In children’s books like Molly’s Pilgrim, Barbara Cohen confronted taboo subjects of assimilation, racism, and cancer with both sensitivity and remarkable honesty. Cohen graduated Barnard in 1954 and earned an MA from Rutgers in 1957. She taught high school English until 1972, when the acclaim for her first book, The Carp in the Bathtub, gave her the confidence to quit teaching and write full-time. She wrote predominantly on Jewish themes: a boy banned from bar mitzvah classes because his mother isn’t Jewish, a friendship between Israeli and Palestinian boys, and perhaps her most famous work, Molly’s Pilgrim, where a Jewish girl discovers how to connect her immigrant roots to the Thanksgiving story instead of feeling she has to erase her identity in order to belong. The movie based on the book won an Academy Award for live short subject in 1986. Cohen wrote thirty-two books and garnered awards from the National Library Association, the Association of Jewish Libraries, and the National Jewish Book Award, continuing to push boundaries until the end: two years before her death from cancer, she published The Long Way Home, about a young girl dealing with family tensions after her mother’s mastectomy.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Barbara Cohen." (Viewed on April 20, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/cohen-barbara>.