Review: The Traveling Smile

The Traveling Smile

written and illustrated by Rikki Benenfeld

Hachai Publishing

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Chava Pinchuck
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 countenance." An added twist is that there are smiley faces on many items in the pictures, and readers can try and find all the smiley faces. The pictures are somewhat old-fashioned, but typical of Orthodox publications. They are colorful, and of course, all women and girls are dress modestly. Combine with Sarah Lamstein's I LIKE YOUR BUTTONS for a lesson in passing on positivity.
This book meets the Sydney Taylor Book Award criteria. Although the action takes place on a "normal day" (not a holiday or Shabbos), there is positive and authentic Jewish content in that the people in the story follow the advice of the rabbis in smiling at people (there are many references to this in the Jewish cannon including Pirkei Avos 1:15, Pirkei Avos 4:20, and Talmud Ketubos 111b).
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Reviewer Chava (Kathe) Pinchuck worked in private and public libraries in New Jersey before making aliyah in 2012. In Israel she has worked as a cataloger of legal documents and a cybrarian for a distance learning institution. She is a past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, past co-editor of the Children's and YA Book Reviews for AJL News and Reviews, and the current editor of the Jewish Values Finder, a database of Jewish children's books. [Ed. Note: Chava is one of the co-chairs of The Sydney Taylor Shmooze.]