Review: We Go to Shul

We Go to Shul

by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Hannal Tolson


Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Ruth Horowitz

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.

Jewish traditions are specifically and meticulously detailed. The men all wear kippot. All the girls and women dress modestly, with long sleeves and ankle-length skirt, except for a woman going into the bakery, who wears a knee-length dress and boots. At shul, men and women sit separately, but the girls proudly sing out loud. Back home, the Shabbat meal includes challah, a salad, a pot of what appears to be cholent, and wine for the parents. The family is white, but the congregation includes a few people of color.

Some of the rhymes don’t quite land. And from my perspective, the final couplet, “Our prayers are done. We had such fun!” feels a bit forced. But other readers will no doubt respond differently. Quibbles aside, this attractive, age-appropriate, religion-positive presentation of Jewish observance for very young children by a mainstream publisher is long-overdue, and most welcome.

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Reviewer Ruth Horowitz is a writer living in Rhode Island. Her most recent books are SAVING ELI'S LIBRARY (Albert Whitman 2020) and ARE WE STILL FRIENDS (Scholastic 2017).