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Showing posts from June, 2020

Review: Too Far From Home

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...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

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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

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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!

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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

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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…

Review: The Blackbird Girls

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The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Beth Gallego

On an April morning in 1986, Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up in Pripyat, Ukraine, to a red sky full of blue smoke. Neither of their fathers have come home from the overnight shift at the nearby V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, better known as Chernobyl. Within a few days, the twelve-year-old girls are evacuated to Leningrad. Oksana is angry and afraid, not least because her father has always told her that Jews are liars and thieves, and Valentina’s family is Jewish. Valentina is resentful that her mother is sending her away to a grandmother she has never met, with a girl who has bullied her for years as company.

On an August morning in 1941, Rifka Friedman flees her Kiev home with only an older cousin and the few things they can carry, racing to escape the invading German forces. Her mother and three little brothers remain behind, and she can only hope that she will see them again.

Ch…

Review: No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon's Battle for Women's Rights in Japan

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No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon's Battle for Women's Rights in Japan by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Shiella Witanto 
Category: Picture Books
Reviewer:  Meg Wiviott

How does a 22-year-old Jewish woman come to write articles for the Japanese post-war constitution in 1946 that guarantee rights for women? No Steps Behind tells the amazing story of Beate Sirota Gordon. Born in Austria, reared in Japan, and educated in the United States, Beate ended up as the only “the only woman in [the] room.” Her gift for languages and her love of her adopted country, along with perseverance, persuasiveness, and stubbornness gave her the opportunity to change the lives of women in Japan. And why is it you’ve never heard this story before? Perhaps because the US government deemed Beate’s role “a security secret”. It was not until the 1990s that Beate was able to discuss her role.

The history contained this beautiful picture book is complex and vast. Jeff Gottesfeld touches on antisemit…

Review: The Light in Hidden Places

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The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Stacy Mozer

In The Light in Hidden Places, sixteen-year-old Stefania has to decide whether to risk her life and the life of her six-year-old sister Helena to hide a group of Jewish people when the Germans invade her town. Based on a true story, Stefania, who had been living and working with a Jewish family before the war, knows that the way the Jews in her town are being treated is not right. So when the son of her former boss shows up broken at her door after jumping off a moving train, Stefania knows that she has to help any way she can. She never expected that would lead her and her sister to hide thirteen Jews during her town's occupation, but even when things are at their worst, she never regrets her choice.

The Light in Hidden Places is a story of heroism and hope when people and life is at its worst. It's about standing up for what you believe is right. I love how the author uses small momen…

Review: Alligator Seder

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Alligator Seder by Jessica Hickman, illustrated by Elissambura Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Lila Spitz
This board book by first-time author and native Floridian, Jessica Hikman, chronicles a family of alligators as they prepare-for and celebrate Passover.

The book incorporates an A, B, C, B end rhyming pattern. For example:

A Every year in Florida,
B Our favorite sunshine state,
C A very special family
B takes out its Seder plate.

The book also includes information about alligators such as their habitat and their physical features. It states,“. . . Her cooking is the best in the entire Everglade. . . Their many extra teeth make for an even louder crunch. The meal is being served now, and the gators start to chomp. The delicious smells of dinner go drifting through the swamp”.

The illustrator used layers of vibrant color and texture to create cartoon alligators and their swampy environment. The simple, yet playful illustrations depict alligators completing traditional …

Review: Asteroid Goldberg

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Asteroid Goldberg: Passover in Outer Space by Brianna Caplan Sayres, illustrated by Merrill Rainey Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Fern Richardson

Asteroid Goldberg is a rhyming picture book about a young girl’s celebration of Passover in outer space. The main character, Asteroid, finds herself unexpectedly celebrating Passover in her family’s space ship. The quick thinking girl sets off on an adventure to find creative alternatives to the usual Passover fare. She uses the big dipper as a ladle to scoop up Jupiter’s moons, which Asteroid envisions as matzo balls. Saturn’s rings become matzo, while Jupiter’s red spot fills in for horseradish. The rest of the story is a good-humored explanation of how a seder might look in a zero gravity situation.

Brianna Caplan Sayres manages to fit a lot of Passover information into fun story over 15 spreads. Some of the humor, children will get; some only parents will enjoy. For example, the Jupiter moon matzo balls float right out of the soup b…