Long Island kids’ book editor and author Ann Koffsky has three teenagers. As children, none of them enjoyed going to the doctor. They especially hated shots.
Koffsky, who edits Jewish-themed works at Behrman House, decided to write a book to help kids get over the fear. She’s written other, innocuous works: “Kayla and Kugel,” about a dog who helps set the table for Shabbat, and “Frogs in the Bed,” a Passover seder activity book.
So she was surprised by the reaction to her latest work, “Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor,” which came out around Hanukkah.
“The book is a story about courage. Judah has to go to the doctor and get a shot, and by being brave, he can make sure he’s healthy and help protect his sister, who’s too young to be vaccinated,” she says.
She was moved to write the book after learning about the anti-vaccination movement in Jewish schools.
“I’m a modern Orthodox person, and there are a number of schools in the country that have anti-vaxxer controversies,” she says. “This is what really hit me. I had heard about schools where anti-vaxxers say we cannot get vaccinated due to a religious exemption. This drove me off a cliff. To say it’s a Torah value to not get vaccinated is like saying up is down and down is up. It is such a Jewish value. Guard your health! Be thoughtful about neighbors and community! These are Torah values! So I knew I had to write a book.”
Upon publication, she quickly faced a backlash from critics who accused her of spreading vaccine propaganda, bullying children into unsafe practices and trying to advance a big-pharma agenda. One commenter wrote, “I’m amazed that after the forced experimental procedures done on our people during the Holocaust, anyone would willingly inject vaccines into their baby with the knowledge we have, that vaccines contain the DNA from aborted fetuses.” (Read the full story from Tablet magazine. It’s dramatic.)
Koffsky was amazed.
“I thought I was being a good author, promoting things on Instagram and Facebook. I went to Amazon to check my rating, and suddenly there were all these one stars. What happened? For a picture book?”
She turned to social media for help, saying, “Anti-vaxxers are torching my book!”
People came to the rescue.
“Trolls are interesting creatures. It’s not like anyone went to Amazon to say, ‘Let’s have a thoughtful dialogue. It’s more like, ‘You are big pharma and an evil Nazi.’ It was angry. I’m sure there are anti-vaxxers out there who I disagree with who are nice people, but these weren’t those.”
Koffsky enlisted doctors for support and reviews. (“Look, don’t take medical advice from children’s book authors. So I asked doctors to read the book and comment on it. I know doctors. I’m a Jewish mother!”) Slowly but surely, her Amazon rating increased again and the kerfuffle died down.
But she hopes the book’s message lingers.
“I don’t think an anti-vaxxer will now vaccinate after reading this. My hope is that people who do vaccinate use this as tool to read to kids as they face something scary. It hurts. But I want to communicate that Torah thinks vaccines are good. It is a Jewish value to take care of ourselves,” she says.