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Marilyn Hirsh

1944 – 1988

by Annette Muffs Botnick

“K’tonton existed only on the pages of a book, but I saw him clearly—more clearly—than I saw the teacher.” These are the words written by Francine Klagsbrun, the well-known author, in her introduction to the book The Best of K’tonton, one of the thirty children’s books, primarily of Jewish interest, illustrated by Marilyn Hirsh.

Writer and illustrator of children’s books, Marilyn Hirsh was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 1, 1944, to Eugene and Rose (Warshell) Hirsh. Her father owned a meat market. Hirsh was married on November 18, 1973, to James H. Harris.

Hirsh’s educational background consisted of Chicago’s Art Institute, the Carnegie Mellon Institute, and the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. She then used this education to transmit to children her views of the world and her love of Judaism. Her views of the world are reflected in the four books on India that she illustrated while serving in the Peace Corps. As historian of Indian and Buddhist art, she taught at Cooper Union and the New York University Institute of Fine Arts.

However, the primary focus of her books was on Jewish subjects. She researched each subject and era intensively to remain true to texts of Jewish life and times. For instance, Tower of Babel depicts races in many different costumes to show the existence of harmony before the Tower of Babel story takes place. Ancient Near Eastern and Babylonian life is also accurately portrayed.

The illustrations in Butchers and Bakers, Rabbis and Kings reflect the costumes and life of Tudela and Spain around the year 1114, from the details of the castle and the medieval village to the turbans of the townspeople and the helmets of the guards. The costumes and buildings in The Hanukkah Story are true to Hellenistic times, from the robes and the headgear to the Greek and Roman architecture.

In June 1980 Marilyn Hirsh received the prestigious Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award given by the Association of Jewish Libraries. The award was the first to be named after Sydney Taylor. Hirsh also visited Jewish day schools in Nassau County, New York, drawing for the children and explaining her books—transmitting her enthusiasm for Judaism to them. Her other books include Rabbi and the Twenty-nine Witches, Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath, and I Love Hanukkah. Zaydeh, which she illustrated with comforting black-and-white pictures for Moshe Halevi Spero in 1983, discusses mourning and death. Sidduri, which was illustrated for the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education in 1983, is in full-blown color with feelings of joy emanating throughout. Finally, Best of K’tonton and others in the series, such as K’tonton in the Circus, written by Sadie Rose Weilerstein, all show that lovable little fellow and his adventures.

Marilyn Hirsh died of cancer in New York City, on October 17, 1988.


Best of K’tonton (1980).

Butchers and Bakers, Rabbis and Kings (1984).

The Hanukkah Story (1977).

I Love Hanukkah (1984).

K’tonton in the Circus (1981).

Potato Pancakes All Around (1978).

Rabbi and the Twenty-nine Witches (1976).

Sidduri (1983).

Tower of Babel (1981).

Zaydeh (1983).


AJYB 90:610–611.

Obituary. NYTimes, October 22, 1988.

Something About the Author 7 (1975): 126.

More on: Art, Teachers, Fiction

Jim and I became friends when Jim was studying for his MA in South Asian Studies at UPennsylvania, Philadelphia. I was then a part-time informant in the Hindi Program. A couple of years later Jim and Marilyn found each other in NYC. When they decided to get married, they asked me if I would be part of the ceremony to be held in an ice-cream parlor in the GermanTown area of Manhattan. So here were 3 people from 3 different traditions - Marilyn -Jewish, Jim-Southern Baptist and I-Hinduism and all three of us were skeptics as well. I read some verses from the Rig Veda praying for the well-being of the bride and groom and I think that was all of the formal ceremony.  Her book - The Elephants and the MIce, a Panchatantra Story - is one of the best children's illustrated books. I miss Marilyn's effervescent personality.

Marilyn Hirsh's papers are in the de Grummond Collection, McCain Library and Archives, USM Libraries, The University of Southern Mississsippi, Collection Number DG0457.

Marilyn Hirsch Illustrations
Full image
Three of little K'tonton's "big adventures"&hellpi; 1) riding on a chopping knife (narrowly escaping from being made into gefilte fish); 2) spinning on a runaway Hannukah dreidel [top]; 3) reading the Megillah after "masquerading" inside a hamantash [Purim pastry]. Illustrated by Marilyn Hirsh.
Courtesy of Women's League for Conservative Judaism.

How to cite this page

Botnick, Annette Muffs. "Marilyn Hirsh." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/Hirsh-Marilyn>.


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