Showing posts from August, 2020

Review: Dancing at the Pity Party

Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder
Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt
Tyler Feder got it right. Her graphic novel “Dancing at the Pity Party: a Dead Mom Graphic Memoir” is first and foremost honest about a subject we shy away from discussing.

In the spring of Tyler’s sophomore year at college, her very special Mom, aged 47, dies. We are told the whole story in this book that is also heart felt and heart warming, very sad, and very funny. Yes, you will cry, but you will also laugh. We meet Tyler’s Mom, then follow the unfolding story, from first symptoms to diagnosis, death, burial, and, importantly, forever after, including those important firsts in the new and strange world of no Mom.

This is a warm and loving family, portrayed with all its quirks. We learn what about Mom’s illness and death, but even more important we get to know Tyler’s and her family’s responses. A wonderful, refreshing honesty can be felt throughout the book…

Review: We'll Soon Be Home Again

We'll Soon by Home Again by Jessica Bab Bonde, illustrated by Peter Bergting, translated by Jessica Bab Bonde and Sunshine Barbito Reviewer: Meira Drazin Category: Young Adult
Billed as a graphic novel, it’s hard to categorize WE’LL SOON BE HOME AGAIN by Jessica Bab Bonde and Peter Bergting. Published to critical acclaim in Sweden in 2018 and now published in the US by Dark Horse Comics, with translation by Bab Bonde and Sunshine Barbito, WE’LL SOON BE HOME AGAIN is a slim volume that tells the testimonies of six Holocaust survivors in graphic format. But its spare presentation packs a punch.

Tobias, Livia, Selma, Susanna, Emerich and Elisabeth were all children when WWII and the Nazis cast their tentacles over their lives. As it says in the excellent foreword, the point of the book is that these children started out like “you and me”—possibly better—born into safety and comfort. And while the horrific results of racism and antisemitism were taking place, too many people “lo…

Review: Turtle Boy

Turtle Boy by M. Evan WolkensteinCategory: Middle Grade Reviewer: Ruth Horowitz
Will Levine, a.k.a. Turtle Boy, has a thing about turtles. He’s facing surgery to correct a medical problem that’s making his chin recede, and has inspired his humiliating nickname. When life gets tough, he hides inside a psychological shell. On a more positive note, he’s fascinated by actual turtles – but he collects them illegally from the Back 40, a beloved wild area. Will Will summon the courage to undergo surgery? Will he learn to face life’s difficulties? What will happen to his turtles? Will developers destroy the Back 40? Enter Rabbi Harris. Will needs to perform a community service for his upcoming bar mitzvah, and the rabbi arranges visits to RJ, a wise-cracking, punk-rock drummer teen who’s dying at a local hospital. Can fulfilling the mitzvah of visiting the sick make Will a better, stronger person?

Short, snappy chapters and a lively first-person narrator keep this multiple-thread story …

Review: Not Your All-American Girl

Not Your All-American Girl by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long ShangCategory: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz

In 2017, Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang came out with This is Just a Test, the story of David Da Wei Horowitz, a 12-year-old, half-Jewish, half-Chinese boy, set in the 1980s. Now, in 2020, the authors have written Not Your All-American Girl, the story of David’s younger sister, Lauren. In Not Your All-American Girl, Lauren faces friendship hiccups and the thinly veiled prejudice of her school drama teacher. Lauren sings beautifully and kills her audition for the school musical, but her best friend Tara is cast as the lead. The drama teacher tells Lauren that she just doesn’t look like the all-American girl that Tara embodies. Lauren’s musical talent, along with her dark hair and culturally mixed features, land her in the ensemble. Lauren is disappointed and confused, but she ends up making friends with other ensemble members, even as her friendship with T…

Review: Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?

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.

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, real words are replaced by made-up rhyming words beginning 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 words are written in bigger fonts and s…

Review: Clarence's Topsy Turvy Shabbat

Clarence's Topsy Turvy Shabbat by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod, illustrated by Jennie Poh Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

Clarence’s Topsy Turvy Shabbat by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod is a sweet story of preparing for Shabbat that is sure to appeal to preschoolers. Clarence seems to not know what he is doing, but in the end it turns out he had a plan all along. It’s best not to think too hard about why he needed a bunny to help him get Shabbat supplies, but children will be too entertained to care about any plot holes. Clarence and his friends, including a goofy, not-too-scary monster, welcome Shabbat happily yet peacefully, a mood enhanced by the muted palette.

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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-elementary-school librarian. A native New Yorker, she lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters. In addition to reading, she loves to bake and to do crossword puzzles.

Review: Becoming Brianna

Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson
Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz

Becoming Brianna is the fourth book in author/illustrator Terri Libenson’s Emmie & Friends series and the first book of the series to focus solely on a Jewish main character. The book opens with a prologue: 13-year-old Brianna nervously steps out from behind a curtain for some kind of performance. She’s so anxious, in fact, that she imagines herself tied to railroad tracks as a train approaches. Brianna’s bat mitzvah ceremony is about to begin. From there, narrator Brianna moves eight months back in time and chronicles her harrowing friendship struggles, overwhelming bat mitzvah preparations, and bickering divorced parents, all leading up to that moment behind the curtain. Interspersed with these chapters are scenes from the bat mitzvah day itself, told through comic-like illustrations of Brianna panicking about forgetting her Hebrew and screwing up her speech. Not quite a graphic novel, Becoming B…

I Am the Tree of Life: My Jewish Yoga Book

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…