Sadie Rose Weilerstein
1894 – 1993
K’tonton, the lovable little boy who constantly courts danger, whether on the blade of a chopping knife or in a sticky bowl of honey, was the creation of children’s author Sadie Rose Weilerstein. Her books have continued to spike the imaginations of generations of Jewish children since her protagonist’s first harrowing appearance in Outlook Magazine in 1930.
Sadie Rose was born on July 28, 1894 in Rochester, NY, to immigrant parents from Lithuania. Her father, Bernard Rose, was the owner of an optics factory. In 1892 he married Tillie (née Berger, 1872–1951), who worked with him in the family business. In addition to Sadie, the couple had three daughters—Toby (b. 1896), Frieda (b. 1906) and Anna (b. 1908)—and one son, Aaron (b. 1899 or 1900). She attended the University of Rochester, graduating with a B.A. degree in English in 1917, in one of the first classes to admit women. From 1917 to 1920, Sadie taught in the high school for the deaf in Rochester, communicating with students via the then-popular finger alphabet. In 1921 she married Baruch Reuben Weilerstein (c. 1893–1963), a rabbi who had interviewed for a pulpit in Rochester.
After first living in Brooklyn, the couple moved to the Community Synagogue in Atlantic City, NJ, where they remained for many years. Sadie became an active rebbetzin, working in the Sisterhood, writing plays and serving in a variety of offices. But most of her time she devoted to raising their four children, Herschel (Weil, b. 1921), Judith (b. 1924), Deborah (b. 1929) and Ruth (b. 1930). It was in telling stories to them that Sadie was inspired to create the now-famous Jewish story-book hero.
The first appearance of K’tonton in Outlook heralded the beginning of a new genre of children’s literature: stories for Jewish children written in English. Weilerstein’s works included not only the antics of the Jewish Tom Thumb, but also other books incorporating the names of her children as central characters.
Her first version of The Adventures of K’tonton was published by the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue in 1935. By 1964, she had authored eleven books, which were subsequently translated into several languages, including Hebrew, and can be found in many children’s anthologies.
Weilerstein was twice awarded the annual Juvenile Award of the Jewish Book Council of America: in 1956 for her “cumulative contribution to Jewish juvenile literature,” and in 1962 for Ten and a Kid. At its convention in 1980, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism granted her their Yovel (Jubilee) Award for her contribution to Jewish children.
What Danny Did: Stories for the Wee Jewish Child (1928); The Adventures of K’tonton (1935); What the Moon Brought (1942); The Singing Way: Poems by Sadie Rose Weilerstein [reprinted as: The Singing Way: Poems for Jewish Children] (1946); Little New Angel (1947); Molly and the Sabbath Queen (1949); Jewish Heroes, Book One (1953); Dick the Horse that Kept the Sabbath (1955); Jewish Heroes, Book Two (1956); Ten and A Kid (1961); K’tonton in Israel (1964); K’tonton on an Island in the Sea (1976); K’tonton in the Circus (1981).