July 8, 2004
Little Miss Shmutzy
Anne-Marie Baila Asner was concerned that Yiddish words were disappearing from the vernacular. After all, she only knew about 30 words, and most of her peers knew even fewer.
So she decided that she was going to reinvigorate Yiddish by writing and illustrating cute, brightly colored children's books that would help people develop an affinity for the language.
"Yiddish words provide something that English words don't, and they say something in a single word that no other word in English says," said the Los Angeles resident, whose day job is a credit risk analyst. "I want people to understand what Yiddish contributes."
Thus the first title to come out of "Matzah Ball Books," Asner's publishing company, is "Shmutzy Girl."
Shmutz is typically translated as dirt, but what the Yiddish word really means is an amalgamation of dirty, messy and smudged all rolled into one.
In "Shmutzy Girl," the eponymous protagonist is sad because she can never seem to keep herself clean, but she learns to love herself despite her shmutz.
"Everything the characters do is consistent with their namesake in order to teach the word," Asner said. "And each book has a moral."
Asner said her books were inspired by Roger Hargreaves "Mr. Men" and "Little Miss" series which were popular children's books when she was growing up in Canada. She now has 30 titles planned for her series, including "Kvetchy Boy," about a boy who learns when he should and should not kvetch (complain, whine); "Shluffy Girl," about a girl who is always shluffing (sleeping); "Bubba and Zaidy Kvelly," about two grandparents who kvell (heap praise) over their grandchildren; and "Meshuggene Hunt," which is about a crazy dog who always follows people home.
"There is a feeling that comes with using and hearing Yiddish words," Asner said. "[The word] clumsy is much less kind and endearing than klutzy, sleep sounds less warm than shluffy. It is this warmth and detail for which I am trying to spark an affinity in our youth."
Asner will be reading from "Shmutzy Girl" on July 18, 1 p.m. at Storyopolis, 116 N. Robertson Blvd. To attend the reading, R.S.V.P. at (310) 358-2512. For more information on the series or to purchase books, visit www.matzahballbooks.comor call (310) 306-7741.