Review: My First Baal Shem Tov Book

My First Baal Shem Tov Book by Yosef Kaufmann, illustrated by Mira Simon

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili 

In clearly written rhyming verse, My First Baal Shem Tov Book is about the little boy Yisroel, affectionately called Yisrolik, who grows up to become the renowned Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement in the early 18th century. As a child, he learned from his father, “That Hashem is always with him – That there’s nothing else to fear.” This is the message that Yisrolik passes on to the other children as well, in the rhyming refrain that author Yosef Kauffman smoothly incorporates throughout the story. Mira Simon’s illustrations are gentle and breathtaking, especially the ones depicting outdoor scenes. Children will be able to relate to the message of the Baal Shem Tov (which means Master of the Good Name) as the story and illustrations end in contemporary times with fears that are common to many children, such as experiencing a storm, coming down a big slide or going off to school by themselves on the school bus, perhaps for the first time. A note at the end of the book provides more information about Reb Yisroel.

My First Baal Shem Tov Book is an important contribution to Jewish children’s literature, bringing to light a glimpse into the childhood of Reb Yisroel, who was famous for loving every Jew with all his heart. In today’s new world, when children face unprecedented fears about so many areas of life, the message of this book for young children is both timely and timeless.

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Reviewer Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili is the author of several books for children including THE MYSTERY OF THE LOST WATCH, I LOVE MATZAH, THERE’S A REASON WHY!, and GOLDIE AND THE GUESTS. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, a children’s book illustrator, and their team of future writers and illustrators. (Bio illustration courtesy of Michael Biniashvili.)