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Review: The Littlest Candle: A Hanukkah Story

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The Littlest Candle: A Hanukkah Story by Rabbis Kerry and Jesse Olitzky, illustrated by Jen Kostman Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Heidi RabinowitzBuy at Bookshop.org

A group of animate candles living in a kitchen drawer are excited about Hanukkah's approach. They enter into a lively debate about who should be lit on the first night of the holiday; the various Hanukkah candles, and oddly, the Shabbat candles, and even the Havdalah candle argue for their own suitability for this role. Only Little Flicker, the smallest candle, hangs back, instead supporting others and providing useful information. At last the rest of the candles realize that modest Little Flicker is so helpful that he should be the shamash, the helper candle. "He smiled brightly because he knew he was there to help. And that was the most important way to bring more light to Hanukkah."

The logic of anthropomorphic candles who apparently survive repeated lightings is a bit shaky, and the text is a bit …

Review: Nicanor's Gate

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Nicanor's Gate by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Alida Massari Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel KaminBuy at Bookshop.org

Nicanor’s Gate by Eric Kimmel was first published by The Jewish Publication Society in 1979 with illustrations by Jerry Joyner (1938-2019). The undersized 7x7 inch trim had lengthy, dense text in a small font on the right side of each page along with a framed two color black and blue, difficult-to-decipher illustration on the right. It’s no wonder the book hasn’t circulated from my synagogue library since 1990! Fortunately, Eric Kimmel has penned a new, more accessible version of this wonderful, ancient Talmudic tale with lush, radiant full-color, full spread illustrations in earth tones, blues, and pinks by Alida Massari (Under the Sabbath Lamp, 2017). The simple, clear, and concise text tells the story of the wealthy merchant from Alexandria who volunteers to commission new gates for the ruined Temple in Jerusalem. But when the ship carrying Nicanor an…

Review: It's Challah Time

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It's Challah Time: by Latifa Berry Kropf, photography by Moshe Shai Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel KaminBuy at Bookshop.org

A preschool class demonstrates how to make challah for Shabbat. Simple text and bright, full color photographs illustrate each step from adding the flour, yeast, honey, oil, and eggs to mixing, kneading, and waiting for the dough to rise. The children also braid the dough and prepare the classroom and table for Shabbat. The book ends with the entire class lighting the candles, reciting the blessings, drinking the juice, and of course, enjoying the warm, freshly baked challah. A recipe for Whole Wheat Honey Challah and the blessings for the candles, grape juice/wine, and challah (in Hebrew, transliteration and English) are appended. This 20th Anniversary Edition features a larger 10x10 trim size, updated photos, a slightly altered text, and a more diverse preschool class. A welcome addition to all Jewish preschool classrooms and library …

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…