Review: Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin, The Story of Young Itzhak Perlman by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

Itzhak Perlman is considered by many to be the greatest violinist in the world today. Itzhak: a Boy Who Loved the Violin, is the story of how he grew up, starting with his birth in Tel Aviv, Israel and moving through his life until his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show at the age of thirteen.

The details of his life are well laid out. He was surrounded by music – classical, cantorial, klezmer filled his home from an early age. He is synesthetic, meaning he sees music as a rainbow of colors. By the time he was three years old, he knew he wanted to play the violin. Unfortunately, his parents could not afford that, and the toy one they were able to provide did not appease Itzhak’s desire. Even more unfortunately, at the age of four, Itzhak contracted a life-threatening case of polio. He survived and worked hard to reco…

Review: Worse and Worse on Noah's Ark

Worse and Worse on Noah's Ark by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Vivian Mineker Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

There is no more perfect Biblical story for these times than that of Noah’s Ark. Leslie Kimmelman’s take on it, Worse and Worse on Noah’s Ark, is perfect for sharing with stir-crazy kids who won’t stop arguing and kvetching, just like the creatures (human and otherwise) aboard the ark. Its message is not subtle - working together and taking care of each other can improve even the worst situation - but Kimmelman delivers it with charm.

Kimmelman also sneaks another lesson about Jewish values into Worse and Worse. When the colorful scarlet macaws and peacocks make fun of the merely dichromatic penguins and zebras, Noah gently points out that, “We’re all God’s creatures… we’re all equally beautiful in God’s eyes.” Kimmelman also brings out the aspect of predators and prey being stuck together on board the ark, something I, at least, had never though…

Review: Too Far From Home

...Too Far From Home by Naomi Shmuel, illustrated by Avi Katz
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Mozer

Too Far From Home is about a Jewish girl named Meskerem who lives in the Golan Heights. Meskerem's mother is an Ethiopian Jew who has just gotten an important job helping the country transition when Operation Solomon brings a large number of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. When the family moves to be closer to the center of Israel for her mother's job, Meskerem is surprised by the racist comments of her new classmates and finds herself telling everyone she's an American, like her father, instead of admitting her real background. With help from her grandmother, Meskerem has to find a way to appreciate and love her heritage before she can help people at her new school get to know the real her.

Meskerem's story is relatable to anyone who has experienced any kind of bullying. As an American Jew who only knows a small amount about what happened in Israel with Operation Sol…

Review: 28 Days: A Novel of Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto

28 Days: A Novel of Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto by David Safier Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Michelle Falkoff

In 28 Days, a teenage girl named Mira struggles with everyday life in the Warsaw ghetto and is then thrust into conflict when the Nazis send most of the ghetto’s residents to concentration camps. Initially, her biggest problems are finding food for her family and deciding whether she’s really in love with her boyfriend, Daniel. A surprise encounter with a stranger, a boy who kisses her to save her from local anti-Semites while she’s on a smuggling mission, leads her to question her relationship and to give more thought to whether she should join the growing resistance movement.

Mira is initially skeptical that the resistance is necessary; she, like many in her community, believes they all just need to wait for the world to realize how much injustice is occurring. But when the ghetto’s resettlement begins, she finds herself with fewer and fewer options, especially aft…

Review: Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe

Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle, illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix 
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer:  Rachel J Fremmer

Peter’s War: A Boy’s True Story of Survival in World War II Europe relates the true story of Peter Feigl, a highly assimilated German Jew who celebrated Christmas. As the Nazi danger grew, his parents even had Peter baptized. Nonetheless, he and his family were, like so many others, eventually forced to flee his home as the Nazis rose to power. First with, and later separated from, his parents, Peter makes his way around Europe as his successive hiding places each become too dangerous, ultimately sneaking across the border to safety in Switzerland in 1944.

The workmanlike prose of Peter’s War is overshadowed by the scrapbook-style art, a combination of actual photographs, watercolor paintings, fragments of Peter’s diary, and a map of Europe with a line denoting Peter’s tr…

Review: Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Sylvie Shaffer

Eleven-year-old Vivy learned to pitch a knuckleball from pitcher VJ Cappello at an event for kids like her, who have autism. At the time, VJ was still in the Minor League, and Vivy was still honing her communication and social skills. Vivy and VJ have both come a long way since then- him playing in the Majors, and Vivy working hard on both her knuckleball and her own self-agency.

She writes to her hero VJ as a social-skills-class assignment, not expecting him to write back, but not only does he (eventually), Vivy gets scouted for a local team while practicing her pitching with her big brother, Nate. Vivy expects that the biggest hurdle will be getting her (slightly stereotypical Jewish) mother’s approval to play, but of course that’s only the first of many challenges being the only girl, and the only autistic kid, on the team.

The book’s epistolary format lends itself to direct exp…

Review: My Sister is Sleeping

My Sister is Sleeping by Devora Busheri, illustrated by Michel Kichka
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Fern Richardson

My Sister is Sleeping is a quick picture book tale of an older sister waiting for her younger sister to wake up from a nap. The older sister spends nap time describing the younger sister’s various characteristics and activities while she draws or paints portraits of her life with her sister. She anticipates holding her sister in her lap, feeding her oatmeal, and taking her for a walk in a stroller. While the story was originally published in Hebrew, it is not particularly Jewish or uniquely Israeli.

The text on each page is simple, allowing the illustrations to really shine. The book’s artwork was created by Michel Kichka, a highly regarded Israeli cartoonist. Each scene is incredibly detailed and a charming combination of Kichka’s style as well as how he imagines a young child might draw. The last spread in the book is especially nice and depicts the mother huggin…