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Showing posts from April, 2020

Review: The Generous Fish

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The Generous Fish by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Frances Tyrrell Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Ruth Horowitz

When Reuven follows his father’s advice to cast his bread on the waters, he ends up feeding a fish, who repays him with one of his golden scales. Reuven’s needy neighbors see the golden scale and for scales of their own. The fish gives and gives, until he has only one scale left, and is barely alive. Finally, Reuven tells his neighbors they have taken too much. The neighbors restore the fish to health with soup and honey, and thank Reuven for reminding them that all creatures are important. The message here – not to take too much from nature – is a welcome alternative to The Giving Tree. And it’s great to see this message presented to a general audience in the context of Jewish values.

Jules’ writing is lively, engaging, and age-appropriate. Although Tyrell’s figures are sometimes stiff, the art is a feast for the eyes, especially the inset mini-illustrations and mari…

Review: Lilah Tov / Good Night

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Lilah Tov / Good Night by Ben Bundersheimer (Mister G), illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Beth Gallego

In this lyrical bedtime book, a deceptively simple text is set beside an immigration story told through the illustrations. Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G) adapts a Hebrew lullaby into rhyming English text that flows with natural rhythm when read aloud. Noar Lee Naggan’s digitally colored pencil sketches suffuse each double-page spread with intense color and animated style. The family - a little girl with dark braids and red kerchief, her bearded father in his flat cap, and her mother, who wears a scarf over her hair and carries a baby in her arms or on her back - eat a simple meal in a small house. The sun sets outside the window, where a golden menorah gleams on the sill. On the next page, “The moon is rising, / big and bright / Time to wish everyone / good night” while Father fastens the menorah to a large pack and Mother ties the red kerchief over her …

Review: Flowers in the Gutter

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Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K.R. Gaddy Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego

Drawing on memoirs, oral histories, and Gestapo archives, this rigorously-researched volume focuses on Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean, children growing up in and around Cologne during the 1930s and early 1940s. All of them were working class, and none of them were Jewish: Gertrud’s father was arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp for Communist activities, and Jean’s father, aunt, and grandmother were also arrested for Communist affiliations. Through a tight focus on these three individuals, Gaddy brings to life a larger story of resistance with which many readers will be unfamiliar. Fritz, Gertrud, and Jean were among hundreds of teenagers who found refuge in local groups called Edelweiss Pirates. They enjoyed singing, hiking, and camping in the nearby mountains, following the model of earlier Bündische Jugend (“free-federa…

Review: Catherine's War

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Catherine's War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz

Set in 1942 France, Catherine’s War tells the story of Rachel Cohen, a student at the Sèvres Children’s Home outside of Paris. Rachel loves her school and teachers, and it is at Sèvres that she discovers a passion for photography. But as the Nazis’ grip on France tightens, Rachel is forced to change her name to Catherine Colin and flee. Armed with nothing but her camera, Catherine moves from hiding place to hiding place. Along the way, she chronicles both the chilling transformation of her country under Nazi occupation and the bravery of everyday heroes on her journey. This graphic novel is based on the wartime experiences of author Julia Billet’s mother, with lovely, expressive illustrations by artist Claire Fauvel. Fauvel uses a muted palette of browns, greens, and grays to emphasize the fatiguing nature of Catherine’s life as she must relocate again and again. Also im…

Reviewers Wanted

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The Sydney Taylor Shmooze is off to a great start, and at this time we are opening our reviewing program to additional volunteers. There are still over fifty books left to evaluate this year, and we need you! Please fill out this form to be considered as a reviewer for The Shmooze.

A review on a mock award blog is a little different than one in a review journal. The main focus is on how or if the book meets the criteria for the award.

We currently do not have access to publisher review copies for this blog, so we do ask that reviewers try to locate the books in a local or Judaic library. If you decide to purchase your own copy, we suggest supporting your local independent bookseller or using Bookshop.org.

Review: The Passover Mouse

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The Passover Mouse by Joy Nelkin Wieder, illustrated by Shahar Kober Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Gigi Perlman Pagliarulo

An esoteric yet entertaining Talmudic conundrum is this basis for this lively, insightful and ultimately uplifting Passover story. Lonely widow Rivka has just finished fastidiously sweeping her home clean of chometz when a mischievous mouse steals a piece of bread from the pile of crumbs to be burnt and escapes. Thus ensues a wild and silly chase across the village and through houses, worrying frustrated villagers that there is ever more hidden chometz in their homes to clean before sundown. The wise town Rabbi consults the Talmud and returns a characteristically cryptic answer: “the matter is not decided,” so the townspeople must clean their homes once again to be sure. As they band together to clean and cook for the Seder, a sense of community spirit, forgiveness and togetherness draws all to Rivka’s usually empty home to celebrate Passover in friendship …

Review: I Love Matzah

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I Love Matzah by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili, illustrated by Angelika Scudamore Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Jeff Gottesfeld

This is the perfect time to review a board book for very young children about the pleasures and perils of eating matzah, smack in the midst of the Pesach holiday itself. Biniashvili has penned a simple, short, rhyming story about a toddler child (could be a boy could be a girl, though this male reviewer initially interpreted the art as a boy) who eats matzah in many ways through the Passover holiday -- for breakfast, with cheese, with carrots, and even for dessert. The rhymes are highlighted in the text, easy enough for a child to catch as the book is read loud, and it's easy to imagine happy shouting of rhymes like fish/dish, away/tray, stroll/bowl, and noon/spoon. There are plenty of cues for the Passover holiday, too, with the child eating from special Passover plates, drinking from Passover cups, and a little brother wearing a bib that asks p…

Review: Miriam at the River

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Miriam at the River by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Khoa Le Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

This is a beautifully told, exquisitely illustrated midrash about Miriam putting her brother, Moses, into the Nile River to save him from Pharaoh’s death decree. Jane Yolen is a master storyteller, and she once again proves this with simple words, written in free verse as lilting and calming as the river’s water. The reader learns about Miriam and her prophecies regarding Moses. She has seen the Pharaoh’s daughter pick her brother from the water. She has seen the Red Sea part, and while she is not sure what all her visions mean, she knows that her brother will live to become a great man.

The illustrations are breathtaking. Using digital methods supplemented by traditional overlays of watercolor and natural textures, and blues, browns and splashes of red - the colors of the river, the strength of Miriam, the calmness of Moses, and the beauty of Pharaoh’s daughter unfold.

Of p…

Review: Welcoming Elijah

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Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal Category: Picture Book
Reviewer: Anna Caplan

In Lesléa Newman’s gentle picture book Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail, the Passover seder is rich with sensory experience. It’s also a little bit magical.

Using simple, lyrical prose, Newman takes readers on a journey through two separate worlds: a boy experiences the seder indoors while a stray kitten wanders outside. Although the boy and the kitten occupy different spaces, their experiences echo one another:

Inside, the boy dipped
parsley into salt water.

Outside, the kitten chewed
A wet blade of grass.

Inside, the boy broke
the middle matzo in half.

outside, the kitten split
a twig in two.

This soothing pattern of phrases beginning with “inside” and “outside” continues throughout the book. The repetition propels readers forward towards the inevitable meeting between boy and kitten. When they eventually meet, the moment is…