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Review: How to Find What You're Not Looking For

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How to Find What You're Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani Kokila (imprint of Penguin Random House) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego Buy at Bookshop.org You are nearly twelve years old, living in suburban Connecticut with your parents and 18-year-old sister, Leah. You like reading Wonder Woman comics, listening to Beatles records with Leah, and helping in your parents’ bakery. School has always been difficult; writing is especially hard, no matter how much you practice. You don’t think too much about being one of very few Jewish families in the area, and you really don’t think about your parents’ expectation that both you and Leah will one day marry nice Jewish men. Then Leah falls in love with Raj, and you’re not sure which part has your parents more upset, that he isn’t Jewish or that he is Indian. After Leah and Raj elope, your parents won’t even talk about it with you. You’re left trying to figure out who you are and what you believe.   In this midd

Review: Shield of the Maccabees

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Shield of the Maccabees: A Hanukkah Graphic Novel by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Dov Smiley Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House)   Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Leah Cypress Buy at Bookshop.org "All history books," Dara Horn has written, "fact or fiction, are really about the times in which they are written, not about the times they supposedly describe." This is particularly true when it comes to historical fiction, and it's very true about Shield of the Maccabees, Eric Kimmel and Dov Smiley's graphic novel about a friendship between a Greek boy and a Jewish boy that is fractured by the conflict between the Greeks and the Jewish Maccabees.   Kimmel uses this framework to tell a story about friendship transcending differences -- a story that should appeal greatly to its intended modern-day audience, although the main message might have made little sense to its historical characters.   Its main poi

Review: Beep Beep Bubbie

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Beep Beep Bubbie by Bonnie Sherr Klein, illustrated by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal Tradewinds Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman Buy at Bookshop.org We meet brother and sister, Kate and Nate on Shabbat, headed for a visit to Bubbie's house for yet another adventure with their active grandmother. Their plan is to share a library book with her and then buy apples for Rosh Hashanah. Instead they meet their granny on a scooter, and they are hugely disappointed. They assume their active granny is no more! But granny shows them that her new electric scooter is an asset and not a liability; she is as active and fun as ever. Their day with her is filled with the adventures they had planned and even more, with granny leading the way. The colorful illustrations are so inviting and enticing; the young reader will feel they are on the bus with them, and at the market, and meeting new people, and flying a kite in the park. As a wonderful bonus, the scooter is named GLADYS. Why?

Review: And So Is Hashem

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And So Is Hashem by Aura Dweck, illustrated by Gillian Flint Hachai Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck Buy at Hachai.com When we do things that make other people happy, Hashem is also happy. So when a boy's mother calls him and he stops playing to go to her, when a girl refrains from waking up her sleeping father, when a boy greets his grandmother with a hug and a snack, when children share their toys or help neighbors, all these people are happy, "and so is Hashem." The repetition works well for young readers as they learn the not-so-subtle lesson. The illustrations are cute and colorful, depicting both boys and girls. The boys and the Tatty (father) are obviously wearing kippot, while the women appear to be wearing sheitels. A very short glossary includes Hashem, Bubby, and Tatty, but it easily adapted for all Jewish audiences by using the English words while reading.    The book is based on a verse from Pirkei Avos (3:13): "He used to say

Review: The Traveling Smile

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The Traveling Smile written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld Hachai Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck   Buy at Hachai.com   Rikki Benefeld is a prolific author of many books for Hachai. On the one hand, it is nice for children to recognize the style of the writing and the pictures. On the other, it looks very much like her other books. A young boy wakes up in a good mood, and his happiness is infectious. He hugs his mother, and she smiles. He gives his sister some of his muffin, and she smiles. Each person "passes" a smile onto another person, until it comes full circle when a girl smiles at an older woman, who is the grandmother of the original boy. She had brought her smile along for a visit. After these encounters, the refrain repeats, "Share a smile happy and strong. And watch those smiles travel along!" The book is dedicated in memory of a man who followed the precept of Pirkei Avos and "greeted everyone with a pleasant countena

Review: From My Heart

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From My Heart: A Child Talks to Hashem by Esty Perman, illustrated by Anna Abramskaya Hachai Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck   A girl talks to Hashem because she has so much to tell God. She talks to Hashem a lot -- when she's happy, when she's said, when she's scared, and when sick people need help. Sometimes she sings the set prayers, and other times she whispers her own words. She makes sure to ask for Moshiach because she is anxious for him to come. The illustrations are vibrant and the girl's facial expressions make her feelings clear. Interestingly, there are no males depicted in the book. Books about God and prayer for young readers are challenging because it's hard to explain spiritual concepts. The "report" to Hashem is a good premise for the girl to give examples of why she talks to Hashem, and is reminiscent of (l'havdil) Anne LaMott's distillation of prayer into "Thanks, Help, Wow!". For adults, it&

Review: Starfish

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Starfish by Lisa Fipps Nancy Paulsen Books (imprint of Penguin Random House) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Laurie Adler   Buy at Bookshop.org   Starfish , written by first-time novelist Lisa Fipps, is one of the best new tween novels on the trending subject of fat-phobia and body image. Ellie, an eleven-year-old Texan, is continuously body-shamed by her schoolmates and family. Since her fifth birthday party, she has been called “Splash” and compared to a whale. She lives by self-imposed fat girl rules -- “make yourself small,” “avoid eating in public,” “move slowly so your fat doesn’t jiggle” -- but the bullying escalates dangerously both at home and at school. Ellie’s only safe space is her swimming pool, where she feels weightless and can stretch out like a starfish. With only her father, her new neighbor Catalina, and a therapist to support her, Ellie valiantly finds her voice to confront rude doctors, cruel schoolmates, and even her own mother.   This novel is written