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Showing posts from November, 2021

Review: How to Find What You're Not Looking For

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How to Find What You're Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani Kokila (imprint of Penguin Random House) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego Buy at Bookshop.org You are nearly twelve years old, living in suburban Connecticut with your parents and 18-year-old sister, Leah. You like reading Wonder Woman comics, listening to Beatles records with Leah, and helping in your parents’ bakery. School has always been difficult; writing is especially hard, no matter how much you practice. You don’t think too much about being one of very few Jewish families in the area, and you really don’t think about your parents’ expectation that both you and Leah will one day marry nice Jewish men. Then Leah falls in love with Raj, and you’re not sure which part has your parents more upset, that he isn’t Jewish or that he is Indian. After Leah and Raj elope, your parents won’t even talk about it with you. You’re left trying to figure out who you are and what you believe.   In this midd

Review: Shield of the Maccabees

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Shield of the Maccabees: A Hanukkah Graphic Novel by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Dov Smiley Apples & Honey Press (imprint of Behrman House)   Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Leah Cypress Buy at Bookshop.org "All history books," Dara Horn has written, "fact or fiction, are really about the times in which they are written, not about the times they supposedly describe." This is particularly true when it comes to historical fiction, and it's very true about Shield of the Maccabees, Eric Kimmel and Dov Smiley's graphic novel about a friendship between a Greek boy and a Jewish boy that is fractured by the conflict between the Greeks and the Jewish Maccabees.   Kimmel uses this framework to tell a story about friendship transcending differences -- a story that should appeal greatly to its intended modern-day audience, although the main message might have made little sense to its historical characters.   Its main poi

Review: Beep Beep Bubbie

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Beep Beep Bubbie by Bonnie Sherr Klein, illustrated by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal Tradewinds Books Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Sandy Wasserman Buy at Bookshop.org We meet brother and sister, Kate and Nate on Shabbat, headed for a visit to Bubbie's house for yet another adventure with their active grandmother. Their plan is to share a library book with her and then buy apples for Rosh Hashanah. Instead they meet their granny on a scooter, and they are hugely disappointed. They assume their active granny is no more! But granny shows them that her new electric scooter is an asset and not a liability; she is as active and fun as ever. Their day with her is filled with the adventures they had planned and even more, with granny leading the way. The colorful illustrations are so inviting and enticing; the young reader will feel they are on the bus with them, and at the market, and meeting new people, and flying a kite in the park. As a wonderful bonus, the scooter is named GLADYS. Why?

Review: And So Is Hashem

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And So Is Hashem by Aura Dweck, illustrated by Gillian Flint Hachai Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck Buy at Hachai.com When we do things that make other people happy, Hashem is also happy. So when a boy's mother calls him and he stops playing to go to her, when a girl refrains from waking up her sleeping father, when a boy greets his grandmother with a hug and a snack, when children share their toys or help neighbors, all these people are happy, "and so is Hashem." The repetition works well for young readers as they learn the not-so-subtle lesson. The illustrations are cute and colorful, depicting both boys and girls. The boys and the Tatty (father) are obviously wearing kippot, while the women appear to be wearing sheitels. A very short glossary includes Hashem, Bubby, and Tatty, but it easily adapted for all Jewish audiences by using the English words while reading.    The book is based on a verse from Pirkei Avos (3:13): "He used to say

Review: The Traveling Smile

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The Traveling Smile written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld Hachai Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck   Buy at Hachai.com   Rikki Benefeld is a prolific author of many books for Hachai. On the one hand, it is nice for children to recognize the style of the writing and the pictures. On the other, it looks very much like her other books. A young boy wakes up in a good mood, and his happiness is infectious. He hugs his mother, and she smiles. He gives his sister some of his muffin, and she smiles. Each person "passes" a smile onto another person, until it comes full circle when a girl smiles at an older woman, who is the grandmother of the original boy. She had brought her smile along for a visit. After these encounters, the refrain repeats, "Share a smile happy and strong. And watch those smiles travel along!" The book is dedicated in memory of a man who followed the precept of Pirkei Avos and "greeted everyone with a pleasant countena

Review: From My Heart

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From My Heart: A Child Talks to Hashem by Esty Perman, illustrated by Anna Abramskaya Hachai Publishing Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck   A girl talks to Hashem because she has so much to tell God. She talks to Hashem a lot -- when she's happy, when she's said, when she's scared, and when sick people need help. Sometimes she sings the set prayers, and other times she whispers her own words. She makes sure to ask for Moshiach because she is anxious for him to come. The illustrations are vibrant and the girl's facial expressions make her feelings clear. Interestingly, there are no males depicted in the book. Books about God and prayer for young readers are challenging because it's hard to explain spiritual concepts. The "report" to Hashem is a good premise for the girl to give examples of why she talks to Hashem, and is reminiscent of (l'havdil) Anne LaMott's distillation of prayer into "Thanks, Help, Wow!". For adults, it&

Review: Starfish

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Starfish by Lisa Fipps Nancy Paulsen Books (imprint of Penguin Random House) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Laurie Adler   Buy at Bookshop.org   Starfish , written by first-time novelist Lisa Fipps, is one of the best new tween novels on the trending subject of fat-phobia and body image. Ellie, an eleven-year-old Texan, is continuously body-shamed by her schoolmates and family. Since her fifth birthday party, she has been called “Splash” and compared to a whale. She lives by self-imposed fat girl rules -- “make yourself small,” “avoid eating in public,” “move slowly so your fat doesn’t jiggle” -- but the bullying escalates dangerously both at home and at school. Ellie’s only safe space is her swimming pool, where she feels weightless and can stretch out like a starfish. With only her father, her new neighbor Catalina, and a therapist to support her, Ellie valiantly finds her voice to confront rude doctors, cruel schoolmates, and even her own mother.   This novel is written

Review: The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

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The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: The Story of the Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel Scholastic Focus Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz Buy at Bookshop.org Edsel tells the story of eleven indefatigable heroes who risked (and sometimes lost) their lives on a quest to recover Europe’s greatest artistic and cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The Monuments Men – a misnomer, as some of them were women – were carefully selected to act as art detectives across Europe, identifying, locating, recovering, and safeguarding tens of thousands of paintings, sculptures, pieces of furniture, monuments, and other works both large and small. Edsel’s book has all the elements of a great adventure story baked in from page one: a race against time across war-torn lands, brave heroes and vile villains, high stakes, and nail-biting tension. Any reader who devotes the considerable time required to dig into The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History will be rewarded with

Review: Lucy Clark Will Not Apologize

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Lucy Clark Will Not Apologize by Margo Rabb Quill Tree Books (imprint of HarperCollins) Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Stacie Ramey Buy at Bookshop.org Lucy Clark Will Not Apologize begins as a story about girls living at a boarding school in Texas, but quickly morphs into a New York City adventure with themes of grief, friendship, and finding your place in the world.    When high school junior Lucy Clark is suspended for an unmentionable incident, she is sent to New York City to stay with a distant older cousin in order to care for an older woman, who needs supervision due to her declining mental health. Lucy meets her charge, one Edith Fox, who is the heir to the Fox Fruit Syrup fortune. Edith is a wealthy, colorful, witty, and warm horticulturist with whom Lucy is immediately enthralled. Only there’s one problem--Edith believes that someone is trying to kill her and the police don’t believe her. She needs Lucy’s help to discover the truth.   Despite the cozy mystery set

Review: "Nice" Jewish Girls

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"Nice" Jewish Girls by Julie Merberg, illustrated by Georgia Rucker Downtown Bookworks (imprint of Simon & Schuster) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz Buy at Bookshop.org One of the last pages in Julie Merberg’s wonderful new book Nice Jewish Girls is titled Jewish Geography. Though I found each one of the book’s thirty-six biographical sketches fascinating, the Jewish Geography page is the one to pore over. “It’s a small Jewish world” Merberg writes, and through thumbnail drawings and dotted lines, she shows the reader how many of the women featured in the book are linked to one another. Barbra Streisand held a fundraiser for Bella Abzug when she first ran for office. Ruth Westheimer and Gloria Steinem appeared on The Joan Rivers Show. Are these critically important facts and events? Do we need to know that Diane Von Furstenberg mentored Anne Wojcicki? No. But it sure is fun to play Jewish Geography with all of these inspirational Jewish women and admire

Review: Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah!

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Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan Charlesbridge Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Sarah Aronson   Buy at Bookshop.org   As a brand new bubbe, I am always on the hunt for great board books that are fun to read and capture the kids' imagination, and no one is better at creating these books than the team of Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan.    Angular Momentum is many things: It’s an introduction to the meaning of Hanukkah. It’s an introduction to the game of dreidel. AND it’s a discussion about physics, gravity, and angular momentum. Spoiler: I learned something!   Spiro’s prose are simple, fun, and respectful—and scientifically accurate. No misinformation here! Chan’s illustrations bring the text to life. They are delightful—colorful and engaging--perfect for young eyes.    A special surprise: at the end of the book, Spiro includes a nod to diversity and inclusion (and other titles): not all Baby’s friends celebrate Hanukkah . . . bu

Review: Is It Hanukkah Yet?

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 Is It Hanukkah Yet? by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by Monique Dong Step Into Reading Level 2, Random House Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz Buy at Bookshop.org The exuberant first person voice of a nameless little girl makes the controlled vocabulary come alive in this early reader. The child and her grandparents happily prepare for the holiday, and celebrate when the parents arrive home from work at sundown. Typical Hanukkah activities such as making latkes, reading about the Maccabees, lighting candles, playing dreidel, and eating sufganiyot are woven naturally into the story. Grandma gifts her granddaughter the music box they play with at her house ("Now you can hear our special song anytime you like!"),  which pleasantly emphasizes relationships instead of consumerism.  Originally published in 2000 with pictures by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, this new edition has energetic, rounded illustrations by Monique Dong, arranged with plenty of white space to give the ey

Review: The $150,000 Rugelach

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The $150,000 Rugelach by Allison and Wayne Marks, illustrated by Ariel Landy Yellow Jacket (imprint of Little Bee Books) Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt   Buy at Bookshop.org   Jillian Mermelstein and Jack Fineman both love to bake, and they are both Jewish, but Jillian is somber, while Jack is a goofy extrovert. Their similarities and their differences are the key elements in this charming, well-told tale. The story revolves around a baking contest that will garner much publicity as well a $150,000 prize. Will Jack’s parent’s let him enter? Will Jill allow her story to be told? And will they go along with the villainous plans of creator of the contest, Phineas Farnsworth III? You will guess the outcome, but there are many smiles along the way. Among the other well drawn characters are the back-up players, Jack’s parents and brother, Jill’s father, and especially her grandmother. The path to the prize is strewn with lies, half-truths and diffic

Review: I'll Keep You Close

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I'll Keep You Close by Jeska Verstegen Levine Querido Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Beth L. Gallego Buy at Bookshop.org How does one honor the memory of those who died during a time one wants to forget? Debut novelist Jeska Verstegen examines the toll secret grief took on her own family in this poignant volume, originally published in the Netherlands as Ik zal je bewaren and translated from the Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke.   In snapshot vignettes, eleven-year-old Jesje presents, at first, unremarkable days in the ordinary life of a girl in 1980s Amsterdam. Perhaps her mother is unusually anxious, but that’s just how Mama is. Bomma, Jesje’s maternal grandmother, is in a nearby nursing home, suffering from dementia that has taken a turn for the worse. During a visit, she calls Jesje by someone else’s name, Hesje, and Mama refuses to say more than that it is the name of someone from far in the past.   Curious, Jesje investigates, gathering information from other family me

Review: Klezmer!

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 Klezmer! written and illustrated by Kyra Teis Kar-Ben Publishing, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group   Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton   Buy at Bookshop.org   With rhythmic, lyrical writing and colorful, movement-filled collage illustrations, Kyra Teis has joyfully met the challenge of representing music in picture book form. In Klezmer! a clarinet-playing girl, whose curly red-orange locks flow to the beat, makes a trip into New York City to see “klezmer’s family and friends, clarinet and violin, from Uptown, Downtown, and Lower East Side.” Accordion and bass show up too—along with a group of musicians who are diverse in age, skin tone, and head coverings. The main text is light on explanation, but provides something more elusive—an experience and a tam (a flavor or taste).   For those wanting a bit more detail, there’s an “About Klezmer Music” section in the back, as well as a QR code that accesses a video of a klezmer performance. Most of the cars

Review: Dear Mr. Dickens

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Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe Albert Whitman & Co. Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton Buy at Bookshop.org Dear Mr. Dickens , written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, is an engaging and inspiring tribute to the power of the written word. In the world of this picture book, which is based on a true story, 19th-century author Charles Dickens captivates readers with his stories and inspires positive social change. But his portrayal of an outlaw Jewish character has one of his readers, Eliza Davis, concerned that the depiction could aggravate the already difficult situation for Jews in England in the 1860s. Churnin poignantly shows how upsetting it can be to read such a portrayal as she describes Eliza reading Oliver Twist : “The [criminal] character’s name was Fagin, but over and over Dickens wrote the Jew, the Jew, the Jew . Each time the word hurt like a hammer on Eliza’s heart.”   Eliza writes