Bialik for Newborns

Tel Aviv will give every expectant mother a book of poems, to encourage a culture of reading

The Tel Aviv Municipality will soon kick off a new project: A children's book "Hen Letaf," featuring a selection of poems by Haim Nahman Bialik set to illustrations by Tom Seidmann-Freud. The booklet will be handed out to every new mother registered in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Arab mothers will receive a book containing Palestinian bedtime poems selected by a special committee, set to illustrations by the painter Durar Bakhri.

The Am Oved publishing house won the municipality's tender to publish the book and will print several thousand copies. "That is the forecast for births in the city this coming year," says Prof. Zohar Shavit, the city council member who initiated the project.

"The idea for the book," says Shavit, "is that just as a newborn needs to be fed, he or she also needs to be exposed to books. After all, the culture of reading is established at that age. I thought it would be fitting to choose a writer like Bialik for Tel Aviv, someone associated with the new Hebrew culture.

"I also believed the booklet should be supplemented with classic children's illustrations."

The book will be handed out directly to the city's maternity wards and other facilities for delivery. Shavit denies any link between the upcoming municipal elections and the timing of the book's distribution. "The idea was raised a year and a half ago and it took a long time until it came to fruition," she says.

Bialik's poems are accompanied by the lovely illustrations of the German-Jewish artist Tom Seidmann-Freud, the niece of Siegmund Freud.

"Because the book will be handed out for free, Seidmann-Freud's daughter, Aviva Harari, agreed to let us use her illustrations," says Shavit. "She has in her home a rare and wonderful collection of illustrations."

In the 1920s, Seidmann-Freud established Ofir Publishers with her husband, Yaakov Seidmann. She illustrated several of Bialik's children's books as well as a book by Shmuel Yosef Agnon. "In contemporary Germany she is considered one of the most important illustrators. Her books sell to collectors for very high prices," says Shavit.