Review: Sunday with Savta

Sunday with Savta

by Wiley Blevins, illustrated by Eliahou Eric Bokobza

Reycraft Books (imprint of Newmark Learning LLC)

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer

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 grave, and realizes that her stories were a gift to him, that he will pass along. 
The mixed media art, which includes black-and-white photo backdrops a la Knuffle Bunny, is appealing, although the characters' oversized eyes are somewhat disturbing. The illustrations include a few Jews of color. The appearance of Savta's  gravestone may be jarring to younger readers.
The backmatter gives an extremely cursory explanation of Jewish holidays and life cycle events, that may create more questions than they answer. For example, Lag B'Omer is described: "This is a traditional day of mourning. People light bonfires, go on picnics or camping, and get their hair cut." While accurate, explanations like these are likely to engender confusion. Additionally, the back matter ignores non-Orthodox celebrations by, for example, stating that b’not mitzvah occur at age 12, while the Reform and Conservative movements often celebrate them at 13.
A book that does not quite live up to its promise.

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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-unemployed elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 16 and 13, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.