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Review: The Apple Argument

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The Apple Argument by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Anita Barghigiani Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org The Apple Argument is a modern midrash, a backstory to the tales told in the Torah. With richly colored, appropriately lush illustrations by Anita Barghighiani, Jane Yolen spins a story explaining why we must work to coax food from the land. As the fruits bicker over which one of them is best overall, just like people so often do, each cites their strongest quality but fails to recognize that their varied strengths combine to create something better together - a fruit salad perhaps? In a scene relatable to any parent, an exasperated G-d leaves the scene, saying, “I will move far away so I do not need to hear you.” Human laziness - not curiosity - is the driver in this version of the Eden story, resulting in Adam and Eve finding it easier to “pluck the Fruits from the trees and Vines” tha

Review: Matzah Ball Chase

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Matzah Ball Chase by Rachelle Burk, illustrated by Brittany Lakin Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House Publishers), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck Buy at Bookshop.org There is, of course, “On Top of Spaghetti.” Then there’s The Matzah Man by Naomi Howland (Clarion Books, 2002), The Matzo Ball Boy by Lisa Shulman (Puffin Books, 2007), and The Ball of Clay that Rolled Away by Elizabeth Lenhard (Two Lions, 2012). This latest tale of silliness and runaway Jewish food has a different spin. The rhyming couplets describe the pursuit of Savta’s matzah ball through Israel, from the amazing Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem (the City of Gold), then to the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and Masada. The matzah ball finally ends up in Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel, and playful dolphins take it out in the Red Sea. The moral of the story – make matza squares instead of balls! The use of “savta” as grandmother will alert the reader that the

Review: The Peacock

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The Peacock by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod, illustrated by Jamie MacGibbon Orca Book Publishers, 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Sara Lesley Arnold Buy at Bookshop.org Through the lens of a young girl in Toronto grappling with an unwanted garden guest, The Peacock introduces young readers to the Jewish refugee crisis after World War II. Barbara’s father, a tailor, is overcome with a feeling of responsibility for displaced persons in Europe, and sets out across the sea to help Jews secure tailoring jobs to skirt around Canada’s impossibly restrictive immigration laws. Back at home, while her father is away and her brothers are at camp, the responsibility falls on Barbara herself to care for her mother, who, in addition to being grief-stricken from the news of the horrific treatment of Jews in Europe, is terrorized daily by the peacock who has mysteriously planted himself in their yard. Learning from her father’s example of taking action and keeping in mind his wise words, “It’s up to

Review: Nightmares in Paradise

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Nightmares in Paradise (Ring of Solomon series) by Aden Polydoros Inkyard Press, 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Kathryn Hall Buy at Bookshop.org Nightmares in Paradise is a sequel to Ring of Solomon , the first middle grade novel from Polydoros, and can be read independently, although it is better to read both sequentially. Zach Darlington has recovered from his encounter with Ashmedai, the King of Demons. When his annoying little sister Naomi disappears with his flaming sword, he and his friend Sandra call on Ashmedai to help them find her. Adventures ensue: strange beasts attack, bullies experience Biblical consequences, and the good guys win. Zach is bullied by several kids at school, who surmise that he is gay, although he has not come out even to his parents yet. The book is well written and an enjoyable read. There are two completely different types of Jewish representation in this book. Zach and his family are contemporary California Jews who prepare Ashkenazi food and

Review: Jewish Mindfulness for Kids

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Jewish Mindfulness for Kids by Blanca Sissa, illustrated by Camila Carrossine Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Jeff Gottesfeld Buy at Bookshop.org I often say that it is harder for a person to get from zero to one than from one to a hundred. I'd add that it's hard to accomplish anything in life without the ability to sit quietly for ten minutes, even if that accomplishment is free climbing El Capitan. This is a book with a purpose: to help Jewish kids find a Jewish path into sitting quietly, breathing, and being in a mindful moment of not looking backward or forward. The text sets out the problem -- too much going on in everyone's brains, including kids' brains -- and that there is a tradition of "yishuv hada'at" (quiet, calm awareness) in Judaism. Then, Sissa and Carrossine teach kids how to get to it, Jewishly, with focus on the breath, Jewishly. Those methods of focus go through the lens of

Review: First Fruits: A Shavuot Story

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First Fruits: A Shavuot Story written & illustrated by Amalia Hoffman PJ Publishing, 2024 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Mirele Kessous Quality books about Shavuot for young children are hard to find, but here’s a contender. This is a board book for the very very young–no older than 3. Sparse text explains that early Israelites gathered the “First Fruits” or “Bikurim” in baskets on Shavuot but does not explain why. A note at the end where provides a longer explanation for parents, that will not sustain a toddler’s attention span. The illustrations appears as though a young child has decorated the pages with cute little handprints and whimsical stick figures. Children will learn the names of the Seven Species and what they look like, although the term “Seven Species” is not used. There is also no mention of the Israelites receiving the Torah on Shavuot. Diversity takes front and center with this book, as the pictures of children depict all skin tones and abilities. Hoffman provid

Review: Things That Shimmer

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Things That Shimmer by Deborah Lakritz Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2024 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Ronda Einbinder Buy at Bookshop.org Melanie Adler and her lifelong friend Vicky dream about being members of the Shimmers, the popular group of girls in middle school. When Melanie is asked to guide new student Dorit Shoshani around school, her budding friendship with this Israeli-born girl complicates those ambitions and threatens her relationship with Vicky. Ultimately, Melanie must make difficult decisions about the price of popularity and the value of friendship.   The story takes place in the 1970s. Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and John Denver songs are as much a part of Melanie as the freckles on her sunburned shoulders.The Watergate hearings form a significant backdrop to the story. When Walter Cronkite announces that Egypt and Syria have attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, Dorit misses a week of school. In her absence, Melanie finds her way into the Shi