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Review: Gottika

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 Gottika by Helaine Becker #ownvoices, illustrated by Vero Navarro Green Bean Books Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield Buy at Bookshop.org This book is a younger middle grade version of the graphic novel, Gottika , published in 2014 for older readers. Based on the Golem legend and set in a dystopian future, this is the story of Dany and his family and their life as Stoons in Gottika. The Stoons are oppressed by the Gottikins. Stoons are made to wear red berets when they leave their homes. They are physically, verbally, and economically abused, are under a strict curfew, and live in a walled off part of the city (the favala.) There are many obvious parallels to Jewish life in Nazi Germany. This is a wild story filled with deceit, betrayal, mystery and redemption. There are a few graphic novel style illustrations in the book. When “the Troubles” come, Dany’s father, Reb Judah, returns to his magician roots and creates a man out of clay – a Gol. As in the legend, the Gol p

Review: A Rainy Day Story

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 A Rainy Day Story by Ruth Calderon #ownvoices, illustrated by Noa Kelner #ownvoices Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group) Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield Buy at Bookshop.org This very short story is found in Talmud Taanit 24b: “Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa was traveling along a road when it began to rain. He said before God: Master of the Universe, the entire world is comfortable, because they needed rain, but Ḥanina is suffering, as he is getting wet. The rain ceased. When he arrived at his home, he said before God: Master of the Universe, the entire world is suffering that the rain stopped, and Ḥanina is comfortable? The rain began to come again.” The Talmudic Scholar and former Knesset member Ruth Calderon simply, yet eloquently expands upon it. The addition of beautiful watercolor and colored pencil illustrations by Noa Kelner provide the strong visual associations with suffering and comfort that will lead to further discussion about the appropriat

Review: Soosie: The Horse That Saved Shabbat

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Soosie: The Horse That Saved Shabbat by Tami Lehman-Wilzig #ownvoices, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt #ownvoices Kalaniot Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield Buy at Bookshop.org This charming book is based on a memory from the grandson of the owners of Angel Bakery in Jerusalem, the largest commercial bakery in Israel. When the baker’s delivery boy gets sick and cannot deliver the Shabbat challah to the residents of Jerusalem, his horse, Soosie, takes over and “clip-clops, clip-clops” her way through the entire delivery route on her own. The delightful, cartoon-like illustrations reflect the diverse nature of Jerusalem in the early 20th century with Jews from all over the world, illustrated by their clothing styles and physical features, coming together for their Shabbat challah. This true story turned folktale is a wonderful look at Israel prior to the founding of the State. “Some Notes from the Author” in the back of the book provide historical background, In

Review: The Trouble with Good Ideas

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The Trouble with Good Ideas  by Amanda Panitch #ownvoices Roaring Brook Press (imprint of Macmillan)  Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel Simon Buy at Bookshop.org Leah Nevins is going through a lot of change. She and her parents have moved to a new town, where her Zaide (her great-grandfather) lives, and she has to switch from her familiar Jewish day school (Solomon Schechter) to a public school. She’s struggling to make friends. And now she’s struggling because she overhears her parents wanting to put Zaide in an assisted living home. He’s sometimes forgetful and confused, but Leah doesn’t want to lose one more thing. With the story Zaide told her of the Prague Golem during the Holocaust, she creates one of her own in Zaide’s backyard. Named Elsa (yes, like the Disney princess), she instructs it to protect Zaide. But soon, Elsa is taking over Leah’s life and Leah must figure out how to protect herself from her creation. The book offers a strong portrayal of Judaism from Leah’s fa

Review: Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good

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Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good  by Nancy Werlin #ownvoices Candlewick (imprint of Penguin Random House) Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Zoe Rosenthal treats herself to a secret visit to Dragon Con to indulge her fandom of (fictional) feminist sci fi TV series Bleeders... secret because her earnest social justice warrior boyfriend would see it as a frivolous waste of time. But Zoe bonds with others who share her passion, and finds her true self as she works with her new friends to save their favorite show from cancellation. As author Nancy Werlin says on Vimeo, it's not so much about what could go wrong as what could go right. Coverage of Zoe's Jewish identity is minimal yet relevant. Personal and cultural encounters with antisemitism, briefly alluded to, generate in her a determination to do good in the world. "I'm Jewish. I understand what happens in the long term if you don't fight back against hate" (page 207). Unexpe

Review: The Donkey and the Garden

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 The Donkey and the Garden by Devorah Busheri #ownvoices, illustrated by Menahem Halberstadt #ownvoices Green Bean Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Meg Wiviott Buy at Bookshop.org This picture book biography of Rabbi Akiva is not a whole-life portrait; it does not follow Akiva from childhood to adolescence and adulthood until he becomes one of Judaism’s greatest scholars, sages, and tannaim. Slightly more tightly focused than Jacqueline Jules' Drop by Drop , it begins in his adulthood, when he is a forty year old, illiterate shepherd. Akiva’s wife, Rachel, is truly the heroine of this story, for she is the one who encourages Akiva to learn to read and write. Akiva wants to, he yearns to, but worries he will never fit in with the children and that people will laugh at him. Instead of pushing him, Rachel plants a garden on a donkey’s back and insists Akiva come to the market with her. The first day, people point at the donkey and laugh. The second day, people still point and l

Review: Nathan's Song

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 Nathan's Song by Leda Schubert #ownvoices, illustrated by Maya Ish-Shalom #ownvoices Dial Books for Young Readers (imprint of Penguin Young Readers) Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Ruth Horowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Nathan’s Song is a charming, well-told tale about creative drive, family love, immigrant pluck, and the benevolence of good luck. Growing up in a Russian shtetl, Nathan loves to sing, and longs to study opera. His family scrimps and saves, and when Nathan is sixteen, they send him to Italy to pursue his ambition, vowing to join him when he’s famous. When Nathan accidentally boards a ship bound for New York, it seems that all is lost. But Nathan sings on the boat to earn his passage, sings on the streets to make a start in New York, where he finds a music teacher, a singing career and a wife. His dreams are not complete, however, until he is able to send for his family and greet them on Ellis Island with a celebration of song. Maya Ish-Shalom’s folkloric illustratio