubbish, illustrated by Doug Chayka, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1999.
The Fish Prince, and Other Stories: Mermen Folk Tales, illustrated by Paul Hoffman, Interlink Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Ali and the Magic Stew, illustrated by Winslow Pels, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2002.
(With Jane Yolen) The Sea King, illustrated by Stefan Czernecki, Crocodile Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2003.
Rescuing Einstein's Compass, illustrated by George Juhasz, Crocodile Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2003.
Work anthologized in Scribner Anthology for Young People, Scribner, 1976. Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Cricket. Children's book reviewer for New York Times Book Review, 1960-70.
Inspired by her travels to many parts of the world, Shulamith Levey Oppenheim introduces young readers to the colorful patchwork that makes up human culture in her folktale-inspired picture books: from Russian folklore in The Sea King to tales from Iran in Ali and the Magic Stew, Egypt in The Hundredth Name, and Scotland in The Selchie's Seed. Oppenheim's books range in subject; in The Fish Prince, and Other Stories: Mermen Folk Tales she collects stories about supernatural creatures from many corners of the globe, while in Einstein's Compass her focus narrows to a personal recollection of a family encounter with noted twentieth-century physicist Albert Einstein. In the picture book Fireflies for Nathan, Oppenheim shares a story about a close-knit family living in a simpler place and time, recounting six-year-old Nathan's efforts to carry on his father's childhood sport of capturing fireflies in a jar. Praising the international approach Oppenheim and coauthor Jane Yolen adopt in The Fish Prince, and Other Stories, Booklist contributor Todd Morning cited the book's text as "graceful, fast moving, and entertaining throughout," while her ability to create "particularly childlike dialogue" in Fireflies for Nathan "infuses the proceedings with believable enthusiasm," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Raised by highly educated and cultured parents, Oppenheim inherited her professor father's love of books. As she recalled on her home page, her family's library was a diverse one, containing "rare books, especially Judaica and languages—obscure and otherwise. But not only eclectic books. Books on myth, myths themselves, legend, folklore, books on the Bible and from the Bible, books on animal, vegetable, and mineral." For the inquisitive young Oppenheim, these books "held worlds I couldn't wait to enter." As a teen, she moved into novels, as well as literary classics by Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, William Shakespeare, and the classics of nineteenth-century poetry. Her love of books moved to writing in later years, on the suggestion of a friend who was also a children's book writer, and her first published book, A Trio for Grandpapa, in 1974.
Oppenheim's interest in world cultures has been long standing, and in Iblis and As the Earth Trembled: The Creation of Adam and Eve she retells two creation stories drawn from the works of a ninth-century Islamic text. Featuring illustrations by award-winning artist Ed Young, Iblis follows the story of Adam and Eve and their departure from Paradise as it is represented in the Muslim tradition. In the creation myth As the Earth Trembled God's loneliness prompts the deity to bring to life the first human. Problems arise, however, when the angels argue that giving the human a high measure of intelligence will spark tendencies toward jealousy, greed, and hatred and result in destructive behavior. Ultimately, God is assisted only by the angel of death, and through this collaboration mankind is ultimately rendered mortal. The ending of As the Earth Trembled shares with Iblis the actions of Soul, who is unwilling to participate in God's creation and must therefore enter and leave the body only at God's whim. When the angel Iblis refuses to worship the resulting creation, Adam, he is cast from Heaven; in revenge, Iblis (a.k.a. Satan) uses his ability as a shapeshifter to eventually seduce the newly made man and his consort, Eve, from their home in Paradise. In a Booklist review of Iblis Elizabeth Bush praised Oppenheim for her "fluid retelling" of the ancient tale, calling the book "an outstanding aid to understanding the continuity between Islamic and Western culture."
Underlying the picture book Yanni Rubbish is Oppenheim's love of Greece, which she has visited repeatedly since the early 1950s. In the picture book, Yanni Stavros works hard to fill his father's shoes as the trash collector for his small village. Helped by his donkey Lamia, the eight year old rises early each day to steer the family's rickety wagon through the streets, earning the money to support his family, but also earning a taunting from a group of young bullies. Dubbed "Yanni Rubbish," the boy is even more frustrated by the insults hurled at the hard-working Lamia, and ultimately he finds a way to end the bullies' hurtful words. In Booklist Hazel Rochman called Yanni Rubbish a "touching story," and a Publishers Weekly contributor gave special note to Doug Chayka's illustrations due to their ability to "capture the feel of Yanni's town and the tender relationship between mother and son."
Focusing on the history of modern Europe, Oppenheim turns her attention to World War II and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler's efforts to exterminate the Jews then living in Europe in The Lily Cupboard: A Story of the Holocaust. Framing her subject in a manner meaningful to young children, Oppenheim relates the tale of Miriam, a young Dutch Jew whose worried parents send her to live with a gentile farm family. In her new home, the girl is assigned a secret hiding place designed to hide her should German soldiers discover her whereabouts. For Miriam, however, the fear of discovery is eclipsed by her feelings of sadness over being separated from her loving parents and her worry over their safety. "Miriam's ordeal is sure to provoke further discussion and may serve to introduce the themes of war and racism," noted a Publishers Weekly, while Rochman dubbed The Lily Cupboard a "powerful" tale in her Booklist review.
As Oppenheim once explained, she believes deeply in the idea of "true magic in art, and that it is closely tied with metaphor, in that art itself is a metaphor for life, and this is a kind of magic. Folklore, legend, myth, all are the most rewarding repositories of such metaphors, they are themselves metaphors. I draw my material
from these sources, hoping to transmute them into fresh tales, with a new inference, a surprise, which to me is the essential hallmark of genuine originality in any art … the putting together of two hitherto unconnected elements.
"Too much material straight from the therapist's couch passes today for art," Oppenheim continued. "Too much self-indulgence is allowed in publishing. It is difficult, it often requires hard labor to turn something into another thing. With facility, many writers, painters, etc., get away with mediocre creations. Flaubert often spent months on one paragraph, until it sang out as he wanted it to sing. I find this exhilarating and a more than useful fact to keep before me." Regarding her decision to write for younger readers, Oppenheim noted on her home page: "I write for children because I love and admire their honesty. You can't fool them. And so, I hope, we who do write for them must be honest with ourselves, not fool ourselves."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, March 15, 1994, Elizabeth Bush, review of Iblis, p. 1368; January 1, 1995, April Judge, review of I Love You, Bunny Rabbit, p. 826; September 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Hundredth Name, p. 176; October 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of And the Earth Trembled: The Creation of Adam and Eve, p. 337; December 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of What Is the Full Moon Made Of?, p. 643; March 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Yanni Rubbish, p. 1222; July, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of The Lily Cupboard: A Story of the Holocaust, p. 2027; November 15, 2001, Todd Morning, review of The Fish Prince, and Other Stories, p. 562; April 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Ali and the Magic Stew, p. 1408.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1995, review of I Love You, Bunny Rabbit, p. 211; February, 1997, review of And the Earth Trembled, p. 218; May, 2002, review of Ali and the Magic Stew, p. 336.
Horn Book, May-June, 1990, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Waiting for Noah, p. 328; January-February, 1996, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Hundredth Name, p. 68.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Ali and the Magic Stew, p. 342; December 1, 2002, review of The Sea King, p. 1776.
New York Times Book Review, March 31, 1991, review of Appleblossom, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, January 1, 1992, review of The Lily Cupboard, p. 55; February 14, 1994, review of Iblis, p. 87; June 27, 1994, review of Fireflies for Nathan, p. 78; December 12, 1994, review of I Love You, Bunny Rabbit, p. 61; March 13, 1995, review of The Lily Cupboard, p. 70; March 8, 1999, review of Yanni Rubbish, p. 68; February 18, 2002, review of Ali and the Magic Stew, p. 96.
Resource Links, June, 2003, Deb Nielsen, review of The Sea King, p. 9; December, 2003, Carroll Chapman, review of Rescuing Einstein's Compass, p. 7.
School Library Journal, July, 1990, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of Waiting for Noah, p. 63; February, 1995, Lynn Cockett, review of I Love You, Bunny Rabbit, p. 78; September, 1996, Patricia Lothrop Green, review of And the Earth Trembled, p. 219; December, 1997, Peggy Morgan, review of What Is the Full Moon Full Of?, p. 99; April, 2002, Ann Welton, review of Ali and the Magic Stew, p. 118; February, 2004, Jean Lowery, review of Rescuing Einstein's Compass, p. 120.
Shulamith Levey Oppenheim Home Page,http://www.ShulamithOppenheim.com (March 18, 2007).