As she walks through her small children’s bookstore in Maple, Ont., Anna Curlat-Rosenberg talks about the many types of books that she has in store, pointing out the important content and esthetic aspects of each book she picks up.
The bookstore, named Matveika after the previous owner’s son Matvei, specializes in children’s Russian books, and has a wide selection of books written to help teach kids and teens how to read in write in Russian. There are also entire shelves with Ukrainian books, as well as some English and French ones.
Though the store has been under Curlat-Rosenberg’s ownership since February 2018, she has already made several changes to make it reflect her Jewish identity, by hosting a Passover event and increasing the amount of children’s Jewish literature in the store.
Originally from Chisinau, Moldova, Curlat-Rosenberg grew up in a secular, book-loving family. As a young teen, her parents decided to send her to Jewish school for her to learn more about her heritage and religion.
“I loved my Jewish classes, I was coming home from school so excited and talking about traditions and new words that I learned,” said Curlat-Rosenberg. During her time in Jewish school, she formed a strong Zionist identity, and dreamed of moving to Israel. “We were constantly discussing when we were going to move to Israel, until we applied to move to Canada,” said Curlat-Rosenberg.
When she landed in Canada with her young family six years ago, she quickly became a regular customer at the Matveika store, and as a self-proclaimed “book nerd,” she jokes that buying the entire store was a more cost-effective solution for her constant book purchases.
“It’s a dream job, because before, I was buying books and I had to find excuses. Now, I can always say, ‘it’s my job,’” said Curlat-Rosenberg. “My job is to actually go through the entire list of everything that is published, was published or will be published for kids.”
When selecting books for her store, Curlat-Rosenberg said that she always has the future in mind, and focuses on how the content of these books affects the development of the children who read them.
“I go through reviews and pictures and photos, and I always have this critical mindset that all the books that we have in the store should influence kids, and their mindset,” said Curlat-Rosenberg. “Our future depends on the kids that will grow into adults soon, so everything we put in them now, this how our future is going to look.”
Besides her goal of helping Canadian children and teenagers learn how to read and write in Russian and Ukrainian, she also wants to use her space to hold Judaism-related events, where children are able to explore their identities and learn about their heritage.
“I have many books that are based on the Jewish folklore, that are not religious stories but they’re Jewish fairytales. Not all of them are familiar to people who grew up in the Soviet Union, but they are part of our folklore, they have this generational wisdom,” said Curlat-Rosenberg, who is also an active member of the Limmud FSU community.
Aside from the bookstore, Curlat-Rosenberg also uses the space to host various classes and social clubs for kids. The majority of the classes are dedicated to teaching kids how to read and write Russian, though they also have chess, math, art classes and much more.
“I’m proud to say that our community is quite a reading community, we have people from different provinces that are ordering books from our store, and we’re sending parcels all over Canada and the US,” said Curlat-Rosenberg. “People want to buy books, new books are being published, old books are getting republished, and I think that’s amazing.”