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Shmooze Titles Now Available on Bookshop.org

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The Association of Jewish Libraries (the parent organization of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze) is building a storefront at Bookshop.org. Shoppers will be able to easily find and purchase books that have won an award or been recommended by AJL. As an affiliate, AJL will make a small profit from books sold, and local independent bookstores will make a larger profit. The Sydney Taylor Shmooze will begin adding Bookshop links to our reviews to make it easy for readers to purchase any titles that strike their fancy. These affiliate links will benefit the Association of Jewish Libraries.
Learn more about how Bookshop worksShop at AJL's Bookshop storefront

Happy New Year 5781!

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Review: The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

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The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Lisa Anchin Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

The world has been fighting polio for centuries. Back in the 1950s, Dr. Jonas Salk worked tirelessly to create a vaccine that would one day eradicate the polio virus from the world. Even today, the World Health Organization just announced that Africa is now free from the wild polio virus.

This interesting and well-researched book describes Dr. Salk from his boyhood in an immigrant Jewish family to his becoming a doctor and inventing the polio vaccine. With detailed, clear writing and charming pictures, the story is one of focused effort and lasting success. There are many lessons to be learned here about the current COVID-19 pandemic the world is facing, and the search for a vaccine to eliminate it.

This is an excellent book that has all the trappings of an award winner: a great story based in Jewish values-education, ki…

Review: The Assignment

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The Assignment by Liza Wiemer Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

Based on a true story, The Assignment is about two high school students who stand up to their teacher, their peers, and the entire community to stop an assignment that was given to them in their History of World Governments class. Their teacher is someone they greatly respect, but the assignment – To debate “A Final Solution to the Jewish Question” as was done at the Wansee Conference in Berlin in 1942.

The book is well-written and profoundly disturbing. It contains the expected backlash to the students from hate-mongers in their school and their community, surprising revelations about the students involved and unexpected alliances that are formed along the way. Overall, an emotional, page-turning read.

This is a strong contender for a Sydney Taylor prize. Given the subject matter, which is ripped from today’s headlines, and the nature of the assignment based on an actual Holocaust event, the story po…

Review: Such a Library!: A Yiddish Folktale Reimagined

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Such a Library! A Yiddish Folktale Reimagined by Jill Ross Nadler, illustraed by Esther van den Berg  Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

Just as it says in its subtitle, Such a Library! is a reimagining of the old Yiddish folktale about a man whose house is too crowded. His rabbi’s solution? Make the house even more crowded. Then, when all the additional visitors leave, the house seems spacious by comparison.

Here, the librarian takes the place of the rabbi. A little boy, Stevie, complains that just the noise of the computer keys and the voice of the storyteller are too loud. When he uses metaphors (“it’s like a zoo in here!” ;“it’s like a circus in here!”), the punnily named librarian Miss Understood takes him literally, opens an apparently magic book, and releases the denizens of a zoo, a circus and so forth. When they are finally returned to the pages of their book, the boy appreciates the relative silence.

This is a charming story and the fact that the new, n…

Review: Sarah Bernhardt: The Divine and Dazzling Life of the World’s First Superstar

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Sarah Bernhardt: The Divine and Dazzling Life of the World's First Superstar by Catherine Reef Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Beth Gallego

Actress, artist, author, mother, world traveller, French patriot: the “Divine Sarah” played many roles, both on and off the stage. Her life was filled with dramatic episodes, which Reef presents in rich detail while also acknowledging that both the loss of historical records and Bernhardt’s tendency to embellish her own stories make some of those details difficult to verify. For example, “Sarah Bernhardt said that she was born on October 22, 1844, and maybe she was. A fire destroyed her birth certificate, so she can only be taken at her word.”

The nineteenth-century world in which Bernhardt rose to fame contains many aspects that may be unfamiliar to twenty-first-century teens. From the demimonde and courtesans to the Franco-Prussian War, Reef’s narrative provides historical context for Bernhardt’s experiences. Photographs and illustrations…

Review: Mommy, Can You Stop the Rain

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Mommy, Can You Stop the Rain? by Rona Milch Novick, illustrated by Anna Kubaszewska Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman

This delightful picture book is so needed now during our stressful pandemic year and would also be calming and soothing at any time for a child during stressful moments. During the sounds of a rainstorm - thunder, lightening - the young child is anxious before bedtime. Although the parents inform the child that they cannot control the weather, the familiar homey things that surround the child are soothing; there's zaydeh's chicken soup pot to pound when the thunder is too loud, and Bubbie's blanket to cuddle in, and cookies to eat. There is Noah's ark on the wall, and the child's own drawing hanging by the bed, of Shabbat candles and the grandparents. Then, the sunny day comes after the night is over, brightly shining through the window. The reader feels just as comforted by the soft, gentle illustrations.

Throughout the text and …