Steimatzky (סְטִימָצְקִי in Hebrew) is the oldest and largest bookstore chain in Israel. The Chain was officially founded in 1925 by Tzvi Steimatzky and his half-brother Yechezkel Steimatzky five years after Tzvi Steimatzky had opened the first bookstore in Tel Aviv in 1920. Back then its primary focus was foreign language books as Hebrew wasn’t fully revived yet, and most of the local market consisted of immigrants and British soldiers. At some point, the chain even had stores in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and even as far as Iraq, but they were all forcibly shut down after the establishment of the State of Israel and the 1948 War of Independence.
Nowadays Steimatzky’s inventory consists mostly of Hebrew books, but they also sell magazines, music, toys, gifts and much more. The chain has close to 150 stores all over the country, and even though the ownership changed hands, the Steimatsky name and brand are pretty much synonymous with books in Israel. In 2011 the chain launched its own publishing house aimed specifically at self-funded independent authors, but it hasn’t really taken off and the reception was lukewarm at best.
Every year during the month of June, Israel holds a nation-wide book fare called שְׁבוּעַ הַסֶפֶר הָעִבְרִי (shvu’a ha’sefer ha’ivri) or Hebrew Book Week. It has started as a weeklong promotion and special sales activities but in recent years it pretty much lasts for the entire month. If you visit Israel during Hebrew book week, you’ll see huge buffet-like market stands outside every bookstore, book signing events, public reading events, and a mass of people flipping, browsing, and lugging heavy bags filled with books.
The Little Princess by Steimatzky
It was right before the Hebrew Book Week of 2023 that I came across The Little Princess. I had some time to kill at the mall and found myself being drawn to Steimatzky and the stands they were setting up in front of the store for the month ahead. Between all the messy piles on the table, a semi-familiar image with a twist caught my eyes:
At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but it turned out to be real. Someone decide to take The Little Prince, which in Hebrew is called הַנָּסִיךְ הַקָּטָן (ha’nasikh ha’qatan), and transition him to The Little Princess, or הַנְּסִיכָה הַקְּטָנָה (ha’nesikha ha’qtana) in Hebrew. Then I thought maybe it was a joke or a parody of sorts, so I picked it up and took a look at the back cover. But what I found there only made me more annoyed and upset.
For those of you who don’t read Hebrew, here is a basic translation of what it says:
Only 31% of the protagonists in Children books are women. Therefore, in order to promote gender equality in the Hebrew children literature, Steimatzky has decided to come out with the new project “Girls’ Books” named after G. Yafit, calling on female and male authors to write children books with a woman hero at their center.
The Little Prince, one of the most famous classic children’s books of all time, is now getting published by Steimatzky in a new original adaptation, turning the male hero of the book into a heroine – The Little Princess. This is the first book in this initiative, and all its revenues will be dedicated to the project “Girls’ Books”.
We in Steimatzky believe in the power of language and of words to influence the shaping of reality and we call on all girls and young women wherever they are, to be the heroine of their story.
If you are wondering about the name G. Yafit mentioned in the first paragraph, it is the commercial name of Yafit Greenberg – a very successful businesswoman who made her fortune mostly in advertising. In 2014 she headed the investment group who purchased Steimatzky and sadly died of cancer in 2021. To commemorate her and her success, Steimatzky launched The Little Princess on March 8th 2023 – International Women’s Day.
But let’s get back to our business. It’s hard for me to put into words how preposterous I find the text on the back cover, but I will try. Let’s say I accept the premise and reasoning of how there aren’t enough heroic female characters in children’s books and that is what keeping young girls from being inspired to change their reality and become the hero in their own lives. Really Steimatzky? A Little Princess?! That is your solution to the matter at hand and the first book you decided to go with?
Seriously! A princess? And based on one of the most innocent and naïve characters ever created at that? I mean, the one thing we can say for sure is that there is no shortage of lost princesses in distress in children’s classics. What about Jacky and the Beanstalk? Charlotte and the Chocolate Factory? Pinocchia? Patty Pan? Priscilla Jackson? Betty the Builder? Firewoman Samantha? Postwoman Patricia? How about Paula the Plumber or Sadie the Soldier? I guess those are less urgent. The first order of business is to treat the acute princess deficiency in Children Literature.
Oh, and by the way – from a quick glance I took through the book, I can tell you that the pilot in the book is still a man. So on top of improperly addressing the lack of worthy female role models for young girls, there is now also a whole new layer of creepiness of a young girl opening up to and bonding with a strange adult man she just met in the middle of the desert. Thanks, Steimatzky.