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Showing posts from October, 2021

Review: Paris Secrets

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Paris Secrets: A Jake McGreevy Novel by Sean Vogel MB Publishing Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org Paris Secrets: A Jake McGreevy Novel immediately reminded me of the Bobbsey Twins mysteries. With their wide-eyed innocence, ability to get adults in authority to help them, good manners, and overall wholesomeness, I expected 15-year-old protagonist Jake and his friend and baking partner Ben to exclaim “Gee whiz!” at any moment. While the book is aimed at readers ages 10 and up, I suspect that most of today’s tweens would consider themselves too sophisticated for it.   Paris Secrets follows Jake and Ben as they head to Paris, France for a baking competition. Jake brings with him a photograph from 1940 that belonged to Jake’s dead mother. The only thing he knows about the photograph is that it was taken in Paris.   As you might expect of a photo taken of a Jewish family in Paris in 1940, the Nazis are not far behind.   With improbab

Review: Chunky

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 Chunky written & illustrated by Yehudi Mercado Katherine Tegan Books (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego   Buy at Bookshop.org Meet Chunky: a hot pink, big-eyed, blue-tongued drawing come to life, courtesy of Yehudi Mercado’s vibrant imagination.    In this fictionalized version of his childhood, after a doctor recommends Hudi lose weight, his parents decide he should find a sport. Hudi would much rather develop his comedy or art skills, and it doesn’t help that he is remarkably accident-prone. He gets hit with the ball twice when he tries baseball, sprains his ankle off the field during a soccer game, and has to quit swimming when a hand injury must be kept dry.   At home, Hudi’s family is struggling financially and trying to prepare for his sister’s Bat Mitzvah. Hudi is supposed to memorize a reading for the service, but he is much more concerned with how he can make people laugh.   As Hudi’s personal mascot and biggest

Review: Whistle

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 Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero  by E. Lockhart, illustrated by Manuel Preitano DC Comics Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Willow Zimmerman is a white Jewish teen activist in Gotham City's Down River neighborhood, who gets mixed up in the criminal underworld in order to support her cancer-stricken mother. When an attack by Killer Croc leaves her with dog-like superpowers, she becomes Whistle, a hero who defends the neighborhood against crime, along with her Great Dane sidekick Lebowitz. Manuel Preitano's illustrations give us a female superhero who is portrayed as a realistic physically fit young woman, who devises a hero outfit that is comfortable and practical. She has a proud Jewish nose and big, curly, frizzy hair. Her bestie is Latinx and her crush is Black. These small details add up to a story that feels modern and real. First-person narration puts readers in the middle of the action, and in the middle of Willow's ethical quandar

Review: The Renegade Reporters

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 The Renegade Reporters by Elissa Brent Weissman Dial Books (Penguin Random House) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Mozer Buy at Bookshop.org When Ash and her best friend Maya are suspended from the school news team for accidentally sharing an inappropriate report, they know in their hearts they can't stay away from the news. They decide to become renegade reporters, and create their own online news program. When a story about the company that gives the school its software falls in their laps, they have to decide whether they will continue to report alone or if they will do what is best for the story. This book would be a perfect addition to a library media curriculum that explores online safety and digital citizenship. The Judaism in this story is built into the character. As Ash is following her news story, she is also celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and sharing her family's traditions. The book has positive and authentic Jewish religious or cultural content, i

Review: Sundays with Savta

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Sundays with Savta by Wiley Blevins, illustrated by Eliahou Eric Bokobza Reycraft Books (imprint of Newmark Learning LLC) Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer   Buy at Bookshop.org When the unnamed protagonist’s grandmother visits from Israel, Savta takes her grandson to the Statue of Liberty and to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan (unnamed in the text). Grandmother and grandson enter a series of rooms with paintings representing Jewish holidays and certain events in Israeli history; Savta identifies each holiday and shares a family story about it. Although he is planning to celebrate his bar mitzvah in Israel in less than 2 years, the boy seems to know nearly nothing about Jewish holidays. It strains credulity that an 11-year-old who plans on having a bar mitzvah would have so little familiarity with Jewish holidays and traditions. When the boy goes to Israel a year and a half later, we learn that his grandmother has died. He goes to visit her gr

Review: The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

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 The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler by Karen Pokras Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Mozer Buy at Bookshop.org Growing up in a factory town in the 1970s, eleven year old Danny Wexler has always known he was the only Jewish kid in town, but it hasn't really affected him. That is, until his father gets a promotion and some of the other workers don't think he deserves it because he's Jewish. Fortunately, Danny's two good friends stand with him and support him and together they try to solve a mystery inspired by a movie about the Bermuda Triangle and a white van. This book meets the Sydney Taylor criteria because it is appropriate for the intended grade level in style, vocabulary, format, and illustration, is solidly rooted in authentic and accurate detail through scholarship and research by the author, and it has positive and authentic Jewish religious or cultural content. I particularly liked how the author e

Review: Bubbe and Bart's Matzoh Ball Mayhem

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Bubbe and Bart's Matzoh Ball Mayhem by Bonnie Grubman, illustrated by Deborah Melmon Intergalactic Afikomen Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Lila Spitz  Buy at Bookshop.org In this playful and entertaining book, chaos ensues when Bubbe and her Jewish puppy Bart cook matzoh ball soup for Shabbat dinner. As the matzoh balls bubble out of the pot, Bart playfully catches them in order from one to seven. Grubman’s use of rhyming couplets, figurative language, and clever word choices create an educational and lively story for young readers. The projectile matzoh balls in the book serve multiple purposes; to teach readers to count and to keep intended readers engaged with the story. The cartoon-like illustrations convey a welcoming and playful environment familiar to young readers. The characters featured in the story are diverse in age and country of origin. School-aged children, parents and a grandparent are represented in the story. The book incorporates characters with diverse skin

Review: Avi and Ahmed Play Football in Jerusalem's Sacher Park

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Avi and Ahmed Play Football in Jerusalem's Sacher Park  by Kerry Olitzky & Inas Younis, illustrated by Leticia Saad Dixi Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss Buy at Dixi Books The plot of this pleasantly illustrated and simply told picture book focuses on misunderstandings between friends—nearly six-year-old Jewish Avi and his Arab friend Ahmed. The story is set in the heart of Jerusalem and the two boys enjoy playing together on the grassy lawns of Jerusalem’s largest public park, Gan Sacher. The misunderstandings are gentle: an American cousin introduces confusion about the terms football and soccer and Avi worries when his Ahmed doesn’t show up for his birthday party in another Jerusalem park. Avi calls his parents by the Hebrew terms Abba and Ima and we see a small kippa on Avi’s head. Ahmed’s culture is given a nod when it is explained that he knows the hour he is expected to go home when he hears the call to prayer from a nearby mosque. Alas, that is a

Review: Eddie Whatever

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 Eddie Whatever by Lois Ruby Carolrhoda Books (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Shirley Reva Vernick Buy at Bookshop.org For his bar mitzvah project, 13-year-old Eddie Lewin volunteers at the Silver Brook retirement home, where the residents call him “Eddie Whatever” rather than bothering to remember his last name. Eddie expects his “sentence” to be a bore, but at least his friend/crush Tessa is volunteering there too. Soon, the resident seniors topple Eddie’s assumptions about the dullness of elderly people. Their lives are filled with secrets, courtships, the rumor of a vengeful ghost, and drama over repeated robberies. When Eddie gets blamed for the thefts, he and Tessa work together to solve the riddles at Silver Brook.   Filled with humor, poignancy and mystery, Eddie Whatever explores the realities of aging in a fast-paced story that will draw in middle-grade readers. And there’s more. When Eddie learns that one of the residents is

Review: Thank You, Modeh Ani

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 Thank You, Modeh Ani by Rabbi Alyson Solomon, illustrated by Bryony Clarkson Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House) Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Dena Bach Buy at Bookshop.org It’s hard to keep still while reading Rabbi Alyson Solomon’s Thank You, Modeh Ani . This is definitely a book that should be read aloud, with plenty of wiggle room for the child readers to stand, dance, and clap along with the narrative. Solomon’s book is a fine interpretation of Modeh Ani and Asher Yatzar, two prayers that are said upon waking up, that understands the physicality of these prayers that celebrate all the things that the human body can do. A note at the end further explains the prayers and their context and how the reader can incorporate them into their day. Bryony Taylor’s collage illustrations are lovely and lively and are fully in keeping with the call of the text to wake up and move. Taylor brings all kinds of diversity that are not specified in the narrative, including the di

Review: Aftermath

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 Aftermath by Emily Barth Isler Carolrhoda (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz   Aftermath joins other modern explorations of grief for young people such as Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy, All Three Stooges by Erica Perl, and Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder. This book, uniquely, contemplates not only personal loss but communal loss.  Middle schooler Lucy's little brother Theo has recently died from a heart defect, and the family's attempt at a fresh start in a new town means that Lucy loses her school and her friends along with her home. Even worse, the fictional DC-area town to which they move is deeply scarred by a school shooting that happened four years ago. Lucy feels that her own grief can't compete with that of her new schoolmates, but finally starts to heal through an after school mime class which encourages her to express her feelings, through befriending the unfairly ostracized sister of the dea

Review: Shabbat Shalom

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 Shabbat Shalom by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Hannah Tolson Candlewick Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck Buy at Bookshop.org This board book has few words and colorful, cute illustrations. Although one would not attribute "literary quality," it definitely stands out in the category. The rhymes are very simple, "We hurry home. Shabbat Shalom!" The pictures are what make the book interesting, as they depict an observant family, with the father, grandfather and son wearing huge kippot, and the mother and grandmother wearing head coverings that look like babushkas from the shtetl. If I were going to nit pick, I would change “A prayer is said on challah bread” to “a blessing is said” and for “the food is sweet,” I would change the picture from chicken soup to dessert. That said, the book meets the Sydney Taylor Book Award criteria with its authentic, positive presentation of the Sabbath for the very youngest children. Are you interested in reviewing b

Review: We Go to Shul

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We Go to Shul by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Hannal Tolson Candlewick Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Ruth Horowitz Buy at Bookshop.org On Shabbat morning, two little girls wake up in a bright bedroom filled with toys and books. They get dressed and walk with their mother and father past a bakery and a fruit seller, to shul. When they arrive, the doors there are open and people are outside greeting each other. Inside, the girls and their mother sit upstairs with the other women and watch the Torah being read downstairs. Then the Torah is held up, outspread, while everyone sings and feels proud. Then the family walks back home and has lunch. Like so many stories for the youngest readers, this board book simply depicts an event from everyday life in short, rhyming couplets. What makes We Go To Shul out of the ordinary is that it shows a Jewish family observing a traditional Shabbat. What makes it extraordinary is that it’s published by Candlewick, a mainstream press. Jewi

Review: The Rabbi and the Painter

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The Rabbi and the Painter by Shoshana Weiss, illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing) Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org This work of historical fiction imagines a friendship between Rabbi Judah Aryeh and the famous painter known as Tintoretto, who both lived in Venice during the mid-late 16th century. While it is true that Rabbi Judah had an unusual amount of interaction with non-Jews for the time, there is no evidence that he and Tintoretto ever met. The book focuses on a single painting of Tintoretto, depicting The Last Supper, commissioned by a Venetian church. Weiss proposes that Rabbi Judah advised Tintoretto on the composition of the painting, which seems, perhaps, a bit far-fetched. The ending of the book, in which the painting is accepted by the church, is somewhat abrupt.    The illustrations portray the expressions and personalities of the rabbi and the painter vividly. The reader can

Review: Linked

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LINKED by Gordon Korman Scholastic Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Meira Drazin Buy at Bookshop.org When a large swastika spray-painted in red is found in the middle school of a small quiet town in Colorado at the opening of Gordon Korman’s new book LINKED, everyone is shocked. Who would do such a thing? And why? The school takes swift and immediate action, organizing a comprehensive tolerance program that spans weeks. But this is when things get interesting from a narrative structure, because rather than the tolerance training being the solution, neatly tying things up ... more swastikas begin appearing. Law enforcement, residents of the town and the principal of the middle school are flummoxed: now what? The kids feel helpless and enraged. Inspired by the famous 1998 Paper Clips Project by eighth graders from Whitwell Middle School in Tennessee, the students at Korman’s Chokecherry Middle School respond by coming up with their own plan to try to understand the enormity of the Holoca

Review: Boy From Buchenwald

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Boy from Buchenwald: The True Story of a Holocaust Survivor by Robbie Waisman with Susan McClelland Bloomsbury Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman Buy at Bookshop.org I never cease to be amazed at the sheer quality of details some Holocaust survivors share in their testimonies, as if they were able, using today’s slang, to create screenshots to then use at a later date. Robbie Waisman is a master at this. This book is part memoir, part ‘how to’ on the power of resilience.  In 1945, Robbie’s life was turned upside down. The baby in his happy family, at age 14 his life goes from bad to worse as Hitler invades Poland. The reader is carried away with Robbie on his journey, through his fears and panic. The reader doesn’t witness physical horrors, but emotional ones, as Robbie tells his story. But always, his resilience is strengthened, buoyed up, by small family memories and by remembered words and phrases his mother often told him about how to navigate life. This is the story