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Showing posts from May, 2020

Review: A Persian Princess

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A Persian Princess by Barbara Diamond Goldin, illustrated by Steliyana Doneva Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Jane Kohuth

In this book, Raya, a contemporary young Persian American Jewish girl, celebrates Purim with her family and friends from her neighborhood. Raya bakes koloocheh, traditional Persian Purim cookies with her stylish grandmother Maman joon, who recounts eating the crunchy cookies shaped like little “Hamans,” (the Purim villain) when she was a child in Hamadan, Iran. Raya is disappointed that she is not old enough to be in the Religious School Purim play like her brother Nati, who is playing the important role of Mordecai, Queen Esther’s cousin. Raya wants to be a sparkly princess for Purim, so, to cheer her up, Maman joon takes her up to her bedroom, which is decorated with colorful Persian items, perhaps brought from Iran. Maman joon wraps Raya in layers of colorful scarves and strands of gold coins to create a Persian princess costume.

Raya is delighted with her…

Review: Sweet Tamales for Purim

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Sweet Tamales for Purim by Barbara Bietz, illustrated by John Kanzler Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Kathy Bloomfield

This charming story is set in the American Southwest during the late 1800s and was inspired by a Purim Ball hosted by the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society of Tucson, AZ. The whole town is invited to the Purim Ball. Rebecca plans to attend in her Esther costume, while her best friend, Luis, decides to go as a vaquero, (Spanish for cowboy). Rebecca explains Purim to Luis, including drawing out the story of Esther and describing how graggers are used to blot out Hamen’s name. When they discover that their wayward goat, Kitzel, has eaten all the hamantaschen, Mama sadly says there will be no cookies this year – all the flour, butter and apricot jam are gone. Unfortunately, Luis’ mama does not any of the ingredients either. Fortunately, she does have masa (corn flour) and raisins, enough to make sweet tamales for Purim.

The story is told in clear, engaging language tha…

How Are You, Readers?

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Our next few reviews will feature Purim and Passover stories, just a little out of season. This topsy turvy posting seems fitting in our current pandemic situation, where things feel so mixed up. It made us think that this was a good time to check in and see how everyone is doing.

How are you, readers? If you like, let us know in the comments. We hope that you and your loved ones are staying healthy and safe. We want to acknowledge the amazing job being done by our Shmooze reviewers, who are persevering despite the chaos. We hope that our continuing stream of book reviews brings a little normalcy to you, and helps showcase great titles that aren't getting their normal exposure in bookstores and libraries.

Above you can see Shmooze editor Susan Kusel in a Highlights Foundation Zoom meeting held on April 27, 2020 for members of the Jewish Kidlit Mavens Facebook group. Panelists Susan Kusel, Linda Epstein, Becca Podos, Erica Perl, Ruth Horowitz, and Veera Hiranandani discussed issue…

Review: I Have a Jewish Name

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I Have a Jewish Name by Rochel Vorst, illustrated by Dena Ackerman Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

Shakespeare asks, “What’s in name?” in the most famous soliloquy of Romeo and Juliet. In the latest offering from Hachai Publishing, I Have a Jewish Name, Vorst answers the question from a Jewish perspective.

In simple, rhyming text that a young child will easily understand, the author explains when and how Jewish boys and girls receive their Jewish name. With questions directed to the reader, children will immediately be captivated with wonder about the story behind their own unique names. This uniqueness is underscored on the inside covers with personalized hand-written name tags, featuring names that are either Yiddish or Hebrew in origin, common or rare in usage. Some are written in Hebrew printed letters, some in Hebrew script; others are written in English, printed in capitals or with lower-case letters or in script. Children, and even adults, …

Review: Yes, No, Maybe So

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Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: A.R. Vishny

This book, about two teens falling in love while working together on a local election, is a sweet, joyful read. It follows Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman, two soon-to-be high school seniors paired together to canvass for the Democratic candidate running in their district. Jamie, who is Jewish, is trying to shore up his public-speaking skills for his sister’s Bat Mitzvah. Maya, who is South-Asian and Muslim, is looking for a distraction from a Ramadan filled with unwelcomed changes and disappointments. An antisemitic meme making rounds in the community and a proposed law banning Hijabs force both teens to consider the best way forward to fight bigotry in their backyard.

The book alternates between Maya and Jamie's points of view, with the first person narration consistently strong through out. This book’s greatest strength, however, is its cast of characters. Jamie and Maya are well…

Review: We Had to be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport

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We Had to be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson Category:Middle Grade
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott

The night of November 9, 1938 made clear the precariousness of life for Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria. World leaders were outraged by the events of Kristallnacht; there were protests and condemnations, but only one country took action. Refugee advocates and Jewish leaders in England convinced the British government to accept more immigrants—specifically children. Over the next nine months, the Kindertransport rescued roughly 10,000 children under the age of seventeen from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Desperate parents put their children on trains and sent them first to Holland and then to England to be fostered by strangers speaking a foreign language in an unfamiliar land, without knowing if they would ever see them again.

This is no bland recitation of facts. Using the voices of twenty-one Kindertransport survivors and five of their r…

Review: Hard Hat Cat

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Hard Hat Cat! by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh, illustrated by Maxine Lee Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Mirele Kessous

This picture book tells the story of how a stray cat, who hangs out at a construction site in Israel, comes to find his forever home. The story is told from the perspective of Ari, a young boy who notices the cat but whose mom won’t let him keep it. Children will be able to relate to Ari’s desire to keep the stray animal and they will follow along as Ari visits all of his neighbors, trying to entice them to adopt the cat.

Kiffel-Alcheh’s writing is an unusual blend of poetry, prose, and sounds. While the plot will appeal to children as old as 8, the writing contains onomatopoeic words geared towards a much younger audience ("meow meow, bzz bzz!, bang bang," etc.). Some older children might be put off by that. Still, the pacing of the story is engaging, and Kiffel Alcheh incorporates Hebrew vocabulary as well as characters unique to Israel (the boreka man, fo…

Review: It's My Life

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It's My Life by Stacie Ramey Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Michelle Falkoff

Jenna Cohen, a teenage girl with cerebral palsy, wants two things: medical emancipation (so she can have a proper say in decisions about her treatment) and Julian Van Beck (her childhood love who moved away and has now come back). The book tracks both her decision whether to move forward with legal proceedings against her parents and her developing relationship with Julian, conducted via text messages in which she keeps her identity a secret.

While there are few surprises in how the two parallel tracks of the book progress, Ramey’s description of the Cohen family is loving and generous, and Julian is a charming romantic lead. Jenna does not come across as quite so feisty as the other characters perceive her to be, and her emancipation struggle might have been more convincing if readers were provided some additional detail about what her goals are versus what her parents want for her. She is a winning …