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I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book

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I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book by Rabbi Mychal Copeland
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Sarah Aronson

“How might it feel to stand at Mount Sinai? To dance at the Red Sea?

The narrative, written by Michal Copeland (a rabbi and certified yoga instructor) invites the reader to imagine the stories of the Torah in a most unique way: by pairing the stories with poses from the ancient Hindu tradition.

For each pose, Rabbi Copeland guides readers through simple instructions that invite us to reach, pause and reflect as we read. In these uncertain times, what a pleasure this is. Yoga teaches us to pay attention. To breathe deeply. To stretch, meditate, and look within. To slow down. To pause and contemplate the stories referenced and the values they stand for.

Readers will learn how to execute tree pose, crescent moon pose, boat pose, downward dog, camel and others. For this review, I performed all the poses. I found Rabbi Copeland’s instructions easy to follow. I enjoye…

Review: Louder Than Words

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Louder Than Words by Kathy Kacer
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt

Every morning in this difficult time, I wake up and count my so numerous blessings. How my troubles pale when compared to the lives of Eldina Sternik and her family, as told by Kathy Kacer. With only the vocabulary available to her as the author of a book designed for Middle Schoolers, she has retold the remarkable story of how the three Sternik children were saved by Nina Pukas. It is set in Proskurov, a small town in the Ukraine, beginning in 1941. A world comes to life for us. As the terror mounts, public places are closed to Jews, jobs lost, and the Sterik’s house is burned down, either by Nazi’s or hoodlums inspired by Nazis. Finally, Mrs. Sternik is arrested by the Nazis. Through it all, at great danger to herself, Nina protects the children as her own as she guides them through the rest of the war. As twelve year old Dina tells us the story, we feel the increased tension and terror, as well …

Review: Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom

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Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom by Sarah Aroeste, illustrated by Ayesha L. Rubio Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Bridget Hodder

BUEN SHABAT, SHABBAT SHALOM is a board book. The text comprises one playful, free-rhyming couplet for each double page, setting the calm and happy scene of a loving Sephardic family celebrating Shabbat. But...how important can a board book be?

Quite important, as it turns out.

Since the authentic Jewish culture and Ladino language of the Sephardim are in danger of disappearing from the world, and are particularly invisible in the United States, it's important to raise awareness. It's also important to start educating our children about Sephardic culture very early. In literary terms, you can't get an earlier start than within the chunky cardboard pages of a board book.

The Sephardic author, Sarah Aroeste, is also a singer-songwriter, making her a wonderful voice to "chant" the simple, sacred pleasures of her culture's Shabbat (&…

Review: They Went Left

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They Went Left by Monica Hesse
Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Meira Drazin

Eighteen years old in 1945 when the Gross-Rosen concentration camp is liberated, Zofia Lederman’s body and mind are left shattered. But she cannot forget or give up on her promise to find her little brother Abek—the only one from her family beside her not to be sent to the left when they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau three years before—no matter what. So begins Monica Hesse’s THEY WENT LEFT, with Zofia first setting off for her former home in Sosnowiec, Poland and then across Poland and Germany to a displaced persons camp, where everyone is trying to piece together a future from a broken past.

Although I personally write contemporary Jewish literature for children, I am very thankful that Holocaust literature is still being written by authors, bought by publishers, and read by new generations of young people. And I welcome in particular books such as THEY WENT LEFT that seek to shine a light on aspects of w…

Review: Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?

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Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Kyle Reed
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer:  Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

Reminiscent of the style of a Dr. Seuss story, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? is about the ziz, a mythological big bird that is referred to in ancient Jewish writings.

Alongside Reed’s whimsical and colorful artwork that gives the book a fantasy world feel, the reader learns how a ziz looks and behaves, during the day and at night. Written in rhyming verse, the vocabulary is both simple (hat / cat / bat) and more advanced (prehistoric / absurd / creation / lofty). There are also several Seussian words in the book; in this story, where what would be the real word, is replaced by a made-up rhyming word that begins with the letter ‘z’ (zis instead of this, zat instead of that, zings instead of sings, zee instead of see). This use of the ‘z’ sound will appeal to younger children, especially when the book is read aloud. Additionally, some of the w…

Review: The Boy Who Thought Outside The Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

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The Boy Who Thought Outside The Box: The story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer by Marcie Wessels , illustrated by Beatriz Castro Categoary: Picture Books
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott

A picture book biography that traces the life of Ralph Baer from his childhood in Cologne, Germany to his adult life in New York where he becomes the “Father of Video Games.” But such a journey is never easy. Once he is forbidden from attending school because he is Jewish, Ralph is determined to learn English, which helps his family escape Nazi Germany in 1938. His childhood fascination with gears and construction, and the emergence of radio and television sets him on a path towards electrotonic engineering. Long before anyone thinks of using a television for playing a game, Ralph and a team of engineers build the first TV game system. Unfortunately, no company wants to support it. Ralph never gives up. Magnavox’s Odyssey is the first game system sold in 1972, “forever chang[ing] the way we play.”

The Boy Wh…

Review: Havdalah is Coming!

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Havdalah Is Coming by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
Category: Picture Books (Board Book)
Reviewer: Mirele Kessous

Tracy Newman has a formula for her board books, and it works. Following on the success of Shabbat is Coming! she now has Havdalah is Coming!.

Simple 2-line rhymes grace each page and conclude with the phrase “Havdalah is coming.” This is nothing exceptionally creative, but it works for little kids, who will memorize it quickly enough. The language is appropriate for the baby through age 4 audience. The illustrations by Viviana Garofoli are bright and engaging. She does include one token person of color in the end—kudos. If you want to play it safe, pick this up for your little tyke. It won’t rock the boat.

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Reviewer Mirele says: I am a certified librarian with a specialty in children's and young adult library services. This is my 7th year working at The Charles E. Smith …